Royals GM Dayton Moore says team has moved on from rebuild
At some point last summer, as the Royals trod toward 104 losses, general manager Dayton Moore essentially banned a word from the lingo of front-office personnel.
The designation seemed rather suitable for the Royals, who had endured enough turnover that the roster didn’t even closely resemble the World Series group from three years earlier. Moore acknowledged that, but after the first half of the 2018 season included only 27 wins yet 68 losses, he initiated a change in thinking.
“I think when you create a mindset that we’re rebuilding, you somehow build in or make an excuse that’s it’s OK to lose baseball games. It’s not,” Moore said during a season-ending news conference Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. “I think one of the things that changed is we quit talking about the rebuild. It’s not OK to lose games at the major-league level. That’s our responsibility — to win games. Players are paid to win at the major-league level — not (just) to play, not (just) to develop.”
After the All-Star break, the Royals responded with a 31-36 record, an improvement highlighted by a 15-13 September, the team’s only winning month of the season.
The 2019 Royals will more closely mirror that September group, Moore says.
In results, hopefully.
In personnel, almost certainly.
The Royals plan to make only minor tweaks to the roster this winter. They slash payroll from the 2018 season, Moore indicated Thursday, repetition of past statements. They will not be particularly active in the free-agent market. Instead, the focus will return to the long-term future and the players who comprise it.
“Our No. 1 goal is to make sure our farm system is back to the level where it was in 2010 and 2011. That’s still going to be a main focus of ours. We have to make sure our farm system is elite,” Moore said. “We also have to get our major-league payroll under control (and) more manageable so we’re in a better position in 2020 and 2021 and beyond to do some things that we believe will impact our major-league team in a more positive way and win more games. So everything we do this offseason can’t interfere with those two objectives.”
As he detailed each position on the field, it became clear the lineup will feature few, if any, modifications. The Royals are comfortable with Salvador Perez and Cam Gallagher at catcher; a combination of Ryan O’Hearn, Hunter Dozier, Cheslor Cuthbert and Frank Schwindel at the corner infield positions; Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop; Whit Merrifield at second base; Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin in center; Alex Gordon in left; and Jorge Soler and Jorge Bonifacio in right.
“I feel like there won’t be a lot of turnover, a lot of change, a lot of adding to that group,” Moore said. “We’re prepared to go forward with them.”
The pitching staff, as it typically does, offers more variance. Moore is satisfied with the depth of the rotation, rejuvenated by acquisitions during the 2018 season.
But the bullpen will demand attention. In a new baseball trend of “bullpenning” games, the Royals sported a 5.04 earned run average out of the pen, the worst mark in the American League. Only the Miami Marlins were worse in baseball. The Royals were charged with 24 blown saves. Among the relievers, only Kevin McCarthy and closer Wily Peralta appeared in at least 30 games and kept an ERA under 4.00.
“We need better options there,” Moore said. “We’ve got to be able to match up the last third of the game. If you’re winning a baseball game in the seventh inning, you need to go ahead and close that thing out. We’ve got to do a much better job of giving (manager) Ned (Yost) and the coaching staff options.”
The avenues toward accomplishing that will be diverse. If the Royals do tap the free-agent market this winter, it will likely involve a relief pitcher. And it will likely come late in the free agency period. Moore pointed toward past additions Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton as the type of players the Royals might target.
There are internal options, too. The Royals plan to break spring training with the best 12 or 13 arms, letting the performances dictate the roles. That will leave some on the outside of the rotation bubble, allowing for a potential move —perhaps temporary — to the bullpen. Brad Keller opened the 2018 season in the bullpen but transition to the rotation and finished third on the team in innings.
Asked if the late-game solutions could include long-time starters Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy, Moore replied, “Could be. We’ll see. I don’t think we would script it out that way. We wouldn’t go into spring training looking to pull the rip cord and abandon them as starters necessarily, but if somebody beats them out and they’re more effective in that middle or late-inning role or end up being the closer, we’ll see.”
It’s an option involving the re-shuffling of existing pieces. The pieces themselves are unlikely to see much change. Even the entire coaching staff under Yost is expected to return. The Royals want to offer younger prospects the opportunity to develop at the major league level, as they did in September.
They just want to do it without enduring another 100-loss season.
“One of our frustrations and one of my failures is the fact that we are where we are,” Moore said. “The focus of this next year of Royals baseball (is) we want to put together a winning team that will win for a long time — 10, 15 years. I’m not saying we’ll make the playoffs every year. I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to the World Series — certainly that’s the mission — but we want to play winning baseball, championship-caliber baseball. I like the fact we played that in the second half, but we want to win more consistently.”