Just about 12 hours before meeting with Dayton Moore in our KNGL-KBBE studio on Saturday, the Kansas City Royals’ general manager had swung one of the biggest deals in the team’s 50-year history.
Moore, who was in McPherson as keynote speaker of the McPherson College Athletics Banquet, dealt longtime popular third baseman Mike Moustakas to favorite trading partner Milwaukee late Friday night in exchange for outfielder Brett Phillips and pitcher Jorge Lopez.
It was one of the most emotional deals Moore has had to make as Moustakas was his very first pick after taking over as Royals GM.
“First and foremost, Mike Moustakas has been an incredible player for us,” said Moore, who built the Royals from the ashes into a back-to-back World Series participant, capped by the 2015 championship. “We drafted him with our first overall selection in 2007, which was our very first draft here in Kansas City. He exceeded expectations, helped win us a World Championship. It’s been unbelievable to watch Mike grow as a person and professional, from the time he was 18 years old to where he is now. He is an incredible husband and father... it’s never easy when you part with a player you’re so close to, but we knew that it was going to be important as we rebuild our team and rebuild our farm system.”
Moustakas, who is having a great year in the power department, was one of the hottest commodities on the trade market, but he’s a pending free agent during this offseason. He joins a Milwaukee team that includes former teammates Lorenzo Cain and Joakim Soria, himself just acquired as he had been pitching for the White Sox.
The Royals get back a couple of players with big upsides.
“Brett Phillips is someone we feel can play all three outfield positions,” Moore said. “He’s a left-handed hitter who has an exceptional throwing arm and above-average defensive skills. He plays with a lot of energy and has a skillset that’s untapped and still developing.
“Jorge Lopez is very similar with his character traits, he’s a really good father and good husband and someone we’ve known for a long time. He’s somebody who we feel will be one of 12 on our pitching staff in 2019... we think he’s capable of starting, being as swing man or being a power reliever.”
After their glorious championship year, the Royals were playoff contenders in both 2016 and 2017, but the bottom has fallen out this year, their slide accelerated by the departures of All-Stars Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, along with pitcher Jason Vargas and outfielder Melky Cabrera. Success comes with a price, as the Royals simply couldn’t afford to keep everybody, no matter how much they would have liked.
Moore was panned somewhat for not trading some of the Royals’ stars at last year’s deadline, knowing chances were strong they would go elsewhere after the season.
“Criticism is really an important part of the job,” Moore said. “I think handling that, managing that, I’ve felt as long as people are looking at you with a critical eye you can have a really good baseball conversation and help undercover blind spots and just discuss things... I’ve always kind of welcomed it. There’s no question you can ask me, or anybody has asked me, that I haven’t asked of my staff already, or Mr. (David) Glass hasn’t asked me. We felt from the very beginning that we were going to continue to push every single day to continue to win. I don’t think you can truly have a winning culture without trying to expect to win and try to win every single day. We knew there was going to be a price to pay by holding on to our players after 2015, but we also had a commitment to the group, a commitment to our city and a commitment to our fan base.”
The Royals have 2 months left in the season to try and establish some momentum heading into 2019 and Moore is taking a long look at the players on the roster to see how they will fit it, or if they fit in, for next year.
“Every day is an evaluation,” Moore said. “You begin in spring training, but you’re always evaluating. With Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, Jorge Bonifacio, Aldaberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, they need to get as many at-bats as possible. We need to evaluate their future impact for us. Hopefully we’ll get (the injured) Jorge Soler back sometime in August. He was having an incredible year for us. We need to have those young players play.”
Moore has been pleased with what he’s seen from young pitchers Brad Keller, Heath Fillmyer and Burch Smith, who could make up 60 percent of the rotation next year. Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy are still under contract for next year and they have been innings-eaters this year.
The Royals also went pitcher-heavy in the June draft, as they try to put together a staff that could mature in the years to come.
“We wanted to focus on pitching,” Moore said. “We went into this with the same mind-set as before. We want to play exceptional defense, we want action players who can go from first to third, players who can play tremendous defense, especially in our outfield. We know this. We know the only way to create a championship-caliber pitching staff is to have a large quantity of pitchers to put into the pipeline.”
Moore understands it’s a process and it’s going to take time. His long-term goal is to not develop the Royals for a small window of success, but something that’s sustainable for decades. He’s done it before and he can certainly do it again.