Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reason #1: The Boss.

Like there was ever any doubt.

There’s little to say about Dayton Moore that hasn’t been said before, and probably said by me before. But nearly two years after he was hired, it is undeniable that the day the Royals hit rock bottom was the day before they hired Moore. (True story: there was a rumor going around shortly before Moore was hired that the Royals were prepared to offer the GM position to…Steve Phillips. For about 48 hours I was contemplating switching my allegiances to a less star-crossed ballclub. Like, say, the Cubs.)

Allard Baird was not, in the grand summation of things, a terrible GM. He made some terrible moves, to be sure. Some were of his own volition (Johnny Damon and Mark Ellis for Angel Berroa and Roberto Hernandez.) Some were forced upon him (Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez.) But he also made some moves that were truly inspired. Baird traded Carlos Beltran for Mark Teahen, John Buck, and Mike Wood, a trade which has at various times over the years looked terrible, brilliant, and terrible again, but from where I’m standing today looks like an excellent trade given the circumstances. (Especially when you consider that a lot of analysts thought the Royals would have been better off going after the Angels’ star third base prospect, Dallas McPherson.)

When Baird became disenchanted with his options on which to use the #1 pick in the 2005 Rule 5 draft, he found an eager buyer for the pick in the Texas Rangers and extracted Esteban German from them. Joe Posnanski wrote a column the following day detailing his epic quest to figure out who the Royals were trading for – Baird had given him a few clues – and his disappointment when he finally solved the puzzle:

“You know,” I tell [Baird], “I spent an awful lot of time trying to figure out your mystery second baseman. I didn’t think I would end up with some guy I never heard of, Esteban German, who had four at-bats in the majors last year. I’m not sure that was worth it.”

It was worth it. A total of 89 players have batted 700 or more times in a Royals uniform, and German ranks 2nd with a .381 OBP, just ahead of Kevin Seitzer’s .380 mark. (I’ll let you guys use the comments to speculate over who ranks first, with a .385 OBP.)

My favorite Baird trade, though, was probably the time he suckered the Pirates – a few days after they had dumped Jason Kendall’s salary to Oakland – on the need for a veteran backup catcher. Benito Santiago played in six games for the Pirates before his career ended. In exchange the Pirates took on half his salary (a cool $1 million)…and Leo Nunez.

On the whole, Baird was a mediocre GM. He was absolutely hamstrung by ownership at times, but that can’t excuse the Damon trade, or picking up Matt Diaz but then designating him for assignment after he had hit .371 in Omaha, after hitting .332 and .354 in Tampa Bay’s farm system the two previous years. And it absolutely can’t excuse the 2001 draft, one of the most disastrous drafts executed by any team in history. Remember, David Glass opened up his pocketbook to sign both Colt Griffin and Roscoe Crosby. It wasn’t the owner who argued in favor of Bust One and Bust Two, it was his front office. (The sidenote to that draft was that the Royals’ third-rounder, Matt Ferrara, who played shortstop at Alex Rodriguez’s alma mater, wasn’t even listed in Baseball America’s draft preview as a potential Top-15 round pick. Ferrara hit .220/.301/.350 in his career, never escaped rookie ball, and was finished at age 21.)

Even some of Baird’s best moves, as they appeared at the time, lost their luster quickly. He traded Jason Grimsley for Denny Bautista, which at the time looked like the heist of the year. He traded Jose Bautista for Justin Huber. The Royals were supposed to get an above-average starter and a middle-of-the-lineup hitter out of those deals; instead they ended up with a lot of heartburn.

But it’s the team’s failures in drafting and player development that stung the most. There’s only so much talent you can acquire by swindling other GMs. When you’re a small-market team and you’re limited in how much talent you can buy, the only remaining option is to be an industry leader in the talent you develop. Under Baird, the Royals were always lagging behind others in that regard.

So in evaluating Moore, we have to keep in mind that it will take years before we can truly evaluate the most important part of his job, his ability to lead an organization that identifies, signs, and develops amateur players better than anyone else. Moore was hired a week before the 2006 draft, but Atlanta sensibly denied him the opportunity to assist the Royals in the war room, given that he had been preparing for that draft as a member of the Braves all spring. (Not surprisingly, that was a rather disjointed draft for the Royals. Hochevar emerged as a compromise pick at #1 overall, and second-round pick Jason Taylor was suspended for all of last season for off-field issues. Third-rounder Blake Wood looks awfully good, though.) It will be years before we can evaluate the 2007 draft and the players signed out of Latin America in the last two signing periods.

