Three things in 2020 that could make or break Dayton Moore’s tenure as Royals GM

New ownership can mean all kinds of changes for an organization. To use an example, when John Henry and his ownership group took over the Boston Red Sox in 2002, he brought an analytical and business-like approach to running the once-cursed franchise. Thankfully for baseball fans in New England, his approach brought numerous World Series titles, and a sudden turn as one of the most popular “bandwagon” francises in sports (something unthinkable prior to 2002).

New owner John Sherman will be looking to make his mark on this Royals franchise after buying the club for nearly $1 billion dollars from previous owner David Glass. Sherman wouldn’t have spent so much time as a minority owner with the Cleveland Indians and spent so much money on this franchise if he wanted to keep the status quo in Kansas City. At the end of the day, Sherman wants to build a club that is closer to the 2014 and 2015 squads rather than the 2018 and 2019 teams that lost 100-plus games.

And for Sherman to do that, he will have to rest a lot of trust on GM Dayton Moore…or at least initially.

At this point, it is a done deal that Moore will be back as general manager in Kansas City. While the Royals have won less than 60 games the past two years, it would be a bold move by Sherman to replace Moore now, especially considering the Royals just won a World Series in 2015, which is no small feat considering Kansas City’s checkered championship history in all sports.

At the same time though, while Moore should be safe for next season, and maybe the year after, Sherman and the new ownership group will have a close eye on how things develop in the Royals organization in 2020. While 2020 is just one year, whether things improve or go south in a few key areas could either extend Moore’s tenure as general manager in Kansas City or break it sooner than Royals fans may think.

Let’s take a look at three areas to pay attention to in 2020 that could have a major impact on Moore’s time as GM of the Royals going forward.

The (likely) hiring of Mike Matheny as manager

As much as I hate and disapprove of Moore hiring Matheny, it seems highly likely that the former Cardinal skipper will be leading the Royals in 2020. Grifol is already getting a second interview with the Giants, Dale Sveum has dropped out of the race, and it doesn’t seem likely that the Royals are going to consider any external candidates during this managerial search. It’s a shame that the Royals will be relying on a guy who has such a checkered history with analytics and developing younger players, but it is what it is.

That being said, Moore’s tenure will ride on how well Matheny does as manager for the Royals. What has frustrated many Royals fans with Moore during his tenure is that it seems like Moore tends to place “values” (specifically, “religious values”) over baseball “acumen” and “skill”. He seems at times more concerned about combating the “new drug” of pornography rather than developing the farm system or signing good free agents in the off-season.

For the evangelical, conservative-leaning sports fan in KC (which are plentiful in number) who only watches baseball in the summer as a diversion from BBQs and Chiefs training camp, that can be overlooked, because they are not invested. But for passionate Royals baseball fans who value the Royals over all else (like myself and many others on the Royals blogosphere), it’s frustrating. The Royals have the potential to be a perennially competitive small-market team like the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics, but instead of trying to build a team with “Moneyball” tactics, it seems like Moore is more worried about showing “anti-porn” videos to his new draft picks in Surprise, Arizona during extended Spring Training. I found this thread on Royals Reddit interesting, because it did hint at deeper issues with Moore’s religious fanaticism having an effect on more than just the managerial search:

This mindset and focus only fuels Royals fans’ issues with Matheny: it seems like Moore is hiring him because of his “religious” disposition rather than his baseball one. For a small market club that has little room for error, it’s a shame to see a great candidate like Grifol get passed over for a guy who’s more known for writing a book than anything baseball-wise since getting let go in St. Louis. That preference from Moore is so frustrating, because more often than not, it has contributed to the Royals lack of success on the field.

But, maybe Moore knows something we as Royals fans don’t. Maybe Matheny has become more analytics-friendly. Maybe he understands the value of developing the young players on this team, especially considering the Royals’ small-market status. And if Moore is right about Matheny, and the Royals turn it around in 2020, I, like many other Royals fans out there on the internet, will eat crow. And if Matheny wins, we can expect Moore to continue to be the GM of the Royals for as long as he wants.

That being said, if Matheny flames out, and isn’t showing signs of winning by the end of 2020 or the start of 2021 at the latest…well…it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sherman make Moore follow Matheny on his way out of Kauffman Stadium before the start of 2022.

Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar’s performance at the big league level

At some point, two of the Royals’ top-pitching prospects (Singer and Kowar) will debut in Kansas City in 2020. It’s unlikely to come at the beginning of the year, but they will pitch in the Royals blue and white before the 2020 season ends barring injury or a massive, let down in Spring Training and/or Triple-A Omaha.

Singer and Kowar were both top picks out of the University of Florida for the Royals in the 2018 draft, as Singer went 18th overall and Kowar went 33rd overall. Moore drafted the two because they were not just talented pitchers, but prospects who could climb the latter in the Royals system quickly and have an immediate impact on the Royals rotation to help turn around their fortunes.

