I'm sure you've all be wondering when FDM would break its brutally long silence and offer up more hard-hitting analysis of the limp-wristed Royals.
Believe me, there were times I was rilled up and ready to lay into Dayton Moore on here. However, just as I wrote in my FDM Predictions piece, the Royals were nothing but a .500 team in my eyes. Any .500 team is going to have its ups and downs and the Royals have had their fair share. Plus, it's impossible for me to get too worked up about a .500 team with a GM and manager who have job security (whether or not that security is justified).
I've never had the expectation that this blog would make any difference when it came to how the Royals did business. So as much as I wanted to lambaste the Royals after their embarrassing series against the Astros, ridicule them for pampering Eric Hosmer, or excoriate Dayton Moore for pussing out at the trade deadline, I told myself "What's the difference?"
But as I look at the standings, the Royals are suddenly 10 games over .500 and half a game behind the Tigers. KC is 9-1 in its last 10 while Detroit is 5-5 and coming off a crushing 19-inning loss on Sunday. The Royals also find themselves with a 1.5 game cushion between them and the Mariners and Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
I'm not going to dig into all the playoff scenarios or plot out the Royals' remaining schedule compared to their competition. I'm just not. All this could be meaningful. Or it could simply be an exceptionally high high like the Royals experienced after the break last season. The Royals could get swept in four games by the A's this week and Royal it up on their nine-game road trip and that'll be that for their playoff aspirations.
Instead, I wanted to write about the decisions Moore has made -- both good and bad -- that have led the Royals to this point:
Norichika Aoki -- Might as well start with Moore's first big splash of the offseason. My stance on Aoki was consistent from the start. I was not excited. I seemed to be the only Royals blogger (if you even want to consider me one) who pinpointed Aoki's drop-off in doubles and steals from 2012 to 2013 and considered it a red flag for 2014. If you look at his stats now, his slide in doubles turned into a season-long home run drought until this past week. And he's unlikely to match his 20 steals from last year, although he has missed time this year.
The only defense for the Aoki trade was: 1. He would be an upgrade from the sorry lot of RFs the Royals deployed in 2013 and 2. All it cost was Will Smith while the deepest aspect of the Royals' roster was the bullpen. Well, as I look at the deal now, I don't think it's hard to argue the club might've been better off with Jarrod Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain in right. A fourth outfielder of Aoki's quality could've been found elsewhere at a cheaper cost.
The argument for trading Smith still holds true, to a degree, but on the heels of a trade deadline that saw Drew Smyly turn into David Price, I can't help but wonder what Smith and his 68 punch outs in 51.1 innings would be worth. And if this really was the year for the Royals to go for it, it wouldn't have killed them to keep Smith at Triple-A and try one last time to see if he could start. Worst-case scenario, they'd have had a strikeout-heavy lefty to bring out of the bullpen right now.
Jason Vargas -- I described the Aoki deal as the first big splash of the offseason, but the Vargas signing was actually Moore's first move of the winter. I just refuse to classify the signing of a No. 4 starter as a "big splash." Nevertheless, Vargas (3.68 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) has been part of the solution, not the problem. Much to my surprise.
Vargas has basically stepped up and done what Moore expected Jeremy Guthrie to do while Guthrie has stepped down and done what I expected Vargas to do. And what most of us thought Guthrie was going to do, anyway.
Omar Infante -- As unimpressed as I was with the Aoki trade, that's how impressed I was with the Infante signing. I would say it was the biggest "go-for-it" move Moore has made since the Shields trade. Unfortunately, even compared to the Shields trade, it's been a disaster. Like Aoki, Infante has battled injuries this year, and he's lucky he hasn't missed more action.
But that doesn't change the fact he's posting his third worst OBP since 2004 (.302), his worst SLG since 2004 (.360), and he has three years left on his contract plus a $2 million buyout in 2018. Given the plethora of utility men Moore has developed and acquired (Johnny Giavotella, Christian Colon, Pedro Ciriaco), it's hard to even fathom Infante providing any value as a super utility man any of the next three years, let alone being a productive starter.
Danny Valencia -- Valencia, of course, is no longer with the Royals. He seemed like a decent addition at the time, though. At the cost of David Lough, Valencia appeared to be an ideal platoon partner for Mike Moustakas. Of course, Yost didn't really use Valencia unless he had to. Then again, Valencia didn't do much to force Yost's hand. And the fact Moore was able to flip Valencia into a semi-legitimate backup catcher and semi-legitimate Triple-A pitcher kept Valencia from being a complete flop.
On that note, I think it's fair to now look back at the Royals' Opening Day roster and state the obvious: Moore did a poor job of roster construction to begin what was supposed to be "the year" for the Royals.
Rather than go into the season with George "All I do is Hit Bombs and Walk" Kottaras, Moore thought it more prudent to back up Sal Perez with a glorified Triple-A backstop in Brett Hayes. And given all the teams that have disposed of Kottaras, maybe he has a personality disorder, but so what. Every playoff team in the league probably has at least one asshole on its roster. Put Kottaras' locker in the corner of the clubhouse and, in return, you don't have a complete black hole in your lineup when Perez gets a day off.
If the Royals were going to go into the season with seven infielders (including Billy Butler), why wasn't Emilio Bonifacio among them? What did Ciriaco offer that Bonifacio couldn't? Bonifacio would have been a much more competent replacement option for Infante during his injury struggles, could now be Moustakas' backup at third, or could've been a platoon option in the outfield. Or he could've just been a badass pinch running option late in games with a glove that would've allowed him to stay in the game.
Lastly, to this day, does anyone know why Justin Maxwell was on the Opening Day roster? Is there anyone else who catches lightening in a bottle and assumes it will last forever like Dayton Moore? I remember crushing the Maxwell trade when it happened and, of course, he proved me wrong the rest of the season. But if Moore seriously expected to get another .857 OPS out of Maxwell this year, he was out of his mind. Maxwell hadn't even posted a minor league OPS that high since 2011...at age 27.
Five months later, Moore has shuffled that mess of bench fodder and turned it into Erik Kratz, Colon and Raul Ibanez. He had half a season to shore up the team's bench and the only reason it might be improved is that it started out in the negative.
Sure, it's just the bench we're talking about here, but we're also talking about the bench of a team that is trying to hold its own as a playoff contender. These are the players the Royals are going to need late in games (although this might be a moot point considering the man entrusted with making late-inning moves isn't actually very good at doing it). And these are the players the Royals will have to use if and when a starter goes down.
This isn't a video game. This is a real life playoff race and the Royals have rested their postseason hopes entirely on their starters. That wouldn't be quite as daunting had Moore actually showed up for work in July, but he didn't.
So as well as the last 18 games have gone, they're in the past. The Royals still have almost no room for error and they will still be depending on Infante, Moustakas, Aoki, Guthrie, Bruce Chen and that bench down the stretch.
Oh, and I'll be attending my first game since 2012 (pre-Shields trade) on Monday. So let's not discount my ability to send any team I want to win into a tailspin. You've been warned, Dayton.
Fire Dayton Moore