Dayton Moore’s Complicated Legacy

What happened Wednesday afternoon absolutely needed to happen. Make no mistake. The Royals’ organization needed a fresh start, and you can’t keep losing games forever just because you built a World Series winner once. And there will almost certainly be more moves to shake up the franchise.

Having said that, let’s examine the Royals legacy of now-fired general manager Dayton Moore. People have and will quibble with this, but I believe Moore basically took over an expansion team when he was hired midway through the 2006 season. Sure, he had Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and David DeJesus in the organization, but DeJesus was the only proven major leaguer in that group. Plus, the Royals had no infrastructure; years of owner David Glass pinching pennies meant that scouts and coaches didn’t have the tools to succeed. Forget spending money on free agents, the franchise wouldn’t even spend on the bare necessities.

Moore was able to convince Glass to change that. The team hired more scouts, began investing in Latin American players, spent money in the draft, and at least seemed to have a plan. It took longer than anyone would have wanted, but it paid off. From 2013 through 2017, the Royals went 431-379, won two AL pennants, and brought home a World Series trophy.

The last two seasons of that stretch were disappointing since the team couldn’t return to the postseason, but keeping the team intact was absolutely the right play.  The 2017 team was two games out of first entering August. But they faltered down the stretch, despite Moore trading for Ryan Buchter, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon Maurer to bolster the pitching staff and Melky Cabrera to help the lineup with suboptimal results (Buchter was good, Cabrera was mediocre, and Cahill and Maurer were terrible). 

Those moves seem emblematic of Moore’s tenure, or at least the second half of it, when nearly every move he made seemed to backfire. There were some wins, of course, but it increasingly seemed like the magic was gone. The instinct that used big trades to bring in Wade Davis, James Shields, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar, or scrap heap or small potatoes moves like Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Young, or Ryan Madson, seemed to desert Moore.

That was one problem. The second was what I see as Moore’s fatal flaw: loyalty. Of course, some loyalty is important. But Moore seemed to hang on to players, staffers, and ideas too long. The most obvious sign of this is in the team’s inability to develop pitchers. To be fair, this is a problem that plagued the organization long before Moore arrived, but never got that much better under his watch. And the problem was magnified when the Royals spent basically the entire 2018 draft collecting college pitchers. You can’t invest that much draft capital and, four years later, get the subpar results the Royals have received in return, and survive. 

And yet, Moore is someday going to be inducted into the Royals’ Hall of Fame, and he will have earned it. Despite a 1,126-1,350 record from 2007 until Wednesday, Kansas City did one thing that none of the other small-market teams have done: win the last game of the season. I would not call Moore an innovator, but think about the way teams are built today, with an emphasis on bullpens. Then consider how the 2014-15 Royals overcame a lack of top-tier starting pitching (they had good, not great, starters) with a lights-out bullpen. The game was already evolving in that direction, but Moore somehow figured out how to do it better. He didn’t get the fawning profiles, and no books were written about how the Royals had changed the game, but the teams that did are still searching for their ring.

By comparison, Cedric Tallis, who really did take over an expansion Royals team, and his successor, Joe Burke, took eight seasons to produce a playoff team. Of course, there were fewer playoff spots then, and the Royals had a winning team in their third season. But they could never procure that big, shiny trophy. Only Moore’s Atlanta mentor, John Schuerholz, was previously able to do that. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is hard to win a World Series, and Moore did something that talented GMs like Tallis and Burke couldn’t.

On the other hand, the 2018 and 2019 seasons were just as horrible as anything Allard Baird and Herk Robinson ever conjured up, with the common thread being an almost empty farm system failing to sustain previous success. Frankly, if Moore had drafted better with three top-five picks in 2010-12 and again in the post-World Series years, you might not be reading this. But in baseball, you can’t outrun failure forever.

There’s the complicated legacy of Dayton Moore: under his watch, the Royals experienced the highest of highs, but also some of the lowest moments in franchise history. Even now, even with the disastrous season that cost him his job, you can see how the next great Royals team could be just around the corner. Perhaps he will be due some of the credit if JJ Picollo can put together another winner. So, in a way, Moore’s legacy in Kansas City is still not settled.

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