2020 seems like that prime opportunity to make it happen. Both Singer and Kowar pitched well with Northwest Arkansas in the Double-A Texas League a season ago, and even if they pitch in Omaha to start the 2020 season, it most likely will be a tune up for both until a rotation spot or two opens up in Kansas City. Singer, the Royals’ No. 2 prospect overall, seems likely to debut first, but Kowar (the Royals’ No. 5 prospect), could quickly follow, though he doesn’t have the kind of upside that Singer has.

When they do come up, Singer and Kowar need to perform in some way to give Royals fans hope that the highly touted rotation in the minors is as good as advertised. Kris Bubic was a strikeout machine in Wilmington a season ago, and Daniel Lynch not only tore it up in the Carolina League a year ago as well, but also this fall in the Arizona Fall League, as we can see below:

However, considering both Bubic and Lynch haven’t pitched beyond High-A, it seems unlikely that either lefty will see time on the Royals roster in 2020. Thus, the pressure is on Singer and Kowar to perform when they arrive to Kansas City. If they pitch well, it shows that Moore knows what he’s doing when it comes to drafting talent, and the Royals are on their way to being back to their 2014-2015 selves (his draft ability has been doubted for a bit after some flame outs like Christian Colon and Aaron Crow). If Singer and Kowar struggle, not only does it show that he whiffed on those two, but that potentially Bubic and Lynch won’t be as good as advertised either.

Moore not only needs Singer and Kowar pitching in Kansas City in 2020, but he needs to them to be good. If they fail to live up to their massive hype, it may be a sign of the beginning of the end for Moore.

After all, Royals fans can’t handle any more John Lamb’s and Brandon Finnegan’s in this organization.

Moore’s decision on Alex Gordon

I know Moore has a challenge when it comes to re-signing Alex Gordon this off-season, as I struggle myself when it comes to whether or not I want Gordo to come back for one last hurrah in Royals blue (I do, for the record). As we all know, Moore wants Gordo back and for good reason: Gordo has been the face of the franchise since Moore took over, and he deserves some credit for staying loyal to the organization. While Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain left for better paydays and National League teams (the Padres and Brewers, respectively), Gordo stayed put, trying to be a leader in a situation that was less-than-ideal for any veteran player, let alone one who is a bonafide World Series hero.

I get that Moore wants to be loyal to Gordo. He wants to keep the Nebraska kid for one more year and do all kinds of “farewell tour” shit that will get a mix of “aww’s” and gags from Royals and opposing fans alike at the K. Moore wants to do what’s right for Gordo, especially considering that he’s coming off a bounce back year at the plate where he put up decent numbers after under-achieving for so long post-2015.

But at the end of the day, Moore has to do what is best for this Royals organization and their future.

Moore cannot re-exercise the $23 million option on Gordo’s deal. I get being loyal to a guy, but there’s a difference between loyalty and stupidity, and extending Gordo to that contact would just gravitate toward the latter in terms of decision-making. Furthermore, Moore has to keep the price low: $5-7 million, 1 year, nothing more. Anything else not only would result in the Royals over-paying, but it could hurt the confidence of their younger players like Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips who are in dire need of more at-bats and innings in the outfield. They haven’t performed greatly in their times in Kansas City, but they haven’t had much opportunity as well. Gordo would only continue to shrink those opportunities for the Royals’ younger guys, unless Moore and Gordo are able to clarify that while Gordo is appreciated for what he did, the future of the Royals is the most important thing for all Royals stakeholders involved.

If that comes at the expense of Gordo’s playing time and contract, so be it. Gordo has to realize he’s at the end of his rope, and Moore has to understand that too. Moore needs to put Gordo in a situation where he is taken care of, but is also part of transition plan that will ensure that the Royals outfield is good after he is gone. That starts with the Royals backing out of the option and finding a better, more reasonable deal with Gordo, and allowing other OF options like Starling and Phillips to get some at-bats in LF as well in 2020.

If Gordo walks and tears it up with another team, that could back break Moore. If Moore pays too much for Gordo and he goes back to 2016-2018 numbers, that could result in Moore’s firing being expedited by Sherman and Royals ownership. There’s a lot that could go wrong for Moore when it comes to Alex Gordon in 2020.

Let’s hope Moore can make the right decision about Gordo in 2020, not just for Gordo as a player and person, but the Royals organization as a whole.

I wonder if Moore will think with his head or his heart when it comes to Gordo’s contract. Will he start to be a more “analytical” sort who make decisions based on data and perceived value compiled from that data? Or will he re-sign Gordo based on instincts and gut in between speaking engagements on the evils of the “new drug”?

The decision will come before we as Royals fans know it. Unfortunately, I think we can all guess what Moore will do.

It’ll be hard to see Moore lasting more than two more years as Royals GM if that scenario comes to fruition.

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