Moore, Yost show ordinary can be extraordinary
GM, manager develop championship team around homegrown talent, savvy scouting
NEW YORK -- No books have been written about Dayton Moore's vision, and nobody's arguing that he revolutionized the role of the Major League executive. Ned Yost has never been considered the second coming of Casey Stengel, and nobody's pronouncing him a savant ahead of baseball's intellectual curve.
Really, there is something refreshingly ordinary about the men who delivered Kansas City its first World Series title in three decades.
Moore approaches the game with a background in scouting, not sabermetrics, and he's constructed a front office in which the primary assets are not unorthodox ideas but, rather, the continuity of both personnel and approach. Yost is a baseball lifer who graduated to the managerial role the conventional way, serving as an apprentice to Hall of Famer Bobby Cox, and then learned how to adapt to a changing game without sacrificing his core beliefs.
They'll get their credit now, because that's the way these things go when you win a championship. But there was a time in the not-too-distant past when many people pointed to Moore and Yost and the Royals, at large, and wondered aloud whether the plan in place was an appropriate one.
"There was a lot of criticism," said Art Stewart, the Royals' longtime scout. "But in our meetings, Dayton said, 'Gentlemen, we are staying the course.'"
They stayed the course, and it led them here.
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Moore, with the help of assistant general manager J.J. Picollo and many others, has constructed a club that won back-to-back AL pennants -- an especially tall task in a game rife with competitive parity. You don't hear Moore's name tossed in with those of Theo Epstein or Andrew Friedman or Billy Beane or Jeff Luhnow or the other execs known for reshaping or otherwise reinventing the wheel, but his approach made these Royals a true postseason force two years running.
And Yost -- the guy unceremoniously canned by a Brewers club in contention in September 2008 -- is the possessor of the highest-ever winning postseason percentage (.710) among those with at least 20 games managed in that setting. You won't hear his name bandied about with Bruce Bochy or Buck Showalter or Joe Maddon or Terry Francona when the subject of great skippers comes up, but his success with this club speaks for itself.
It would be a handy storyline, borne only out of hindsight, to suggest the Royals did this the old-fashioned way and to use their crown as criticism for the increasingly analytical bent of big league baseball operations and the diminished premium placed on experience in managerial hires.
But of course, baseball is too nuanced a sport for us to draw such conclusions. For all we know, a year from now, we may be applauding a non-conformist club that zigged when others zagged.
"Everybody's got their opinion on what works," Yost said. "That's what is so great about this game. Everybody has their own opinion, and they've got to make do with what they have. It's different philosophies for different people."
So let's just appreciate the Royals for exactly what they are.
Moore and Picollo didn't reinvent the wheel, but they did reinvent the Royals' reputation by building a championship-caliber club around homegrown talent, international scouting, ambitious and courageous trades and low-profile acquisitions based on scouting savvy. Yost didn't get celebrated as a master in-game strategist, but he did earn the trust and respect of players who never quit on him.
The Royals were assembled in a manner these men rightly believed would work for the spacious setup of their home stadium (from day one, Moore talked up the value of putting plus defenders at every position), for the rigors of the American League Central and for the chess match of October.
They nailed it.
"I remember as an area scout, one of the first things I was told was pick players just like you're in gym class," Moore said. "Pick the guys you want on your team. That's what we've always tried to do. We pick players we like watching play that bring energy, bring value to the community, bring value to the clubhouse. That's what we've always tried to do. If you can get a group of players to go out and give their very best every single day, they're going to reach their ceiling."
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The Royals reached their ceiling despite some very notable bumps along the path. Moore pulled the trigger on what was then known as "The James Shields Trade" (it has since become "The Wade Davis Deal") in the winter before the 2013 season, only to watch Wil Myers blossom as the AL Rookie of the Year in Tampa Bay, while Shields and the Royals fell frustratingly short of a playoff berth. When Moore said the mere prospect of playing meaningful baseball late in the season made him feel "like we've won the World Series," he was criticized mercilessly in Kansas City and elsewhere, and people wondered, seven seasons into his tenure, if the Royals would ever be the championship-caliber club he purported them to be.
Even after the run to Game 7 of last year's World Series, it was an open question whether Moore, in prioritizing bounce-back candidates with the signings of guys like Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Ryan Madson, had done enough to round out the roster.
But Moore was confident in his convictions every step of the way, because of the people and the process -- a process that does, for the record, involve an analytics team, too -- he had in place.
"We've always tried to do things the right way and give opportunity to the player that we know cares," Moore said. "We're not smarter than anybody else, we don't work harder than anybody else, but we've got to care more than anybody else."
Moore wanted a manager who cared. And in 2010, when the public perception of Yost centered on his stunning dismissal from Milwaukee, Moore brought Yost in as a special adviser (and eventual replacement for Trey Hillman), because he knew the man he had met while coming up as a scout in the Braves' system. When Moore had first taken the Royals' job, Yost was still with the Brew Crew. The two crossed paths at the funeral of a mutual friend, and Moore was in the process of making his first managerial hire.
"I said, 'What are you looking for?'" Yost said. "And Dayton looked me square in the eye and said, 'I'm looking for somebody just like you.' So for us to be reunited and for us to accomplish this thing together is probably one of the greatest achievements in my life."
Yost had to evolve to achieve.
If you could take a time machine back to Sept. 14, 2014, when Yost brought Aaron Crow into a game K.C. was leading, 4-3, in the sixth with two on and watched it all implode, and tell Royals fans how the next 13-plus months would play out, it's highly doubtful they'd believe you.
Yost, though, has had a master touch with this club, even when his moves (such as Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot) have invited instant scrutiny. Credit where it's due: Yost, at the urging of Moore and pitching coach Dave Eiland, learned from the Crow incident and has been a far more effective in-game strategist. And where once Yost could be accused of being overly harsh on his players, thinking he had to police his clubhouse much the same way Cox once did, he mellowed with age and time and learned how to get the most out of the modern player.
"Being with Bobby for 12 years was the greatest experience I could have ever had," Yost said. "But that was a different era. It's different than it was then. I've had to adapt and grow and take what I learned from Bobby and apply it to today's players. That's how anybody becomes successful."
The Royals not only sustained their success from last October, but did exactly as intended and finished the job Sunday night at Citi Field. In the aftermath, Moore and Yost and the rest of the people who put this team together don't need to be hailed as visionaries or trendsetters.
They'd rather just be known as champions.