1). Hiring The Bush-League Manager
In October of 2007, Dayton Moore hired Pacific League (Japan) manager Trey Hillman to replace Buddy Bell in the Kansas City Royals dugout.
What a mistake.
The then 44-year-old Hillman had been a long-time coach with the New York Yankees, who then took a job with the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters. Hillman led them to three straight playoff appearances and one Japan Series title (2006).
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Hillman was young. Hillman seemed to be a winner. But, his Japanese-style management tactics didn’t sit well in the KC Royaks clubhouse. In his first spring training in 2008, Hillman called his team out onto the field after a spring game and lectured them about their failure to execute fundamentals. Many considered the move “Bush League” and felt their coach was showing them up.
Hillman never connected with his players, piling up a 152-207 record in two seasons (and the beginning of a third) before Moore pulled the plug in 2010.
Not only was Hillman’s .423 winning percentage bad, he lost control of the Kansas City Royals. He failed to discipline strong-willed outfielder/DH Jose Guillen. Reliever Jose Cruz turned out to be a guy collecting a paycheck. Worst of all, young prospect Billy Butler got ridiculed by teammates.
Under Hillman, top prospect Alex Gordon almost washed out of Kansas City as a bust (before reinventing himself as an outfielder and a three-time All-Star). Worst of all, Hillman ruined free-agent signee Gil Meche (five years, $55 million) by allowing him to run up ridiculous pitch counts with a sore arm in 2009.
Moore had correctly identified Meche as a pitcher ready to break out as a top-of-the rotation starter in the winter before the 2007 season, and gave him what many considered too rich of a deal. Gil Meche rewarded Moore’s faith when he put up a 9-13 season with a 3.67 ERA in 216.0 innings the first year of his contract (ERA+ of 125).
Meche followed up his 2007 success with a solid 2008 season. Meche was also off to a strong start in 2009 before Hillman demanded too many pitches from an over-worked arm.
Really, there was no excuse. Thank the Baseball Gods that Dayton Moore found a way to escape the wilderness.