August 05, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost (left) with general manager Dayton Moore (right) before a game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Time For Dayton Moore to Wake Up

Apr 14, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore during batting practice before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Process is in its seventh year. Since joining the Royals as general manager, Dayton Moore has done some good things. I can’t discount the efforts he’s done to rebuild a farm system that was in tatters. He’s been ahead of the curve in some drafting philosophies. He’s gotten David Glass to open up the pocket book. He’s signed key players to long-term deals.

But if he were the perfect executive, I wouldn’t have cause to write this.

Dayton Moore is in a tight spot. He’s gone all-in with a pair of eights. It’s a good hand in Texas Hold Em. It’s not a great hand. It will win a good amount of the time, but there are plenty of hands better than a pair of eights that he might be up against. If he’s in a coinflip, he’s about 50/50. Here’s the thing though – if someone hits a bigger hand, he’s crippled.

Trading for James Shields was a good move. Giving up a top three prospect was too much to pay in my opinion, but Shields has been about as advertised (my quibble is with the cost). If he could get run support, things would look much different. Ervin Santana has mostly worked out, despite regressing in May. Jeremy Guthrie‘s peripherals are catching up to him, but he’s still better than anyone the Royals marched out there last year.

The failures of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, though, are big concerns. Huge concerns. These are cornerstone players that should be begged to sign a long-term deal to stick around in Kansas City. Hosmer should  be having a breakout year. Moustakas should be giving fans enough to talk about Steve Balboni‘s record finally falling.

Instead, Moose is lost and Ned Yost seems to have lost confidence in playing him. Hosmer’s making contact, but couldn’t drive the ball to the right side if you gave him a dozen shots at it in a game.

Look up and down the lineup and you see talent. Some of it is raw, like Lorenzo Cain. Some of it could use a better approach to get the most out of that talent, like Alcides Escobar, but you can look at the personnel and see players who are capable of being a good offense.

But they’re all in. There’s no option to fold right now. Dayton Moore can’t backtrack and regroup. The chips are in the middle and he has no other ammo.

I wouldn’t expect the Glass family to employ us if we didn’t feel we could win a championship in Kansas City. When is that going to happen? I don’t know. We’re going to continue to concentrate on getting better each day. And then some day  we’re going to wake up and be good. — Dayton Moore, March 5, 2010

The Royals really need to get Moustakas to Omaha to rebuild his swing and confidence. Yost will talk about how Moustakas hasn’t lost his confidence, but he’s been awful for all but one week of the year. If he hasn’t lost confidence, he hasn’t been paying attention to his performance. But he’s still in Kansas City. Why? Who else do they use? Miguel Tejada? Elliot Johnson? Does Johnny Giavotella replace him? Are any of those long-term alternatives? No on all counts. Whose fault is that?

That’s Dayton Moore’s fault.

Hosmer could use some regrouping in Omaha as well, and I suppose Billy Butler could play first and about anyone else could be the designated hitter. That’s not ideal at all. But the next option at first out of the minors would be Max Ramirez or perhaps Xavier Nady.

The Royals Triple A club has a lot of replacement level players, and you can get by with that for the short term. If you need to cover a DL stint, that’s fine. David Lough can fill in for Jarrod Dyson. It’s the right role for him. But you can’t rely on him to be an everyday producer. You could call up Irving Falu and he’d do fine, but again, he wouldn’t be much more than just a replacement level player. Across the diamond, that’s what you have. Replacement level options.

There’s no depth, no wiggle room, and no flexibility. That’s all on Dayton Moore.

He’s way ahead of where Allard Baird was, but that makes it even more disappointing.

Since taking over the Royals, the major league team has averaged 69 wins. Their highest total was 75 wins in 2008. This year – the all-in year – they’re on pace for 69 wins. And worse, there aren’t any Hosmers or Moustakases to call up. Their closest big bat as a prospect is … well who? Orlando Carlixte, who’s in Double A? Brett Eibner? Christian Colon perhaps? Their next closest third base prospect is Cheslor Cuthbert who’s having a decent year, but hes still three years away.

Bubba Starling is years away. Adalberto Mondesi can’t even buy cigarettes legally yet. Jorge Bonifacio is injured. Wil Myers is a Durham Bull.

Maybe the Royals can get a boost from pitching, but even Yordano Ventura, their best pitching prospect, has yet to reach Triple A (though that’s soon to change). Chris Dwyer has pitched well, but I’m not sure how much the organization trusts him. Kyle Zimmer is having some issues in High A. None of them are particularly close, and with Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino getting closer to returns, none are all that necessary right now. The pitching hasn’t even been the problem.

But there’s nobody to call on for help.

And after reaching its peak in 2011, the Royals farm system as a whole is starting to come back to earth. I don’t think you can put too much stock in a team winning games at the minor league level – lineups are regularly managed to get players a look in a new spot or to piggy back starters or to test someone at a level. If you win, it’s a bonus. But I think that it can hint at something. Talent often rises above lesser talent and that can lead to wins.

These are year by year numbers for the full Royals minor league rosters.

I’m looking at the total win percentage of all teams, plus the strikeout and walk rates of pitchers to see if there was any sharp change after Dayton Moore took over entirely. I’ve also included the systems ranking according to Baseball America and the number of top 100 overall prospects as ranked by BA.