We can’t evaluate the results, but we can evaluate the process. The Royals added a third short-season minor league affiliate last season, and are one of only two franchises with that set-up. More teams means more playing time, more playing time means more players with an opportunity, and the more players with an opportunity to develop, the more likely you are to get lucky and find a diamond in the rough. Now that MLB has eliminated the draft-and-follow process, teams can no longer draft 50 guys, sign 20 of them, and then watch the other 30 play in junior college. If your 27th-round pick suddenly adds 5 mph to his fastball when he returns to campus, well, you’re out of luck. But if you signed that pick because you have a third affiliate to place him at, you’re prepared to reap those rewards.

The Twins, to pick an AL Central rival with a well-regarded player-development crew, signed only 22 of their draft picks from last season. The Indians signed 26, the White Sox 24, the Tigers 29.

The Royals? They signed 35.

Then there’s the fact that Moore has gotten Glass to open up the pursestrings for amateur talent in a way that Baird, for whatever reason, never could. The Royals signed five different players out of Latin America to six-figure signing bonuses, which is more Latin players signed to six-figure bonuses in the previous decade combined. (I’m almost certain on that, although the lack of data on bonuses to foreign players makes it impossible to check.) None of those players are likely to surface in the majors until 2011 at the earliest, but the focus on the long term is exactly the sort of thing the Royals have been lacking for the last 15-20 years, ever since Ewing Kauffman’s health started to fail and the Royals started making short-term moves to win him one more title.

The focus on player development ought to have a huge impact on the organization in a few years. In the meantime, Moore has done what many thought was near-impossible before he was hired: he has made the rest of baseball respect the Kansas City Royals again.

Moore was highly respected himself throughout baseball well before he became a GM. Baseball America named him the top GM candidate in baseball back in 2004, and the Red Sox had offered him their GM position when Theo Epstein briefly left the team the following year. But there was concern that the Royals would infect him with their stench of hopelessness. Instead, it’s been the other way around – Moore’s confidence, preparedness, and baseball intellect has rubbed off on the rest of the organization.

I knew things had changed in Kansas City when I was speaking to a scout right after the Royals signed Gil Meche. It wasn’t that the scout liked the Meche signing; like virtually everyone else in baseball, he thought the Royals overpaid. It was that the mere fact that Dayton Moore signed him made him reconsider. “He looks like a good #4 starter to me,” he said, “but if Dayton wanted him that badly…now I’m not so sure.”

That, my friends, is respect. And that’s respect that Moore had earned before he had done anything as a general manager. Eighteen months later, after the Meche signing – and many other moves – worked out better than almost anyone outside the organization had expected, that respect has only grown. Throughout baseball, throughout the Royals fan base, and certainly throughout this blog.

I’ll stop here, but hopefully I’ll be back later with an analysis of every significant move that Moore has made since the day he was hired. No doubt there have been some clunkers. It’s just that you have to sift through some real gems in order to find them.


Gary said...

Excellent blog Rany. Nicely done.

An organization wins respect by playing good baseball, not by challenging for the division every year. Play good ball and those titles will come. Dayton has us on the right track. Too early to say for sure, but since Dayton hired him, I'd say Hillman looks like he is the right guy this time.

Gotta be Brett, right?

Anonymous said...

I cheated--it's not Brett. I am stunned. Absolutely stunned at who it is. I won't share the name--why spoil the fun? But this gentleman is also the Royals career leader in batting average. And I wouldn't have guessed that fact either.

Anonymous said...

I keep telling my "cynical about the Royals" freinds that the Royals will sneak up on them and start winning. I keep saying it takes time to fix everything that was wrong with this team, get a solid foundation of scouting and player developement together. Let it grow a few years and see what happens.

I just didn't expect his much of an improvement in the pitching department so soon. I have to attribute the improvement to improved organizational process' and advance scouting of the other team.

Most of these guys are still Allard's guys, but they are playing much better.

Is it too soon to start asking for Bale to be sent down and Hochaver to replace him?

Matt the Dragon said...

It's gotta be someone who didn't play too long there, right?

A certain Duck?

Ryan said...

I'm gonna guess Pat Sheridan, but for some reason, I don't think he walked very much and I'm completely off base.

I just can't think of another "shocker" who would lead us in .OBP and .BA.

Ryan said...

He's actually not the career leader in .BA according to Baseball Reference. And it's not that shocking who it is least to me.

Anonymous said...

Is it Jose Offerman?

