Roll the clock back to 2006. The Kansas City Royals were in the midst of another losing campaign and had just come off a year in which they had compiled a record of 56-106. The Royals ranked 13th out of 14 teams in American League attendance and had the first overall pick in the upcoming 2006 draft. Tony Pena abruptly left the team and fled the country after leading a forsaken roster to an 8-25 record. The Royals, for all of their woes, seemed to had hit rock bottom.
The team was terrible. Management was in shambles. Ownership seemed indifferent to the struggles. Their roster included starters such as CF Joey Gathright, SS Angel Berroa, and RF Reggie Sanders. The rotation boasted the likes of Mark Redman, Luke Hudson, and Runelvys Hernandez. The closer, Ambiroix Burgos, had a 5.52 ERA. Definitively, the Royals were the worst team in baseball.
David Glass decided to take a bold step. Glass fired GM Allard Baird, who was clearly ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the job. Known around the game as a good talent evaluator, Baird had drafted the likes of Chris Lubanski and Mike Stodolka in the first rounds of his drafts, while also providing the Royals with franchise cornerstones like Zack Grienke, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon. Although all three of the latter players would go on to reach their primes after Baird’s departure, Baird provided Kansas City with players on which to build.
Yet, Baird’s lasting legacy is the player he and his regime drafted last–number one overall pick, Luke Hochevar. No one can really blame Baird for taking Hochevar; Hochevar was an advanced arm who was expected to reach the big leagues quickly. Hochevar had pitched well in his three years at Tennessee, as well as his one year in independent ball for the Fort Worth Cats. Hochevar was considered more of a “safe pick” over other top pitchers in the draft such as a Tim Lincecum (who lacked the necessary size many felt to be a true ace) and Clayton Kershaw (who was a very raw left handed high school pitcher). Hochevar had pitched well at higher levels than the other two, and he possessed a larger, less injury prone frame than the latter two pitchers. However, Hochevar has gone on to have the eighth worst career of any starting pitcher over 100 starts in Major League history while both Lincecum and Kershaw own Cy Young awards. Ultimately, Allard Baird was a failure, and Glass decided to move on.
Dayton Moore was the hot name in baseball circles and was generally regarded as the best GM prospect available. Moore had been groomed in the Atlanta Braves organization which had produced many home grown talents that had gone on to have Hall of Fame caliber careers, while guiding the Braves to an astounding 14 straight National League East Division titles. Moore had interviewed for the Red Sox GM position in 2005, yet withdrew his name from consideration after his first interview.
Moore was well known as an excellent scout of young talent and viewed a team as best built through drafting and developing players. This meshed well with Kansas City’s small market philosophy of winning games while not spending exorbitant amounts of money on older, high-profile free agents. Kansas City was no longer a premier destination to play, failing to make the postseason since its lone World Series title run in 1985. While possessing players such as Bo Jackson, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye since the magical 1985 campaign, Kansas City had failed to meet any real success in quite some time. Glass, hated by many, did what was best for the club. Glass sought out the best GM prospect available on the market and signed him.
Dayton Moore had a plan. By 2012, the roster would be 75% homegrown developed talent and the team would contend for a World Series title. Six years, he felt, would be enough to develop enough hitting, pitching, and defense to create a team that could contend on a yearly basis while not spending hundreds of millions on payroll. The Royals would develop players in their minor league system and they would learn how to win together. For the most part, Dayton was correct. Starting with his first overall pick, Mike Moustakas, Moore created what was dubbed by Baseball America as the greatest farm system in the history of baseball. Moore had drafted several prospects many scouts around the league felt had the potential to perennial allstars–players such as Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, and Danny Duffy. The Royals’ minor league system was burgeoning with young talent, while the Major League roster waited for the talent to reach the big leagues.
Moore needed to put a Major League caliber roster on the big league diamond as well, however. Moore sought out free agents such as Gil Meche and Jose Guillen in his first years as general manager, and labeled them team leaders as he waited for his promising core of minor leaguers to develop into Major League players. Moore signed Trey Hillman out of Japan to lead the Royals, and to provide the Royals with a new voice in the clubhouse after a disastrous 2006 season.
All were busts. The problems started at the top with Hillman, a manager clearly incompetent and inherently unable to perform on the Major League level. Players openly disrespected him, and he was visibly flustered on the field. Meche, signed to a five year $55 million contract, was brought in to be the staff ace. However, Meche had never shown the ability to be an ace in his years with Seattle and Hillman ran him into the ground, routinely allowing him to pitch over 120 pitches in starts. Meche retired with 2 years remaining on his contract due to unceasing arm issues. Guillen flopped in Kansas City, ripping the team, clubhouse, and city apart. A career journeyman known as a hot head with a serious attitude issue, Moore offered Guillen stability with a 3 year $36 million contract. Not only was he a leech in the clubhouse, Guillen never lived up to the expectations Moore had for him.
Moore then took a different approach. He signed players like Mike Jacobs, Rick Ankiel, and Scott Podsednik. None of them great, Moore plugged them into his everyday lineup and still waited for his young core to reach the Majors. Jacobs couldn’t get on base, but Ankeil and Podsednik provided the Royals with some value, netting prospects such as Tim Collins, who has become a force in the bullpen for the Royals today.
