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Poor Royals drafts have dimmed the future

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Do the Royals have a problem at Scouting Director?

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’ve never been one to hide the fact that I disliked (as did many others too) the “Wil Myers trade” (or whatever you want to label it), mostly because it sold 24 years of potential team control (Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard) for seven years of total control in James Shields/Wade Davis (and Elliot Johnson too, I guess). The Royals are one of the smallest market teams with one of the more tighter budgets, so asset control is clearly a priority. Dayton Moore himself said this recently.

“The control of a player today’s market, today’s economics, is everything.”

Now trades should always be judged on what was known at the time and not what we find out three or four years later. However we can look back at what resulted from a trade. Here is what the James Shields/Wil Myers trade looks like four years later.

Shields and Davis have returned a win more than what Myers and Odorizzi have, but that comes with all the caveats that we don’t know how any of those players would have done in a different organization. We know how they all did when they were traded, but it is an assumption to be sure to think they’d be roughly the same if they weren’t.

My main criticism with the trade still exists, even if the outcome so far has been a wash, performance-wise. None of the Royals players - James Shields or Wade Davis - are still on the roster while Myers, Odorizzi and Montgomery each have several years of club control left. Trading away cost-controlled assets for shorter-term ones (at least in the Shields part) is going to close your window of contention unless you can either re-sign those players to longer term deals (which the Royals did not do and typically do not do) or you supplement those shorter-term guys with your own home-grown assets. However, that just isn’t something the Royals have done.

Think of the current Royals roster. It includes names like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, and Alex Gordon, all drafted by the Royals and except for Gordon, were selected under the tenure of the current general manager Dayton Moore. Often we see front offices as a single entity with a face being that of the GM, just like any business. Steve Jobs was certainly the face of Apple (just as Tim Cook is now) but Jobs didn’t write the code of the iPhone. Yet he gets all the scrutiny for it, which is one of the reasons CEO’s are paid so well. So when the Royals are given superlatives or criticism, the words go towards Moore. That’s usually fair when criticizing free agent signings, hirings/firings, and trade, but for drafting, that usually falls on the shoulders of the organization’s scouting director.

Many might be familiar with the Royals longtime legendary Royals scouting director Art Stewart. The man has drafted over 70 players who eventually reached the Major Leagues. Stewart found All-Star players like Bo Jackson, Kevin Appier, Johnny Damon, and Carlos Beltran.

You also might be familiar with the Royals current scouting director Lonnie Goldberg. Goldberg took over drafting for the Royals in 2011, taking the helm from J.J. Picollo, who now serves as Assistant General Manager. Picollo was scouting director for two years, succeeding Deric Ladnier, who served under former General Manager Allard Baird.

When Moore came on board as GM, Ladnier didn’t last long (which is often the case - often involuntary). Ladnier left the organization in September of 2008 to join the Nationals as a special assistant and he now serves as scouting director for the Diamondbacks. Picollo acted as a de facto scouting director as he split time between that position and head of player development until Goldberg took over the directorship full time.

Since Ladnier was replaced there seems to have been a dropoff in drafted talent by the pair that followed him:

Of course there are things to be mentioned in that graph. Ladnier made his first selection fifteen years ago, giving his players plenty of time to accrue value. Picollo only had two drafts to cover and Goldberg’s first draft wasn’t that long ago. I think though there are counterarguments to lay out.

First, let’s look at the pick selections each scouting director has had:

Certainly Ladnier has had an earlier average pick than Picollo/Goldberg, including the #1 overall pick (which the Royals selected Luke Hochevar with). However the past few high selections by Goldberg have been due to the success the Royals have had. That success has been largely on the back of selections made by Ladnier though (Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, Holland, Gordon, Hochevar, Dyson, Butler - and Cain who was a proceed from Ladnier drafted Zack Greinke).

The other point is that Picollo/Goldberg draftees haven’t had enough time to accrue value yet. That is a fair argument certainly for the past couple of years but the players drafted during 2009-2012 should have had enough time to accumulate some value. The 2009 draft (where the Royals selected Aaron Crow and Wil Myers) also spawned Mike Trout, Stephen Strasburg, AJ Pollock, Nolan Arenado, and Jason Kipnis. The 2010 draft (when KC took Christian Colon) included Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Christian Yelich, Aaron Sanchez, and Andrelton Simmons. In 2011 (Bubba Starling) draftees include Jose Fernandez, Anthony Rendon, George Springer, Francisco Lindor, and Gerrit Cole. Even 2012 (Kyle Zimmer) includes guys like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Addison Russell, and Marcus Stroman. Sure, those drafts weren’t that long ago but even those recent drafts have provided franchise cornerstones for organizations.

