Dayton Moore may be facing one of his biggest years as a General Manager, overseeing a rebuild that will determine if the recent championship was a blip in a decades-long era of bad baseball, or whether this franchise can enjoy intermittant periods of success. Most of the heroes from the championship club have departed, with Kelvin Herrera traded last month to the Nationals. The Herrera trade prompted this anecdote from Dayton Moore, relayed by Rustin Dodd of The Athletic.
While discussing the Kelvin Herrera trade, Royals GM Dayton Moore remembered a story involving Reds exec Walt Jocketty from the Johnny Cueto deal in 2015: pic.twitter.com/fIeXyZjMn8— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) June 19, 2018
To some Royals fans, seeing Dayton Moore seek out trading partners that would make a good home for his player is just further evidence of how much Dayton Moore cares about these players, but for others this may be strategic shortsightedness that could cost the team more talent long-term.
Fans are put in a bit of a difficult position. On the one hand, we become fans of a team, usually because we’re from the geographical region that team calls home, or maybe we liked the team colors or stadium, or maybe we even liked a certain player on that team and just stuck with them after that player retired. But we will cheer on that team, despite personnel changes over the years. Royals Nation. Forever Royal. Raised Royal.
But Dayton Moore has caused us to care not only about the name on the front of the jersey, but the name on the back. Fans have embraced many of the players from the championship run, and not just because they are terrific ballplayers. We giggle at Salvy’s bromance with Lorenzo. We swoon at Hosmer’s smoothness on and off the field. We are inspired by Moose’s intensity in the face of tragedy. We laugh at Duffy’s silly jokes.
I think this is at least part of why the consideration of signing Luke Heimlich drew so much backlash. No one doubts his talent, a left-hander that throws in the high-90s would be a great addition to the farm system. But cheering for a convicted child molester seemed to be a bridge too far for many fans.
Dayton Moore obviously cares a who helluva lot about these guys, and so do we. And doing right by the players has obviously built a great atmosphere and an organization players enjoy being in. But it also has its costs - quite literally.
The Chicago Cubs did not add Kris Bryant to their Opening Day roster in 2015, despite overwhelming evidence he was ready. They instead assigned him to the minor leagues under the flimsy excuse that he needed to work on his defense, calling him up two weeks later in a year in which he still won Rookie of the Year. It was pretty clear they were gaming his service time. Delaying his MLB debut by a few weeks allowed those teams to push back free agency by a full year. And this is a very common practice - the Braves did it this year with top prospect Ronald Acuña. Other teams keep prospects down until mid-June to push back the year those players are eligible for arbitration, keeping payroll costs down.
The Royals don’t do this. Alex Gordon made the 2007 Opening Day roster. They called up Eric Hosmer before the “Super-Two” arbirtation cut-off. They call up players when they think they are ready, not according to service time, despite having the limited resources of a small market club. And that is not the only example of the Royals leaving money on the table when dealing with players - the Royals re-negotiated the ridiculously team-friendly contract for Salvador Perez when they had no obligation to do so.
While good for the players, these moves cost the team money, which in turn, limits what they can do since they have a finite amount of money to work with. And ultimately, we cheer for the “Royals” as a team, not as individual people. I love Lorenzo Cain and will cheer for him the rest of his career, but when his team faces the Royals, I still want Kansas City to come out on top. I want what is best for the franchise long-term. I want another flag to fly at Kauffman Stadium.
This puts fans in a difficult position. We want players to be happy, but we also want the team to field the best possible team, and that usually means less money or power for the players. This causes us to cheer for the team to prevail over the player in arbitration hearings. We don’t want players to hit vesting options or performance bonuses that may limit payroll flexibility. We groan at no-trade clauses that protect a player from where he is shipped off to, because it prevents our team from getting the best possible deal.
But maybe this is changing. Social media has allowed us to get to know these players even more. We know what they do on their off days. We know what movies they like, what other sports teams they cheer for, what their families look like, even at times, their political thoughts. Players can make their voices heard, especially if their club or MLB treats them wrong.
Additionally, there has been an increasing awareness, at least by some, to recognize greater rights for players, to longer see them as stat lines or chattel to be “locked up” to long-term deals or “rented” for penannt pushes. Waiver wire battles may make strategic sense to a team, but they are hell on the player who must move from city to city several times in a week, uncertain about his future. Gaming service time may not mean your team is smart at using limited resources, it may just mean your ownership is too cheap to field the best 25 players. A player on a “bad contract” is just cashing in for all those years he was forced to play under club control at a salary far below what a free market would bear.
So maybe it is time for us fans to re-think how we look at baseball front office strategy. Siding with team ownership in keeping labor costs low so your team can eke out a few more wins per payroll dollar is like cheering on Big Conglomerate Corp because they kept labor costs low to eke out a more dividends to stockholders. And maybe you’re a bottom line person and you’re fine with that.
But Dayton Moore completely changed the organization of a laughingstock franchise by caring about the players, and getting them to care about each other. Maybe you don’t think that matters at all, but I think it matters at least a little. And I like having a team of guys I actually like a lot. Wins are still the most important thing, but maybe they can be achieved without brutal adherence to saving every last penny at the expense of the player. At the very least, Dayton Moore has me caring about what happens to the player whose name is on the back of the jersey.