Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore is a Midwestern guy.
He was born in Wichita, attended high school in the Quad Cities and played junior college ball in Kansas. Moore knows how important baseball is to fans in the area, which is why he’s thrilled about the resurgence of the Royals.
The K.C. GM was at Werner Park last week during the Storm Chasers’ “Salute to the Royals” night. While visiting, he talked about building a winner, the upcoming major league draft, the state of the current Royals, the futures of Alex Gordon and Bubba Starling, and other topics.
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The Royals have followed up last season’s postseason run to the World Series with a hot start to 2015 that has them near the top of the American League Central Division. Your reaction?
Moore: It’s awesome. It’s special. The Royals were my boyhood team. My family roots are here in the Midwest. My family all grew up Royals fans. I want to see the game thrive again in Kansas City. And that’s one of the things that hurt me from afar, that the game wasn’t thriving. When we first came here, I would notice the moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas coming to the ballpark with their Amos Otis, George Brett and Frank White jerseys on and their kids would have (Dustin) Pedroia or Derek Jeter jerseys on. It was obvious that they lived in Kansas City, but we’d lost a generation of Royals fans. I understand why, we weren’t winning. We all know as kids, we rooted for the winners. That’s why the Royals were easy to root for in the 1970s and 1980s. To see kids with Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, (Alex) Gordon, (Eric) Hosmer and (Lorenzo) Cain on their T-shirts in the sandlots all over the city, that’s great. You can’t go anywhere without seeing Royals stuff. That’s neat. That’s what it’s all about.
Was it important for this team to capitalize on momentum from 2014?
Moore: I think it was real important. It’s always important to get off to a great start, in particular with this group just to carry over with a lot of success we had in August and September and the great playoff run. We like our guys a great deal. The defense is something that we’ve relied on to be very, very consistent, as well as our bullpen. Right now, we’ve got to get our rotation stabilized a little bit.
Danny Duffy is on the disabled list. Jason Vargas just returned from it. Yordano Ventura has had good and bad moments. And Jeremy Guthrie has struggled at times, too. Is starting pitching a concern?
Moore: It always is because it’s so fragile. All 30 clubs and general managers go to bed at night praying that their rotation stays healthy and guys stay consistent. With our team, as good as our defense is and the way our ballpark plays, you need pitchers that are going to prepare, throw strikes, field their position, hold runners and do those things you have to do to compete and win baseball games. For us, I feel like it will stabilize. Ventura has had some terrific outings and ones he’s had trouble commanding his fastball. Historically, power pitchers develop a little more command later on in the year and, certainly, in their careers. It’s not easy controlling that electric arm. We’re like everybody else, we’re always going to have to make adjustments and improve upon what we have. Duffy will do a rehab assignment at some point, we’re hoping. If we can get him back on track and in that rotation, it would be a big help for us.
There are a lot of young arms within the farm system, guys like Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea, Aaron Brooks, Christian Binford and others. How are they progressing?
Moore: There’s a chance all those guys can help us not only as a starter but in a relief situation. You’re going to need them all as we get deep into the season. Certainly, they’re all a major part of our future. You can never have enough. A mentor of mine, Paul Snyder, always told me you’ve always got to have 20 average or better pitching prospects just to get two or three in the major leagues. You need quantity, that’s for sure. We’re getting ready to have the draft here in a couple of weeks. It’s perhaps the most important exercise that we go through as an organization. Homegrown talent, the farm system, is always crucial, especially for our market. Pitching is the currency of the game. The only way you tilt the field in your favor is to have quality pitching on the mound.
How has the success of the Kansas City farm teams translated to success at the major league level?
Moore: It’s been everything for us. We’re always going to have to rely on homegrown talent. Our farm system is going to have to continue to transition players to the major league level. We want to be able to have a pitcher at least transition every year and a position player every year or every other year. We’ve got to keep it going because we’re not going to be able to keep all of these guys in Kansas City. We’ll try, and we’ve had a lot of success in signing our homegrown players to long-term contracts. But you’re not going to be able to keep them all, and that’s why you’ve got to keep a steady flow coming. And if you’re ever going to make an impactful trade, you’re going to have to give up quality young players. The farm system has to be deep. It has to be strong. It’s something we continually work toward.
Alex Gordon is a guy who was drafted high (No. 2 overall), struggled early in his career in Kansas City, then reinvented himself to become one of the top outfielders in the game. How do you feel about his success and how do you address potentially losing him to free agency at the end of this season?
Moore: We certainly wouldn’t have predicted four Gold Gloves and a Platinum award winner. But being around Alex is perhaps the greatest thing I’ve experienced in sports. His leadership qualities, his commitment to the game, the type of person that he is and the way he handled and battled through adversity is a lesson for all of us. He’s deserving of everything that he’s been given at this point in time. His commitment level is just so high. It’s unmatched. He’s so fearless. And that’s really what our team embodies is a fearless approach to the game. And Alex sets the example for that. Alex, obviously, has a player option for 2016. We’ll address it at the appropriate time. There’s a commitment from myself, the Glass family as the owners and Alex as well. All three parties are committed to keeping Alex in Kansas City. It’s just a matter of the appropriate time and working through the details. Right now, we’re focused on winning the Central Division, playing great baseball and hopefully getting back to the World Series.
Another high draft pick many are curious about is former Nebraska football recruit Bubba Starling, who is currently on the disabled list for Class AA Northwest Arkansas. How is he progressing?
Moore: Bubba is off to a terrific start, then he had a little setback with his hamstring. But he’s doing very well. He’s progressing at a rate that we would expect. We’re excited about getting him back on the field and continuing to make strong progress. Once he gets his hamstring feeling better, he’ll return to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Once you get to Double-A and start having success, you’ve got a chance to move pretty quickly as long as (you’re) continuing to improve and (your) attitude and commitment to the game remain strong. And that’s always been the case with Bubba. He’s a terrific athlete. He plays an unbelievable center field right now. The bat is the toughest thing to develop. And it’s a power bat. And it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for you to improve upon the level of competition. You’ve got to go in there and meet those challenges and learn to make those adjustments. It takes a lot of time. But we’re pleased with his progress, and he’s going to be a good one for us. Defensively, he’s a major league center fielder right now.
This is your 10th season with the Royals. What have you learned along the way?
Moore: I’ve learned that no matter who your mentors are and how much success that you have, you’re never really prepared to be a general manager until you get in that seat and start making those decisions. It moves very, very fast. There’s a lot of things you have to manage. In my previous positions in baseball, and I started as an area scout and before that was a college coach, you’re dealing with players every day and primarily with baseball people. Then, all of a sudden, you become a general manager, then you’re dealing with those people and now you’re dealing with owners, sponsors, a fan base and multiple individuals within the media. It’s a big job. I’m learning every day. ... The game changes minute to minute. There’s new challenges every single day in this game.