KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Phase One of Royals general manager Dayton Moore’s master plan was completed in 2013.
As Moore had hoped to do by acquiring Ervin Santana and James Shields, and re-signing Jeremy Guthrie last offseason, he indeed re-established a winning culture with the Royals.
The Royals enjoyed their first winning season in 10 years, and won their most games (86) since they won 92 games in 1989.
And almost as important to Moore, he reignited a dormant fan base as the Royals stayed in the playoff chase all the way until the last week of the season.
“For the first time in a long time we have a fan base from all levels of life (young to old),” Moore said at a season-ending news conference Tuesday. “This baseball team has brought joy to the young people and elderly. There is emotion and expectation and excitement.
“You know, in a small way, I feel like we’ve won the World Series because of the way we have (re)captured our fan base. We’re bringing a lot of joy to these people. That’s a great step forward.”
Phase Two, at least in Moore’s mind, began Tuesday when manager Ned Yost accepted a two-year contract extension.
While there naturally will be some fans and critics of Yost howling in disapproval of the extension, Moore reaffirmed his belief that Yost is the right manager to take the Royals to the next level. And for those of us who cover the Royals regularly, Yost’s extension Tuesday came as no surprise, mainly because of Moore’s unwavering support of Yost throughout the season.
“He’s a competitor,” Moore said of Yost. “We all have different ideas and it gets very competitive throughout the year, but it’s important that we respect each other and know we all have the same goal.
“Continuity is very important for us. I’ve said that from day one. I’m not big on change for change’s sake. Every successful organization I have studied in and out of sports has that common theme — continuity.”
I can’t disagree, because for all the griping about Yost’s decisions — and such griping happens in all major league cities — one would be hard pressed to suggest that Yost’s entire body of work this season didn’t merit an extension.
Yost had his managerial hiccups — leaving Guthrie in too long during a late-season loss in Detroit comes to mind immediately, as well as stubbornly hitting Alcides Escobar second in the lineup 69 times — but the truth is, Yost deserves credit for successfully managing one of the best bullpens in baseball and thus squeezing out numerous tight games despite a mostly anemic offense that finished 11th in the league in runs scored.
Yost also deserves credit for navigating his troops out of that dreadful 8-20 month of May when the team was so inept offensively that it seemingly had trouble hitting the ball past the pitcher’s mound.
But the Royals regrouped in June and July and surged in the second half, posting a 43-27 record after the All-Star break — the best in the league. To suggest the manager had nothing to do with that surge would be naïve and flat-out misguided.
So Yost will be back, but curiously, Moore’s own contract has not been extended yet. Moore’s contract expires after 2014, meaning the manager, at least for the moment, has a longer deal than the GM — a rarity in all sports.
But actually, if the Royals aren’t successful again next year — and Moore doesn’t get an extension this offseason — both Moore and Yost could be working on one-year deals anyway.
All signs would point to the contrary, however, as Moore clearly has pointed the Royals’ ship in the right direction. And Moore reiterated Tuesday that he is not concerned about his own future.
“I’m very comfortable where I’m at,” he said.
Moore’s next priority is to build on the winning culture and convert it into a playoff team. Neither Moore nor Yost is ready to proclaim 2014 as a playoffs-or-bust season.
“We expect that (playoffs) every year (from now on),” Moore said.
Both Moore and Yost know that as good as the Royals were this season, there are holes to fill.
“Every team has holes and we’re certainly not immune to that,” Moore said. “We need to acquire another bat in the lineup and make sure our rotation stays strong. …
“But this team will get better. The players we have now will get better.”
Still, with the possibility of Santana and left-hander Bruce Chen leaving the organization, Moore will have his work cut out for him to keep a solid rotation in place.
Moore said he hopes to have more discussions with Santana and his agent, and that he will do the same with Chen.
But Moore also indicated he didn’t think the Royals’ payroll — now at a little over $80 million — will increase for 2014. And that certainly will make the accounting difficult to keep Santana or Chen, or to be able to spend much on a bat for 2014.
Both Moore and Yost seemed to be hinting that even if the Royals can’t afford Santana or a free agent bat, they could find another arm or bat that is affordable simply by making a wise trade.
“I have no idea how salaries will escalate,” Moore said. “We will look internally first, then trades, then free agency.
“I will say that when we made the deal for Ervin Santana last year, there weren’t a lot of people excited except us. That’s the truth. I’m just saying, there will be opportunities for us to make wise, astute decisions in the future.”
Moore and Yost also maintain they might be able to get enough offense simply from improvement within.
“There’s not a guy on our (team) who I see regressing,” Yost said. “These guys are all going to have better years because they have more experience and more confidence. … We are going to be a better offensive team.
“With the pitching we had, we didn’t have to go out and score six or seven runs. We just need to continue to grow offensively.”
The Royals, who were last in the league in home runs, certainly will have to grow substantially on offense, especially if Santana and Chen walk and the rotation weakens.
Moore, however, also sees the Royals’ core players being able to carry the team toward the next phase — the playoffs.
“We almost made it this year,” Moore said. “This team was not ready to shut it down this season. They had more baseball in them.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.