Despite different approaches, Cubs may soon see Royals-like results by 2016

You wouldn’t exactly call the Royals and Cubs similar organizations.  The Cubs rely heavily on the latest technology, the most current statistical trends, and top notch scouting.  The Royals are more known as an old school organization that relies heavily on scouting criteria such as tools.

The Royals had received much criticism the past few years.  Their much beleaguered  GM Dayton Moore has been on the hot seat for seemingly the entire decade while Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been praised as the leaders of one of the game’s best front offices.  If anything Moore is more like former Cubs GM Jim Hendry than he is Epstein — but by that I mean the early Hendry.  I’m talking about the one who tried to build the team around old school scouting and trades rather than the one who gave out multi-year deals and no trade clauses like Oprah Winfrey gave out cars.

The Royals haven’t been to the playoffs in a long time, since 1985 — when old school was still just plain school.  There was nothing “old” about the way Royals did things back then.  It was before the statistical revolution and everyone did it it the way the Royals way back then.  As the game changed, the Royals stayed on course, and have paid dearly for it.  The game had seemingly passed them by.

But even after over a decade of futility, the Royals didn’t go new school, they just hired better scouting — and few were more highly regarded than Dayton Moore who was one of the architects of a Braves organization that had made the playoffs in 14 of 15 years between the 90s and the first half of the 2000s.  Moore was around for 12 of those years, making his way through the scouting ranks until being named Asst. GM in 2005.

He was hired by the Royals in 2006, just a couple of days after the Royals made the curious decision to draft Luke Hochevar first overall, not because he was the most talented player but because he was expected to sign easily.  Which he did.  They passed up talents such as Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Linceum, and Max Scherzer.

The next year Moore did the exact opposite of what his predecessor did.  He took who he felt was the best available player, Mike Moustakas.  The Scott Boras client  was considered one of the  toughest signs in the draft and a whole lot more difficult to sign than a similarly talented player named Josh Vitters.  Neither player has had a whole lot of success. though Moustakas has at least become a starter with the Royals.  Most importantly it was a bold statement by the new front office.  They were going to get the best player available regardless of price tag.

Moore followed that draft in 2008 with the selections of starting 1B Eric Hosmer and LHP Mike Montgomery,  who became a top pitching prospect and was a big part of a key deal later.  The next year it was another tough sign in RHP Aaron Crow followed by 3rd round pick Wil Myers.  The trend continues to recent drafts with OF Bubba Starling and LHP Sean Manaea.    Just a year and a couple of days before Moore arrived, the Royals took Alex Gordon.  Moore quickly built what many considered the best farm system in the game and became respected for his ability to scout young talent.

Yet, they kept losing.  The honeymoon was over quickly and the bouquets that Moore received for his early drafts wilted as the young players struggled early in their careers and draft magic seemed to run out with picks like Starling and SS Christian Colon.

In the 2010 offseason, he made a bold trade, dealing ace Zack Greinke for 4 prospects: Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress.  By 2012  Escobar and Cain were fringe average starters while Jeffress struggled.  Odorizzi became a well-regarded prospect but had not established himself by 2012 either.

The Royals as a team finished 72-90 that year, one game worse than the Cubs record this season.

So after that 2012 season, Moore made another big trade, acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis for Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery, and 1B/3B prospect Patrick Leonard.  It was widely panned as Myers was one of the big prospects in the game, equivalent to the Cubs Kris Bryant in that day.  Odorizzi was also highly regarded and both players showed promise in 2013, though Myers struggled mightily this year and Montgomery was mediocre in AAA.

Moore always drew jeers for eschewing the statistical revolution and now his scouting, his forte, was being questioned as well.  It seemed a matter of time before he would be run out of town.

But in 2013, the additions made an impact, the kids matured, and the Royals suddenly became relevant again, winning 86 games but missing the playoffs.  This year they won 89 games and find themselves in the ALCS and playing perhaps the best baseball of any team in the playoffs right now.

How quickly things can change!

