KC Royals general manager Dayton Moore has succeeded in the task he undertook in when he came to Kansas City in 2006: He won a title. Now, the question is: can he keep the Kansas City Royals winning over the long-term?
That’s a much tougher task. However, Moore is probably better trained than any of his peers to pull off that feat. He spent twelve years in the Atlanta front office watching John Schuerholz guide the Braves to 11 division titles and one World Series victory. Moore’s Braves tenure came in the middle of Atlanta’s unprecedented 14-year playoff run.
Yet, the game has changed since John Schuerholz pulled off that miracle of consistency. The new conventional wisdom established by the recent path to success taken by the Astros, Cubs, and the KC Royals themselves suggests that the way build a championship team is to access the elite talent at the top of the MLB draft.
You need to lose big for a number of years to accumulate enough of that prime young (cheap) talent to build a championship core, according to this narrative.
It’s not just pundits that are pushing this model. Big market clubs with sabermetric-inclined front offices have bought into this idea, hence we see Theo Epstein in Chicago and Andrew Friedman in Los Angeles buying in. Epstein went young in his reconstruction of the Cubs. Meanwhile, Friedman is looking to shed inefficient big dollar contracts in Los Angeles, despite having more resources than anyone in the game.
So how can KC Royals general manager Dayton Moore achieve what his big market rivals have already given up on?
Moore will have to recognize that you can also acquire masses of elite young prospects in another way: with smart trades of established players as they get near to free-agency. The other “alternative” source for cheap talent is hitting the international market, and the Royals have already done so in 2015 by busting their cap limit.
I must confess that it’s much easier to devise such a strategy than to execute it. Fan loyalty, and the desire to see “one more run” at a title, tend to make general managers hold onto players they know they are unlikely to re-sign.
To put names to theory, executing this strategy means the KC Royals will need to trade one of Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas in the next two seasons. They might have to let Alex Gordon walk. Dayton Moore might be forced to decide that Greg Holland isn’t worth the money when he comes back from Tommy John surgery. One creative solution might be to deal the final year of Kendrys Morales‘ contract if Balbino Fuenmayor looks like the real deal this spring.
The Kansas City Royals have high-end prospects like Kyle Zimmer, Miguel Almonte and Raul Mondesi still in the system. Yet, minor-league analyst John Sickels suggests players like Cheslor Cuthbert and Bubba Starling profile as contributors rather than main pieces at the major-league level. He also sees the KC Royals system having a lot of “C+” prospects rather than future stars.
In short, the Royals system could use an infusion of high-upside talent in the near future.
Though the rules of the game have changed, the basic skill that allows an organization to “beat the system” is outstanding scouting. Moore’s scouts have served him well in the Zack Greinke and James Shields/Wade Davis trades, as well as recent free-agent signings like Chris Young, Kendrys Morales, and Edinson Volquez.
He’s going to need more of the same going forward if he wants to bring anything close to the run that he had in Atlanta to Kansas City.