Then Moore traded for Yuniesky Betancourt and signed Jeff Francouer. At the time, Betancourt was notoriously known around the league as the worst everyday player in the big leagues. Not only was Betancourt a HUGE liability at shortstop, Betancourt had shown the ability to record outs at the plate almost like no other player in the league. Betancourt was horrid. And Moore traded for him, wanting him to be his everyday shortstop.
A year later, Moore also signed a journeyman in Jeff Francouer who was once one of the young faces of baseball after an astounding rookie season his first year with the Braves. However, Francouer never repeated that form in the big leagues and went from team to team, failing to get on base and striking out at unprecedented levels. Although not possessing great range in the outfield, Francouer was known to have a cannon for an arm, yet was still only an average defender in RF. Moore signed him anyway, trading away the superior David DeJesus (for nothing, essentially), noting his good leadership abilities and friendly demeanor and plugged him into the starting lineup.
A year passed and 2012 was here. This was the year Moore promised the Royals would contend for a division title and hopes were looking up for the Kansas City Royals. The Major League roster boasted young talents such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Aaron Crow, and Danny Duffy. These players had shown great promise on the Major League level and were coupled with veterans such as Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Bruce Chen who were all experiencing the best playing days of their Major League careers. #OurTime it had become.
The Royals started a huge offseason PR campaign and convinced much of baseball that they were on the cusp of a breakthrough with a loaded roster full of hungry young prospects ready to tear apart a weak American League Central. Dayton Moore thought the team was a few pieces away from contending and traded for a promising lefty, Jonathan Sanchez, extended clubhouse leader Jeff Francouer two more years, and signed organization sweetheart Yuniesky Betancourt to a one year deal to be the utility infielder. Manager Ned Yost was said to be an excellent player developer but lacked experience in guiding a young roster towards the promised land but it seemed like his time.
However, the plan went awry. Catcher Salvador Perez was lost to injury in Spring Training. Promising CF Lo Cain suffered a torn hip flexor after straining his groin. Sure fire closer Joakim Soria underwent Tommy John. Key off season acquisition, Jonathan Sanchez, seemed disinterested in Kansas City and also went to the DL with biceps tendonitis. Johnny Giavotella did not hit as expected and was sent to AAA after a promising rookie year. Hosmer stopped hitting. Moustakas fell off. The rotation looked like the worst in Major League Baseball. The Royals were in shambles.
Although something was clearly wrong, Dayton Moore made some interesting roster decisions. Commonly accepted to be the Royals future at second base, Giavotella was banished to the minors because he was “a defensive liability” and the club plugged Yuniesky Betancourt into the lineup at second base. When Giavotella was finally called up after (again) destroying AAA, he road the pine, as Yost waited for Giavotella’s defense to reach “major league level.”
This was obscene. This was the team that started Betancourt at shortstop when he was generally regarded as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball and had an OBP of .269. Betancourt gave the Royals nothing and he continued to start. Giavotella had raked every level of minor league pitching he encountered and had a respectable rookie campaign, yet, for some absurd Royals’ reasoning, was forced to the bench for the likes of Betancourt’s defense.
If this is how the Royals’ management thinks when it is trying to contend, Dayton Moore must be fired. There is no argument that can possibly be made for Betancourt to EVER start over Giavotella at 2B, and there is even less of an argument to sign the worst defensive shortstop in baseball to a 1 year $2 million deal to be the club’s utility infielder. For a club that is often hamstrung by financial limitations, that is $2 million wasted. Betancourt is a horrible player that has no place in the big leagues.
Furthermore, the Royals extended fan favorite and GM mancrush Jeff Francouer 2 more years. Although noted for his presence in the clubhouse, a winning ball club cannot have a free out in the lineup in a power-hitting position like RF. Although putting up career numbers in KC, Francouer is an atrocious right fielder, boasting a .309 OBP while the Royals have Wil Myers absolutely destroying AAA pitching to the tune of a .342/408/.732 triple slash, while mashing 22 HRs in just 60 games. Is Wil Myers being blocked by a subpar right fielder because he is allegedly good in the clubhouse? Where was Jeff Francouer and his good clubhouse presence during the Royals’ 12 game skid that effectively ended their season? How does his good clubhouse presence help in generating wins? It doesn’t. And Wil Myers’ bat does. And, remember, Francouer is signed through NEXT season–how long will he continue to block Myers on the Major League level when it is known that the Royals need hitting ASAP in the bigs? As long as Moore is in place, it is a near certainty that Francouer will remain in the everyday lineup of the Kansas City Royals.
The culmination of this results in a roster that is unable to get out of its own way. For all the plusses Moore has brought to the Royals, Moore has hampered the Royals’ progress by retaining the likes of Ned Yost (who also needs to be fired) and Jeff Francouer. Moore has brought back Yuniesky Betancourt, who has no business being on a Major League roster, and has blocked one of his stud prospects with him. Moore has not fielded a Major League caliber rotation, and his key offseason acquisition has been nothing short of a bust. He has shown reluctance to move struggling starter Luke Hochevar from the rotation to the bullpen or the waiver wire. Moore has shown a continuous pattern of ineptitude on the Major League level. Although providing the Royals with a great farm system, what has that yielded on the Major League level? 100 loss seasons? Top five draft selections? It seems Moore has maxed out his potential. Moore is an excellent scout and personnel man, but his decisions regarding the Major League roster are, at the best, suspect. Kansas City, are the Royals better off without Dayton Moore?