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The quiet moment that changed the Royals’ future

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Something we missed at the time

MLB First Year Player Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Search the news for the Kansas City Royals on September 9th, 2008 and you’ll find a variety of random results. First, the baseball team was sitting at 61-81 in another losing season dying out, about to take on the Minnesota Twins at the MetroDome. Off the field, former Royals scout Don Gutteridge (who was born in Pittsburg, Kansas) had passed away a few days earlier. The MLB didn’t send out a press release about that, but they did send out one on issue updates to the Safety and Health Advisory Committee that featured then Royal John Buck.

Other than that, it seemed like a quiet Tuesday. Except nine years ago almost to the day, the Royals future was quietly changed. On Tuesday, September 9th of 2008, the Royals fired Scouting Director Deric Ladnier, a holdover from the Allard Baird era. The only mention of the move from that date I can find is a Bob Dutton article, reprinted here in the Wichita Eagle.

The news didn’t spread across the internet and television screen chyrons. Twitter was still in it’s infancy, but this kind of tweet would be buried in your feed as a one-off tweet from Rustin Dodd or Jeffrey Flanagan. Our very own site didn’t have anything about it that I could find.

Ladnier has missed on several picks, taking Colt Griffin and Chris Lubanski with early picks and also a lack of later round depth some years. Holdovers from the prior administration usually are fired right away, but it’s an unspoken policy that they are given time to find a new organization or risk being let go eventually. Ladnier seemed to be the latter as Dayton Moore wanted to bring in someone he was familiar with - J.J. Picollo, who worked with him in Atlanta.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Ladnier was arguably the greatest scouting director in Royals history:

Ladnier draft picks (as of that tweet) had produced 180 Wins Above Replacement. This includes guys like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Danny Duffy, Greg Holland, and Jarrod Dyson. That’s at least three Royals Hall of Famers (I’m counting Gordon, Greinke, and Butler for now) and then a few other guys that have a shot (I’d imagine where they spend the rest of their careers matters).

Take a look at the 2015 roster that won the World Series:

Now I didn’t include everybody from the 2015 team, but this is most of the core guys (save for late additions Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist), and I show 10 picks that Ladnier had a hand in either through drafting or a trade of a player that Ladnier did draft (only partial credit for Wade Davis as Wil Myers was the biggest piece but Mike Montgomery was the second piece). That’s 52% of the 19 players I listed, and even if you wanted to expand to a normal 25-man team, that would be 40% of the players.

And remember that Ladnier was gone in 2008, not in 2012 or something, so the players he drafted had to have sticking power, establishing themselves as regular big leaguers, not guys getting their first shot.

The Royals drafts since then, at least the first-rounders where scouting directors have to hit, have gone from decent to what I think you could call poor.

If you read my writing often (particularly on prospect stuff) you know I was a big fan of several of those guys (Manaea, Dozier, & Vallot), but the rest of that group seems suspect. The two best players listed might be Sean Manaea and Brandon Finnegan, and those were the two guys traded. Aaron Crow was essentially cut, Colon had a big World Series hit but that’s the entirety of his Royals resume before he was DFA’d, Bubba Starling has struggled to hit outside of Rookie Ball, Kyle Zimmer is constantly injured, Foster Griffin made the Futures Game (as the Royals sole representative) but slowed down in AA, Ashe Russell has taken a temporary leave for now, Watson looks like he’ll need to repeat A-Ball for the third go round, A.J. Puckett was a later pick but was traded away after struggling in A+, and Nick Pratto we haven’t had nearly enough time to have a decision on.

The Royals seemingly haven’t recovered from firing Ladnier, and while Picollo looks like he’s at least taken some MLB players, Goldberg has struggled to get anything on the board really. Maybe it’s a bit hyperbolic, but in retrospect here the firing of Ladnier has had an impact on both the prior years and coming years. If the Royals could have drafted/developed pitching they wouldn’t have needed to continually have their rotation made up of 3-4 free agents, or sign Ian Kennedy to an albatross of a deal (or Chris Young’s second deal, the Travis Wood dumpster fire, Jeremy Guthrie on a 3-year deal, etc...).

If they drafted/developed better (and there is some blame on the developmental staff too) they wouldn’t have to do a complete rebuild that seems like it needs to be done. Their window of contention is longer, and they could supplement current talent with prospects to compete over the next few years. Even further, they wouldn’t have had to use 14 different starters this year to find a fifth starter and scrape the waiver wire for guys like Onelki Garcia.

Drafting is important for smaller-market teams (even if the Royals haven’t been spending like one the past few years), because they have to rely on homegrown talent. If that doesn’t happen they either need to get lucky with a mediocre roster or spend their way into contention. Neither of those two are winning strategies generally (at least ones you want to rely on), and that’s what it might take for the Royals to contend at any point before the next decade.

The firing of Ladnier was only a ripple at the time, but it ended up being a shockwave that changed the 2015, 2016, 2017, and beyond Royals markedly.