For most Royals fans, this was probably the most depressing off-season in a generation, with three big stars leaving, including Eric Hosmer, who the team lost a bidding war to the San Diego Padres of all team. The Royals have added only players who could walk down the Plaza without ever being recognized. The team is projected by nearly everyone to be not only a losing team, but one of the worst teams in baseball.
And yet, what if I told you this was a very successful off-season for Dayton Moore? It has certainly been an improvement over the last two off-seasons, which were abject disasters. But the Royals had some very clear goals going into the off-season, and Dayton Moore seems to have met those goals very well. Here is what Dayton Moore successfully accomplished this winter.
You can disagree with the claim that the Royals lost $60 million over the last two seasons, but it is hard to argue that revenues won’t go down this year. The most marketable stars are gone, and what was a .500 team over the past two seasons will almost certainly drop in the standings without them. Sure, David Glass could reach into his profits from the sale of BAMTech, but it doesn’t seem like any owners around baseball are willing to use that money on improving their teams.
The Royals had a $145 million payroll last year and came into this off-season with a projected $120 million payroll. Dayton Moore has gotten that down to $112 million, according to Cot’s Contracts, shedding the contracts of Joakim Soria, and part of the obligation to Brandon Moss. This is even more impressive considering every team in baseball is looking to either cut costs or stay put, with only about 12 teams projected to increase payroll over last year. This may not be a goal that pleases any fans, but it keeps Dayton in good standing with the fan that matters most to his job security - David Glass. And if some frugality this year causes Glass to open the pocketbook in a few years when the Royals are competitive again, it will have been worth it.
Don’t block any young players
The Royals are rebuilding and need to find out what they have in some of their young players. Dayton Moore has often said it takes 1,000 to 1,500 at-bats before you know what you have in a young player. So it is important that their younger* players get plenty of playing time to show what they can do.
*-in terms of service time. Whit Merrifield is actually older than Eric Hosmer.
He went on to say that they probably need another left-handed bat, but won't bring in anyone that would hinder Soler/Boni/Cuthbert/Whit getting every day at-bats. Need to learn if they can factor into 2019 plans & beyond. #Royals— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) March 4, 2018
Thus it was very important this off-season that any moves Dayton Moore made were made to give younger players more playing time, without adding any veterans that would block those players. The Royals signed just three Major League free agents this off-season, all to one-year deals - Wily Peralta, Lucas Duda, and Alcides Escobar. Wily Peralta simply adds pitching depth where the Royals really need it.
I don’t think the Lucas Duda deal blocks anyone, since Hunter Dozier missed so much time last year and is new to first base, Frank Schwindel had trouble with his plate discipline last year, and Ryan O’Hearn is probably a year away. Duda is one a one-year deal, so if someone is tearing up Omaha this summer and Duda hasn’t been traded or let go by August I’ll be surprised. You could also bring one of them up to DH (or move Duda to DH), as the Royals have some flexibility there, with Jorge Soler able to play some outfield, albeit not very well.
I wrote recently how I came to terms with the Alcides Escobar deal and how I don’t think it will mean Adalberto Mondesí will be blocked in any way this year. Since these were all one-year deals, and cheap ones at that, the Royals could let these players go mid-season and not lose any sleep over it.
Don’t make the financial situation worse
Every free agent contract from last off-season ended up blowing up in Dayton Moore’s face. Jason Hammel, Brandon Moss, and Travis Wood were given contracts totaling $40 million, and they combined for -0.4 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Wood and Moss aren’t even on the team anymore. And they’re not alone - the Royals have gotten poor performance from the two largest contracts in franchise history - Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy. They’re still paying for Chris Young and Omar Infante despite cutting those players loose long ago.
The Royals had a tough financial situation going into this off-season, but Dayton could have been irresponsible and tried to compete by backloading more deals, kicking the can down the road so the bill could come due at a later date. The Royals did make a long-term offer to Eric Hosmer - reportedly five-years, and $100 million. Considering his youth and potential value, that probably wasn’t as risky of a deal. Fangraphs had him worth a seven-year, $124 million, so clearly Dayton Moore was only willing to sign Hosmer if he could get him at a major bargain.
Ultimately, the Royals abstained from signing players to big deals, and the club has just $69 million in obligations in 2019, according to Cot’s Contracts, with $54 million on the books the following year. Dayton Moore said that he doubts the club will be signing anyone to a multi-year deal this year, and possibly even next. This rebuild will allow the Royals to move all the bad salaries from their books and start fresh.
Build up pitching depth
The Royals had shockingly little pitching depth last year and it was exposed as pitchers wore down and got hurt. The situation got so grim the team was forced to give innings to pitchers that clearly weren’t ready like Onelki Garcia and Andres Machado, who combined to turn in one of the biggest blowout losses in franchise history.
And there wasn’t exactly a lot of help in the minors. Sure, there are a few interesting arms, like Jakob Junis who impressed last year, and Eric Skoglund has some potential. But overall, the pitching in the farm system has been ranked near the bottom of baseball, a bad sign for a GM who once proclaimed pitching to be the “currency of baseball.”
So Dayton Moore had a tough task - build up the pitching depth, but do it without adding payroll, and with pretty much no tradeable assets. It was like hitting against Danny Duffy with one arm tied behind your back. But Dayton Moore managed to add depth just about the only way he could - by using every avenue available to find freely available talent. With a clear emphasis on finding groundball pitchers, Dayton Moore found arms through cheap free agency (Wily Peralta), minor league free agency (Scott Barlow), trades (Trevor Oaks, Jesse Hahn, and Heath Fillmyer), and the Rule 5 draft (Brad Keller and Burch Smith).
Make no mistake, none of these arms is a big time prospect. But the best way to find a decent starting pitcher is to bring in five pitching prospects. Most of these guys will fail. But it will cost the Royals basically nothing to find out. If one, or even two of them go on to become a hidden gem like Jose Quintana (minor league free agent let go by the Yankees), Collin McHugh (claimed off waivers from the Rockies), or Corey Kluber (marginal prospect acquired for Jake Westbrook) it will have definitely been worth it.
How would you grade Dayton Moore’s off-season?
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