You won’t find many organizations that are as different to the Cubs than the Royals are, but there are some similarities: a history of losing, some good drafts, and a desire to build through the system and trades with cost-controlled players.  The Royals took 6 years of building with Moore to get to the point where they were on the cusp of winning in 2012.  The Cubs have gotten to where the Royals were two years ago in just  3 years by drafting college players and using the free agent market to acquire and trade players for minor league talent.   They now have one of the games best systems with top young players beginning to surface at the MLB level.  We expect them to be active this offseason when it comes to a big free agent signing (an  area where the small market Royals cannot compete) and perhaps a big trade — maybe even one that is as painful as the Royals deal was 2 offseasons ago.

Could the Cubs be as close as the Royals were just 2 years ago?  The Royals have shown that not everyone needs to become a star for the plan to work and frankly, that puts me a little more at ease.  They have also shown there will be some ups and downs — and that progress is indeed not linear.

And that makes me feel good too.  It can come together quickly once the pieces are in place.

So let’s go get those last few pieces this offseason.





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  • From your lips to God's ears.

  • In reply to Hey Hey:


  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wonder if you shoul be blogging in KC.
    I am pretty confident that very little is needed for this squad to contend next season. A TOR RHer is, I assume, a priority. I don't see a 2nd hitter jumping out at me on this roster. I've said before that Baez is at least a year away from the big leagues. He certainly can't hit second for any team.

  • Ricky Telander can't wait, he wants it now.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Oh man, I would say I am looking forward to what he will say when the Cubs win, but I think I already know. He will attribute the winning to whatever free agents/trades they make this offseason and the call-up of Kris Bryant -- and he will also say that if the Cubs had done this earlier they could have been winning for years now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, it to me seems the Myers trade had a great deal to do with KCs rise. Not only Shields, but Wade Davis became the best set-up pitcher in the game, along with Herrera and Holland made there bullpen almost unhittable. Come to think, since they have those 3, might they consider trading Crow?

  • In reply to Oneear:

    I was on vacation last week and missed out on the discussions on here. But one point is very clear by a quick browse through last week's posts and the discussion afterwards: Telander knows exactly what he is doing. He makes his employer happy. Check out how many comments a post simply talking about Telander's article generated compared to every other post John wrote last week.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    No kidding. Guess controversy doesn't just work for the newspapers.

  • fb_avatar

    My patience has run its course. Time to open the floodgates this year and next and see what these kids can do with some veteran talent around them. Exciting time to be a Cubs fan.

  • In reply to Phil James:

    I still expect some ups and downs next year but overall they are going to be much better and ready to make a move by 2016.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ups and downs for sure. We are all so excited with the arrival of the top prospects, including Bryant next May, but perhaps the best lesson we can take from Royals is that we have to be patient, not just with them getting to the bigs, but even more so once they arrive.

  • The Royals have shown that a team that wins in the low 70's possibly isn't as far away as it seems. Its why I'd be all for moving an upper tier prospect for Cole Hamels. For arguments sake, say they sign Lester then trade Baez for Hamels. There's no reason that team can't compete as soon as next year. Especially if Russell dominates the AFL and is ready for an early call up next year.

  • In reply to Ike03:

    I would think the Royals would tell you just the opposite...that having top prospects at the MLB level does not mean they will produce big numbers when they are 22.

    I truly do not expect great numbers at MLB from any prospect next year...there will be some great runs, some amazing highlights and some terrible stretches where they can't hit anything and make boneheaded mistakes. That is what young players normally do. Just as I don't want to trade Baez after a tough 2014, I don't want to trade any of the core 5 at anytime during 2015 or 2016...I believe Baez, Bryant, Soler, Russell and Schwarber will all be good to great MLB players and think it foolish to trade them unless you get something ridiculous in return. Hamels, a 31 year old who is quite good, but not ridiculously good, does not fit that bill in my opinion.

  • An interesting comparison John.

    However - I look at what the Nationals have done and see a better comparison to what the Cubs are doing than to the Royals. Then again - maybe that's mostly due to proximity to the Nats.