Of course, drafting is a tough game. Sometimes it is called a “crapshoot” due to the amount of luck presumed to be required, but I think that is inaccurate. First, draft prospects aren’t all equal, and scouts and teams have identified those players with a higher probability of being good more often than not (often those that get taken early). Sure, some later picks can pan out but draft picks in the first round and first few picks have a much higher success rate.

It is not just a coincidence that early first rounders are usually good players, and the Royals have had several early first round picks. Under the Ladnier regime they’ve done well there, but under the past two directors it’s been much more of a drought.

If you are still on the “wait and see” train with those players that have been selected it seems like you’ll be on board for a long time more. Recently Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs released his Royals top 20 prospect list. In that list not a single first round pick appears in the top ten, save for Hunter Dozier who was drafted early so the Royals could get Sean Manaea later. That top ten isn’t necessarily all filled with guys from recent drafts either. On that list is Jorge Bonifacio (ranking in at #10) who has been in the organization since 2009.

I could go one-by-one on all the guys taken in recent drafts but I think you are probably familiar with them: Ashe Russell, Bubba Starling, Nolan Watson, Kyle Zimmer, Chase Vallot, Foster Griffin, Brandon Finnegan, Christian Colon, Aaron Crow, Sean Manaea, and Hunter Dozier. Maybe it’s telling that the two best players in that list aren’t in the Royals organization anymore.

Dayton Moore gets a lot of credit for assembling a home grown team but many of those players were drafted either before his time or by a scouting director he got rid of or were acquired in the Zack Greinke trade, a player drafted by Ladnier. If you look at the best selections under the Picollo/Goldberg regime it seems like the top three players are Wil Myers, Sean Manaea, and Brandon Finnegan - all gone from the organization. Obviously trading is a crucial part of organization construction (see: Dombrowski, Dave) and the Royals netted valuable players for those prospects like James Shields, Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist, and Johnny Cueto.

Friend of the website Jeff Zimmerman showed just how dire it has been for the Royals lately. Dayton Moore has called pitching the “currency of baseball.” Here is the fWAR of starting pitchers drafted by each organization since 2007.

Now it doesn’t attribute the performance to the team that actually got the performance (such as Chris Archer is likely attributed to the Indians despite never pitching an inning for them) but the basic idea remains. The Royals have been the worst organization at drafting pitchers since Moore took over. In fact you could even make the argument that the Royals would have been better off just passing on the selections where they took a pitcher since they got -1 fWAR from them.

What is also interesting on this table is that Royals pitchers have appeared in more games (704) than a lot of other organizations. But they have only had 45 games started by drafted pitchers since 2007, one of the lowest totals on the list.

I guess this is all a long way of saying that the Royals should have had a longer window of contention. I think that’s partially attributed to poor drafting, which falls on the shoulders of the scouting director (and the general manager who hired him). If they had players coming through the pipeline then that window at least closes slower.

It is tough to ask teams to nail each draft pick but the team has had several picks early, with plenty of opportunities to nab good players. The Royals may need a new director or a new game plan. They still continue to draft pitchers despite not solidly hitting on one in what seems like years other than Sean Manaea (who is gone). Even the hitters they have taken have not been slam dunks . Bubba Starling received the highest signing bonus in history for a high schooler, and Christian Colon was the fourth-overall pick in his draft.

With the high volume of soon-to-be free agents the Royals have, the Royals have no shot in retaining them all. Instead they could perhaps sign a few of the more key cogs but what would be the point? Having Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain around for a bunch of 75-80 win seasons? They should either retain them all or keep none of them.

If they had the up-and-coming pieces to build around core legacy players then it would be different. They could have a longer window of contention. But with almost all of the talent on the roster being up for free agency in T-minus 9 months that window is about closed given no pieces coming to bolster the lineup any time soon. That’s because of poor drafting, something of a product of the two most recent scouting directors.