If you ask any Royals fan what they think of GM Dayton Moore, you’ll likely get as many answers as there are stars in the sky. Critics will tell you he’s only had one winning season at the MLB level, supporters will tell you he’s saved the organization. Hired in 2006, it is his 9th year on the job. Since the answers will vary depending upon whom is asked, let’s break it down and see if we can figure it out using several factors. We’ll give Moore a Pass/Fail for each area instead of muddying things up with letter grades or ratings.
1. MLB record
The Royals won 86 games in 2013. It was the most games they had won in over 20 years and it was their first winning season in 10 years. In Moore’s 7 full seasons from 2007-2013, the Royals are 505-629. Ouch! Taking the raw numbers into account doesn’t do Moore justice, though. He took over a franchise who sent Mark Redmond to the All-Star game (because SOMEBODY had to go) and had only Billy Butler, Zack Greinke, and Alex Gordon in its system as legitimate prospects-none of which had yet to establish any significant MLB level success. So yeah……the cupboard was pretty bare in June 2006 when Moore took over. Still, those first couple of squads have his name on them and so did the extremely disappointing 2009 and 2010 clubs. Many expected Moore to at least be able to post 75-80 wins after a couple of seasons and he failed to do reach 75 wins more than once prior to 2013.
To his credit, Moore was willing to take his lumps at the MLB level while waiting on his own draftees to start getting promoted to KC. That patience paid off in 2013 and at the All-Star break here in 2014 the Royals have a winning record and are within striking distance of a postseason spot. If you’re going to blame him for not competing soon enough, you have to give him credit for building a team that started to win and is still ascending from a development standpoint. The Royals’ finish in 2014 will be the tipping point on this one.
Highlight: 86 Wins in 2013
Lowlight: 97 Losses in 2009
PASS (for now, anyway)
2. Amateur player acquisition
Moore’s background was scouting and development and it was what made him look like a perfect fit for a club like the Royals whose ownership would never consistently open its checkbook for top-level MLB talent. If the Royals were going to be rebuilt, it was going to have to be through the draft and international free agency. Moore went to work right away with the high picks and gaming the draft/signing bonus system in place at that time. He picked players like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Aaron Crow in the first round and found guys like Mike Montgomery, Wil Myers, Tim Melville, John Lamb, and Danny Duffy in the rounds after that.
While many critics would say that Moose and Hosmer have failed to live up to the hype, and that Lamb and Montgomery couldn’t make it to the majors, that set of guys have become productive players or were used to acquire productive players (James Shields and Wade Davis are pretty good, no?) who are currently on the roster. Along with that, for every John Lamb or Tim Melville there is also a Salvy Perez or Yordano Ventura-international free agents signed for incredibly cheap amounts. Again, if you’re going to say that Moore missed on Moose and Hosmer as 1st rounders you have to offset that with Perez and Ventura.
You can’t stop there for sure. There are certainly other 1st rounders like Christian Colon and Bubba Starling who were 1st rounders but aren’t in KC contributing. Moore has to answer for those picks (although I’d argue that you can’t give up on Starling until the end of 2015) and for their failure to produce at the MLB level. Regardless, however you think the scorecard tips for/against Moore when it comes to amateur talent acquisition, one MUST concede that the Royals’ entire system is in good shape (whether comparing it to 2006 or to the rest of MLB now).
From rookie ball to AAA, each level has some talent (the lower levels of A through AA has most of the “next wave”) that is promising at the least and exciting at best. The cupboard is not bare in the minor leagues after Moose, Hosmer, Duffy, Salvy, and Ventura got to KC. But think about that for a moment: that is 5 major contributors to a contending team and NONE of them is older than 25 heading into the 2014 season. Further, NONE is eligible for free agency for several more seasons. In sum, the Royals system looks better than it has in 25-30 years AFTER the maturation of the “first wave” of Moore’s picks/signings. Compare it to what things looked like in 2006 when Moore was hired and that is the answer you are looking for.
Highlight: Yordano Ventura and Salvy Perez
Lowlight: Crow, Colon, Starling, maybe Moose as 1st rounders
3. Amateur player development
This one is a bit of a moving target. For whatever reason, the Royals have struggled MIGHTILY to keep pitchers healthy and get them into the MLB rotation. On that fact alone, you could give Moore a FAIL. Furthermore, during the wrong stretch of the past 3 seasons you could say that Moose and Hosmer are complete busts and that the only proven offensive players on the Royals’ roster were holdovers from the Allard Baird era (Butler and Gordon).
