Vahe Gregorian

Royals GM Dayton Moore on perspective, the way forward and Bubba Starling

Dayton Moore on the state of the Royals

Royals general manager Dayton Moore addressed a variety of topics on Monday.
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Royals general manager Dayton Moore addressed a variety of topics on Monday.

As he wrapped up Day One of his “C You In The Major Leagues” foundation’s fifth annual camp at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Dayton Moore stood Monday before dozens of teen baseball players radiating some of his most defining traits: the ability to inspire and mentor.

As he reviewed some lessons of the day, he reiterated baseball fundamentals, like waiting for the right pitch as a batter and telling yourself you want the ball hit your way every pitch as a fielder, but also the sorts of things that might be called life lessons.

Using your own gifts to help other people. Creating confidence through preparation. The importance of body language and encouragement and being a great teammate. Smiling. Extending a firm handshake. Looking people in the eye. Asking someone’s name upon meeting.

“What else?” the Royals’ general manager asked the group.

A hand went up, and Moore called on the boy: “Don’t show people you’re upset,” the boy said. “Just keep going.”

Moore nodded his approval.

“Always keep going. Right,” he said. “Whatever happens throughout your daily routine, concentrate on what’s next, OK? Concentrate on what’s next. Don’t stay wounded, don’t stay down.”

The message of perseverance and resilience, he’d acknowledge later, was as much about reminding himself as convincing his audience.

As his team sputters along at 23-48 entering this week and is on trajectory toward a second straight 100-loss season just five years after back-to-back World Series appearances, Moore drew strength from the “enthusiasm and the innocence” of the youth.

The kids, he said, breathe life into the front office that also is fully participating here and “remind us why we do what we do and why we love baseball so much.”

Perspective, in other words.

Something Moore also poignantly offered in some of his first remarks to the media by taking the occasion to commemorate the memories of Reat Underwood, William Corporon and Terry LaManno, victims of a 2014 hate-crime here and at the Village Shalom assisted living facility.

Moore specifically named each as he spoke of how they still are mourned.

That has nothing to do with baseball, of course, but it’s the sort of humanity that Moore invariably will display. And it made for a meaningful pause before he engaged questions on numerous topics about the Royals’ present and future with this as a baseline:

“As long as you have a plan and you feel good about the plan, it kind of puts you in charge of your path, alright?” he said. “And so we feel like we have a really good plan going forward.”

Trouble is, that feeling may or may not come to fruition and the timetable is a challenge to embrace.

Because the most tangible part of the plan is continuing to replenish the minor-league system that was depleted by trades in the drive to win the World Series and diminished by the failure to launch of some notable recent prospects. While those of the last few years understandably still are in a developmental phase, the current major league roster includes just two Royals’ No. 1 picks, Alex Gordon and Hunter Dozier.

So while Moore repeated what he often says publicly about not putting limitations on this team, he said something Monday about his view ahead that he usually would reserve for more private conversations.

Asked about a timeline to contention, he said he told owner David Glass and president Dan Glass in October 2017 that since the Royals hadn’t traded the likes of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer for prospects and had signed Gordon and Ian Kennedy to long-term contracts …

Well, 2018-2021 were “going to be somewhat unpredictable” on the way to what he hopes can be more sustainable success.

Toward that point, Moore referred to his belief that certain key components (doubtless Dozier and Adalberto Mondesi and the out-for-the-season Salvador Perez among others) of the future are on this team.

“We certainly have to look at some things with (moving) players who are going to be free agents at the end of the year,” said Moore, who said he’s been getting calls from other general managers checking possibilities. “I don’t anticipate us moving any of our players that we have under (contractual) control for a period of time.”

As for the unclear contractual future of the resurgent Gordon after this season, Moore said, “I suspect he’s going to want to be here if he wants to continue to play” but suggested it won’t be talked about until after the season. (Just like he’ll speak with manager Ned Yost at season’s end to discuss his future, an interesting matter to be explored later.)

Which brings us to the other end of the contractual spectrum: Whit Merrifield, who in January both turned 30 and signed a four-year contract that guarantees $16.25 million with a club option for a fifth year. While Moore was careful not to state anything as set in stone, he noted that Merrifield-autographed balls had been handed out to players at the camp on Monday, his name invoked as a story of resolve.

“The young people in our community identify with Whit; that’s really important for us,” he said, later adding that what he would ask for from anyone inquiring about Merrifield “would be just crazy.”

While Merrifield’s status may be the most popular topic for opposing general managers, the most frequently asked question Moore has gotten over the years is about Bubba Starling.

The Gardner-Edgerton High graduate was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and he’s finally enjoying an apparent breakthrough in his seemingly star-crossed career. Through 56 games at Class AAA Omaha, Starling is hitting .332 with a .455 slugging percentage while continuing to play major-league caliber outfield.

So, if not now, when?

Moore said the goal with Starling this year has been to “limit the noise” and let him enjoy a fully healthy and productive season there. But even as he noted that he doesn’t want Starling wondering every day when he’ll get “the call,” Moore subtly added that it likely will happen … “when he doesn’t expect it.”

Speaking of unexpected … As Moore spoke of Kyle Zimmer, who hasn’t given up an earned run in seven of his last eight appearances for Omaha and walked only two in his last nine innings through Sunday, he pointed out that some of his appearances have been in a so-called “opener” role.

“We’ve been messing around with it pretty good in Omaha,” said Moore, adding that the Royals also have looked at hard-throwing Josh Staumont in that capacity and adding that “we could” see some of that tinkering at the major-league level this season.

Any tinkering seems welcome about now, of course.

All part of concentrating on what’s next, as Moore tries to keep moving forward. It’s about the only thing anyone can do right now, of course, but just how it’s done ultimately will define this phase in Royals’ history.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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