Dude walked a lot, and I think he may have been here just long enough to amass 700 PAs.

Kevin said...

One of the things I've noticed during Moore's tenure is that the players the team has acquired have performed the way one would reasonably expect them to.

A few examples: Moore asked Gil Meche to step up his game and have his performance match his stuff. He did. TJ was expected to come in and be one of the better defensive shortstops in the league, and he's done that. Joakim Soria was asked to succeed as the team's closer. Quite obviously, he's done that and then some.

For whatever reason, players maximizing their abilities is something that almost NEVER happened under the Baird regime, and I credit an improved organizational attitude for the sudden turnaround in this area. Thanks to Dayton and Trey, the players we have now expect to win every day, and are performing in winning ways.

Anonymous said...

If it's someone you might not expect, I'd guess Kevin Seitzer.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU, Rany, for some balance. On Kansas City talk radio, they are extolling the virtues of Allard Baird and simultaneously ripping the organization for not signing Barry Bonds (!). If nothing else, Moore has brought a coherent plan and adult supervision to the Royals, something that Allard Baird never could. I have little doubt that if Baird were still the GM, we'd still be watching Runelvys the Morbidly Obese waddle to the mound every fifth day.

Anonymous said...

After some thought, I think it IS Offerman. Good gravy.

Unknown said...

In Dayton We Trust!

I think the answer is Jermaine Dye simply because I am still not over him being traded for Neifi Perez

Adrian said...

Of course it's no surprise who's last in OBP (and OPS+) of those 89 players...

Aaron said...

What absolutely stuns me is how shortchanged Mike Sweeney was in his career. His numbers percentage-wise (obp, ba, slg, etc) are all right next to George Brett. Brett had a little more than twice the ABs that Sweeney did, but Sweeney would have had more HRs and RBIs and slightly fewer doubles if you double his ABs. He may not have been a HOFer but 2500 hits with 400 HRs and 600 doubles would have put him pretty close. Damn bad back.

Kevin said...

That's true, Aaron, but it is important to consider the era in which Brett played when making that comparison. That Brett played in an era that favored pitchers makes his accomplishments MUCH more impressive than Sweeney's.

Matt said...

Jose Offerman -- he was one of the first guys the Royals took off the scrap heap. Ibanez was another.

I am with Kevin, there is no comparison between Sweeney and Brett. Look at an era-adjusted stat like BP's EQA. Brett's career EQA was .296, and Sweeney's is .280.

Anonymous said...

Once again, Rany, great post. I look forward to reading your posts every day.

Two things:

1. You must go to royals corner and read our posts. I noticed the hispanic panic.

2. If you ever want a free dinner in a great chicago resturaunt let me know! It'll be on me!

Anonymous said...

Did we just let Ibanez walk to Free Agency? I don't remember how he left. I do remember him getting red hot for weeks at a time and carrying the Royals to wins virtually by himself.
Keep up the good work Rany.
Anyone else think west coast games hurt their work performance the next day?

Anonymous said...

Mike Fiore has a .401 Royals lifetime OBP, but I'm sure you did not mean him, and Warren Cromartie had a .313 BA, and I'm also sure you did not mean him.

Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten both of them were Royals (for good reason maybe), but neither had 700 AB or PA

Anonymous said...

we tried to re-sign ibanez, but he chose seattle. i think that he just wanted to go back to seattle (he spent the first years of his career there). there's not a whole lot you can do about that. he was an animal though. RBI machine at times.

Anonymous said...

I think that the mystery OBP man may be Waldo Joyner. I had a hunch and on a quick scan his stats while with KC seem to bear me out. He had enough PA's, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Not Joyner --

Doesn't fit the Batting Average clue given by Gary -- but Tartabull had at least two of his 5 seasons with an OBP over .390.

Anonymous said...

Rany, I love reading your thoughts! Keep the faith brother. Too bad your partner in crime (Rob) has apparently given up on his childhood team. I dont know how someone can do that. This is my team for better or for worse. And I agree with you, better times are near.

Anonymous said...

This night looks destined to be the night where we finally run ourselves right out of a game.

3 Runs, 11 hits, 2 walks, 1 runner reached on error through 7 innings.

FOUR BASERUNNERS LOST: Gathright (pickoff in 1st); Gordon (stretching single to double in 4th); Butler (not hustling to first); Gathright (trying to steal THIRD in 7th). When are we going to stop this?

