Anatomy of a Championship Team

Hundreds of thousands of Royals fans turned out yesterday for an epic celebration of the 2015 World Series champions. The number one question that everyone outside of the celebratory throng is asking is, “Where did this team come from?” So I thought I would try to answer that question.  With the help of baseball-reference.com (arguably the best baseball website on the planet), I pulled every transaction that Dayton Moore has made during his tenure as General Manager in an effort to tell the story of the building of the 2015 Royals. Here is that story.Dayton

Let’s start with the raw numbers:

  • 271 Additions – That’s the number of players signed or claimed off waivers (with about 10 key draft picks thrown into that)
  • 283 Subtractions – That’s the number of players Released, Sold to other teams, or Granted Free Agency.
  • 62 Trades – Of which 75 players were traded away in exchange for 87 other players.

So to compile a 25 man roster, well we’ll go 30 to include the key injured players, a manager, and gentlemen not active on the postseason rosters, Dayton Moore made 617 moves over the course of 10 seasons. Technically that still leaves us 3 players short since 3 players actually pre-date Dayton’s tenure with the Royals so let’s round that up to 620 moves. That’s an average of 62 moves per year not counting the other 30-50 draft picks each year. So why don’t we call this 100 transactions each and every year that have taken place by Dayton Moore, J.J. Piccolo, and the Royals’ staff.

Quick tangent… in case you are curious, the player acquired the most times in that 10 year period is the one and only Bruce Chen. He was acquired 5 different times.Fountain

Depending on how you want to look at it, you could try to say that he has failed almost 600 times or you could say that in a sport that rewards 70% failure on the field with a Hall of Fame induction, it shouldn’t surprise you that 5% success in the front office can get you a championship.  That is how hard it is to be a general manager in Major League Baseball. You make hundreds of moves all in the hope that just a handful of them will pan out for you.  It also means you take risks, and not all of them work out. It also means you get second-guessed and eviscerated by “experts” constantly, even when your moves work perfectly (here’s looking at you Rob Neyer). You simply have to have more of them work than those that don’t.  So before we get to how the roster ended up coming together, we’ll look at a few of the moves that could have been helpful if they hadn’t been made:

  • J.P. Howell – A failed starter for Kansas City, he was sent away to Tampa Bay where he became an elite setup man and closer for them.
  • Colby Lewis – Played 5 years after he was signed and then subsequently released. He was a key Starting Pitcher for Texas in the 2010-2011 postseason runs.
  • Joel Peralta – After his third season with the Royals, a fairly unremarkable season, Peralta was let go. He then spent 4 years as an elite bullpen arm for Los Angeles and Tampa Bay.
  • Jesse Chavez – He wasn’t for KC for too many appearances, and was a very poor reliever. He continued to be a poor reliever until two years ago when he became a Starting Pitcher for Oakland and developed into a quality arm in the A’s rotation
  • Liam Hendricks – Hendricks dominated the Royals out of the bullpen for Toronto this postseason. Surprisingly, the Royals had acquired him just last season when they traded Danny Valencia. This past offseason he was then traded from Kansas City for Santiago Nessy. At this point, that’s one I wouldn’t mind having back.

That being said, those are not just 5 examples of possible errors, they are really THE five examples that I could find of possible errors, and given the time it took or the changes that were made in their roles, etc. before they succeeded, the only one that I can honestly question is the Hendricks move. That’s pretty remarkable for a 10 year period. Now with those out of the way, let’s take a look at the anatomy of THE World Champions of 2015:Crowded

Another quick tangent… my favorite section from the Neyer article is “What’s most likely is that the benefits of this deal for the Royals will expire in two years, without anything exciting having happened. Meanwhile, the Rays will be reaping the benefits for at least six years (probably more), during which they’ll be in the playoffs two or three times. Recently, I wrote that this winter probably represents Dayton Moore’s last big test; fail, and it would probably cost him his job, and perhaps ruin the Royals’ already-meager chances for some years to come. It’s too early to say, for sure, what will happen. But I will be surprised if Moore is still working for the Royals, two years from now.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! Ok, now let’s look at where this team came from:

