Home > Dayton Moore > The Rise and Fall of the Dayton Empire, Parts I-VI

The Rise and Fall of the Dayton Empire, Parts I-VI

This is something that I’ve posted on another site, but would like to bring it over to my new corner of the internet. I neglected to complete the project there, but will complete it on this site. These posts were originally posted in parts, which I will include as a piece of one blog post. Hope you enjoy!

Part I:
Let me take you back to a simpler time. The year was 2006. The Royals were in the midst of yet another 100 loss season and Allard Baird’s reign as decision maker was finally coming to an end. The Royals had mercilessly fired him and word was that Braves assistant general manager Dayton Moore was tabbed as the choice to replace him. Getting Dayton Moore was something of a coup for the organization as he had reportedly previously turned down an offer for the same position with the high spending Boston Red Sox.

Things were looking good. It became known that Dayton was a Royals fan back in the day and would watch games through the fence. John Schuerholz had tabbed him as a possible successor to him and we all know how great Schuerholz was. In his press conference he talked about some new currency, pitching and how the parade after the Royals won the World Series would be held at the Plaza. Things were looking up, we were finally on our way.

He made a couple small moves early and then traded away failed starter J.P. Howell for the answer in centerfield for the next five-seven years, Joey Gathright. Ahh to have speed in the lineup again. It was a glorious thing. Nevermind that Howell had never been tried in the role he would embrace with the Rays.

His first off-season he made a HUGE splash in signing one Gilbert Meche to a Royale. Widely panned, GMDM (as he was fondly referred to) believed that Meche was about to break out, similar to Chris Carpenter. The 2007 season begins against the Boston Red Sox in front of a packed Kauffman Stadium. Gil Meche vs. Curt Schilling. It’s also uber prospect Alex Gordon’s debut and he’s hitting fifth. Well, early on he got a chance with the bases loaded and received a standing ovation from the crowd. He then struck out.

We all know how that season went. Buddy Bell slept in the dugout. Gil Meche made the All-Star team and GMDM was flying high as his team avoided 100 losses for the first time since fluky 2003. Things were getting better for Zack Greinke, too. After a stint in the bullpen, he returned to the rotation and was excellent. Soon, Luke Hochevar would be up as well to add to Meche, Greinke, Bannister (acquired for a murderer over a game of dominoes) and Davies (acquired for two weeks of Octavio Dotel). Plus Soria was in the bullpen and could be counted on as he was blossoming into a top tier closer.

Part II:
The 2007 offseason begins for the Royals with some cautious optimism that the team is moving in the right direction. They improved by seven games from 2006 and actually had some young pieces in place. Alex Gordon finished the season nicely, Billy Butler had come up in 2007 and looked like he was going to be a legitimate big league hitter. David DeJesus had a rough 2007 season, but we all pretty universally knew that it was a fluky down season for him. Tony Pena, Jr. couldn’t hit much, but played excellent defense and we had a real professional at second base in Mark Grudzielanek. I don’t think many of the fans had delusions of competing for a division title in 2008, but many believed competing wasn’t too far away.

One of the glaring holes was that the Royals needed a power hitter to supplement the growth of Gordon and Butler. They also needed an outfielder and by this point we’d all been privy to the fact that Dayton did not believe that David DeJesus was good enough to play center every day. After signing Gil Meche prior to the 2007 season, GMDM set his sights even higher. This time he was going hard after Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter. You had the sense that he had an open checkbook but that it wouldn’t matter because he’d never pick the Royals. Soon, reports started trickling in that the Royals had the highest offer. I remember one radio report that stated he had chosen the Royals. Then at the last second, the Angels swooped in with a higher offer and he, of course, signed there. More money and a chance to compete. Nobody in the world could blame him. That was the beginning of the loss of trust in Dayton Moore and I’ll explain why shortly (as if you don’t already know).

The next best bat on the market was Seattle’s Jose Guillen who was coming off a very nice season in which he hit .290/.353/.460. Notice I said very nice. Not great. Not fantastic. Very nice. It’s the type of season that should get you a 2 year/$12 million deal. Of course you all know that he got an extra year than that and $24 million more. It became apparent that DM was simply bidding against himself for Jose Guillen. This was one of the first times that I remember DM being criticized heavily. That off-season the Royals also signed Miguel Olivo to share time with John Buck who had a hell of a first half in 2007 before Buddy Bell intervened.

