State of the Central: The Kansas City Royals

Between the prominent presence of Royals fans in the Internet baseball writing landscape — Joe Posnanski, Rany Jazayerli, Jeff Passan and Rob Neyer, to name a few — the Royals' recent trolling of the White Sox, and my petty schadenfreude when they fail, I have paid a lot of attention to the Royals in the past few years. Dayton Moore has also just been interesting in his own right, making grand proclamations only to backpedal from them as his promises of a winning team in five years was then revised to 6, 7, 8 and 10 years as the Royals kept losing.

Moore has his strengths as a GM.  He added a lot of talent to the Royals' minor league system* and got a very good return on Zack Greinke from the Brewers. Salvador Perez looks like a nice find, and he's squeezed more value out of Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen than one might anticipate. At the same time, since his hiring in June of 2008, the only hitters on the major league roster who look like they can hack it are (1) Eric Hosmer, a No. 3 overall draft pick who plays first base and is currently slugging .391; (2) Lorenzo Cain, a player I like a lot, who was part of that Greinke trade I was praising earlier; and (3) Salvador Perez, not necessarily because I think he's a very good hitter, but rather that I think he's a good enough hitter for a good fielding catcher. Otherwise, the offense still largely depends on Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, two guys acquired by Allard Baird before Moore's arrived.

*Although, as always, I would like to point out that teams drafting in the Top 5 repeatedly SHOULD add a lot of talent to their minor league system.

Indeed, I am of the opinion that the Royals (and to a lesser extent, the Tigers) could have had a vice grip on the division for years to come if they had played their cards right in say, 2012 or so. Fortunately for the White Sox, I do not believe they did so.

After a 2012 season which saw the Royals go 72-90, Moore looked at a Central Division wherein the Tigers were extremely strong, and said, "Our time is now!" He then dumped six years of Wil Myers (and threw in Jake Odorizzi) for two years of James Shields that weren't exactly cheap. That meant entering 2013 with Jeff Francoeur as an everyday right fielder and all of a sudden their competition window had pivoted from "most of the 2010s" to "2013 and 2014 when the Tigers are clearly way better."

Hindsight helps, but my suggestion would have been to hang on to Odorizzi and Myers and simply sign Kyle Lohse to something approximating the 3-year, $33 million deal that he got from Milwaukee, taking advantage of the fact that the Royals' first round pick was protected. The benefit of this is you get the 2013 Rookie of the Year mashing at one of their weakest positions, while you still have Lohse doing a pretty good job faking the production of Shields.

In a year where the Royals missed a Wild Card berth by 5.5 games and were ostensibly "going for it", this could have been enough to push them over the top. I admit this plan would have cost them their Comp A pick, which they used to draft Sean Manaea, a promising but risky arm. But perhaps without that Comp A pick they aim a little higher than Hunter Dozier at the No. 8 pick.

As it stands now, they have some nice pieces already here and some nice pieces on the way. Yordano Ventura has looked extremely promising, although questions linger about his long term durability and profile as a starter. Kyle Zimmer is looking even more like a future ace down at Double-A. It's just that their arrival might not be in time. As mentioned before, Shields is almost certainly leaving this offseason, as is Billy Butler whose skills appear to be rapidly collapsing before our eyes. 

Part of the problem is that for all that Moore deserves praise as a talent evaluator, they have missed pretty hard on a few Top 5 picks. Mike Moustakas has finally been sent down to Triple-A after 1,600 plate appearances of an OPS+ of 82 and falling. He was the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, which was admittedly a draft loaded with Top 10 busts. Meanwhile, Christian Colon was the 4th overall pick in 2010 and he is now a 25-year old 2B who is hitting a pretty meh .277/.335/.380 in Triple-A. And although it's only ~200 PAs into the minor league season, it's also identical to the .273/.335/.379 he posted in Triple-A last year — and all of this is in the hitter's paradise that is the PCL. 

Frankly, I think you can make an argument that even a guy like Hosmer, a helpful but thus far mediocre first baseman, is a pretty poor result for a No. 3 overall pick. 

Moore can't be faulted for the tight pursestrings of ownership. He can, however, be faulted for spending approximately $60 million of that on Win Now moves like Jason Vargas and Omar Infante when those guys just aren't very good. Again, playing the hindsight game, Jake Odorizzi seems as good of a bet to be a back-end starter as Jason Vargas and doesn't cost $32 million. Emilio Bonifacio could certainly hold down 2B adequately, but he was just released in spring training to save a couple million after he was rendered redundant by the marginally better and extremely expensive Infante. That Infante and Vargas money could have been used to retain Ervin Santana and add elsewhere.

It's still early in the season, but the Royals sit at .500 with a run differential of plus-1 as of the drafting of this article. By the actions of Dayton Moore, the team has spent roughly six years building to compete last year and this year. And indeed, the team has to succeed this season. Alex Gordon is aging out of his prime and other core pieces like Shields and Butler are going to leave after this year. All of that building was to win 80-something games last year and miss the playoffs, and it looks like the high water mark is going to be a repeat of that again this year. 

It's hard to see the offense and run prevention syncing up at the same time for the organization, and given that the excuse for 90-plus loss seasons year after year was to build for a peak, this is a pretty disappointing peak. Through a few trades they went from "window opening but not quite there yet" to "window closing and closing fast" while skipping that sweet spot in the middle. Unless something changes, it appears that Dayton Moore would be an excellent assistant GM or scouting director who has been promoted beyond his competence and then given more than enough rope to hang himself.

Follow The Catbird Seat on Twitter @TheCatbird_Seat