The Pre-Dayton Moore Era

Alex Gordon – Drafted 2005 – Gordon is the heart of the team and the example for everyone to follow. He was a Royals draft pick that pre-dates Dayton Moore’s administration, but the biggest transformation was Dayton’s call. After debuting in 2007, the lofty expectations of the former college and minor league player of the year were largely unmet. He was sent down to Omaha and asked to learn to play left field. The move from Third Base to Left Field was the move that Gordon credits with saving his career and was done at the request of the current Royals’ General Manager. All that have followed are All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves and arguably the most important Home Run of this postseason.Gordo

Luke Hochevar – Drafted 2006 – Dayton was actually hired a few days before this draft, but the existing administration handled this draft. That’s good news for Moore since he doesn’t have to answer for why he took Hochevar over fellow first-rounders Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, & Max Scherzer. What Moore CAN take credit for is not giving up on Hoch and moving him to the bullpen where he has flourished. Hochevar never had an ERA lower than 4.68 as a starter, but has posted a 3.55 ERA as a reliever in his last two seasons. Dayton also can take credit for bringing him back coming off Tommy John surgery when many thought he shouldn’t. Hochevar didn’t allow a single run this postseason and played a crucial role in this title run.

Jarrod Dyson – Drafted 2006 – The 1,475th pick of the 2006 draft. Jarrod had one specific skill that led to him being drafted out of Southwest Mississippi Junior College. He could run. Not unlike Terrance Gore, that went a long way toward opening up doors at the major league level. He was a September call-up in 2010 and proceeded to steal 9 bases in 10 tries in only 18 games. In 2012, he became a mainstay of the Royals major league roster. Naturally his impact in the World Series was his speed. A stolen base helped put him in position to cross the plate with the go-ahead run in the final game of the World Series.

The Dayton Moore Era – Building the Foundation

One of the things that Dayton Moore made clear to David Glass when he was being hired was that the Royals had fallen woefully behind in scouting and player development in Latin America and that had to change. The impacts of that were felt almost immediately.

Salvador Perez – Signed as a Rookie Free Agent 2006 – At 16 years old the scouting department loved everything about how Perez played catcher.  He debuted at age 21 in August 2011. All he’s done since then is make everyone love how he plays catcher, catch more innings than any catcher in the past two seasons, win Gold Gloves, play in All-Star games, dump countless water buckets on teammates, and win the World Series MVP.

Kelvin Herrera – Signed as a Rookie Free Agent 2006 – It’s really easy to see what the Royals saw in this 16-year-old. Heat. His fastball is what everyone drools over. He debuted at age 21 in September of 2011. In 2012, he became a mainstay in the Royals’ bullpen and in 2014 became part of the vaunted 7th, 8th, 9th inning bullpen crew that was the best in baseball. In the 2015 ALCS and World Series, he gave up 0 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings while striking out 16 and walking only 1. His biggest outing was the final game of the World Series when he went 3 scoreless innings and held the Mets at bay until the Royals could get on the board.Crowd

Mike Moustakas – Drafted 2007 – The prolific high school home run hitter was drafted #2 overall in 2007 and made his major league debut in 2011. 2012 was a solid first year and he showed flashes of the power that everyone expected. But the next two years were disappointments and even included a trip down to Omaha to try to help fix things. Heading into 2015 he changed his approach at the plate and had the best season of his professional career. He hit .304 in the World Series, but he will likely be remembered more for his stellar diving plays defensively throughout the series.

Danny Duffy – Drafted 2007 – Duffy was a 3rd round draft pick who actually quit baseball in 2010 to reevaluate whether he even wanted to play the game anymore. Dayton Moore gave him the freedom to do so and left the door open for him to come back. He did so and made his major league debut in 2011. 2014 was his first season in the Royals starting rotation and he was arguably the best starting pitcher on the team the second half of the season. His 2015 wasn’t as stellar, but he was willing to be an asset in the bullpen for the postseason and he pitched critical innings for the Royals in 3 of the 5 World Series games.

Greg Holland – Drafted 2007 – Holland was a 10th round draft pick who made his debut in 2010, picked up his first save in 2011, and became one of the elite closers in baseball in 2013. After two seasons with over 40 saves, he had over 30 saves in 2015 when it became clear that there was an injury issue. It turns out he injured his arm in 2014 and still picked up over 40 saves after the injury. He had surgery on his torn UCL during the second half of 2015.