However, at the right time Moose (2012, post 2014 demotion) and Hosmer (2011, 2nd half of 2013) have the look of average to significant contributor players. Salvy, Ventura, and Duffy either are All-Stars or have the look of guys who could be All-Stars more than a few times. This makes you sit and wonder if it is the impatience of beaten down Royals fans, the immense pressure on Moose and Hosmer, the inexact science of scouting, or something glaring that the Royals lower level instructors are actually doing wrong. The answer is probably a little bit of all those things mixed together. Because of all of those “what-ifs” floating around, Moore has to get a FAIL in this category. However, a good argument could be made that he at least deserves an INCOMPLETE until the end of 2014.
Highlight: Salvy, Duffy, Ventura, Jarrod Dyson, Greg Holland, Aaron Crow
Lowlight: Moustakas, Colon, Starling
4. MLB level player acquisition
Again, this one is a bit of a moving target. The Royals’ MLB player acquisition plan can be divided into 2 periods:
2006-2011: This was the time that Moore was treading water and buying time at the MLB level until “his guys” could develop and reach the majors. His MLB acquisitions at that time were aimed at selling tickets and trying to end the reputation of being an embarrassment to MLB. The Royals weren’t signing guys to try to win 81+ games. They were signing guys to rehabilitate their image and reputation with fans and within the industry. They needed to show fans that they were trying and spending money while simultaneously showing players and agents that they were no longer the Wal Mart Royals, who weren’t going to pay. How else can one explain a team missing out on a hard run at Torii Hunter and then throwing millions of dollars to Jose Guillen? There is no sane explanation for that, other than to say, “We’ve GOT to spend some money and we couldn’t get the guy we really wanted.”
Pulling off the Gil Meche signing was the beginning of the tide turning and it was a nice move until testosterone led to bad decisions and failing to protect his arm. Add to the Meche signing another big move: Zack Greinke wanted the hell out of KC and Moore was able to not only acquire an everyday Shortstop and Centerfielder, but he also GOT someone to take Yuni Betancourt off the team. Yes, there IS a small deduction of points for Yuni being on the team in the first place (he was acquired by Moore in a trade of a pitching prospect who never did anything).
2012-present: Once the “first wave” started to reach the majors, Moore turned his efforts to acquiring players to build around them. In came a different kind of Free Agent: one who actually filled a need and didn’t cost a lot of money either by way of annual salary or long-term commitment. Guys like Melky Cabrera (who eventually was traded and turned into Jeremy Guthrie), Bruce Chen, and Jeff Francoeur were solid contributors to the improvement of the team and the facilitation of Moose, Hosmer, Salvy, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Danny Duffy, Aaron Crow, Greg Holland, and Tim Collins onto the MLB roster. None blocked a prospect nor did any of them sign a long-term deal that would negatively affect a top prospect.
Moore was also willing to take a chance on Ervin Santana in his contract year in 2013 with a rumored bad elbow. He had a hell of a year and earned the Royals an extra 1st round pick in the 2014 draft when he departed as a free agent. This continued into 2014 with the signings of Jason Vargas and Omar Infante, as well as the trade for Nori Aoki. Vargas and Infante have been as good as expected or better (Vargas) while Aoki has been a disaster. Also factor in that Moore was able to get Butler, Gordon, Greinke, Escobar, and Perez to all sign team-friendly contract extensions to keep their costs down while also stabilizing the lineup. Greinke’s contract extension helped boost his value to get the Royals what it got them.
There are certainly some duds in the trades/signings Moore has made but there is at least enough on the MLB club acquired by Moore to give him credit for building a team that is in the mix. If your criteria is perennial World Series contender then sure you’re right if you say it isn’t good enough.
Highlight: Greinke for Escobar and Cain; Vargas, Jonathan Sanchez for Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana
Lowlight: Trading for Mike Jacobs, signing Jose Guillen, trading Cabrera for Sanchez in the first place, trading pitcher Wil Smith for Nori Aoki
5. Use of advanced data, techniques, roster building approaches, etc.
The Royals have taken some heat for the better part of 2 decades for their stubborn refusal to value On Base Percentage when acquiring hitters. This still continues to be a problem. On top of that, the Royals’ managers hired under Moore’s regime have included a retread, old-school guy (Buddy Bell); an innovative “up and comer” with no experience who never played in the majors (Trey Hillman); and a blend of the 2 who has been part of developing winning teams in Atlanta and Milwaukee while also being a bit of an old school former player (Ned Yost).
