KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Since the day general manager Dayton Moore was hired by the Royals in 2006, he has preached the need for scouting and development, with a heavy emphasis on development.
So much emphasis, in fact, that Royals manager Ned Yost has been concerned about developing his young position players and pitchers even at the major league level.
As you might expect, when a big-league manager is geared toward developing, winning will surely take a back seat.
But last off-season, both Moore and Yost made rather bold declarations that the development phase was over in Kansas City. When Moore acquired Ervin Santana and James Shields, and signed Jeremy Guthrie, both Moore and Yost pronounced that the Royals were in an all-in, win-now mode.
Royals fans may not have believed it until Thursday, when we saw what that new management approach really meant.
First, Moore shipped out struggling right-hander Kelvin Herrera to Triple-A Omaha, a demotion that certainly was merited (Herrera had four losses and given up eight homers already). But the demotion still was somewhat stunning, considering that Herrera was a dominant reliever last season (2.35 ERA, 76 games) and the Royals could have hid Herrera deep in the bullpen at the big-league level until he righted himself.
The latter approach was typical of the developmental Royals. Shipping Herrera to Omaha was a clear message that the Royals are expecting performance and accountability now.
“We have to focus on winning now,” Moore said. “We made our off-season moves geared to winning now. We owe that to everyone in the clubhouse. It’s a performance-based industry.”
Yost also demonstrated the new management approach during the 5-4 loss to the Angels. In the seventh inning, with the Royals down one, and runners on first and third with one out, Yost pinch-hit for struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas. Instead of allowing the tough lefty-lefty matchup with Sean Burnett against Moustakas, Yost opted for right-handed hitter Miguel Tejada, who unfortunately grounded into a double play.
“Still the right move,” Moore said.
Two years ago, Yost stuck with shortstop Alcides Escobar in virtually every such late-game situation, even when fans and talk-show hosts screamed for Yost to pinch-hit for Escobar, who hit in the low .200s most of that season.
Yost advised all who would listen that the Royals also had an obligation back then to develop young players, such as Escobar, who benefited greatly by Yost’s patience and became a .293 hitter last season.
But this year, it’s different. The Royals are in a completely different frame of mind, and it’s starting to show with how they’re using their roster. Two years ago, Moustakas would have faced that tough lefty in the seventh inning.
“We have to try to win ballgames now,” Yost said. “There will be times when (Moose) is ready to handle that situation but at that particular time, our best chance to win was with Tejada.”
Later in the ninth inning, Yost did something he has never done in the two-plus years Jeff Francoeur has been a Royal – pinch-hit for him. George Kottaras came on and delivered a run-scoring single.
“The moves you saw Ned make last night were geared toward that goal of competing now,” Moore said. “I’m not saying we’re going to do that all the time in the future. But it’s a reflection of where we are right now. We are in a position to compete for our division, and you have to do everything you can to stay competitive.
“Now, if we were way out of first, maybe we don’t make those moves. But we like this group of players and feel strongly that we can stay competitive in our division.
“The bottom line is, if you expect your players to win, you have to manage to win, and your general manager has to do his job to get you winning players. That’s where we are right now.”
For the record, Francoeur, though obviously a little startled by being pinch-hit for, didn’t have a problem with the move.
“It was the first time (here),” Francoeur said. “But you know, if I’m hitting the ball all over the place and getting three hits a night, it doesn’t happen.
“But when you’re scuffling and the team is needing a win any way it can get a win, it’s totally understandable. It’s not for me to second-guess. George got the job done.
“I got pinch-hit for in Atlanta before when I was scuffling. When you’re not winning ballgames, it’s whatever you can do to get some wins. And you deal with it.”
Francoeur, hitting just .221, said it’s obvious players will have to put pride aside this season.
“Right now, if you’re not hitting, (Yost) has to find someone who is,” he said, “and you step back and wait your turn. And you’ll get your turn again. You have to be confident in that.
“But no, it wasn’t like I was throwing helmets or anything. You turn the page and get ready for the next game.”
Moore also is in the win-now mode because of a sense of obligation to the players who were here even before all the off-season deals. Several players have committed to long-term deals with the Royals, including Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar, with the notion that the Royals would do anything they can to reverse the losing trend.
“Sure, we owe it to this group to do whatever we can to win,” Moore said. “Those guys who signed long-term deals deserve every chance they can to win now. And the more guys you have on the team who are determined to win, then the manager has to do whatever he can to aid the process, and that goes for the general manager as well.
“And sometimes those decisions can be tough to make. But they’re necessary.”
And one of those decisions may eventually involve Moustakas, whose averaged has plummeted to .174.
“We’re not ready to make that move (optioning Moustakas to Omaha),” Moore said. “Can it happen? You never know.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.