Eric Hosmer – Drafted 2008 – Eric Hosmer was the third overall pick in the draft and was instantly viewed as a future cornerstone of the franchise. He debuted in 2011 and has held an iron grip on first base ever since. To go with his multiple Gold Gloves, his offensive numbers in 2015 improved and he flirted with his first 100 RBI season. In the postseason, he was positively electric with runners on base. He is second only to Lou Gehrig in postseason RBI through 31 games and had multiple memorable offensive moments in the World Series.

Yordano Ventura – Signed as a Rookie Free Agent 2008 – Much like Kelvin Herrera, Ventura’s appeal is pretty obvious. He throws fire and has the personality to match. Dayton Moore’s focus on Latin America paid off again with Ventura’s signing. After making his debut in September of 2013, 2014 was his coming out party. 2015 opened with Ventura playing the role of WWE instigator and included a demotion to AAA that was cut short by Jason Vargas’ torn UCL. He got his head on straight and finished the regular season on a 9-2 run with a 3.56 ERA in the second half. He struggled in the postseason but was a big reason they nailed down home-field throughout the playoffs which played a big part in the championship.Ventura

Paulo Orlando – Acquired via Trade 2008 – This was a hidden gem of my research. Everyone heard the story about Paulo playing 10 years in the minor leagues before he broke through with the Royals in 2015, but he didn’t start in the Royals’ organization. He actually was acquired by Dayton Moore in 2008 via a trade with the Chicago White Sox that sent Horacio Ramirez to the Sox.  Paulo made a splash by hitting a triple for each of his first three major league hits. He provided steady defense in the postseason, replacing Alex Rios in most games. He also picked up 3 hits in the postseason in limited at bats.

Ned Yost – Hired 2010 – Both men were from Atlanta. They learned from John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox. They knew how to win. They also knew heartbreak in the World Series. Early on it looked like they might not have learned quite enough from the cornerstones of the Atlanta dynasty, but as the past two years played out it became clear that they were the perfect combination to guide this young team in this ballpark for this city. Yost was loved in Atlanta. He helped turn the Brewers around. And he led the Royals to a Championship. Oh, and he has the highest postseason winning percentage of any manager with at least 20 games managed.Ned

Christian Colon – Drafted 2010 – I may have neglected to point out one other mistake for Dayton Moore. With Matt Harvey and Chris Sale still available, the Royals drafted Colon #4 overall in 2010. That being said, Colon has 2 official postseason at-bats in the last two years. He is 2-2 with 2 RBI, 2 R, & 1 SB. The hits came at critical points of the ’14 Wild Card game and the final game of the ’15 World Series.

Terrance Gore – Drafted 2011 – Not unlike Jarrod Dyson, Terrance Gore was drafted because of one specific skill: Speed. Gore was drafted in the 20th round. Gore made his debut in September of 2014 and quickly endeared himself to Royals fans with his blazing speed. He has 4 career postseason stolen bases.

Raul A. Mondesi – Signed as a Rookie Free Agent 2011 – Give Gil Meche the assist to Dayton Moore on this one. The Royals had been good to Meche and when he knew he was done due to injuries, instead of just sitting on the DL getting paid until his contract was up Meche retired and freed up 11 million dollars. Dayton immediately invested some of that money in Raul Mondesi. While he only got one at-bat, he will now forever be the answer to the trivia question “Who was the first player to ever make his major league debut in the World Series?” And that’s pretty cool. Oh, don’t confuse him with Raul Mondesi Jr. That’s his brother.

Lorenzo Cain & Alcides Escobar – Acquired via Trade in 2011 – I could have discussed these guys individually, but there are just too many similarities. They were both key parts of the trade that sent former Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers. They both made their Royals debuts in 2011. They are the last two ALCS MVPs. They are both Gold Glove caliber defensive players. They combine with Salvador Perez to form a dominant defensive lineup up the middle. In 2015, Escobar was otherworldly from the plate in the postseason and Cain’s legs were very often the story throughout the playoffs. Dayton Moore’s acquisition of this tandem played a massive role in this World Championship.Escobar

