Opinion

Dayton Moore still sees Detroit as ‘team to beat’ in American League Central

Kansas City Royals’ general manager Dayton Moore was doused by Salvador Perez after the Royals made the playoffs last year.
Kansas City Royals’ general manager Dayton Moore was doused by Salvador Perez after the Royals made the playoffs last year. The Kansas City Star

Dayton Moore arrived in Arizona on Wednesday afternoon and settled the Royals’ last major bit of offseason business. With a two-year contract for first baseman Eric Hosmer, all the team’s key pieces are in place and financially secured.

Moore met with reporters outside the team’s clubhouse on Thursday afternoon for some semblance of a State of the Royals address. He reiterated his belief in his team’s ability to return to the World Series in 2015, but stressed the Tigers remained “the team to beat” in the American League Central.

Here is a transcript of Moore’s remarks.

What are the key roster battles this spring?

“I think the main thing is just getting everyone healthy, and making sure the pitching’s ready. Of course, we do have a couple spots open in the bullpen. Certainly a utility role.

“One of the main decisions for us is going to be whether we take 12 or 13 pitchers. That decision will clean some of it up, as far as the competitions. The main thing is, truthfully, making sure we get everybody here, make sure we get through camp healthy.

“The first 10 days to two weeks, once the pitchers start throwing, is always a crucial time. So hopefully we’ll get through there injury-free.”

What’s the value in avoiding arbitration?

“I don’t know what that means, truthfully. There’s a process that takes place. Players, obviously, have an expectation. The club has an expectation of what the salary should be for a particular player. I just think that we’ve been able to work through and find common ground and get a deal.

“That’s all that means, at the end of the day. Everybody is satisfied with what the contract’s going to be, obviously.”

With Hosmer, how pleased were you to lock in his salary for 2016?

“I think it’s important. It’s something that we felt was important. Again, we were able to get a deal. It gives Hoz some security and us some cost-certainty, at least through 2016. So I think it was important.”

How can the results from last year energize your club for this season?

“One of the questions I’ve been asked all year is will the success of 2014, how it’s going to affect 2015? The only thing that I can say at this point and time is the mannerisms of our players and their routines in the offseason are the same as they’ve been in the past. They showed up here early and energized and ready to go.

“As I’ve said many times, these guys love to play baseball. And because they have that passion to play, for this city, in this uniform, that’s all the motivation they need. They’ll be ready to go. And excited once the team gets together and we start playing baseball.

“That’s what these guys do. I’m looking forward to seeing them once again out on the field.”

Do you feel like the team got better in the offseason?

“We do. We do. One of the things that we wanted to make sure we did is maintain our strengths. Keeping the bullpen together, making the defense remains strong. With (Luke Hochevar) and (Jason Frasor), and some of the other competitions we have in the bullpen. And obviously keeping (Greg Holland) and (Kelvin) Herrera and Wade (Davis) makes us, perhaps, even stronger.

“And then, with Alex Rios as the addition in right field, we feel like the outfield defense is obviously spectacular, but maybe even better now. I think that was important for us. The success of our team is predicated on our main players, the guy that we entered 2014 with, continuing to produce. We believe that they’re all capable of having better years in ’15 as compared to ’14. We feel like we’re better.”

What steps forward do you want to see this pitching staff take?

“You need them to stay healthy. That’s the most important thing, that your starting rotation goes to the post every fifth day. And your bullpen, obviously, they threw a lot of high-leverage situations last year. A lot of intensity. An extra month. We want to make sure that they get out of the gate strong, and they’re healthy.

“It’s a very talented group. We always look for 1,000 innings out of our rotation. And that’s been a goal of ours since day one. As long as the rotation throws strikes, competes and gives us a chance to win, allows our defense to make plays, I feel like our pitching staff will service us well.”

Will Alex Gordon be ready for opening day?

“Gordo should be ready. According to /(head trainer) Nick Kenney and talking to Alex, he feels good. We’ll probably go a little slower with him in the beginning. Obviously I think that’s a wise move.