    I got to the DC area in 2004 - the year before the Nats moved to DC from Montreal. That first year in DC they were a BAD 0.500 record team. In a lot of ways reminds me (again) of how those last couple years of Hendry Cubs looked before Theo & Hoyer showed up. A couple of decent veterans and a lot of replacement level or less guys. A patchwork pitching staff. They then proceeded to tank for several years while drafting and developing guys like Harper, Zimmerman, Strasburg, and the core of their now fairly impressive bullpen.

    The Nats Rebuild started in earnest c2007-2008. Their first playoff run was their 98-win 2012 season So - took them about 4-5 years and now they seem to have built a decent farm system and a young core of players.

    Using that rebuild trajectory as comparison,.... The Cubs are about where the Nats were going into their 80-Win 2011 season.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    The Cubs are very different than the Royals in everything except that they have landed in about the same place, with the Cubs about 2-3 years ahead of schedule . I tried to make that point, but perhaps not as well as I should have.

    They are more similar to the Nats and of course, the Red Sox.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The Red Sox comparisons are obviously the easy ones to make.

    Similarly - I expect that the deeper pockets the Cubs should have for the next few years - simply because they have no bad contracts currently and lots of potential excess talent to trade or to draw from (still love the trade that the Nats did to get Gio Gonzales on the roster) will make sure that they have the opportunity to follow a BoSox or Nats sort of trajectory.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Harper/Strasburg was like winning Megamillions and Powerball on back to back days...once in generation talents that they got in back to back years.

    We have drafted quite well, but I wish we had the opportunity to get (especially) someone like Strasburg (or Prior or Wood for that matter) with a top pick. Perhaps Cease can become that good or maybe we can get a top pick who falls this year. Either way, the Nats have done a great job but hitting the jackpot with those two certainly helped.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Nats also made there own Shields/Myers trade 3 yrs ago when they got Gio Gonzalez from the As. Gios been a pretty good #2-3 starter there ever since that trade, winning 20 games his 1st yr there while Strasburg was hurt and Zimmerman still developing. They also made the trade for Fister, whos turning into a big game pitcher in his own right.

  • Loved the article John. The big difference I see in the two orgs position player pools is speed vs power. Maybe speed is just eaiser to come by more cheaply than power for the Royals. The Cubs have more money to go the power direction and we never seem to get speed guys that also have the knack for timing their basestealing well anyway. When I think of the Cubs speed issues I always think of Theriot and shake my head.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    Thanks. That is one major difference. The statistical/technological aspect is also different, the market size, and the emphasis of college players for the Cubs and HS players for the Royals.

    Very different orgs who may end up with similar results.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    The respective home parks play a role in that as well. The OF in KC is the largest in the majors. Wrigley is famously small. Speed is more important for KC, where as power is more important in Chicago.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Very astute. Thanks mjvz

  • Personally, I'm tired of hearing management and others saying the Cubs will be 'active' in FA. What does that mean? Does that mean offering Lester 6/$100M? Or Shields 3/$45M? If so, thats not really active - because thats about $50M and $35M short of what they will get, respectively. To this point, I've largely been on board with staying on the sidelines - but its time to do more than just kick the tires. We are now in a position of considerable strength as it relates to payroll flexibility. I'm not advocating signing Scherzer to a $200M deal. One of Hamels (I know he isn't a FA), Lester or Shields would be nice. If the Cubs had a $90M payroll in 2014 and offered Tanaka $20M/year, then logic dictates that they would have a $110M payroll. With $55M committed to 2015 (including all likely ARB deals) we have $40M to spend just to get us back to 2014 levels.

    My fear is that between now and 2/1/2015 we will hear all kinds of rumors about the Cubs are on this guy or that guy and 'won't be outbid' and then we end up with Jason Hammel and / or Masterson. Then, once that happens, everyone around here will say things like 'I'm glad we didn't give [fill in the blank] that amount of money!' 'Theo was smart to stay away from that'. 'I"m glad we retained $60M of payroll flexibility!!' Then we can fast forward 9 months and start speculating on how great it would be to sign Price or Zimmermann....