Wade Davis – Acquired via Trade in 2012 – Everyone knows that James Shields was the cornerstone of this trade, but Dayton Moore insisted on Wade Davis being included. In the previously referenced article from Rob Neyer, he emphasized that the Royals had to get something out of Davis for the trade to not be a colossal failure. Well, the trade was a success just from what Shields did to transform the mentality of the locker room & the guidance he provided other Royals pitchers. But the trade became an overwhelming success when Wade Davis became the best relief pitcher in all of baseball. He has a sub- 1.00 ERA over the past TWO seasons. He allowed 0 runs this postseason and was absolutely dominant.  Wade

Jeremy Guthrie – Acquired via Trade 2012 – The trade was originally viewed as two teams trying to unload dead weight in the hopes of a change of scenery helping one of them. The Royals sent Jonathan Sanchez to the Rockies in exchange for Guthrie. Sanchez had an ERA over 10.00 after the trade and his career was over in 2013. Guthrie found new life in Kansas City and had 3 solid years before finally running out of gas in 2015. Though not active in the ’15 postseason, he continually provided a key locker room presence that cannot be underrated.

Omar Infante – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent 2014 – Originally signed to firm up a weak position for the Royals, Infante shored up the position defensively, but his offense ended up being a disappointment. He did end up providing a huge postseason boost for the Royals by giving them a reason to acquire Ben Zobrist. And for that, we are all thankful.

Jason Vargas – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent 2014 – Vargas was brought in to eat innings and throw quality starts. He did a nice job of it until a torn UCL sidelined him for the remainder of the Championship run.

The Dayton Moore Era – Championship Decisions

You can look above and see the core of the team being built over 11 years, but one of the most interesting things to me is that 11 of the pieces that were there for the final run to the crown were added after last season ended. It reminds me of a puzzle and how much time it takes to get the edge and some of the key areas work out, but when you get to the end you just look at the shape you need and can pop in those final pieces. It almost seems like that’s exactly what Dayton Moore did in the past 12 months.

Kendrys Morales – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent following 2014 Season – IF. The #1 word attached to this signing was IF he could return to his old form. Well, he did. Morales also lived up to his role as Designated Hitter by hitting well from both sides of the plate and providing protection for Hosmer and the others hitting in front of him. He was one of many gambles Dayton took and he definitely paid off. His 4 HR and 10 RBI in the first two rounds of the postseason were big for the Royals. The only thing that really slowed him down was the National League rule that relegated him to pinch hitting.

Kris Medlen – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent following 2014 Season – Medlen was signed for 2016, not 2015. Coming off his second career Tommy John surgery, anything Medlen produced in 2015 would be considered a bonus. Surprisingly he ended up starting 8 games and had two appearances in the postseason. While both appearances were in losses, both of them were key to preserving the rest of the bullpen. The five innings he pitched in game 3 of the ALCS were enormous in setting up the bullpen for the rest of that series. Bonus: Any A.L. pitcher who lists “Platoon D.H.” as his occupation on his Twitter page has got things figured out.

Alex Rios – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent following 2014 Season – The enigmatic outfielder is a two-time All-Star but had also struggled of late. Dayton Moore was counting on a bounce-back season surrounded by this young and boisterous team around him. As the season began it looked like Moore was right again, but an errant pitch broke his hand and derailed a promising season. He never regained his form until the end of September. That being said, he proved his worth with timely hitting, over a .270 average, and a Home Run. His defense continued to drive me crazy, but Paulo Orlando’s late inning play at least assuaged that a little. At the end of the season, we saw the man that was the longest tenured MLB player to never play in the postseason, be a factor that helped end a 30-year championship drought.

Edinson Volquez – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent following 2014 Season – When looking at the free agents last season, outside of the top dollar guys like Max Scherzer, Volquez was the one that I was most excited about and apparently Dayton Moore was as well. Volquez pitched amazingly in the 2nd half of 2014, but most talking heads felt that it was unsustainable. What Moore realized was that if you put him into Kauffman Stadium with 6 gold glove caliber defenders, it was absolutely sustainable. Volquez was the most stable force in the Royals rotation and pitched 200 innings as the leader of the team. Throughout the postseason, he pitched just as consistently as the regular season and his best performance happened to be when I was in the house Game 1 of the ALCS.

