From 2013-2015, the Kansas City Royals were one of the best teams in the American League and averaged 90 wins a season. With many of the same core players since 2016, the Royals are averaging 81 wins per season. 81 wins certainly isn’t terrible! For anyone who’s lived through the Dark Days of Royals fandom (Kansas City averaged over 100 losses per year from 2004-2006, and averaged over 90 losses per year from 1996-2012), it’s positively balmy. But playing .500 baseball is absolutely a disappointment if you intend to compete for a championship.
So why have the Royals faltered? Simply, it’s because General Manager Dayton Moore’s last two offseasons have been a spectacular, unmitigated disaster.
Let’s frame this disaster:
Imagine yourself as a General Manager of a Major League Baseball team. It’s December of 2015, and you’re walking into the Winter Meetings ready to improve your club for the next year.
Just over a year ago, your team barely lost the World Series after making a brilliant and exciting postseason run. Less than two months ago, your team won the World Series, and was a finely-tuned mid-90s win team in the regular season. Of the top ten performers by Wins Above Replacement in your World Series-winning year, seven are returning for at least the next two seasons —the average age of those seven players is 28, with only one older than 30—and two are returning for one more year. Going into the Winter Meetings, you’d probably feel very confident.
That’s exactly the position that Moore occupied. The seven players from the top ten returning multiple years were Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Yordano Ventura, Wade Davis, and Jarrod Dyson; the two returning for one year were Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez.
With a core firmly entrenched, relatively young, and proven as solid MLB players, all Moore had to do was supplement them with decent players and try for another run. Over the past two years, the core has continued to perform well. The supplements? Not so much.
Below is a ledger of Moore’s moves over the past two offseasons. It includes total cost spent over the past two years as well as value as calculated by Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement.
It is not pretty.
- Players: Alex Gordon, Jorge Soler, Brandon Moss, Billy Burns, Alcides Escobar, Drew Butera
- Salary: $41 million
- WAR: -1.2
Coming off the 2015 World Series, the biggest question of the offseason was whether Gordon would re-sign with the Royals or go elsewhere. Gordon eventually did stay in Kansas City, to the tune of the largest contract in the history of the franchise.
It has, ah, not worked out. Gordon’s contract is the largest in Royals history and likely to be the biggest albatross in the franchise’s history as well. Gordon has a .650 OPS over the last two years. Next year is his age-34 season.
This past offseason, Moore made a flurry of moves. He signed Moss to replace Kendrys Morales, picked up Escobar’s 2017 team option (a totally optional move that the Royals could have declined with just a $500,000 buyout), and re-signed Butera to continue being the backup to Salvador Perez. Then, Moore traded Wade ‘Cyborg’ Davis for Soler to play right field and DH as well. Only Butera, the backup catcher, has been worth positive value out of that group.
- Players: Peter Moylan, Chien-Ming Wang, Joakim Soria, Ian Kennedy, Mike Minor, Chris Young, Travis Wood, Jason Hammel, Nate Karns, Seth Maness, Al Alburquerque
- Salary: $68.5 million
- WAR: 4.5
Moore was aggressive in his pursuit of pitchers. Joakim Soria was brought in on three-year, $25 million deal to shore up the bullpen, while Peter Moylan and Chien-Ming Wang were minor league deals. Importantly, Kennedy also signed a giant deal, the second-largest in Royals history. Moore brought back Chris Young after a fantastic 2015 to offer starting pitching depth.
Then, in the 2016/2017 offseason, Moore brought in Hammel and Wood, both ex-Cubs, as free agents for added depth after Ventura’s death. Maness and Alburquerque were on minor league deals and made it to Kansas City.
- Players: Wade Davis, Jarrod Dyson, Brett Eibner
- Salary: $13.3 million
- WAR: 2.9
Both Davis and Dyson were in the last year of their contracts, and Moore moved them for Soler and Karns, respectively, who have a combined eight years remaining on their contracts. Those two trades have been a complete fleecing, as Karns only pitched eight games for the Royals this year and is now undergoing Thoracic Outlet surgery, and Soler has been solar flare of terribleness and has been out-everything’d by Dyson this year. Oh yeah, and Davis is a perfect 17-17 in save opportunities for the Chicago Cubs. Fun!
Eibner was traded for Burns in a trade that will likely go down in history as mostly irrelevant but happened anyway and is here for completeness.
NET (value and salary of players acquired minus value and salary of players traded)
- Salary: $96.2 million
- WAR: 0.4
That’s right! You read that correctly. Over the last two offseasons, Moore and his front office have spent $96.2 million for 0.4 Wins Above Replacement of value. For reference, that’s at a rate of $240 million per 1 WAR, or about 24 times the market value of WAR in free agency.
It gets worse, too. Kansas City owes a combined $71.25 million to Gordon, Moss, Hammel, and Wood after this season, and another $49.5 million to Kennedy if he chooses not to exercise his opt-out option in his contract, which is likely (though not guaranteed).
Ultimately, everything Moore looked to do over the last two offseasons has failed in a fantastical manner. There is simply no argument against this. Moore could have done absolutely nothing over the past two offseasons, saved himself almost $100 million, and have gotten about 2.5 WAR more production.
Moore’s legacy in Kansas City will always and rightfully begin with the 2014 American League Championship and 2015 World Series victories. But Moore had they keys to the kingdom, with a young squad and a few more years in the sweet spot window. Prematurely ruining the run might be part of his legacy, too.