    That said, I was thinking the other day about how well TheoJed have been about acquiring a TON of impact talent that is cheap / young. My mental list:

    Dempster - Hendricks
    Maholm - Vizcaino
    Feldman - Arrieta! / Strop
    Shark - Russell! / McKinney
    Garza - Ramirez / Edwards / Grimm / Olt

    Wow. Base case scenario, thats: a solid #3 starter [Arrieta], an elite prospect, a nice #5 starter [Hendricks], 2 very good BP arms [one of Ramirez / Grimm, Vizcaino / Strop], a fringe top 100 OF that is trade bait.

    A realistic best case scenario is: A very good #2 starter [Arrieta], an elite SS prospect, a solid #4 starter [Hendricks], 2 nails BP arms [Ramirez / and one of the others], CJ Edwards turns into a cheap #3/4 starter or a nails BP arm,a fringe top 100 OF that is trade bait.

    Theo has been excellent at building the farm and acquiring some nice pieces. Its time to supplement that with FA - like he said he would once they had a bunch of core players and payroll flexibility.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    There's a difference in the players you want to sign depending on the rebuilding phase. Some players are worth bidding for right now. The Cubs outbid everyone for Anibal Sanchez and Yoenis Cespedes, for example. Others that people wanted to sign, like Fielder, Hamilton, and Bourn, did not make sense.

    That will continue to happen but what constitutes value will change. Right now, Yasmani Tomas and Kenta Maeda don't make sense even though they are young.

    I think we should be excited that the Cubs are selective rather than throwing money around at anyone who will take it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The Cubs offered Cespedes a bit more money for more years. So, in a way they outbid the A's, but they offered less AAV. So thats not really a fair comparison.

    Sure, 'others' have wanted the Cubs to sign every big name FA for the last 3 years. People can dream, but a lot of us knew Fielder / Pujols / Hamilton weren't a fit with where we were in 2012 and would be dead money in a few years.

    Like I said, I'm not advocating signing Scherzer to a $200M deal. It seems like everyone wants to paint you in a corner if you simply advocate acquiring one impact FA. I'm not sitting here complaining that Theo wont go and get Lester / Scherzer AND Shields. Thats not realistic. Expecting the Cubs to sign Lester to a long-term contract isn't crazy talk. Its not some pipe dream that will handcuff the team for the next 7 years. Its a reasonable thing to propose or expect.

    While we are still somewhat in a rebuilding phase - we are not in a position with A) Cheap, young, impact and core talent in Castro, Rizzo and Arrieta; B) a nice, cheap and young BP C) 2 potential elite players and another young player that made their debuts in 2014, D) the games best prospect 20 games away from making his debut, another top-10 prospect that could see the big leagues in late 2015 and a bunch of fringe top-100 prospects to be used for trades or depth down the road. Oh, and the 8th pick in the 2015 draft.

    This isn't about throwing money at whoever will take it. Its about actually trying to be competitive in 2015. I'm fine with being selective (i.e. not giving Scherzer $200M) but at some point you have to tap into the FA market.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    "I think we should be excited that the Cubs are selective rather than throwing money around at anyone who will take it."

    I agree with this and would like to take it 1 step further. Each player has a ceiling of what they are worth. As soon as we say, "We have to sign Player X (let's just say Jon Lester) no matter the cost" we are in trouble. If we can get him on terms similar to 5 years $125M I could go for that. If he says, 7 yrs/$210M I tell him to take a hike. Obviously there is a LOT of space between the two. While it would be nice to have him, and he makes sense, I don't want to be in a position where we feel we HAVE TO sign him, no matter the terms.

