Full disclosure: sometime in July 2014, I was preparing a blog post for the old Pine Tar Press site. I was planning out my arguments, doing some research, and making mental notes about what I wanted to say: it was time—well past time!—for the Royals to fire Dayton Moore.
I was hardly alone in this. The rest of the Royals blogosphere was already way ahead of me. I figured Moore might deserve the rest of the season, but once the Royals, 48-46 at the All-Star Break and 6.5 games out of the AL Central lead, failed to make the postseason, there could be no more excuses. Eight years in and no playoff berths? Trading a key asset like Wil Myers for James Shields only to end up an also-ran? Those seemed like fireable offenses to me.
Had I been smart enough to actually write, “Hey, let’s let this season play out before we call for Moore’s job,” I could claim to be a genius. Instead, I kept it to myself. So no genius claims here.
You know what happened next: the team caught fire, rolled through the postseason until running into that one Giants pitcher, then came back the next year and won it all. They couldn’t follow that up with more postseason play, but they can at least claim they were in contention as September began in both 2016 and 2017 (three and 4.5 games out of a playoff spot, respectively, which isn’t an outstanding chance but is certainly possible).
You’d think that would buy Moore a little goodwill. And for the most part, I think it has. But I’ve seen and heard some grumbling that the Royals might be better off parting ways with the general manager. Nationally-known writers are saying he was merely lucky, while more local writers seem to think he’s clueless now.
Before I get into my defense of Dayton Moore, let me say that this is most likely a pointless argument. I have a hard time imagining the Royals firing him, unless this season is followed by several more just like it. All that matters is what the Glass family thinks, and while they usually play things close to the vest, there is no indication they are considering anything of the sort that I know about (not that I have highly-placed sources or anything, but I certainly don’t see any evidence of this).
So let’s try defending Dayton.
First, let’s keep in mind that this rebuild is less than a year old. You might subscribe to the theory that it wouldn’t have to be if he had traded away players like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas at the trade deadline in 2016 or 2017. And sure, they would have received talented players in return (although if you’re questioning Moore already, why would you assume he would make good trades for those players?). But who wants to be a fan of a team that a) sells off good players just months after a World Series title, and b) does so when they are two games out of first in the division (which is where they were at last year’s trade deadline)? After almost three decades of futility, Dayton Moore was supposed to tear up the team that finally broke through, just for a chance the team might be good in 2020? No, people—probably many of the same ones most upset today—would have been furious. It’s almost like you can’t win in this situation. So, in my mind, you might as well try to make the playoffs.
No, this rebuild began last November. Patience is needed. Maybe not eight years’ worth, but I think a little patience isn’t too much to ask. It is true, and fair to point out, that Moore is not on a streak of great decisions, although some of the ones he’s made since that World Series title at least seemed defensible at the time.
And for some reason, there seems to be some consternation over Moore actually having the temerity to (gasp!) say the Royals are not tanking and would like to win more games.
I respect Moore for trying to win. If you care about baseball, I think you should, too. I don’t think it’s good for the sport to have 12 teams trying to win the World Series and 18 teams trying for the #1 draft pick. People act like the #1 spot is the only place you can get a great player, despite seeing the Royals win a World Series with one overall number one pick on the roster: reliever Luke Hochevar. Yes, Hosmer, Moustakas, and Alex Gordon were all top five picks. Cain was a 17th-round pick. Jarrod Dyson was famously picked in the 50th round. Ben Zobrist was a third-round selection, as was Danny Duffy.
And again, if you are already questioning Moore, why would you expect him to do a good job with these potential top selections? In this case, I might agree with you a little more. Part of the Royals’ problem right now is the bad job they did in the early rounds of the 2011 and 2012 drafts—it is arguably the difference between the four- or five-year window they had and a 2000s-Twins decade or so of contention. I give them a break on 2013 and 2014 because they dealt Sean Manaea for Zobrist and Brandon Finnegan contributed to a World Series team before being traded for Johnny Cueto. The 2018 Royals would be better with Manaea, but they’d still be bad and we might not have that sweet World Series flag flying over Kauffman Stadium. I’ll take the way things are, thank you.
None of this is to say that Dayton Moore is infallible or that he deserves a lifetime contract. But I do think he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Let’s not forget that the farm system looked barren just a few months ago. It’s not great now, but they have added talent at the lower levels through this year’s draft (taking advantage of those picks they got from not trading Hosmer or Cain), plus players like Khalil Lee and Seuly Matias have had breakout years. The low minors look pretty good now. Then he added some players who were already in the majors or close to it (Rosell Herrera, Brian Goodwin, Brett Phillips). Those guys were at one time all considered good prospects. The shine had come off them a bit, but apparently smarter baseball people than me thought they had some potential at one point. They were all acquired fairly cheaply and that is precisely what the Royals should be doing at the major-league level now: finding cheap assets with ability and a few years of team control remaining.
And, of course, Dayton Moore did build a championship team once before. Maybe there was some luck involved (news flash: luck is involved in nearly every World Series’ winner’s postseason) but it still happened. Maybe he didn’t build that team the way you—or I—would have done it, but he did. If I’ve learned anything from the Dayton Moore regime, it’s to be cautious when doubting him. Let’s see how it plays out.