Royals gambling that new-look rotation pays off

Behind a pair of dark sunglasses, Dayton Moore’s eyes dart

around a spring training practice field in sunny Surprise, Ariz.,

trying to take in everything happening all at once.

There’s the Kansas City Royals’ new-look pitching staff going

through stretches on an adjacent field, and a lineup filled with

promising young position players who’ve yet to fully live up to

expectations preparing to take batting practice as the regular

season draws near.

Altogether, they hold the future of the Royals in the supple

leather pockets of their mitts, in what could become a

make-or-break year for a franchise grown weary of losing.

”We haven’t been to the playoffs since 1985,” Moore says, the

Royals general manager finally breaking his silence. ”Absolutely,

there’s a sense of urgency for us to set a winning course.”

More than any other reason, that’s why Moore has gambled his

professional future – not to mention a rebuilding project five

years in the making – with a series of bold offseason moves that

overhauled and solidified Kansas City’s disastrous starting

rotation

He began by re-signing Jeremy Guthrie, who dazzled during a

short stint in Kansas City late last season, and acquiring Ervin

Santana, a talented but often erratic starter for the Los Angeles

Angels who is just as likely to throw a no hitter as he is to give

up an eight-run inning.

Then, Moore executed eyebrow-raising trade with Tampa Bay.

He gave up the minor league’s player of the year, outfielder Wil

Myers, and a package of other prospects to acquire right-handers

James Shields and Wade Davis, giving Kansas City the kind of

front-of-the-rotation ace and another dependable starter that they

haven’t had in years.

It was a lot to give up for Shields and Davis. Moore knows that.

But he also knows that you have to give up something to get

something, and it was a chance he was willing to take.

”We’ve got to redirect the course of this organization,” he

said, ”and the only way to do it is if our most talented players,

our best players, are the ones who care the most and compete the

best, and we knew James Shields was going to be our very best

pitcher.”

”Now,” Moore added, ”we need him to be a guy who is going to

care and compete.”

The Royals will need more than just that, of course, to achieve

their first winning season since 2003, and just maybe break a

playoff drought stretching back five presidencies.

They’ll need first baseman Eric Hosmer to rebound from a

devastating sophomore slump that saw his average plummet to .232,

and third baseman Mike Moustakas to play like the guy he was in

April (.315 average, three homers, 12 RBIs) rather than in

September (.208, 1, 10).

They need Alcides Escobar to hit .300 at shortstop again, and

catcher Salvador Perez to stay healthy all season. They need

another All-Star caliber year from designated hitter Billy Butler,

someone to step up at second base – Chris Getz gets the first crack

– and for left fielder Alex Gordon to win another Gold Glove with

his spectacular defense.

It sure wouldn’t hurt if center fielder Lorenzo Cain could stay

on the field after a series of injuries last year, or if right

fielder Jeff Francoeur – statistically, the worst everyday position

player in the majors in 2012 – had a more respectable season at the

plate.

”I feel like we have guys on this team between Hos, myself,

Moose, they can bounce back and have good years,” Francoeur said.

”And when you look at what our pitching can do, get those guys in

there, the confidence of our offense knowing what we have out there

is huge.”

”Not to say we didn’t have it last year,” Francoeur said,

”but to me, when you have five guys go out there and throw every

day, it’s a huge confidence booster.”

Shields has grown accustomed to winning from his days in Tampa

Bay, and while he knows that playing meaningful baseball in

September is foreign to most of the Royals, he also believes that

their youthful moxie can help overcome their shortcomings in

experience.

”Playing against these guys over the last seven seasons, I’ve

seen the transformation in the organization,” Shields said, ”and

now I’m excited to be part of it.”

It’s a transformation that Moore decided to fast-track this

season.

The last several years, as he carefully rebuilt the Royals farm

system and watched all those young position players graduate to the

majors, the general manager has pointed to the 2014 season as the

moment when he thought everything might finally come together.

For once, though, the ”wait till next year” mantra has been

shelved.

The Royals believe they can start winning right now.

”It’s important that we begin trying to win every single year,

so all our pieces feed off one another’s successes,” Moore said.

”Everybody’s success is tied together, and now we believe, and I

made the decision, it’s time to move forward with this group.”