  • For now I think just acquiring a key player here and there is the
    way to go until next Nov and Dec when they really start acquring
    top talent.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I agree with that in principle. We don't want to use up all that flexibility at any one time. Who knows though, Thed may come across a deal they can't refuse. If they could get a couple big time starters I wouldn't be unhappy.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    We are playing GM here, an the guys getting paid for that are probably pretty confident in their strategy. I think the Shark trade stunk. If Russel makes the HOF it will be vindicated. NEWS FLASH! The Cub's have all of the SS prospects you could need as assets. I say deal some of them for what it takes to contend next year. We have the all star at that position already.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    The Shark/Russell trade was great. You are probably the only person I know who thinks that it stunk. I think that trade will end up smelling like roses for the Cubs.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John57:


  • fb_avatar
    In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Theo and Jed both just wanted maximum value for Shark/Hammel. They got 2 very good young players (Russell and McKinney) and a possible reclamation project (Straily).

    If you want you can think of them as "insurance" in case some of our other guys don't pan out.

    Another alternative way to see it is that we are stockpiling talent. Maybe the acquisition of Russell makes it possible to trade Baez, Castro (or Russell?). Similar with McKinney.

    Shark wasn't sure to re-sign with CHC so he was "diminishing returns." We caught lightning in a bottle with Hammel. Now we have 2 young players that in the next year or two are likely to be FAR more valuable as trading parts than Shark will be (likely to re-sign with another team) and almost certainly than Hammel will be. Put on top of that that they might also be valuable members of the Cubs and we have a very good reason to make that trade.

    Also, more and more analysis, both professional and amateur, is coming out saying that right now premium hitters are hard to find. Pitchers are actually getting easier to sign in "bang-for-the-buck" terms. The Cubs might well be ahead of the curve in stockpiling bats.

    I am not saying that TOR starters are easy to find/develop. I am just saying that there is a line of reasoning that says "middle-of-the-order" hitters are getting even more difficult to find/develop. The Cubs have a bevy of them.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Jim Hendry, is that you?

  • Those long term deals are tough.

    My heart says, do whatever it takes to get those couple players that will make a difference (Lester, for example). But my brain knows those 6-8 year deals for big $ are exciting at first, but so, so painful later on (Soriano, ARod, Teixiera (sp?), Verlander) - and can really impact success down the road.

    Tough decisions. Feels to me like the Cubs have a plan and use the plan as a way to make these kinds of decisions. I wish I could be part of the strategy sessions as I'm fascinated how Theo/Jed and the gang go about their business.

  • In reply to Morgzie:

    The Cubs would have been fine with Soriano on big money in decline if they had a bunch of young studs on cheap deals making up for his decline. The Cubs sucked because they had declining players on big money and no young players on cheap deals to balance it out.

  • This will be the first off season in a long time that I will actually be nervous because I think the Cubs are ready to compete and missing out on top targets will actually be highly dissapointing. I don't expect them to add 3 or 4 difference makers this off season. But I do expect them to add a couple of long term pieces this off season and not reclamation projects or marginal contributors.

  • Arrietta. Wood, Wada, Hendricks. That's a pretty good place to start. We have plenty of ammo for second or third. under contract. IMO Olt is not going to make it I have serious doubts about Baez. Did he draw a walk? The OF should not be a huge concern. It is still October. There is time to reflect. We are in a better place than at any winter in 30 years.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Olt is looking like a probable back-up corner infield/outfield. I haven't given up on him yet, though. His K% was VERY high but his BABIP was also extremely low. He has power and draws walks. If his BABIP gets up closer to .250-.260 (still below leaguve average) he suddenly becomes a league average player in terms of OPS. That isn't a bad thing to have around as a sub.

    Baez actually didn't do that badly at drawing walks, considering how frustrated he must have been. His BB% was about 6.5%. League average was closer to 7.5%. Shocking: a 21-year-old with a high K rate walked at a below average rate. I am surprised it was as good as it was. Give him time.

    Just for comparison:
    PA: 229, AB: 207, H: 45, K: 80, BB: 15, HR: 9, 2B: 10, BABIP: .395
    PA: 229, AB: 213, H: 36, K: 95, BB: 15, HR: 9, 2B: 6, BABIP: .248

    One is his first 229 PAs in AAA. The other is his first 229 PAs in the majors. They look pretty similar to me. He struggled mightily at the beginning there too.

