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Dayton Moore expects improvement in 2021

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It’s all about getting better.

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Dayton Moore spoke to the media for almost a full hour last week. Much of what he said has been reported, analyzed and over-analyzed.

The important comments are about the timeline and the players who will be a part of that. Where are they currently as an organization? How do they feel about where they are? What follows are a few direct quotes from Moore with a little more analysis. The offseason is off to a slow start and who knows when or if it will ever really take off. Why not do a little more? Who’s up for some over-over-analyzing?

Let’s start with the big one.

“We expect to win next year. What is that going to look like? Is that enough wins to make the playoffs? We’ll find out. Our mindset is going to be to go out and win every single pitch, every inning, win every single game. And that’s the only way we’re going to ever win another championship. You have to expect to win at all aspects. Mike Matheny and the coaching staff, they understand that completely.”

By now, you’ve seen or heard this. It is the quote that is getting all the run; understandably so. Area GM says his team is READY TO WIN NOW! But here’s the thing. The above quote is very “dog bites man.” Moore quite literally says this every year.

Witness. February, 2009:

“We expect not only to improve, but to compete within our division. You say the same thing every year, but this year I think it has much more of a meaning when we say that.”

The Royals lost 97 games in 2009.

But he has been right. How about March, 2011:

But that’s what Dayton Moore sells. He sells 2012 or 2103 and definitely 2014. He sells the idea that his garage band is starting to sound like something you’ll want to brag about discovering someday. As the corporate face of the franchise, he speaks a lot in public, and his spiel is nothing new. He shrugs and says, “I give the same speech they’ve been hearing for a long time. It all comes down to whether we can do it on the field.”

The current quote is getting all the run because of where the Royals are in The Process 2.0. After treading water in 2018 and ’19, the Royals punched the “start” button on the service time on a couple of important pitching prospects. The clock is ticking.

Your mileage may vary when it comes to the latest quote, but I believe that Moore believes. Besides, he didn’t say he expected the team will win the division or even the Wild Card. No, he just said he expects the team to win. To improve. To compete.

It’s all about improvement. Getting better as players and as an organization. A furious finish against weak competition enabled the Royals to goose their winning percentage to a more respectable .433. (Go easy here. The previous two season’s saw winning percentages of .364 and .358.) That’s improvement.

How will they get there? We do have track records to go by. Based on his past, Moore will assess and adjust as the winter and the next season unfolds, but it won’t be massive, wholesale changes. When the moves are eventually made, we’ll understand the reasoning behind some, others won’t be so clear. But it is important for leadership to recognize where the team is in relation to competing in the AL Central because that dictates the response. Do you tinker around the edges, fill some gaps and hope that next year is better because you can see some improvement, but it’s not quite enough? Or do you sense all is futile and decide to blow it all up and start all over again? After watching for 15-plus years, I don’t think Dayton Moore owns any dynamite or blasting caps.

Moore always expects to win. He refuses to acknowledge (publicly) a rebuild because that is the polar opposite. That’s saying you expect to lose. Is that a flaw in his general managing? Perhaps. But the reality of the wins and losses demands a constant reassessment.

“I like where we are right now as far as the evolution of a championship-caliber team. Moreso than any place that we’ve been here… We’re going to start to get much better, sooner than anybody expects.”

This sounds like as close as you’re going to get to having Moore admit that a rebuild is underfoot. While he won’t cop to a timetable like we saw in that article from March, 2011, he’s clearly enthusiastic about the players and personnel he has in place. Again, this should surprise no one who has followed this franchise for any length of time.

About those youngsters who will be expected win…

“My point with young players is is just making sure they get ample time to develop and that we are patient with them. To win another championship, we’re going to need the Brady Singers, the Kris Bubics and guys like Nicky Lopez and Adalberto Mondesi, we’re going to need them to turn into stars and the only way they’re going to do that is we have to give them a chance and stay patient with them. And so we’re prepared to continue to do that.”

