Dayton Moore

Don’t call it a rebuild

An October with no baseball means it’s time for Dayton Moore to hold his state of the franchise press conference. Things got off to a rollicking start as Moore insisted the rebuild took hold when they stopped talking about… the rebuild.

You know, I think what jumpstarted the rebuild is we quit talking about the rebuild. I think when you create a mindset that we’re rebuilding, you somehow build in or make an excuse that it’s OK to lose baseball games. It’s not… I think that was a big part of it. We just made a decision we were going to quit talking about this.

Interesting. And a little goofy. A winning culture and, by subset, a positive mindset are clearly important to Moore. If he believes that not talking about a rebuild was what led to a better second half, that’s his prerogative. But facts are facts and the 2018 season was the first year of a rebuild. Not talking about it doesn’t magically make said rebuild go any faster or disappear altogether. 

Rebuild. Rebuild. Rebuild. There. I wrote it. I’ll write it again.

The truth was, Moore didn’t think his team was going to be 100-loss bad last summer. The overall results left him dissatisfied, but the Royals improved second half left him encouraged.

I think for 2019, I’m more encouraged than I was perhaps at the beginning of 2018… I really felt that 2019 would perhaps be a much more challenging year for us from a won-loss standpoint, not 2018. I didn’t see 100 in the 2018 season. I just didn’t. I felt this team was much better than that. 

I’ve heard that Moore has expressed his thoughts that 2019 would be the real difficult year in the rebuild. Sorry. A difficult year in the process to get back to the postseason. I’m not sure why he necessarily targeted 2019. Truthfully, last season and each of the next two or three look to be lean. The Process can be accelerated through savvy drafting and smart international scouting, two things Moore mentioned, but the Royals lost a lot of talent and that makes the climb back all the more challenging.

Moore issued a bit of a mea culpa when it comes to the current state of the team.

I think one of our frustrations and one of my failures, and many failures truthfully, is the fact that we are where we are. So the focus of this next era of Royals baseball, we want to put together a winning team and then win for a long time. I’m not saying we’ll make the playoffs every year, but we want to play winning baseball. Championship caliber baseball. I like the fact that we played that way in the second half, but we want to win more consistently.

It’s a goal we can all get behind.

Of course the not-rebuild still means there is a lot of focus on the minor leagues. The best system in the history of whatever was used to launch the franchise to back to back pennants. That meant the minors need a little extra TLC to get it back to where it once was. That remains a goal and Moore is pleased with the progress that was made during the year.

It’s a lot better now (the minor league system) than it was at the beginning of the season. It’s hard necessarily to quantify that, but I like the fact that we have a lot more depth with pitching than we did at the beginning of the year obviously with the draft picks, the trades that we made as well… Internationally, I think we’re doing much, much better. I’m excited about our commitment to the Eastern Rim. I think we’re positioned really well to make sure our farm system is rebuilt to a level that is acceptable and that can produce championship, winning caliber players. 

I feel really good about where we are. We’re not where we want to be. We’re going to need to get a lot better if we’re going to play in postseason, but I think the foundation is here for us to go forward.

Obviously, most of that talent is in the low minors. Moore says not to expect them to fast-track players. 

I think it’s going to be really important we stay even more patient. I think we were probably a little too aggressive the first time around with maybe pushing players. Not changing the expectations, because the expectations as we know is what drives results. And so our expectations are always going to be very, very high for our players. 

So for example, we don’t like to see a lot of strikeouts with our players at the minor league level. We don’t want to see high strikeouts for guys we think are going to be on base guys and hit in the middle of the order and play the type of style we need to play in order to win in our ballpark. And so we may not be as aggressive with promoting them in the minor leagues until they cut their strikeout rates by 10 or 15 percent let’s say. Don’t hold me to that, but that’s just an example. 

I dig this because it’s always valuable when you get an on the record quote about a detail of organizational philosophy. Of course, we’ve known all along the Royals value contact. It’s just fascinating to hear Moore talk in some depth about this. Sorry, fans of Frank Schwindel. He cut his strikeout rate by four percent last year (from 16.7 percent to 12.8 percent) and still couldn’t get the call to The Show.

Moore specifically named Seuly Matias (34.8 percent strikeout rate last year in Single-A Lexington), Nick Pratto (27.9 percent) and MJ Melendez (30.3 percent) as players who they want to see cut their whiff rate. 

If they’re going to strike out, the Royals want to make damn sure the players they have are athletes who like to compete and are good teammates. Again, we’ve heard this before from Moore. It’s important to him and will guide him and his staff going forward. Moore admitted that they have to have the talent to play baseball as well. Duh. Let’s hope he can find players who fit this magical combination.

At least Ned Yost will be returning. Moore is pleased because of the harmony they share. Moore noted they both hold the same beliefs on how you build a team, maintain an organization and the importance of the things it takes to win.

I’m excited Ned is going to be back for the 2019 season. We’ve always just left it kind of year to year since we won the World Series just because it takes so much commitment and energy to go through the major league season.

As I’ve written before, this makes sense. Yost has managed for a long time and has accomplished everything one would hope to accomplish as a big league manager. He has nothing left to prove and managing a club that is not-rebuilding can become a bit of a chore. You could see it wear on him in the middle part of the year, but the improved second half provided Yost with a bit of positive energy. He’s back and everyone has the flexibility that is inherent in a short-term commitment. It’s a happy front office and manager.

For the most part, it sounds like Yost will be managing most of the same crew that closed out the 2018 season. 

I feel like there won’t be a lot of turnover… A lot of change… A lot of adding to that group. We’re prepared to go forward with them.

Moore mentioned two points of emphasis going forward. One, they need to build an elite farm system. And two, they need to get the major league payroll under control so the Royals are in a better position in 2020 and ’21 and beyond. He says everything will be viewed through those two objectives.

In other words, don’t expect the Royals to make any kind of interesting moves this winter. With over $67 million committed to five players and a rumored projected payroll set somewhere around $90 million (no one at the press conference asked Moore about next year’s payroll, which is really poor form) the organization will go bargain hunting when adding to the roster. The bullpen is an obvious area of need and Moore mentioned they would look into some reclamation projects. They’ve had success in the past with Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton. The Royals will look for another arm or two with some rebound potential.

And when it comes to the relief corps, Moore wouldn’t dismiss the idea of moving starters Danny Duffy or Ian Kennedy to the bullpen. Of course, Duffy has done it before. Kennedy has only made two appearances in relief in his career. Both are interesting candidates, but rotation depth figures to once again be rather thin. I’d wager they will open the year as starters. I won’t wager that they will still be in the rotation when next September rolls around.

It was a freewheeling conversation, lasting over 50 minutes and touched on topics such as analytics and how the Royals mesh the data with scouting, the importance of the team in the community and, as you’ve probably heard, Luke Heimlich. I’m not sure why the Heimlich question came up again, but Moore once again stated his belief in Heimlich as a person and a ballplayer. Why Moore feels the need to answer that question, only he can say. The smart move would be to deflect. Heimlich isn’t in the organization, after all. After the firestorm that kicked up last summer after the draft, not saying anything would have been the smart thing to do.

And now the winter is truly upon us in Kansas City. Half of the World Series is set. The GM meetings are next month. The winter meetings are about eight weeks away. Pitchers and catchers report in four months. Thanks for spending the season with us at BP Kansas City. It’s an honor when you make us part of your daily Royals routine.

Keep clicking. We’ll keep writing.

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