If you know Dayton Moore, you know the Royals general manager as a man of integrity who is compelled to lead with his heart, the idealist within forever tussling with the pragmatist he knows he has to be.
This explains something about how the Royals came to achieve something unprecedented for a small-market team in the modern financial era of baseball, playing in back-to-back World Series and winning it all in 2015.
And it accounts a bit for how they find themselves in flux now that they may have been better off reconciling last year or even two years ago instead of essentially trying to have it both ways.
“Let’s go for it” mostly was the mindset, with nibbles at the lurking future economic reality (trading Wade Davis for Jorge Soler) while hoping for one last hurrah with big contracts for Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy and clasping to budding free agents such as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain — who on Thursday agreed to a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers.
(For the record, this columnist was all for it, even if it didn’t work out.)
Exhilarated with the title and the parade, and all it meant to the city, and the possibility that this era could produce more, Moore allows now as how he might have been greedy to try to replicate the magic, even as he reiterates how he continues to see his job:
That you can never stop looking at this game through the lens of a child, and that he will always try to hold on to what he calls his own “innocent view of what this is truly all about.”
All of which in some way has led to this strange crossroads.
With Royals FanFest scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Bartle Hall and spring training just behind, Moore smiles when playfully asked if he knows who his 2018 team is as three core players of their resurgence remain on the free-agent market (and improbable returnees) and his most urgent current priority is to revitalize the farm system.
The fact that this limbo coincides with an apparent broader market correction of common sense, what cynics are calling collusion, makes this a time like no other he can remember.
“Historically, this time of year there’s not a lot of movement because the teams are pretty much set, so there’s usually this lull in the industry where everybody’s just kind of idling waiting for spring training to begin,” Moore said. “That couldn’t be further from the case as we sit here today.”
Especially so for the Royals, who won’t be buyers even with 150-plus free agents available as of Moore’s count on Wednesday — such an enormous group that Moore says “it’s quite obvious that a large percentage of them will not have jobs in the major leagues” to start the season.
Meanwhile, since it’s clear the Royals will entertain offers for almost anyone as they crank up what might be called “The Process 2.0,” it’s instructive that as Moore spoke of the holding pattern waiting for dominoes to fall that he looked towards a blank canvas on an easel a few feet away and spoke about how the Royals typically put players on the board that make a team.
There are many different ways to do that, particularly when you have the range of sound and thoughtful opinions and quality debate Moore will get from his staff.
At one extreme, one of those ways would be to be purely about business, cut and dried: “This is the money coming in,” he said, “this is the money coming out.”
And that’s the way that will largely prevail now — as much as that model might grind Moore and he’ll want to meld any such thinking with his more guiding instincts and likely will find some compromises with.
Because, well, let’s let Moore explain:
“We were one win away from winning the World Series in 2014; we had a payroll of $96 million,” he said, getting up out of his seat to go find a chart with the precise numbers. “In 2015, we had a payroll of $129 million and we won a World Series.
“In 2016, we won 81 games with a payroll of $143 (million); in 2017, we won 80 games at a payroll of $154 (million).”
Meanwhile, attendance increased from 1,750,754 in 2013 to 1,956,482 in 2014 and to 2,708,549 in 2015. It fell to 2,557,712 in 2016 and to 2,220,370 last season.
“So, we are bringing in fewer fans, generating less revenue, spending more money and not winning as many games: The formula is trending in a way that we’re simply not pleased with from an operational standpoint,” said Moore, noting that operations include the front office and scouts and new enterprises such as research and development for developing a program on the Pacific Rim.
The net effect has meant, as Moore put it, that owner David Glass has had to “subsidize the club with an exorbitant amount of dollars over the last two years.”
“It’s real business: I know people want to say, ‘Well he bought the club for this amount and that at any time Mr. Glass can write a check for whatever amount,’” Moore said. “But I know the importance of not spending more money than you make. That’s like a fundamental principle of good stewardship.”
So that’s why we are where we are, stranded between generations of Royals baseball, waiting even to know who exactly we’ll be watching this year as the prime directives of the idealist for now has become this: stepping out of spending mode, looking at ways through trades to improve the farm system and “become financially more responsible, which will give us more flexibility into the future.”
Even as he declares that he is conceding nothing in 2018, the most crucial thing on his mind is to get the farm system back to the level it was in 2010 and 2011, he added, “if we are going to win another world championship here in Kansas City and not have to regress.”
To the thinking of Moore, who takes a certain joy in the journey itself, this reset should have more lasting juice.
“Based on just some of the lessons learned as you reflect on our time here in a deep and honest way and realize you could have done some things better along the way,” he said. “So hopefully we gained some wisdom from that and move forward in a more productive, sound and consistent way.”
In all likelihood, the pragmatist acknowledges, that means “we may have to take a step back.”
Then the conflicted idealist surges up and says, “But we’ll see. Still going to try to win, each and every night.”
Whoever they have out there.