If Dayton Moore fails this winter's test ...

Ed Zurga

It's fair to say, I think, that the jury's still out on Royals general manager Dayton Moore. Moore's been running the front office for nearly six-and-a-half years. The club's best record in that span came in 2008, when the Royals went 75-87. In the four seasons since, the Royals have gone 65-97, 67-95, 71-91, and 72-90.

Baby steps.

Otherwise known as "The Process".

Moore has received high marks for rebuilding the farm system, which has in recent years graduated Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Salvador Perez to the majors. To this point, the actual benefits have been limited, because not a single starting pitcher has graduated to the majors and performed well. But there's always next year.

Moore has also received -- or deserved to receive -- high marks for the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Brewers and netted Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi.

Moore has also wasted a fair amount of money and plate appearances on Yuniesky Betancourt and Jeff Franocoeur, and traded Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez.

Of course, the bottom line is wins and losses, and there have been a lot more of the latter than the former. At some point, it probably makes sense to fire a general manager who, despite all his sincere efforts, can't bring home a winner.

But Dayton Moore is signed through 2014, and will get at least one more shot at winning. The Royals seem to be making a push in 2013, having now committed $12 million to Ervin Santana next season and $25 million to Jeremy Guthrie over the next three seasons. You don't spent that sort of money on veteran pitchers unless you think you can win; unless you've told your owner you think you can win. After all, it's his money.

While it's not impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Royals do finally crack the .500 barrier in 2013, the general consensus holds that Kansas City is still one good starting pitcher short. After all, it's hard to recall a playoff team with a No. 1 starter like Ervin Santana or Jeremy Guthrie, and those two are pretty obviously the best starting pitchers on the existing 40-man roster.

Dayton Moore hasn't made any bones about this. After years of trying to patch up rotations with time bombs like Jonathan Sanchez, innings-eaters like Bruce Chen, and replacement-level guys like Vin Mazzaro and Kyle Davies, Moore is now attempting to build a rotation composed largely of pitchers with some actual upside. Maybe not, in the cases of Santana and Guthrie, a lot of upside. But some.

The Royals still need an ace, though. Maybe not a Cy Young candidate; that's probably too much to hope for. But a second-tier starter who's got a fighting chance against the contenders' aces.

Moore doesn't have the money to sign one of those guys. Not after acquiring Santana and Guthrie. Which means if he's going to get one, he'll have to make a trade. Which is why I believe this winter represents the True and Final Test of Dayton Moore.

In the short term, Moore will probably make a trade for a good starting pitcher; at the very least, we know he's pursuing such a deal. What we don't know is what he'll have to give up.

There's been talk about Wil Myers, considered by many the best-hitting prospect in the game right now. There are two obvious reasons to trade Myers: a) he's the Royals' most attractive commodity, and b) with Francoeur signed through 2013, at this moment there's no opening in the lineup for Myers.

The obvious reason not to trade him is that the Royals don't have a bunch of great hitters, and they'll need a few if they're going to score enough runs for the pitching to matter.

There's not a wrong answer here. Not yet. If the Royals make a deal that doesn't include Myers, they'll presumably have to include other talented young players. Because -- and this is the part that does frustrate me -- they seem to be giving no consideration at all to trading Billy Butler, who would surely be attractive to some club looking for a potent designated hitter.

Alas, management seems to be emotionally invested in Butler, despite the one-dimensional nature of his game.

So young players are likely to be traded, and Moore's performance should be judged according to two things: a) how well his new ace pitches, and b) the development of Hosmer and Moustakas, both of whom struggled last season (Hosmer more than Moustakas). Oh, and wins. Because that's sort of the point.

Stability is a good thing. But at some point, as the years and the losses just keep piling up, you have to give somebody else a shot at the thing.

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