As he chatted with a few reporters after a news conference Tuesday, Royals’ general manager Dayton Moore blurted out something similar to what he’s been saying for years.
Casual as the words were, though, they lingered and loomed large in a new way.
“We’ll just keep doing it the way we’ve done it,” he said. “And that’s focusing on building our farm system, keeping it strong, graduating players to the major leagues and (looking) for trades that make sense.
“We’ll be aggressive when we need to be and try to sign free agents that don’t put us in a tough spot long-term financially and fit with our current group.”
A mere year ago, those words would have cued eye-rolls and snark attacks.
They would have riled up a bubbling cynicism in fans, a disbelief hard-earned by a 28-year postseason void, the last 7 1/2 of which was on his ledger.
But “we’ll just keep doing it the way we’ve done it” has an entirely new context now.
And not because of the Royals’ (relatively) berserk recent free-agent-spending spree of approximately $55 million overall — some $20 million more than their entire payroll in 2011.
That’s a statement in itself, of course, but the fresh perspective is warranted instead by the Royals’ mesmerizing revival and romp to the 2014 World Series.
It’s a context that says faith in Moore’s plan was justified after it grew scarce at times, and it’s a context that now merits another tier of belief: the trust in the franchise that had so eroded.
No, the Royals didn’t win the World Series. And a lot had to fall right for them to get within 90 feet of tying game seven in the bottom of the ninth — not the least of which was the stupefying, out-of-body comeback in their AL Wild Card game against Oakland.
For that matter, there’s no assurance they’ll make it back soon.
Just the same, the season created a transformative new frame of reference.
It’s one that says “same old Royals” is an obsolete term, that you needn’t look at every setback as crippling, that a trapdoor isn’t inevitably waiting to spring open, and that it’s rational to have hope.
It doesn’t say that Moore and his brain trust are infallible and didn’t make mistakes along the way and won’t make them again. There’s no sequel to “Moneyball” about to be released in tribute to him … as far as we know.
But it says that Moore and his staff’s conscientiousness, diligence and smarts are real and effective and credible.
And it says that “the process” he touted and was at times mocked for had direction and clarity and oomph behind it.
Especially when it called for the true leadership of not worrying about appeasing the masses, such as with an unpopular action (surrendering Wil Myers in the trade that brought James Shields and Wade Davis), or ridiculed non-action: essentially standing pat at the 2014 trade deadline.
None of this new reality changes much for Moore, he’ll tell you.
And, alas, he’s too classy to, say, ask critics how his process tastes now.
Or suggest he was just a few months ahead of himself on his much-maligned line after the tone-setting 2013 season, that one about “in a small way, I feel like we’ve won the World Series.”
Instead, it’s as it should and must be: on with the process.
“I still feel the same, truthfully,” he said. “There’s a strong sense of (urgency) to continue to put a winning team on the field. I haven’t really had much time to reflect.”
Just time to project forward.
The day after the World Series ended, Moore recalled, Royals assistant GM for international operations Rene Francisco was trying to secure a couple of international prospects. And coordinator of Latin American scouting Orlando Estevez was in Mexico, trying to sign youngsters.
And on it goes, working to maximize the product within small-market constraints and trying to balance the twin duties of enhancing the present and ensuring the future without compromising one at the expense of the other.
That’s come with substantial support from owner David Glass, whose miserly reputation also has become outdated under the sway of his trust in Moore.
If Glass isn’t quite giving Moore a blank check, he certainly can’t be said to be scrimping, either.
Not with all he’s invested in international programs and scouting and, now, even payroll.
“Obviously, we’re always conscious and mindful of what our market is,” Moore said. “Mr. Glass puts every penny back into this team and always has and always will.
“Whether we do it through free-agent signings or whether we do it through signing an extra coach, instructor or scout, or we do it internationally, or we do it through the draft, every penny goes back into supporting the efforts of what we try to do as a baseball operation staff to build this franchise.”
So the Royals were, in fact, in on negotiations for pitcher Ervin Santana and outfielder Melky Cabrera … only for the White Sox to sign Cabrera to a reported three-year, $42 million deal and the Twins to sign Santana for a reported $55 million over four years.
“You just get to a point in time where it just keeps escalating and escalating, and you’ve got to figure out when to say no and see what happens,” Moore said. “And that’s where we were in both cases.”
So it was back to just doing it the way they’ve done it, growing the future in the farm system and spackling in their most critical immediate needs with calculated free-agent risks at designated hitter (Kendrys Morales) and right field (Alex Rios) and in the rotation (Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen).
Only now that was all done around a vibrant, established nucleus (seven established positional players, four-fifths of the rotation and an intact, dominant bullpen) that also figures in how the Royals must allocate future dollars.
“We do not want to do anything right now financially that’s going to put us in a position where we can’t do some things in the future,” Moore said. “We feel like we have a very young talented group; they’ve been the backbone for everything that we’ve accomplished here …
“So we’ll try to keep our young players here as long as we can. We won’t keep them all. We won’t be able to. It’s just not feasible. But we’ll do our best to keep as many as we can.”
Not all the next moves will be met with approval, of course, and not all the calculations will prove right.
Soon enough, some will be saying what have you done for us lately.
But now it all comes in a new context, one that shows you can get there from here by doing what they do — and that Moore and the Royals deserve precious commodities lost on a generation of Royals fans: the benefit of the doubt … and trust.