The best is still ahead for young Royals
General manager Moore has built franchise to succeed for years to come
Dayton Moore became general manager of the Royals on June 8, 2006, and he was charged with rebuilding a once-proud small-market franchise that was in the midst of a playoff drought that would last 29 years.
What took place over the next six seasons was an average of 92 losses per year -- but also good drafting, key trades, patience and development. Delayed gratification is a very difficult emotion to control in professional sports. It creates doubt, fear and, in most cases, a survival mentality. Only the mentally strong can hold onto their vision in the face of constant criticism and second-guessing.
Last year, Moore's vision and patience were vindicated when the Royals made their first World Series trip since 1985, though many doubters came back this winter and claimed that Kansas City's run was a fluke and that the club would fall back with No. 1 starter James Shields leaving as a free agent. Not so. In fact, the Royals are an even better team than they were last year, and Moore's vision has come to fruition before our eyes.
Coming into Thursday's action, the Royals were 11-4, they led the Majors in batting average (.303) and on-base percentage (.368), and they struck out less frequently than any other club (69 Ks -- 19 fewer than the next-closest club). The bullpen is almost perfect, having allowed just three runs thus far.
Kansas City has the look of a club that has carried over the confidence of last year's World Series run and is completely buying in to the philosophy and culture that Moore has built.
Most of the keys players on this team (Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera, for starters) were either drafted by the Royals or signed as amateurs, or they were acquired while still in the Minors (Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar), and Moore has stayed true to the Royals' small-market roots. With the exception of the Shields acquisition from the Rays, which cost Kansas City Wil Myers, the Royals have not traded away elite prospects, and they have not gone for quick fixes via free agency. That approach takes patience, but it can pay off in a big way.
In fact, I see a number of parallels to the organization that Moore worked for before becoming Kansas City's GM -- the Braves.
Bobby Cox took over as GM of the Braves in 1986, and he patiently built a homegrown core while enduring a string of losing season. Between then and '91 (the year Atlanta went worst to first), Tom Glavine, David Justice, John Smoltz, Ron Gant and Steve Avery all make their Major League debuts for the Braves.
John Schuerholz took over as GM in 1990, with Cox becoming manager, and during the early years of the decade, Atlanta added Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones as amateurs, giving them some offensive firepower to pair with their incredible pitching, which was only strengthened with the signing of Greg Maddux following the '93 season -- the most notable high-priced free-agent signing the Braves have made, and arguably the best free-agent signing in MLB history.
Now, this is not to say that the Royals are comparable to that Atlanta dynasty. The Braves were built on starting pitching and a few offensive stars, while the Royals' strengths are their defense, bullpen and ability to put the ball in play and taking extra bases. But the comparison isn't about rosters, but rather confidence in philosophy. And there is no doubt that Moore's years with the Braves have influenced his approach and emboldened him to build the roster you see in Kansas City today.
The Royals had to endure many losing seasons while waiting for their young stars to develop, but they never veered off course. As a result, they have the makings of a club that can compete for years to come, with Hosmer, Cain, Perez, Moustakas, Holland, Ventura and Herrera all under team control at least through 2017, and a slew of impact prospects -- such as shortstop Raul Mondesi, right-hander Kyle Zimmer, and lefties Sean Manaea and Brandon Finnegan -- on the way.
Kansas City fans endured a rough stretch that spanned nearly three decades, but they should sit back and celebrate the current club, which will be relevant for years to come.