Please stop allowing Gathright the green light to steal third, Trey. No pitching staff can overcome this.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree. I love aggression on the basepaths but this is pretty ridiculous. Gathright is our fastest baserunner, he's on 2nd base, and there's only one out. He will score from 2nd, why try and steal 3rd? It was all him, too, because Teahen stayed put at first. Bad decision on Joey's part. I know he's supposed to just now be learning from Kuntz how to read the pitcher better, but someone needs to get in his ear and tell him to stay put in that situation.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you didn't throw Baird under the bus like you did Bell. Great write, as usual.

Ryan said...

According to MLB Gameday this was the pitch sequence that Leo Nunez threw to Maicer Itzuris.

1. 96mph-Fastball-Foul
2. 87mph-Changeup-Foul
3. 84mph-Slider-Foul
4. 84mph-Slider-Foul
5. 88mph-Splitter-Ball
6. 95mph-Fastball-Ball
7. 83mph-Changeup-Flied out to Left

Four different pitches. 96mph fastball. 83mph changeup at the end. Not only that, but the last changeup looked like a strike.

Anonymous said...

As the guy who said this would be the night we finally ran ourselves out of the game... well, so much for that.

Really, though folks, there is no way we are going to get THAT situational pitching to go THAT well. Meche pitched his way out of jams in the 4th, 5th and 6th.

Ramirez pitched into and partially out of a jam in the 7th. Gobble got the LOOGY's out to close that out...

And then Nunez and Soria nail it down. That was scary and won't work all the time. We easily should have had 5-7 runs and been in complete control.

This is the key thing that will haunt us if it happens more: 17 baserunners, only 3 runs. You just can't do that and win consistently. And it isn't a failure to drive in runs (any more than any other team with a lack of power has). We only left, what maybe 10 on tonight? That isn't outrageous for a team that hits 10 singles.

Note also: Sciossia decided that Tony Pena is a pitcher. Twice with two outs and first base open he walked Gload. Both times I thought that since there were 2 outs and not one and we had the lead we should go ahead and let Pena bat, but it was interesting.

Does Scossia really view Pena as a .150 hitter?

Charles Winters
Kansas City

Matt said...

I agree with the comments about running ourselves out the game.

Particularly Gathright going to third with Butler up and one out.

Gordon running on Vlad . . . yeah, well.

Anonymous said...

For the inquiring minds, the answer is Offerman.

Anonymous said...

One thing Baird should get a lot of credit for is how he handled Greinke nervous breakdown in '06.

A lot of people would have just given up on a pitcher who walked out of spring training after losing 17 games the previous season.

Anonymous said...

Fiore didn't have enough plate appearances, nor did Chili Davis (who was another guess of mine). It is Offerman.

Gary said...

Charles, I don't think Scossia thinks Pena can hit THAT well! But remember; he had Pena then Gathright coming up so he could afford to pitch outside and let Pena swing at balls and still have Gathright up next if a miracle happened and Pena walked. Personally, I wouldn't be too worried with those two coming up even with a runner at second.

I know, I know, Gathright had three hits last night. But guys who hit nothing but ground ball singles don't really help this team. Put a cast on DDJs ankle and get him back in there.

That being said, this was a great win. Right now we have 8 players batting over .300. I would like to see those 8 play and see what happens...I'll even go strong and say Gload in RF, Butler at 1st. have to pick someone to DH, so I guess I would go with Grienke. (just kidding, DH Guillen...but bat him 9th!)

Anonymous said...

Baird helped PROVOKE Zack's breakdown by rushing him to the majors as if the kid had an expiration date, then allowing numerous pitching coaches to try to completely retool him. And since we're talking about Ibanez, let's not forget why he left - Baird thought that Raul only had a couple of decent seasons left, and so would only go 2 years on the contract. Raul wanted three, and if KC had offered three for the same per-year money as we were offering for two, we'd have had him here. I believe Raul has had something like 330 RBI in those three years.

Anonymous said...

Hindsight being 20/20, Baird could have chosen Dan Uggla in the 2005 Rule 5 draft.

Ryan said...

One of Dayton's mistakes is letting Jeff Keppinger go, but I think you covered that with Rob awhile back. He looks like a productive everyday player with the Reds this year (and he starts on my fantasy team.)

Rany said...

Just to end any confusion...Offerman in fact leads with a .385 OBP as a Royal; Kevin Seitzer is third at .380. Brett's OBP was just .369, but you have to consider the era he played in (not to mention the fact that his Royals OBP is his *career* OBP - he didn't have his decline phase elsewhere.)

Offerman's .306 batting average as a Royal also ranks first, incidentally; Brett is second at .305.