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
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
”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
”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
”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
”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
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
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.”