Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore’s commitment to his core players paid dividends

Yesterday I sorta played hooky and saw a movie. But wait, I didn’€™t completely forget about my job! I also read Dayton Moore’€™s book!

It’€™s a thin book. I was hoping to gain some real insights into both Moore and the Royals’ wildly surprising success over these last, oh, 15 months or so. I don’€™t know that I got those, but it does strike me that the Royals’€™ success, far more than some organizational commitment to speed and contact-hitting, might best be explained by patience. Or maybe €œ"commitment" is the better word. But there’€™s definitely something to be said for patience and commitment, and maybe nothing’€™s ever said it better than the 2014 and ‘€™15 Kansas City Royals.

Just look at the Royals’€™ core players this season; or rather, their core hitters.

First, let’€™s ignore Omar Infante and Alex Rios, since both were free-agent signees and both were terrible during the regular season (Infante missed the postseason, while Rios had at least a couple of good moments). Let’s also ignore Salvador Perez and Kendrys Morales, since neither of them has anything to do with what I’€™m talking about.

That still leaves more than half the regulars: Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain.

Hosmer’€™s probably not a great fit here, either. Yes, he did struggle terribly in his second season. And his fourth. But Hosmer also looked good enough as a 21-year-old rookie, and then again as a 23-year-old, that probably nobody else would have given up on him, either. Especially since there wasn’€™t another prospect breathing down his neck. I suppose the most you can say about the Royals, regarding Hosmer, is that they drafted him with the third overall pick and then they didn’€™t do anything to screw him up.

Alex Gordon, though? He wasn’€™t an easy one. Between injuries and his poor play at third base, in his fourth season he seemed a terrible disappointment: The supposed franchise player, reduced to a demotion to the minors at 26, both to learn a new position and start hitting again. Even up on his return to the majors that summer after a few months with Omaha –€“ this was in 2010, by the way –€“ Gordon still didn’€™t hit.

But if you read Moore’€™s book, which is dotted with testimonials from Gordon, it seems the Royals never stopped believing in him. And it’€™s not often that a team’€™s faith is rewarded more; beginning in 2011, Gordon won four straight Gold Gloves at his new position and led the Royals in Wins Above Replacement in four straight seasons. Even George Brett never did that.

Moustakas, like Gordon and Hosmer, was an exceptionally high draft pick. And like Gordon and Hosmer –€“ but even more so! –€“ Moustakas had struggled mightily in the majors. Moore suggests in his book that Moustakas improved under George Brett’€™s tutelage in 2013, but you can’€™t really see it in the stats. And he struggled again in 2014, at least until October (when he hit five homers, fully a third of his regular-season total).

But the Royals stuck with him! And Moustakas rewarded that patience with a fine season, the first fine season of his career, this year.

What do Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain have to do with patience? Well, here’s where maybe "€œcommitment"€ is the better word.

When Moore took over as Royals general manager in the summer of 2006, Greinke was pitching in Double-A, after taking some time off that spring because of social anxiety disorder. On a day off, Greinke drove to Kansas City to meet with Moore…

We began to chat, and he wanted to make sure that I knew he wasn’€™t interested in being called up in September. I said, "Zack, we’€™re more concerned about you as a person. I’€™m concerned about you being a great son and brother and hopefully a great husband and father one day."€ That was my introduction to Zack Greinke.

We put our 2007 team together as if he were not going to be a part of it. We were still trying to figure out if he was going to play. That’€™s the off-season we acquired Joakim Soria, traded Ambiorix Burgos for Brian Bannister, and then signed Gil Meche. Even in January 2007, as Zack and I talked on the phone on a Saturday morning, I had no indication whether he was going to show up for spring training the next month.

–snip–

We moved slowly with Zack in 2007. [Pitching coach Bob McClure] felt it’d be good to get Zack in the bullpen so he could come to the park expecting to pitch every day. I wasn’€™t excited about that because we needed starters, and if God put anyone on this earth to be a starting pitcher, it’€™s Zack Greinke. But I trusted Bob McClure, and he was right on with his plan. We transitioned him back to the rotation late in 2007, and he was ready in 2008.

He was ready in 2008, he won the Cy Young Award in 2009 … and then the Royals traded him to the Brewers after the 2010 season … even though Greinke had the contractual ability to veto a trade to the Brewers. So why did Greinke join the Brewers? "€œI called Zack,"€ Moore writes, "€œand started talking to him about Milwaukee and how it’€™d be a great place to play… We had a great 45-minute conversation that night. He called me back a couple of days later and said that he’€™d be willing to go to Milwaukee."€

Does everything turn out differently if Moore hadn’€™t taken such care with Greinke in the prior years? Maybe, but maybe not. And if not, Moore’€™s not able to trade Greinke for Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain (and Jake Odorizzi, who wound up moving to the Rays in another blockbuster deal).

Granted, there’€™s a lot more to the Royals than just these guys, and Dayton Moore’€™s patience. There’€™s also David Glass’ patience, as most owners probably wouldn’t have stuck with Moore long enough for the big turnaround. There’€™s also the scouting and player development, Ned Yost’s tactical brilliance, and all those great relief pitchers.

But without all that patience and commitment –€“ and what seems like Dayton Moore’s genuine caring about the people who work for him –€“ it’s hard to see the Royals winning two straight American League pennants.