Despite coming off a 104-loss season, the Royals will not be very active this off-season, according to comments from Dayton Moore in his end-of-the-year press conference. The Royals General Manager touched on a number of topics, but consistently cited the progress the team made in the 2018 season as a foundation to build off of in 2019. The Royals won 20 of their final 34 games using a younger core that included first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, and third baseman Hunter Dozier.
Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin will be candidates to take over in centerfield, according to Moore, flanked by Alex Gordon, Jorge Bonifacio, and Jorge Soler. O’Hearn and Dozier will be on the corners, although Moore also mentioned Cheslor Cuthbert, who is healthy and currently playing winter ball in Mexico. Moore liked Mondesi and Whit Merrifield up the middle with Salvador Perez behind the plate and Cam Gallagher as his backup.
“There won’t be a lot of turnover, a lot of change, a lot of adding to that group. We’re prepared to go forward with them.”
Moore mentioned the need to make payroll manageable for 2020 and 2021 to give the team more flexibility to make more moves then. He stressed the desire to build a consistent winner for the future.
“One of my failures and many failures truthfully is that we are where we are. The focus of this next era of Royals baseball, we want to put together a winning team and then win for a long time, 10-15 years. I’m not saying we’ll make the playoffs every year, I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to a World Series, certainly that’s the mission, but we want to play winning baseball, championship-caliber baseball.”
If the Royals do dip into free agency, it will likely come later in the winter and it will be to add bullpen depth. He indicated he would look for “guys on the rebound”, citing recent success stories like Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton. He even expressed openness to bullpen strategies used by playoff teams that included using “openers” and “bullpenning” through games, although he said depth and buy-in are needed to make it work.
“You have to get 27 outs...however you want to do it, go do it.”
Moore applauded the hard work put in by the young players and cited Mondesi and slugger Jorge Soler as potential All-Stars. He admitted that he felt better about the 2019 season than he did about the 2018 season before the year, although he wouldn’t say if he felt the team was ahead of schedule to return to contention.
“I think what jump started the rebuild is we quit talking about the rebuild. I think when you create the mindset that we’re rebuilding we make the excuse that it’s okay to lose baseball games. It’s not.”
Moore expressed support for Ned Yost, who is returning next season along with the entire coaching staff. He wouldn’t say if Ned’s replacement is currently in the organization, saying there were plenty of good internal and external candidates.
He was also asked about the size of the analytics department, and joked “some people would think it’s too big, some people would think it’s too small.” He cited advances with the medical team, sports science and lifestyle management, and the use of analytics in determining promotions in player development. He prefers a blend of scouting and analytics, saying “you can’t have too much information.” Ultimately, it is up to Ned Yost, with Moore joking “when the game begins, in the dugout, it’s a dictatorship.”
Moore had a lot to say about the state of the farm system, pointing to progress this year, particularly in adding pitching depth, developing players in the Dominican Academy, and making in-roads in scouting in South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.
“Our number one goal is to make sure our farm system is back to the level where it was in 2010 and 2011,” Moore said, adding, “We have to make sure our farm system is elite.”
Moore said he doesn’t like to see high strikeout rates from their minor league prospects and won’t be aggressive promoting players until they cut their rates, citing top prospects like Seuly Matias, Nick Pratto, and M.J. Melendez as talented players that need to cut down on their strikeouts.
On the college pitchers drafted this year, Moore warned that there was an adjustment for players from big-time college programs that go to the minors and have lesser facilities and travel than they did in college. He cited former Royals pitcher Aaron Crow as a cautionary tale of a pitcher they rushed, saying they will “move slower” with this year’s draft class.
Dayton Moore said he texted former players on the Brewers who were in the playoffs, wishing them well. Moore also stepped into some controversy defending pitcher Luke Heimlich, who the Royals had been considering signing.
Moore certainly likes to keep things close to the vest, but there shouldn’t be much reason to expect the Royals to be very active this off-season. They will be financially limited to how active they can be in the free agent market, expecting to cut payroll to around $85-90 million, and with several young players performing well down the stretch, the Royals will want to get a longer look at them in 2019. The names may not change much next season, but hopefully the results will be drastically different.