Grading Dayton Moore

report cardKansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore received a three year extension last week taking his contract through the 2016 season.  According to club president Dan Glass, Moore earned the extension through eight years dedicated work in rebuilding a team in steady decline when Moore took over on 31 May 2006. Moore’s efforts finally reaped benefits in 2013 when KC finished over .500 for the first time in 10 years and won more games than any Royals team since 1989.

Since Dan Glass only summarized Moore’s performance in giving the extension, I decided someone should offer a full report card and provide more detail behind Moore’s record the last eight years.

Minor League Development – Grade B+

Moore based his rebuilding program on restocking the minor leagues through sound drafts and prospect acquisitions via trades to produce a solid core of players at the major league level.

This created a minor league system that went from a 2005 veritable laughing stock to best in the game just seven years later. All-stars Alex Gordon, Salvy Perez and Greg Holland and gold glove winner Eric Hosmer are all products of this rebuilding program.

In fact, 21 players on the current 40-man roster and 15 of 25 on the active roster as of August 2013 were drafted or developed within the Royals system. American League 2013 Rookie of the Year, Wil Myers, also came from the system, but won the award for Tampa after a winter 2012 trade.

The downside of the Royals rebuilding program is that it has not produced a single successful starting pitcher to date, although that could finally change in 2014 with Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer, Will Smith and Chris Dwyer all competing for open starting spots.

The inability to produce starting pitching has proved a major factor in the first seven losing seasons under Moore with last year’s lone winning season attributed more to starting pitching trades and free agent signings than internal development.

Trades  –  Grade C

One of the best trades in Moore’s tenure based on outcome is Jonathan Sanchez for Jeremy Guthrie. The problem is that trade followed one of Moore’s worst trades when he sent Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for Sanchez. Cabrera came off a near career year while Sanchez barely lasted three months putting up one of arguably the worst pitching performances in the Moore era.

Another positive trade sent Zach Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to Milwaukee for Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and others. Greinke had to go based on his open frustration with the Royals front office, but Moore got excellent return in two starting players integral to KC’s offense and defense.

One of the most obvious unsuccessful trades brought Kyle Davies to KC in 2007. While Octavio Dotel, (Moore’s trade piece) was nothing spectacular, Davies is considered one of the worst failures in Moore’s reign. Not only was Davies bad for three seasons but Moore signed him to free agent contracts for two additional years and another $5M before finally releasing him in 2011.

One trade considered unremarkable on the surface resulted in probably the longest running controversy in Royals history. That trade sent Mark Teahan to the White Sox in 2009 for Josh Fields and Chris Getz.  Over the next four years, Getz caused near apoplexy among fans by surviving numerous challenges for the 2nd base job despite very mediocre stats. The arguments finally ended last week when Moore non-tendered Getz for the 2014 season.

Finally, all other trades pale in comparison to THE TRADE, the one that sent Wil Myers and others to Tampa in winter 2012 for James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson.  Acquiring Shields definitely impacted 2013’s winning record not to mention probably saving Dayton Moore and Ned Yost’s jobs. However, it also sent the Royals future in right field to Tampa, something that has impacted the current off season as Moore tries desperately to fill the resultant hole.

Whether THE TRADE is good or bad is still open to debate and will probably not be decided until we see how Shields and Myers compete along with the Royals right field contribution in 2014. For that reason, Moore’s legacy may forever be tied to THE TRADE.

Free Agents – Grade C

Admittedly, Moore played the free agent game several pieces short for much of his eight year tenure due to a consistent poor record and low payroll forcing a premium on any signing. However, that may change this year as the winning record, league’s best defense and several all-star selections all raise KC’s stature. Still, Moore’s record in signings has been contentious as the following deals show.

Gil Meche – Moore’s initial dally into the free agent market netted Meche for five years and $55M. Meche proved a work horse his first two seasons before breaking down. To Meche’s credit, he declined his final year’s salary and retired, something unheard of in baseball. Moore subsequently shied away from further long term free agent deals until this year when he signed Jason Vargas to four years and $32M.

Jose Gullen – while only at three years, the $36M still proved a premium to play in Kansas City. Guillen’s first year paid dividends but the offense tailed off dramatically in years two and three before Moore finally shipped Guillen to the Giants for a PTBNL and cash.

Beyond the above, a litany of lower tier signings including names like John Bale (2 year – $4M), Juan Cruz (2 year – $6M), Kyle Farnworth (2 year – $9.25M), Rick Ankiel (1 year – $3.25M), John Broxton (1 year – $4M), and Yuniesky Betancourt (1 year – $2M) graced a Royals uniform but never provided any real benefit – and in some cases never even saw the K’s manicured turf.

Arguably, Bruce Chen proved the most productive of Moore’s signings at 2 years – $9M. Chen led the team in wins for three seasons and proved one of the bright spots in the pen and rotation in 2013.

Jeremy Guthrie may also prove a solid acquisition at 3 years – $25M after a successful first year. However, the jury will stay out until Guthrie completes years two and three.

Waiver and Rule 5 Draft Claims – Grade C

While Moore has struggled in trades and the free agent market, he has shown some adeptness at waiver and Rule 5 claims. The best is Joaqim Soria who stuck with the club following his Rule 5 selection in 2007 and proved one of the games’ best closers for three straight years.

Other claimants who provided at least limited benefit include Robinson Tejada, Brayan Pena, Nate Adcock, and Luis Mendoza.

However, while Moore has had some success, perusing the “wires” has also become a major flaw. In a constant quest to find jewels in the rough (and maybe relive the day he acquired Soria), Moore has increasingly selected players to provide “inventory”or “organisational depth” depending on whom is speaking at the time. However, in many cases the acquisitions prove less than stellar, end up blocking genuine prospects and ultimately vanish, some as soon as weeks after being claimed.

Managers –  Grade D

Moore inherited Buddy Bell in 2006 and kept him through the 2007 season. Trey Hillman followed, lasting a little more than two seasons while receiving Moore’s firm backing right up to the day he was fired. In fairness, Hillman had little chance of success with the talent he was given at the time.

Moore tabbed Ned Yost to replace Hillman, promoting Yost from special assistant in the front office. Just like Hillman, Moore has staunchly backed his longest serving manager even giving Yost a two year extension last October despite continuing questions about Yost’s inability to manage a pitching staff, reluctant bench use and inconsistent hitting philosophy. Those same concerns are often cited as the reasons behind Yost’s firing at Milwaukee with one week left in the 2008 season and the Brewers clinging to a narrow division lead.

Another oft raised concern with Yost is the way players sometimes disappear from play for weeks at a time, invariably invoking comments about “Yost’s doghouse.”

However, the biggest issue with Yost may be the team’s rough starts in each of Yost’s three full seasons in KC. For whatever reason, the team has suffered long losing streaks or poor records through the all-star break each year.

Overall – Grade C

The good news is that after seven years of mediocrity, Moore’s Kansas City Royals finally saw some success in 2013 with the first winning record in a decade and most wins since 1989. The downside is that winning season has wetted the appetite of Royals fans and owners, the Glass family. Another slow start in 2014 could prove disastrous for both Moore and Yost. It does not help that Moore must find solutions for right field, second base, third base and starting pitching during this off season to prevent 2013 becoming an isolated victory.

The “process” as Moore often calls it, has produced a major league best bullpen, an all-star catcher, left fielder and closer as well as high potential players at 1st base, shortstop and center field. Whether the extension he received last week proves worthy may depend a lot on what Dayton Moore and his Kansas City Royals achieve in the next 10 months.

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