“But we’ll listen to Alex. Alex is a veteran player. He’ll be very honest with us, and himself, as to how much he needs to push early on.”

What should the mind-set of a player be right now?

“You’ve got to prove yourself every day. It doesn’t matter, year to year. In baseball, it’s about today, and what you have to do to be successful. Certainly, you’re going to gain confidence and necessary experience from last year, and, really, ever since these players have been evolving together at the major-league level.

“There’s a renewed intensity. And you have to go out there every single day and prepare and make sure you’re ready to compete.

“The division is spectacular. Some people say it may be the best division in baseball. And we’ll see, at the end of the year, if that is indeed the case.

“But certainly the White Sox have done a tremendous job. They were already, I thought, a tremendous team last year. They have an impact leadoff hitter, an impact four-hole hitter. And they made additions to their lineup. They really improved their pitching staff, and the back end of their bullpen.

“Cleveland has maybe the best power rotation in baseball. They always play very, very hard. It’s an exceptional organization. The Twins scored a lot of runs last year. Any time you have Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer in that lineup, you’re going to be competitive. And the pitching staff, with (Ervin) Santana and (Phil) Hughes and some of the other young talent they have is very good.

“And Detroit is always exceptional. I think that they’re going to be the team to beat again, just because of the mere fact that they’re always an exceptional team. We’ve got to work hard, and hopefully we can work hard and compete to win our division.”

With James Shields gone, what does that mean for younger guys like Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, who are now going to be expected to pitch more?

“Well, they are. They’re obviously very talented. They’re still gaining that necessary experience. But hopefully they stay healthy and can go out there and be efficient with their pitches, and go deep in games.”

How does the American League pennant motivate this team to have success this year?

“Once you compete on the biggest stage this game has to offer, you can’t imagine, as a player, as an organization, not getting back there. Every year you don’t make the playoffs, it hurts. But once you’ve been a part of the playoffs, and part of a World Series, you just desperately want to get back there and to perform on that stage.

“There’s nothing like it. And that goes for everybody. Everybody, whatever your role is in the game, that’s what we all shoot for. We want to be a part of that very special event, the World Series, which is in my mind the greatest sporting event in the world.

“It’s something we strive for. We’re excited to get back and play in front of our fans. It’s an unbelievable fanbase. We want to make sure we’re ready to play and go out there and make them proud.”

What can you say to the fans on what they can expect from this franchise in 2015?

“I think I share the sentiment of a lot of our fans. They love watching this group of players play baseball. They play with energy. They’re passionate. They connect with the fans. They’re involved in the community. They play together. The togetherness that they display each and every night at Kauffman Stadium is reflected in our community. It rubs off on everybody who follows this team.

“We all want to be a part of that. It’s a special, special feeling to have that type of environment, and be a part of it. I’m just so proud that our fans have been able to witness and be a part of this great run with this group of players.”

Do you feel coming into this season your team has enough talent to overtake Detroit for the division title?

“Well, yeah. Absolutely. We were fortunate to be American League champions last year in 2014. But you move on from that. The Tigers have been the premier team in the A.L. Central for a number of years now. So they are the Central division champs. It’s our effort each and every year — this year’s no different — to win the division.

“Hopefully, we watch up well. Again, it’s a terrific division. There’s going to be a lot of great baseball to be played. Just hopefully we stay healthy and go out there we play the way we’re capable.”

Do you think last year’s model of success, with the bullpen and the defense, can be replicated?

“Well, you’ve got to match up the last three innings of a baseball game if you’re going to win. I think any team that is going to win their division or be in the postseason is going to have to have a strong bullpen. That’s always going to be the case. You’ve got to have the pitchers who can perform in high-leverage situations.

“It’s certainly worked for us. We don’t plan on deviating from it. But you’ve got to be strong in every area. You’ve got to play all phases of the game well if you’re going to win a world championship. So every aspect of your team has to be strong.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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