    What happened after that at AAA?
    PA: 205, AB: 181, H: 56, K: 50, BB: 19, HR: 14, 2B: 14, BABIP: .350.

    I am NOT saying that he would have had that good of a turn-around in the majors, I just want to point out that getting off to a slow start at a new level is not unheard of for him. I remember reading on this blog comments about how he "looked lost" at the plate in AAA to start the year. Something clicked and he went from a 39% K rate to 24%. His BB% went from 6.6% to 9.3%. Having a rough first 200 PAs in the major leagues at the age of 21 does not, to me, lead to serious doubt. I am sure that the coaches will be working with him all off-season. He will be watching tape, taking extended batting practice. He might well start out slowly next season (we don't actually have ANY data on what he does when "repeating" a league). It might well take him 100-200 more PAs to start getting results. I just remember there is reason to believe he will turn around.

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Good post. Thanks for the research

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Goes to show stats that tell you anything.

  • Paying market value is one thing setting market value is another.

  • Bill Mueller has stepped down as Cubs hitting coach.

    Anyone see this coming?

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Shocked me. We will have an article on it tonight.

  • To be honest, this to me is why the Samardzija trade was so bitter-sweet. Russell was beyond what I could have reasonably expected in terms of prospects, but I do think if Samardzija came to a reasonable extension, the Cubs would really be on the cusp of contention.

    Ie. if the Cubs had Shark, Arrieta, FA SP, Hendricks, Wood/Turner/Doubront, the Cubs are ready to go if their young hitters Soler, Bryant, Baez, Alcantara are ready to go. Heck even if 2 of them struggled they might be able to give it a serious run anyway.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SenatorMendoza:

    I think if you dangle Russell and McKinney to teams around the league you will start fielding offers of players as good or better than Shark, and possibly younger/cost controlled.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I get that feeling as well. I'm curious to see what the Cubs are going to do with this young offensive surplus and now glaring SP need. For a while I was just assuming Russell was currency. Ie. the Cubs couldn't get the pitching they wanted for Samardzija, so get the highest possible return Russell, who's value shouldn't depreciate, then trade in that currency for that pitching need in the off season. The only thing I didn't count on was falling in love with the idea of keeping Russell.

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    In reply to SenatorMendoza:

    Right now the Cubs are in a pretty good situation. Between Baez, Russell, Castro and Alcantara (who, people are quickly forgetting, is naturally a SS/2B) it is unfathomable that the Cubs won't be getting league average or better production from 2B and SS. Add Bryant to the mix and we can add 3B to that list of positions. Add Schwarber and McKinney and that extends things to LF. Add Soler and, in some combination, that is extended to RF. There is also surplus so there is a possibility of getting a really good starting pitcher in trade.

    The trick is using arbitrage.

  • Living in KC, I can definitely tell you that you've forgotten the one thing that makes Royals and Cubs fans most simpatico of all--our common enemy. Royals fans hate the Cards just as much as we do, shoot, maybe more if that's even fathomable. It's easy to root for the Royals as my second team, and I know the Cubs are the second team for most Royals fans as well.

    If they get an I-70 Series rematch this year, I've got a couple of friends that might literally melt down with excitement. Can you imagine on our end a Cubs-Cards NLCS? Yeah.

  • Hey John,
    I think I might be going a little crazy to think the Dodgers are more of a vision of the cubs future. They have only had one really big free agent signing (Greinke) and the rest has gone along with the cubs plan of international spending (Puig,Ryu) also trading for undervalued assets (Hanley,Gonzalez, Crawford). Hopefully Lester is our Greinke too.

  • In reply to Here comes the hook:

    They also signed Ryu and Puig, not to mention overpaying Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena. They badly outbid everyone for all four. They traded to take on the big contracts of Ramirez A-Gon. Beckett, and Crawford -- and they paid big time in prospects. So I don't think they got value. They also extended the heck out of Kemp, Kershaw, and Ethier. Only Kemp and Kershaw were home grown.

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