Again, I’ve been listening to Moore for… a really long time. Seeing a word like “stars” and see Nicky Lopez mentioned in the same sentence is just - kind of strange. But not out of character.

You have to gloss over buzzwords and look at the larger picture. No, those guys don’t have to become “stars” for the Royals to win a championship. How many “stars” were on the 2014 and 2015 pennant winners? But they will need improvement and progress from at least three of the four players Moore mentioned. That’s what we saw in those championship years. And that’s really what he was saying in the above quote. (Well, he was saying he wanted to see improvement from all four mentioned, but really, wouldn’t you take three out of four?)

We saw some positive outings from Brady Singer and Kris Bubic in 2020. We saw Adalberto Mondesi get right after a horrible start. A flash of potential here or there won’t carry this team to October, that gets you a .433 winning percentage. They need to step up. But they’ll need support. And that’s where the Royals have really made strides in the last couple of years. Hiring positions like a director of hitting performance (Alec Zumwalt) and a director of pitching performance (Paul Gibson), along with respective supporting staffs, allows the organization to go beyond the typical “hitting coach” and “pitching coach” roles. And as Moore stressed, they’re just getting started.

“Gibby has the trust of all of our pitchers, just as Alec has with all of our hitters. Just because they know they’re extremely committed. They care deeply. They’re great communicators. They’re excellent listeners… So we couldn’t be more pleased. And really, we’re just getting started with that. It hasn’t been too long since we put those guys in charge of those departments. And so we’re still growing, we’re still learning. But the important thing is we have a wave of pitchers and position players, of staff members that are growing together, learning from one another.”

This is a massive difference between the original Process and the Process 2.0. The Royals are much more invested in getting the most out of the players they have in the organization. This isn’t revolutionary or even unique to the Royals. But it is reassuring that they see the value in this and have chosen to move in this direction.

But it’s not just the young players who will need to play a role in improvement. Moore specifically called out three he will be counting to deliver for the organization.

“Hunter Dozier we believe is capable of taking a step forward. And that’s going to have to happen. He’s going to get opportunity to do that. Whit Merrifield is one of the more consistent guys on the planet and we need to build around that. Salvador Perez, in my mind, just keeps getting younger and younger. Just his attitude and mindset keeps it fresh. He’s an extremely hard worker.”

It’s interesting that he would focus on those three, for different reasons. Dozier never really got on track in the short season, especially after his own battle with the virus. But he did find a home at first base. It’s safe to assume that’s his role going forward. So goodbye to the “soft platoon.”

Just forget about any speculation that would have the Royals dealing Merrifield. As I pointed out earlier this week, Moore thinks the trade market is stone cold. “There’s always a level of insecurity that exists within an organization when you make a trade under the best of circumstances, and so I think some of that is more magnified because of the shortened season,” Moore said. Merrifield is about as untouchable as a player can get.

And finally there’s Perez. His current extension is up after the 2021 season. He’ll be 31 next year. Moore praised his work ethic and basically echoed what I’ve thought about his year away from the game... It rejuvenated his body and his mind. We saw results in the shortened season. Now did Moore tip his hand when it comes to the possibility of working another extension?

Finally, let’s end with where Moore sees The Process 2.0 currently.

“As far as timeline, we’re just going to focus on getting better each and every minute of every single day… every month, get better… every year, get better. Maybe someday we’ll wake up and we’ll be really, really good. That’s gotta be the focus on how we do this.”

The part about waking up and suddenly being good just sounds so… accidental. Especially after hearing about all the new processes in place to help the team improve. If we’ve learned anything from the last five years it’s that winning championships is hard. You have to have a plan. The plan is seldom linear, although in hindsight it can certainly feel that way. If the organization has a plan in place, the personnel to execute that plan and if everything goes right, they will be “really, really good.” Championship good? Who can say. And yes, with a few breaks it can happen suddenly.

Besides, isn’t that whole waking up thing kind of how 2014 felt?