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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