It’s fair to say that this year’s Royals prospect class is among the best we’ve seen.
- J.J. Cooper, Managing Editor – Baseball America
Couple of days ago I was wondering if the
#Royals system was the best I’ve seen since doing what I do. It certainly is now.
- Kevin Goldstein, then Baseball Prospectus minor league scout
The Royals have one of the deepest and most talented farm systems in recent memory.
- Jim Callis – Baseball America
In 2011, Dayton Moore had positioned the Kansas City Royals on the cusp of greatness by constructing baseball’s most envied farm system out of the decayed and dilapidated ruins left by years of apathy and neglect. We Royals fans finally got to read something positive about our team by people who knew. We gorged ourselves on hope and praise after starving through a 25-year diet of failure and despair. The team we all dreamed for was coming soon.
The prospects arrived, one-by-one, in the following months and years, until the culmination of Dayton Moore’s efforts took the field at Kauffman Stadium. The best farm system in baseball has arrived.
And they’re losing.
Rampant speculation has been swirling around the city, on talk radio, and in print about how things could have slid as far as they have–from World Series expectations to inexcusable team-wide slumps. More often than not, the accusations fall at Dayton Moore’s feet. It looks like he might have blown the team’s best shot at a championship in 30 years.
Now, before we dive into the unavoidable ugliness that usually accompanies a post about the Royals’ front office, let’s acknowledge that some hope yet lingers. From 2001 until 2011, when Baseball America crowned the Royals organization’s farm system “the best in baseball,” every team to have their system so named reached the playoffs within the following four years. Those organizations made moves to fill in the holes around the young talent as prospects grew up, filled out, got better, and contributed at the major league level. The Royals are in year three, so Dayton Moore has some time left to take advantage of former top prospects before someone starts drafting an obituary for this front office.
Dayton Moore wasted any chance the Royals had of making the playoffs in 2012 by filling out a roster with legitimately terrible players. He signed Jeff Francoeur to a two-year contract extension against the recommendation of basically everyone not employed by him. He opted not to replace Chris Getz at second base, the worst everyday player in the majors. He traded for Jonathan Sanchez, a has-been with a dead arm. So far in the twenty-first century, teams average about 85 wins in the year after their farm system is named #1 in baseball. The Royals won 72.
By comparison, the Cubs had the #1 ranked system in 2002 and they won the division the next year. In the middle of 2003, they flipped prospect Bobby Hill for veterans Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton. Homegrown center fielder Corey Patterson hit well for a good defender and, after being promoted in 2001, their young arms Carlos Zambrano and Mark Prior provided excellent rotation support for their home grown ace, Kerry Wood. The Cubs dumped two b-list prospects on the Diamondbacks to receive a good defensive catcher, Damian Miller.
Teams with the best farm systems tend to peak just two years after their farms receive the illustrious label. From 2001-2012, teams won an average of 89.3 games in the season two years removed from their farm’s #1 status. That would have been the 2013 season for the Royals. Wins trend downwards in the years to follow. The Royals topped out at 86.
Worse still, teams that pushed all their chips to the middle of the table in later seasons still had resources left over from their #1 farm system. The 2001 White Sox system helped contribute to a World Series victory in 2005. Not only did former prospects Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland both receive Cy Young votes, and Bobby Jenks and Neil Cotts turn into good relievers, the Sox flipped a young Miguel Olivo and Mike Morse for Freddy Garcia in mid-2004, who threw 228 innings for them in 2005.
When the Indians won 96 games in 2007, four years after Baseball America ranked their farm #1, they had home-grown impact talent all over the lineup. They had Ryan Garko, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, and Jhonny Peralta. They had C.C. Sabathia and Roberto Hernandez in the rotation. They plugged what few holes they had with the money saved on their homegrown talent.
The Royals, on the other hand, have already traded away precious prospect capital in Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to temporarily acquire James Shields. Mike Montgomery busted. Chris Dwyer busted. Danny Duffy and John Lamb lost a year to Tommy John surgery rehab. While some of the up-and-coming prospects look promising, the current collection of struggling 2011 farm alumni are in danger of becoming an overall bust at the major league level.
Another team who came dangerously close to wasting the best farm in baseball was the Milwaukee Brewers, who had the best system in 2004. Like the Royals, they scuffled around the .500 mark for a few years. They finally earned a wild card berth with 90 wins in 2008. This is where we hope the Royals will end up this year or next. From their respective #1 systems, the Royals will try to make the playoffs with Eric Hosmer (83 OPS+), Salvador Perez (97), and Mike Moustakas (44) while the Brewers did it with Ryan Braun (146 OPS+), Corey Hart (100), Prince Fielder (166), Rickie Weeks (125), and J.J. Hardy (75). The difference in offense is staggering.
Baseball is a results-based industry and other teams have set the bar. Teams with #1 ranked systems make the playoffs in the few following years. Dayton Moore is on the clock and things are not trending well for his organization. An optimist might point out that the Royals still have a top ten system, but if Moore can’t make the playoffs using the dividends raked from the best farm system that scouts had ever seen, we should probably not expect much from a lesser system. Dayton Moore hasn’t “wasted” a number one farm system. Not really…not yet.