Dayton Moore is a slim, unassuming man with a strong handshake and, it's clear, a persuasive manner. This winter he convinced Royals owner David Glass, a notoriously thrifty man, to increase the payroll to roughly $60 million for the upcoming season. Considering that the amount is a club record, and some $13 million over last year's limit, it's a remarkable feat. To win over Glass, Moore says, he made no special presentations, just "a memo or a handout or two, just a feel for what the team would look like."
What Moore, 40, was really selling, of course, was himself. Before the Royals hired him last May, he was widely considered one of the top general manager prospects in the game, having spent 12 years in Atlanta under John Schuerholz. (The Red Sox interviewed Moore for their vacant G.M. job in 2005, but he withdrew his name from consideration after that one meeting.) Moore took the Kansas City position only after being assured that he would have full decision-making power. His reward: stewardship of a franchise so forlorn that it could lose 100 games last year and still call it an improvement. (K.C. lost 106 in '05.)
Moore took Glass's money and spread it around. He took a risk on projected closer Octavio Dotel (one year, $5 million), who missed the majority of the last two seasons with an elbow injury, to address the team's 31 blown saves. And, as you might have heard, he signed free-agent righthander Gil Meche for $55 million over five years. The reaction? Type in "Gil Meche" and "overpaid" on Google, and more than 12,000 results pop up.
True, Meche has a lifetime record of 55-44 and went 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA last season, not exactly ace numbers. But Moore makes a passable argument for the contract. First, he points out that, at 28, Meche is in his prime and has the stuff to be a No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher. More important, there weren't many other options for Moore to choose from. "We needed him based on the pitching [we have now] and what the free-agent market was going to bring us the following year," says Moore. "There will be fewer [good pitchers] next year than there were this year. We needed to strike."
Because no one expects the Royals to be good, Meche does not represent an investment that will make or break a division title. Also, the fuss about his contract will be lost soon enough in the buzz about the club's promising young talent, which has buoyed the clubhouse. "My first few years [the front office] was trying the youth movement but didn't really have the players to do it," says third baseman turned rightfielder Mark Teahen, 25. "Now you look around and respect the guys. Now it really feels like building from the bottom up, with prospects and talent."
As good as the kids are, most notably new third baseman Alex Gordon, the team's success this season depends on the performance of four veterans. First, there is Meche and his ability to fill the role of staff ace. Second, there's the health of oft-injured DH Mike Sweeney. With him the Royals have a respectable order; without, they are a Triple A lineup. Third, they must get much more from Angel Berroa, who went from Rookie of the Year in 2003 to hitting .234 with a .259 OBP last season. Finally, there is the uncertainty about Zack Greinke, a potential ace who pitched only 6 1/3 innings in the bigs last season after battling depression.
But at this time of the year, even in Kansas City there is a sense of promise. Under Moore, the franchise has added two teams to the farm system and 13 new employees in baseball administration, and it has shown it's willing to be a player in free agency. He believes the team can eventually draw two million fans and support a payroll of perhaps $80 million. "Now," says Moore, "we just need to start winning some games." -- Chris Ballard
Issue date: March 26, 2007