Around the trade deadline, General Managers get more scrutiny than usual. Their moves are analyzed, over-analyzed, re-over-analyzed and whatever comes after that. They are second and third-guessed by fan bases. GMs whose teams have a history of losing should be self-conscious, because millions of people waiting to berate them if they make questionable decisions. With the trade deadline days away, the Royals are right at .500 and hold the most valuable pieces on the market. All eyes are on Dayton Moore.
Dayton Moore is not stupid. He’s not short sighted or naive. He’s innovative, creative and knows his team well. He made his long-term plan for the Royals public: to increase the organization’s presence in Latin America, draft tools-heavy, high-ceiling players and then build a team around them. Based on everything we’d seen from the Royals in years past, any actual plan sounded good to us.
In 2010, it looked like the 2013 Royals would be unstoppable. Everything until then was preamble. Chris Getz would only be around until Johnny Giavotella came up. Signing Jeff Francoeur to a one year deal? That’s okay, Wil Myers is coming. Billy Butler can’t play defense? That’s okay, Eric Hosmer is coming.
Then came setbacks of varying severity and causes. The Royals had to trade away Zack Greinke. Danny Duffy hit the DL for Tommy John surgery. Mike Montgomery busted. John Lamb busted. The Royals re-signed Francoeur, traded Myers and Jake Odorizzi, Giavotella busted (same outcome as a bust, anyway), Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggled and the possibility of a pennant seemed to slip a few years down the line.
To stay on track, still believing that the right pieces were in place, Dayton Moore attempted to shoehorn wins into the 2013 season. Nothing has gone according to plan since. Well, almost nothing (The pitching is statistically about where we thought it would be, but we’ll get back to that). In real life, things do not go according to plan, but this is ridiculous.
Coming into this season, even if the Royals offense did not improve, with all the players averaging what they had in the past three years, they would have scored somewhere around 4.6 runs per game. That would have essentially reversed their win-loss columns, leaving them at about 49-44 at the All-Star Break. That could have been without Hosmer or Moustakas developing into their natural power potential. It would have been with continued poor production from Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz. Alcides Escobar could have kept his 80 OPS+.
Of course, none of those things happened. The Royals could not maintain even modest run production. They are only scoring 3.91 runs per game. Everyone with a bat has struggled. Hosmer couldn’t hit for two months and continued at his 2012 pace. Mike Moustakas did too, only worse. These are two former top-five draft picks and top-ten prospects in all of baseball.
It’s rare for two of them to play below replacement level, for so long, on the same team (Seattle was close, with Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley in 2012, but only Montero was a top-ten prospect and Ackley was the only top-five draft pick). Frenchy (former #14 top prospect) gave the worst performance of his career. Getz too. Even Escobar (former #12 top prospect) is having his worst offensive season, which is saying something, because he couldn’t hit before. The rocks of the lineup, Billy Butler (#25) and Alex Gordon (#2), have performed worse than expected.
Kelvin Herrera fell apart for two months, and no one saw that coming. No one. No matter what they tell you. Wade Davis was not a sure thing, but a 5.92 ERA after 19 starts? No one saw that coming either. Not analysts, not fans, not the front office. Ervin Santana has been as good as Davis has been bad, so maybe they cancel each other out. Maybe. Luke Hochever might also cancel out Herrera’s struggles, but Tim Collins has been terrible lately. He has a 12.96 ERA in his last thirteen appearances. One bad thing after another, fluke after fluke, and the Royals six games away from the nearest playoff spot after 102 games.
This sort of thing shouldn’t happen to this sort of talent. Injuries happen. Suspensions happen. Players get too old and stop producing. For instance, Toronto looked like they were the best team in the American League before the season started. They acquired last year’s NL Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, who has a 4.86 ERA. Sure and steady Mark Buehrle has a 4.50 ERA, and he’s their best starter. Jose Reyes lost two months to a horrible ankle injury. Now, the Blue Jays are 47-52 without any chance at the post-season. Those things happen. Young talent like the Royals have does not usually disintegrate on a team level. But this is baseball, where decades of 162 game seasons will eventually reveal any and all unlikely situations.
Dem’s da breaks.
In order for the Royals to make the post-season, as it looks now, they probably must win 89 games. That means they must do one of two things. The entire pitching staff must have an ERA under 3.00 for the remainder of the season, or the offense must score almost seven runs a game on average. Without needing to map it out mathematically, we know the Royals are facing an uphill battle.
Dayton Moore has more advanced metrics than the rest of us and knows exactly what the team’s chances are. He’s not delusional. We have to assume his goal is not necessarily to get to the post-season. It must be more realistic and, in his mind, if he is truly willing to hold onto his trade pieces, even more important: a winning season.
Dayton Moore was not the first person to say the Royals existed in a losing culture. In fact, he tried to downplay the “losing culture” statement made by Ned Yost last season. Kansas City Star writer Pete Grathoff was the first to say that Royals prospects had to fight a “culture of losing.” The concept then worked its way all the way to GM. Moore has watched the Royals lose just as much as we have, and either he or owner David Glass has had enough. They feel it’s time to win and damn the consequences. They think this is the best way to help the team compete next season. It’s easy to disagree with them when viewing things from the outside, but maybe they’re right.
One of the more annoying aspects of sabermetric sports writing is the insistence that psychology plays no part in a team’s performance. Of course it does. Players are vulnerable to all the same eccentricities, weaknesses, lapses in judgment, depressions and anxieties as the rest of us. They’re people. They can be affected in high-pressure situations. They can be affected by negativity from those around them. Not only that, relatively speaking, they’re all very young people. The average age of a baseball player is 27.
Moose is 24, Hosmer is 23, Perez is 23. The Royals do not have a single every-day player over 29 years old. It’s one of the reasons that professional athletes are prime targets for financial scams. They’re inexperienced, susceptible to manipulation and filthy rich. Even the older players have moments of weakness and it does, in fact, affect their play. Remember when Robinson Canocouldn’t hit one single measly home run when Royals fans mercilessly booed him in the 2012 Home Run Derby?
In The Machine, Joe Posnanski describes a game when Pete Rose, Charlie Hustle himself, perhaps the most competitive player to ever take the field, asked to sit out against the Dodgers because the fans got into his head. It happens.
If Moore thinks the team needs a winning season right now, at all costs, so the players don’t spiral into despair, maybe he’s right. Perhaps the team is on the razor’s edge of meltdown, and the only thing that will get them on track is feeling relevant down the stretch. Maybe it will charge up the team for next season and the Royals will run away with the division. He knows the team better than we do. It will, of course, mean that the Royals won’t get a second baseman this season. They will lose Ervin Santana. They will probably lose Luke Hochevar. No one is really talking about it, but they will lose Bruce Chen, their #5 starter. Moore will have to delve into the free agent market to pick up needed pieces. It will cost a lot of money.
Dayton Moore knows more about the team than we do. Anymore, people do not ascend so high in baseball without being highly intelligent (If the Royals manage to get to the post-season in 2013, despite literal 99/1 odds, Dayton Moore will forever be considered a baseball genius for seeing something that everyone else missed). However, if the Royals go into next season with Chris Getz at second base, a hole in the starting rotation, no depth to back it up, a replacement-level right fielder and struggling prospects, he will deservedly face the wrath of millions of Royals fans. He will run the gauntlet of merciless criticism and it’s difficult to see him keeping his job.