Dayton Moore bounded up the dugout steps and onto the diamond of Kauffman Stadium on Thursday. This was not the parade he had envisioned eight years ago, with throngs of humanity teeming in the streets of Kansas City. The bionic left arm of Giants ace Madison Bumgarner had dashed their plans for a downtown party on Friday. Moore had to attend a baseball wake.
The anguish of the seventh game of the World Series had not left. It may not for days to come. The Royals could not deliver a championship in 2014. But they did deliver a season worth cherishing, a season worth remembering, a season worthy of a celebration. The fans flooded the gates at the park to see Moore and manager Ned Yost and those players who stuck around the morning after the previous night’s misery.
Moore clasped a microphone and faced a crowd estimated at between 12,000 and 15,000. The fans ringed the park’s lower bowl a few minutes past 11 a.m. on a school day. When Moore arrived in this city in 2006, kids wore Derek Jeter jerseys and Red Sox caps. Now he stood before a sea of jerseys bearing the names of players he had drafted, signed and developed. The loss still stung, but he saw reason to hope for more.
“I can tell you this: Our organization, going forward, is as strong as its ever been,” Moore told the crowd. “It’s as fearless as it’s ever been. And we’re motivated to bringing this energy and this excitement back to Kansas City for a long time.”
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Moore bounded back down the steps and out of the dugout. He was already looking toward the business of 2015. He was working out the details of a small trade with the Blue Jays, as the Royals returned minor-league swingman Liam Hendriks in exchange for a minor-league catcher named Santiago Nessy.
Far bigger moves should follow in the coming months. The Royals face a variety of questions after a season that ended with the tying run 90 feet away from home plate. The club must plug holes at designated hitter, in right field and in the starting rotation.
Some of the business should be painless. Yost is under contract only through 2015. He will likely receive an extension this winter. He turned 60 in August, and indicated he would like to manage for two or three more seasons.
“It’s a special group,” Yost said. “It’s a group that I thoroughly enjoy. It’s a group that I’m extremely proud of. I’ve never been more proud of a group that I’ve ever been around in my life.”
Some of the business could be painful. The Royals are expected to decline a $12.5 million option on Billy Butler, their longest-tenured player, a first-round pick in 2004 and a cornerstone of their rebuilding effort. Butler posted a career-worst .702 on-base plus slugging percentage this season.
Kansas City will consider sticking with Butler. But it also might explore options like outfielder Torii Hunter, former Royal Melky Cabrera or slugger Michael Morse to fill the void in the lineup. Butler may be forced to take a paycut from his $8 million salary in 2014.
Even with Butler’s salary potentially coming off the books, the Royals payroll could cross the $100 million threshold in 2015 for the first time. The payroll currently is just shy of $46 million in contractual obligations for 2015. But the team also must offer raises in arbitration to a good portion of their core, including Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy and Kelvin Herrera. They are also expected to pick up a $7 million option on reliever Wade Davis.
The onus for spending falls on owner David Glass, who approved a team-record budget in 2014 that totaled more than $94 million. Glass spoke to the fans on Thursday after Moore left the field.
“I’m still struggling with last night,” Glass said. “I think it will get better over time. But none of us handle losing very well.”
Glass proceeded to list a group worthy of applause: Moore, Yost, the coaching staff and, particularly, he said, the players.
“I am so proud of those young men,” he said. “They may not have won last night. But they left it all on the field.”
Butler stood in the middle of a group of more than a dozen teammates. He wants to spend his career in this city. He was red-faced and bashful as the crowd showered him with cheers on Thursday. He added the stage made him nervous. He appeared incapable of pronouncing the word “organization,” and his teammates snickered behind him. When Jeremy Guthrie made a verbal gaffe, he quipped, “Now I’m talking like Billy.” Butler pumped his fist.
“We couldn’t be more proud to be out here for you guys,” Butler said.
The loudest roar erupted for Cain, the MVP of the American League Championship Series and the breakout performer of these playoffs. As he started to speak for the crowd, Salvador Perez wrapped an arm around him and wielded his iPhone like a weapon.
“I guess we got us another Instagram video, huh?” Cain said.
Guthrie quoted John Wooden. Omar Infante thumped his right first across his left breast. Each ear studded with a constellation of diamonds, Yordano Ventura basked in the applause and danced. Nori Aoki stormed forward and grabbed the microphone from emcee Ryan Lefebvre.
“You the best!” Aoki shouted at the crowd. “Thank you so much!”
Some of the business will be business. Aoki became a free agent Thursday. So did James Shields.
The arrival of Shields marked a new era for this franchise. He emerged as the leader of a young team, one he believes now features leaders throughout the clubhouse. He is expected to receive a contract in excess of $80 million, a sum the Royals have never before doled out to a player. Kansas City will be in touch, but Shields is expected to play elsewhere in 2015.
“The one thing I wanted to let you guys now is we’re very proud of what we did this season, what we accomplished this season,” Shields said.
“You should be!” a fan shouted back.
Shields ended on an optimistic note. This team snapped a 29-year streak without a playoff berth. It was the longest postseason drought in North American sports. The streak is no more. It was not a championship. But it is a feat worth remembering.
“I’m glad,” Shields said, “baseball is back in Kansas City.”