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Let’s discuss what went right for Dayton Moore last offseason

An ode to Homer.

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Kansas City Royals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Time to give some credit where it’s due.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how by any standard, Royals General Manager Dayton Moore had an abysmal off season.

One name I left off the ledger (intentionally, not to conform to some preconceived notion) was Homer Bailey. Bailey was excluded for two reasons.

One: He was not on the Opening Day roster. Opening Day is not some arbitrary point on the baseball calendar. It’s literally the first day of the season. It’s the data point where payrolls are calculated. Even though he was as good as on the team when they broke camp, Bailey was not officially on the roster.

Two: He was signed in the offseason as a minor league free agent. This is an important distinction. Had the Royals signed him to a major league deal (in effect placing him on the 40-man roster immediately) they would have been on the hook for the major league minimum portion of his salary due to his release from the Dodgers. With the potential of keeping him off the 40-man, the Royals would have owed only a minor league portion of his salary. Remember Clay Buchholz last year? This was all rendered moot by the first week of the regular season, but it is a factor when discussing “Royals free agent signings.”

(The same could have been said for Drew Storen. Or Michael Ynoa. Although neither was owed any money by another club, they both signed a minor league deals with invitations to spring training. Just like Bailey.)

However, the point was taken. Signing Homer Bailey was turned out to be Moore’s shrewdest move in what was an otherwise abysmal winter. Bailey provided the Royals with 90 innings and an 8.1 SO/9 and 3.8 BB/9. He finished his ever so brief Royals career with a 4.65 xFIP and was worth 1.1 fWAR. When he left the Royals, he was effectively their second best starter, behind only Brad Keller.

Thrust into a pennant race (ok, Wild Card race), Bailey has been even better. In just 38 innings in Oakland, he has maintained his whiff rate (8.3 SO/9) but has dramatically cut down on the free passes (2.1 BB/9). The ERA is bloated but his strand rate has been 63 percent. His 4.34 xFIP points to the consistency he has shown in both stops this year. He’s been worth 0.8 fWAR in seven starts for the A’s.

When shopping for players with which to stock the roster, the aisle of released veteran starters is where Moore should linger the longest. (Somehow, he always ends up in the speedy fringe player aisle, but I digress.) The dividends will rarely be exceptional, but it can be worthwhile. In this case, the Royals spun three and a half months of Bailey into Kevin Merrell.

Merrell was rated as the 12th best prospect in the Oakland system by Baseball Prospectus. (Hey, did you know I edited their Prospect Guide last winter? You can still buy it!)

(Merrell) will pop borderline elite run times, but is a bit rougher at the six. He’s improved enough that we’ll project him as a shortstop though… He doesn’t offer much in the way of pop either, as he’s slight of frame with a relatively flat swing plane and little leg drive. If he slaps enough balls into the alleys and sneaks some extra bases he could play everyday, but again, the most likely outcome here is (very) speedy utility infielder.

See what I mean about Moore shopping in the speedy fringe player aisle? The man has an addiction.

Even though... if you can turn Homer Bailey into a top 15 type prospect from any organization, you jump at the opportunity. It’s been a rough start for Merrell in Double-A, hitting .222/.274/.317 in 135 plate appearances, but it’s still early. He will be in the organization for several years. Bailey wasn’t going to be in Kansas City beyond this season. It may not be a “winning” trade, but it is certainly a “good” one. At least for now.

So when reflecting on the past winter and looking for things that went right for the Royals and Moore, the signings of Bailey, Jake Diekman and Martin Maldonado can fall into the “good” side of the ledger. He caught a major break when Billy Hamilton was claimed by the Braves, saving the Royals for the remainder of his salary in 2019 and his $1 million buyout. Honestly, it’s not that difficult to see some positives. That said, no major league general manager whiffs on every move. Otherwise they wouldn’t be employed in that role for long.

Yet the underlying thesis remains true. Moore simply has to improve his talent acquisition in this upcoming offseason. With the impending return of Salvador Perez, the Royals will be relatively set in the lineup, but there will be holes to fill at first base (Ryan O’Hearn and Cheslor Cuthbert have failed to impress in extended auditions) and once again in the bullpen. They’ll need to find some options for the rotation. There will also be moves to fill out the roster where the temptation for the Royals has always been to find those fringy speed guys. We’re used to that by now.

There are still games to be played in 2019, but with the team sputtering toward another 100 loss season, the focus remains firmly on the future. With The Process 2.0 still in the nascent stages and with the budget sure to be tight, the moves we see this winter will be similar in the low impact nature. But the hope is Moore can resist the temptation to throw millions on players nobody else wants. That’s also something we’re all too used to by now.