Ryan Madson – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent 2015 – When your bullpen is stable and frankly ridiculous, you can invite some guys to Spring Training just to see if they stick and you have the luxury of either letting them go, or getting better after risking very little. That was the case with Ryan Madson. After not pitching since 2011 Madson was beyond a long-shot to make the team, but the former closer surprised everyone and made the Royals out of Spring Training and became a late inning staple while compiling a 2.13 ERA with 3 saves. He had a couple of poor performances in the first two rounds of the postseason but was bailed out by his offense both times and then pitched in 3 games allowing 0 ER and registering one win in the World Series. He was a truly great story of the season and a great presence in the clubhouse.

Franklin Morales – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent 2015 – Wash, Rinse, Repeat. His story is very similar to Madson. A veteran with an opportunity to make the club and he made the most of the opportunity. He was solid in middle relief, not a role full of glory but a very necessary one, all season and was rewarded with a ring. Just ignore his 108.00 ERA in the World Series.

Chris Young – Signed as a Veteran Free Agent 2015 – Dayton promised Young a little more than Madson and Morales, namely a spot on the Opening Day roster, and that was what it took to sign him. There’s no way that Moore could have ultimately envisioned what they Royals got from him. Originally he was a long reliever but he had to move into the starting rotation and compiled an 11-6 record with a 3.06 ERA. Then he ended up being the Game 4 starter in the ALCS AND the World Series while also being the extra inning savior in Game 1 of the World series. Class. Grace. Perseverance. He’s a Dayton Moore kind of a guy and Dayton was rewarded by him.

Drew Butera – Acquired via Trade 2015 – When backup catcher Erik Kratz got hurt during the season, the Royals wanted a solid defensive option to backup Salvador Perez, so Moore traded for second-generation journeyman catcher Drew Butera. When Kratz was healthy again it was uncertain who would be kept, but Butera came out on top. Amazingly Butera had two big moments in the postseason. In Game 4 of the ALDS during the massive comeback inning, he had one of the most talked about walks you will ever hear about. He also got to catch Wade Davis’ final pitch of the World Series. It’s good to be Drew.

Johnny Cueto – Acquired via Trade 2015 – The most talked about move of the trading deadline was a message from Dayton Moore to his players. The message was that the plan for this year was to win. Cueto was a roller-coaster ride with the Royals, but the trade was always going to be evaluated based on his postseason performance. He had one atrocious game, but in the two biggest games he pitched he was extraordinary. Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the World Series were performances that put him into statistical comparisons with Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. He rewarded the Royals with “Good Johnny” at the right times and he now has a ring to show for it.

Ben Zobrist – Acquired via Trade 2015 – The less talked about deadline trade by Dayton was the best fit. I struggle to believe that there is a team that is a more perfect fit for Zobrist than the Royals. He solidified a position that was the biggest weakness on the team and brought loads of character, heart, and work-ethic with him. He also looked like he could be Alex Gordon’s little brother. In the postseason, he was an extra-base hit machine who contributed in every facet of the game. While Cueto was the hired gun, the fans quickly fell for Zobrist and he became a favorite in a very short period of time.Zob

Jonny Gomes – Acquired via Trade 2015 – It’s not often that you trade for someone as a safety net for a chicken pox outbreak, but that’s truly why the Royals brought him in. If Rios had a nasty case, then Gomes was set to see more playing time. It wasn’t bad so he didn’t do much. However, his presence in the clubhouse cannot be undersold. Every team he has been on has loved his presence and the Royals were no different. His three greatest contributions were likely (1) apparently helping prepare Christian Colon for the moment where he would need to deliver a crucial pinch-hit, (2) the most memorable speech of any Royal at the parade, and (3) his pants. And for those things alone, it was a GREAT trade.Gomes

So there are all of the pieces and how they got to Kansas City:

  • 4 players signed by the rebuilt Latin American scouting department
  • 9 players drafted by the Royals
  • 9 players acquired via trade
  • 9 players signed as Veteran free agents

That is quite a composition of players and Dayton Moore did an amazing job, regardless of his budget and some poor years on the field, of sticking to his plan for how to build a winner. This piece is around 4,300 words and I have written it simply for the purpose of saying two things to Dayton Moore:

  1. Mission Accomplished
  2. Thank you

Champs

 

 

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