It’s been awhile, but it’s time to check the Dayton Moore quote book. Today, we’re going to start with one that should probably be inscribed on his plaque in the Royals Hall of Fame someday.
“Let’s just trust the process. If other people don’t want to trust the process, that’s fine. If other people want to abandon the process, then abandon it. I’m not abandoning the process. I believe in the process.”
Trust. The. Process.
Three words, neatly encapsulating the journey of Dayton Moore and the Royals. Of course, we know where The Process ultimately led, south down Grand Street to Union Station. Champagne and pennants. The Promised Land.
The Process fulfilled.
Baseball, however, doesn’t stand still. Other teams watch and wait. They adjust and strike. Last year’s champion is today’s third place finisher. Fortunately, Moore had a plan for that eventuality.
“The economics of the game are what they are. It is very competitive. Certainly it’s great for the players. But at the same time for us to be able to manage our payroll effectively, we have to have a great farm system. It takes four to five years to develop your farm system and get that steady flow. But there’s no doubt that we’ll be able to do that.”
Moore made the above quote about six months into his tenure. To me, this has always been at the root of The Process – the drafting and development of players, while accounting for turnover, to stock the major league roster. Certainly, the first wave of The Process paid tremendous dividends. You have Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Danny Duffy. All three drafted and developed by the club. You have Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Ecobar, prospects added via the trade of Zack Greinke. Kelvin Herrera, an international free agent, developed into a crucial piece of a lockdown bullpen. Jarrod Dyson, a 50th round pick, exceeded all odds and expectations to be a valuable component on the field and in the clubhouse. Finally, you have Wade Davis who wasn’t necessarily part of The Process per se, but he was obtained in exchange for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, three players who were to form the next wave of young talent designed to flow into Kansas City.
The Process was obviously a smashing success.
Yet while the wins were piling up; while the champagne was uncorked and while the flags were unfurled, something was happening to The Process. It was slowly falling off the rails.
Today, seven of the players mentioned above are entering their final season under team control. After 2017, they will become free agents. Players of varying degrees of success, all with championship pedigree, they will get paid. Handsomely. As the cost of doing business in the big leagues continues to rise, it is unlikely the Royals will be able to retain five of the seven. It’s possible six will move on. It’s not out of the realm of possibility all seven will be shopping for new homes this time next year. While there is certainly an attachment to those players that naturally comes with winning championships, there is a greater concern at losing those players that there simply aren’t replacements at the ready.
(I’ll add my voice to the chorus pleading for you not to be fooled by the chatter that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has doomed the Royals and forced them into this position. This reckoning was coming no matter what system was in place. If anything the new CBA helps the Royals in removing the most constraining part – the forfeiture of the first round pick by the signing team – of the qualifying offer. The lower the penalty, the easier it will be for teams to pay the cost. This isn’t rocket science.)
Go back and reread Moore’s second quote. The one about having a “steady flow” of players who pass through your farm system. That flow is now barely a trickle.
And this, not a new CBA, is why the Royals now find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The rumor vultures are circling. The industry knows the Royals have assets they can’t afford to keep. Players who, one way or another, will not be on the roster at this time next year. On Monday it was Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis who were drawing the attention. Tuesday it could be Mike Moustakas and Danny Duffy. Wednesday could be Eric Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson. You get the point.
The Process has gone dry. The Royals are being forced into making an unenviable decision about when to tear things down and start anew. Again, with rumors swirling that Moore is under orders to trim payroll by about $10 million from last year’s Opening Day record of $131 million, there is a reason we are seeing some very important names attached to teams other than the Royals.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Process was supposed to stock the farm system where that “steady flow” of talent was to be streaming into Kansas City on the regular. Except there are no replacements. Sure, Cheslor Cuthbert filled in admirably for Moustakas, but is he really anyone’s idea of a permanent replacement? Maybe you could move Cain, but are you ready to trade his production (if healthy) with 600 plate appearances of Paulo Orlando or the unknown commodity of Hunter Dozier? Alcides Escobar probably has the least amount of value of any of the eight, but do you feel comfortable with a full season of Raul Mondesi at this point?
The window is closing. This isn’t about worrying about who to give a qualifying offer and the horror if it was accepted, hamstringing the thin budget. This isn’t about stockpiling draft picks for the future. This is about 2017. This is about making one more run for another flag or burning it down a year early, to perhaps accelerate a New Process. Phase Two, if you will.
(Newsflash. The Royals are smart enough to know who gets a qualifying offer and who doesn’t. Again, the new CBA doesn’t change that. Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Davis and Duffy all get the QO. Because none of them would accept it. Escobar, Dyson or Herrera? No qualifying offer. Not under the old system. Not under the new system. See? Not much has changed.)
Lean times are ahead. They could start with the announcement of a blockbuster trade this week. Or they could be delayed until 2018. But they are coming. How long the Royals will be down will once again be dictated by the efficiency of The Process. Do they trade today and restock with known prospects or do they hold and gamble on the draft. Given their recent history in the draft, maybe they should move a couple of their more valuable pieces.
There’s no right answer.
The funny thing about all of this is The Process was in full force last year. Of the 22 position players used by the Royals, 16 of them spent a year or more in the Kansas City minor league system. That’s an amazing tally.
On the flip side, of the 21 pitchers who got in a game for the Royals, only nine of them could be considered part of The Process. If pitching is the currency of baseball, we can see where The Process has truly stumbled.
Still, we are talking about a total of 25 players out of 43 that could be considered to be homegrown. That’s a helluva percentage.
So while The Process seems to be working, it’s not the well-oiled machine Moore needs in order to keep Kansas City successful. The major league exposure players like Cuthbert and Matt Strahm received last summer is undoubtedly valuable, but there are still too many holes in the roster and too few replacements at the ready. The way The Process was supposed to work was for there to be a constant flow of what could be impact players to the major league level. Poor drafts, injuries and attrition have made this next step a most difficult one for Moore and the Royals.
What now? The Royals have a history of moving only when pushed. I have a sense they are feeling the hands placed firmly on their back. The rumors and stories in the mainstream media aren’t a coincidence. They are greasing the skids for a moves, maybe multiple ones, designed to position the team for a favorable future. It will be unpleasant business and tears will be shed. Glass, for some inexplicable reason, seeks to trim payroll. The Royals as an organization will point their collective finger at the economics of baseball and the new CBA, but the reality is, they will have no one to blame but themselves. They failed to restock the pipeline with players who could adequately replace the first wave of The Process. They failed to draft well. They failed to move in an incremental fashion so they wouldn’t be faced with a massive overhaul. Through arrogance or obviousness, they failed to see the future of their own franchise.
During the coming lean times, it will be useful to remember The Process did work once. And flags fly forever.