The problem is still there, though. Ned Yost likes to play hunches and put his faith in his players even when the stats say he shouldn’t. He has been known to bunt in the first inning of a game. Sometimes his lineups are hard to understand, using lower OBP guys at the top of the lineup because “they can handle the bat” or whatever. I don’t really know if Yost costs the Royals any more games by doing this than he wins by his above average management of the pitching staff and bullpen. Some combination of the “gut v. stats” struggle is probably what you need and Yost probably has that combination where it needs to be.
Still, there is SOMETHING wrong with the way the Royals do things. Shouldn’t ONE of these top prospects actually show up and tear the cover off the ball? Do they really HAVE to try to tell everyone that the Royals’ lack of power is because of The K (even though visiting teams hit HRs there)? Do they REALLY have to go through so many hitting coaches instead of holding Moose and Hosmer accountable for not doing their jobs as expected? They screwed it up when they cut Kevin Seitzer loose for sure.
Teams like the Royals need to be doing what Oakland and Tampa are doing (and what Minnesota was doing 10 years ago): they need to be innovative and ahead of the curve. Remember all that weird shit Joe Madden was doing in Tampa with defensive shifts a few years back in the infield? How many games do you watch now when you DON’t see that? The Royals need to be doing those types of things but instead they consistently follow “the book.”
Add to this the fact that the Royals entered the season with 5 outfielders and no backup SS/utility infielder to where 3B Danny Valencia found himself playing 2B in a few games. Justin Maxwell wasn’t worth building that type of roster, as evidenced by the fact that the Royals were able to option him to AAA without losing him to another team.
Highlight: Giving Ned Yost time/patience to bring young players along and develop them at the MLB level
Lowlight: Leaning too much at times on the way that the Braves did things 25 years ago or the way Milwaukee did things with Yost.
6. Organizational operations & perception
The Royals have lost their Wal-Mart Royals perception. The industry no longer looks at them as a joke and they are no longer a part of The Simpsons or The Tonight Show as a national embarrassment.
The more seasons they have like 2013 (and 2014 thus far), the more all fans/organizations will look at them as returning to what they were when Mr. Kauffman was alive and well. The 2012 All Star Game showed the baseball world what kind of baseball town KC is when the Royals make a legitimate effort to put a likable product on the field. Smartly, the Royals continue to ride that momentum.
Highlight: Being able to sign free agents over the past couple of offseasons; national recognition for building a postseason contender.
Lowlight: Dayton Moore saying that in a small way he, “felt like we won the World Series” after the Royals won 86 games in 2013.
7. Other contributing factors/limitations
The Royals will never be a top-10 payroll team (or at least, not without a much better local TV contract) and so they are always going to have to deal with the contributing factors/limitations that come with being a small market team. Thus far, they’ve met those challenges by acquiring cheap and young talent to ride as long as they can or use to fill needs. To this point, the Moore regime seems to deal well with those limitations and factors instead of using them as a crutch or making excuses.
For example, Moore has the team at a record payroll the last 2 seasons-years in which he declared the Royals to be “ready to contend” or in which the organization has appeared to be “all-in.” For these reasons, you cannot blame the organization for not working within their construct to put the pieces together in a way that makes sense from a long-term economical standpoint.
They have not made any payroll commitments to aging players that will haunt them for the next 5-8 years. That alone should provide them a few more years of flexibility and ability to put a postseason contender on the field.
Highlight: Getting the Glass family to spend money on a yearly basis
Lowlight: Letting Emilio Bonifacio get away for chump change.
There are some passes and fails on the list and one is free to choose how they balance. All MLB clubs make mistakes; some just make fewer or make mistakes that hurt less than others. Even the best NY Yankee teams had some FAIL to them when it came to player moves. The Yankees could just afford to fix a mistake by throwing more money at it. Dayton Moore has dealt with some constraints at times and has been his own worst enemy at other times.
Taken as a whole, though, Moore is a good GM who has done a good job of rebuilding the Royals and at least putting them in the postseason discussion. If your only criteria is that he either hasn’t been to the World Series or even the postseason in his 9 seasons with the Royals then you will never agree and you will never give him credit because he didn’t go far enough (perhaps that is fair). If you are willing to step back a bit and compare the Royals “before and after” Moore took the helm, you can see that things are much better than they were. Moore may never get the Royals to the postseason. It may take a successor to come in and tweak the roster to get the team back to the playoffs. If it happens that way, though, the new GM will be starting off with a franchise that is in pretty good shape due to Moore’s tenure in KC.