Year Win % Pitcher K% Pitcher BB% BA Ranking Top 100 Prospects
2007 0.503 18.70 8.20 11 3
2008 0.478 19.34 8.79 24 3
2009 0.482 18.83 8.75 11 3
2010 0.493 19.70 8.69 16 3
2011 0.494 19.95 8.40 1 9
2012 0.501 19.80 8.80 2 5
2013 0.451 20.60 10.20 18 3

And hitters. I was hoping to see some change in some areas. Perhaps in walk rates. Perhaps in more power.

Year K% BB% BA OBP SLG OPS PA/HR R/gm
2007 17.8 8.59 0.259 0.332 0.379 0.711 60.68 4.49
2008 19.1 8.87 0.256 0.329 0.384 0.713 54.95 4.59
2009 18.7 8.60 0.255 0.327 0.373 0.700 65.36 4.54
2010 18.6 8.60 0.260 0.332 0.387 0.719 60.00 4.66
2011 18.7 8.90 0.262 0.336 0.388 0.725 57.57 4.77
2012 18.7 8.36 0.261 0.331 0.387 0.718 57.08 4.79
2013 20.6 8.28 0.244 0.313 0.362 0.674 59.36 4.19

What I see are incremental changes (and those are certainly good) rising up to 2011 when the organization earned high praise from everyone for its wealth of prospects.

And let me be clear, Moore has gotten prospects that Allard Baird wouldn’t have (though, it’s also fair to point out that the two best hitters on the team were drafted by Baird). They ponied up the money for Myers and went and Hosmer, Moustakas and Starling were expensive signings as well. They weren’t Chris Lubanski.

The system improved as Moore’s players filtered in, peaked after a couple of years, then there has been some regression as players graduate to the big leagues. All fair observations.

But for all of the accolades Moore gets as a player development ace, he really hasn’t developed many good players. Eight of the twenty-nine players the Royals have put in a game this year were drafted or signed as an amateur by Moore. Of those, Salvador Perez is the highest rated by WAR (5.4), but otherwise, it’s Greg Holland (4.2). Perez was a signee. Holland was a 2007 10th rounder.

Put another way, the best player Dayton Moore has drafted has been Greg Holland. And no disrespect to Holland, that’s just not going to make it work.

His  first round picks haven’t been performing to the level of expectations. None of Moore’s first rounders since 2009 have made the big leagues.

  • 2007: Mike Moustakas – we know how he’s been this year. He’s had two good months in August 2011 and a solid first half of 2012. Otherwise, he’s been a mess.
  • 2008: Eric Hosmer – he looks every part of the All-Star first baseman, but somewhere between 2011 and 2012 lost what made him a potential rookie of the year and now, he looks like he doesn’t know how to get it back.
  • 2009: Aaron Crow – I won’t play draft revisionist, but Mike Trout 13 picks after Crow. Drafted as a starter, he’s yet to come up with a third pitch and is a seventh, sometimes eighth, inning setup man.
  • 2010: Christian Colon – already moving off shortstop, Colon was touted as the closest to major league ready. He’s yet to see Kansas City three years later. He’s hitting .256 with a .659 OPS. Meanwhile Chris Sale, who was rumored to be a target, is a Cy Young contender.
  • 2011: Bubba Starling – he’s since had LASIK surgery to fix some night vision problems. They knew he’d be a project, but he’s got a long way to go and is hitting just .208 in 2013
  • 2012: Kyle Zimmer – before 2013, the Royals talked up Zimmer as being on the fast track. On Thursday, the Royals will face Michael Wacha, a pitcher taken 14 picks later (though Jason Parks reminds us that Zimmer still has more upside). I’m not really worried about Zimmer though.

Some bad luck has fallen upon the Royals. If Mike Montgomery hadn’t gotten hurt in 2007, maybe he never flounders in Triple A and ends up as a toss-in in December. Maybe if the Royals had let him long toss, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, though. They took a chance on John Lamb, who hadn’t thrown as a senior in high school and he was starting to look like the best of their left-handed pitching prospects. Then he needed Tommy John surgery. The Royals had the fourth pick in 2010 with three elite talents – Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon, and Manny Machado – and after that, there was no consensus.

The question still has to be, are the players Dayton drafts bad players? Or is there something in the development approach of the organization that’s got them falling behind everyone else?

That’s what Moore has to answer, and if that means going out of his comfort zone, he’ll have to do it. His job is safer than Ned Yost’s but maybe it shouldn’t be. The Kansas City Chiefs had this sort of question come up recently and cleaned house. After bringing in Scott Pioli as the GM, they hired Todd Haley as the head coach. Then he was fired. Romeo Crennel was brought in and also fired. The Chiefs wouldn’t let Pioli take a third swing at it. That’s the position the Royals find themselves in – do they let Moore make a third hire?

All Moore will talk about is how the team isn’t panicking and how the process takes 8-10 years. Over and over, that’s the mantra. Just like Yost, they stick to the company line despite the fact that many other general managers in baseball have taken over teams in similar or worse situations and turned them around. Some have turned them around, rebuilt, and gotten back into the playoffs since Moore was hired. All but five teams have made the playoffs since the start of Moore’s tenure.

That excuse doesn’t work anymore. Changes have to happen or Moore will end up busted, and the Royals will be back to rebuilding. If the team thinks fans are impatient now, imagine where we’ll be then.

Can Dayton Moore make those changes? Does he recognize the need for changes?

That’s our philosophy. Someday we’re going to wake up and be very, very good. — Dayton Moore, October 4, 2012

Time to wake up.

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