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Understanding Dayton Moore

Want to understand Dayton Moore? Try this:

OK, so imagine you’re Dayton Moore, the GM of the Royals, and the 2009 season has just ended in a massive disappointment. The relievers you picked up over the offseason turned out to be horrible, the power hitters you acquired over the offseason turned out to be horrible, the centerfielder you acquired over the offseason got hurt and will now be leaving because you can’t justify his $8 million option. You also have two catchers, who both kind of suck, and retaining them both would cost you around another $8 million. So what do you do?

Well, first you take stock of what you do have on the roster. What do the Royals have/do as well or better than anyone else in the AL Central? In all of MLB? Well, that’s actually an easy answer. Young quality starting pitching. Zack Greinke and Gil Meche (healthy version) stack up against any other 1-2 punch in baseball. And behind them you’ve got a bunch of young guys who may or may not put it together at any point (Banny/Davies/Hoch/Tejeda/Crow/etc). Ok, well a bunch of the younger guys really haven’t taken that step forward, so you think “What can I do to help them?” Well, looking at your roster, you’ve got possible the worst two defensive catchers in baseball, plus this Pena guy that all your minor league managers are telling you isn’t so hot behind the plate either. So basically you’ve got three catchers that can all hit a little but can’t play defense. You cut the two most expensive ones and look for the best defensive catcher you can find. Somebody with experience who might be able to help your guys mature into the good-to-great pitchers you need them to be. Looking around the catching market this year, and checking out what’s likely to be available next year, you realize Jason Kendall is the only one who comes remotely close to meeting your criteria.

Sure, there’s some intriguing younger-than-Jason-Kendall guys out there like Yorvit Torralbea, but really, do you want to take any chances with the best and most important (and most effective) part of your roster? What if this Yorvit kid doesn’t work out? Have you potentially cost yourself a much more valuable starting pitcher or two in the hope of chasing lightning in a bottle? No, better to go with the known, more stable quantity on something this important, besides, you’ve got a bunch of great catching prospects in the low minors, two years from now they may be ready for full time duty, and all have higher ceilings than any of the younger guys available. So you start negotiating with Jason Kendall, you’re tying to get him to sign a 2 year deal at $2 million per, he wants more money, but it looks like he’s starting to come around. Then the Washington Nationals sign Ivan Rodriguez for 2 years at $3 million per. Crap. Now Kendall, who is in many ways comparable to I-Rod (both old, both past their prime, both have great reputations, albeit for different things) wants $3 million per year too. You try to talk him down, but he won’t budge. You look at the catching market again, and realize you don’t really have much of a choice if you want to protect your young pitchers, so you cave and tack an extra couple million on the second year of the deal – hey, you’ll have Guillen, Cruz, and Farnsworth’s contracts coming off the books, so it’s not like you can’t afford it, and it’s still cheaper than retaining Olivio or Buck for two more years would be.

Now you look to see what else you can do to help your young pitchers. You notice you have one of the worst defensive units in baseball. Alberto Callaspo is a disaster at 2B. Billy Butler isn’t a disaster at 1B, but he’s not about to win any Gold Gloves either. Alex Gordon is pretty good at 3B when he’s healthy, so you don’t have to worry about that at least. So you trade Mark Teahan for Josh Fields and Chris Getz. Getz should be a defensive upgrade at second, and Fields can fill in for Gordon if he gets hurt again or potentially play the outfield if Guillen is Guillen. There’s not much you can do about Yuni except hope he starts playing better or that Mike Aviles gets healthy fast, or that Bianchi is ready sooner than expected, besides, you don’t think Yuni is that bad defensively anyway. So you look at what you’ve got now and start assessing the outfield. DDJ is great in left, but he’ll be a free agent soon and you probably won’t be able to keep him. And with Guillen leaving next year and Coco gone now, you realize the outfield needs a lot of people. Fields is a potential outfielder, though somewhat unknown defensively, and Mitch Maier is ok, but really seems like more of a 4th OF type than a regular starter. So you try to trade your most tradeable, expendable commodity (Alberto Callaspo) for a young ML-ready outfielder. You target Felix Pie and Brett Gardner - they’re both young, they both have potential, and they both play on teams where they don’t really have a place to play. It seems like a great fit. Unfortunately, neither the Yankees nor the Orioles are willing to trade their guys for Callaspo. So what do you do? You don’t want to sign someone to a long term deal because you’ve got Jordan Parraz and David Lough coming up, and a Parraz/Lough/Fields/Maier OF sounds like it might be OK and will definitely be pretty cheap too. So you sign a couple of guys who really aren’t that good, but maybe have one solid year in them – Brian Anderson and Scott Podsednik.

So you look at your roster and think about your goal. You wanted to make things easier for your young pitchers and increase their odds of finding success. You upgraded defensively at catcher, first base (no more Mike Jacobs innings) and second base. You got your pitchers an experienced catcher with a good defensive reputation that was paired with some young arms that developed back when he played in Pittsburgh (Jason Schmidt, Kris Benson, Kip Wells). You held steady in the outfield while not blocking any of your own prospects. You dramatically improved the relief corps by subtraction, so your young guys don’t have to watch their leads always get blown. And you did all of this while breaking even on payroll, which is important for a small market team like the Royals. It’s not ideal, you know that, but rebuilding is called rebuilding for a reason, and you’ve done everything in your power to protect and support the most important part of your team. All in all, a pretty decent job, yes?

Apparently not. Every time you turn on the TV or the internet all you see is people telling you you’re terrible and focusing on your mistakes. Can’t they see what you’re trying to do here? Don’t they understand that you’re building the team according to a plan? That there’s a process in place to make things better? Don’t they know you’re trying to edge up the win % every year to build the fanbase so you can afford better players and so that free agents will be more willing to come here? Haven’t you gotten ownership to spend money and beef up the scouting and minor league systems? Don’t people know that it will still be a few years before all the good prospects get to the majors, but that the farm system will be totally stocked behind them so it’s a continuous flow?

But you’re so hurt and angry about the criticism, you don’t make those arguments. Instead you argue that your moves aren’t that bad, and that the plan is good, and that the players you’re getting are better and greater than you know they are. Then you give up and hold a press conference announcing that the fans need to trust the process.

Imagine that and you’ll understand Dayton Moore.

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