The other big move of the 2007 offseason was hiring Trey Hillman. He was one of the most highly sought after managerial candidates of that time with the Yankees wanting to interview him as well before giving the position to Joe Girardi. Hillman had come off two consecutive Japanese World Series appearances including one win. He was going to be Dayton Moore’s Bobby Cox. I distinctly remember FanFest coming around and sitting and listening to Trey Hillman talk about bunting and moving runners over and I had a twinge of fear that the man coming to the Royals might not be as good as we thought. It’s rarely good when you feel that twinge prior to him even managing a game.

Spring Training came around and the drama began. Jose Guillen came to camp out of shape, but in good spirits. Billy Butler looked like he had packed on a few pounds and Trey Hillman was going to run tight ship. Early in camp, the Royals exhibited some bad base running and after the game, Hillman gathered the team by third base in front of many fans who remained at the stadium. It was a public dressing down and it did not sit well with veteran Mark Grudzielanek or the fans for that matter. While some saw it as a great way to get the players’ attention, most saw it as an amateur move and in hindsight, I would think very few people could defend it.

Spring went on with very little fanfare other than whether or not Jose Guillen would be available to play right away or if he’d have to serve his 15 game suspension to start the season. Guillen would later make the excuse that he figured he’d have an extra couple of weeks to get ready which is why he came to camp out of shape.

Late in camp, the Royals acquired Ramon Ramirez from the Rockies for cash considerations and then the Rockies acquired Jorge De La Rosa from the Royals for cash considerations. The two were effectively traded for each other in spite of being a part of different deals. A rocky camp, but the 2008 season was ready to begin and optimism was still prevalent among the fan base.

Would they be rewarded?

Part III:
When we last left you, we had completed the story of the 2007/2008 offseason where optimism reigned supreme. The fans didn’t necessarily think that a division title was in store, but at least the games would be more competitive. We had a new manager in Trey Hillman who was somewhat questionable when it came to some of his leadership tactics, a new right fielder who was coming off a very solid season with Seattle, a revamped bullpen and Year 2 of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. This was going to be the real beginning of the upswing.

Things started off pretty well with a three game sweep of the Detroit Tigers in Detroit. On Opening Day, Gil Meche pitched well enough to win, but didn’t and the game went into extra innings. Tony Pena, Jr. got what turned out to be the game winning hit in the tenth inning. The Royals started off 9-6 and (a much more mediocre) 21-22 after finishing a three game set with the Marlins. They were set to travel to Boston and hopefully get a chance to climb above .500 to stay.

The first game of that series pitted Luke Hochevar vs. Jon Lester. The first three innings were an absolute blur with both pitchers matching zeros across the board. Then in the fourth, the Red Sox got a hit and ultimately a run. Big inning Luke was on the prowl. Lester cruised and finally in the top of the ninth with two outs and Alberto Callaspo pinch hitting Lester blew a fastball by him and recorded his first career no-hitter. It was a truly great story for him after conquering cancer. After that loss, things spiraled.

The Royals lost their next 11 including a home game against the Twins in which they were leading 8-3 and Ramon Ramirez had two strikes on what should have been the final hitter with two outs. It wasn’t a big deal at the time as it was a five run game, but prior to the inning, Trey Hillman had made a defensive substituion putting first baseman Ross Gload into the game in right field while every day right fielder Mark Teahen played first. A real head scratcher, but it probably wasn’t a big deal. Until it was because what should have been the final hitter blooped a single into right that nobody could argue would not have been caught by Teahen. Without going into greater detail, the Twins ended up prevailing in ten innings as boos showered the field.

The rest of that season was a bit of a blur. Billy Butler was sent to the minors to work on some things and came back pretty successful. Jose Guillen went on one of the greatest six-week tears we’ve seen since George Brett would come off the DL trying to make up for lost time. After that game against the Twins, Guillen gave his famous “babies” speech. As a side note, I do not believe he has eaten any babies since making those comments.

Then came September. Ryan Shealy was re-called to play first base every day to find out exactly what we had in him. Zack Greinke had become the ace of the staff with Gil Meche playing a very convincing Batman to his Robin. So the season hadn’t gone so well to this point, but pieces were starting to fall into place. September was phenomenal. The team had a winning record, Kyle Davies pitched the best month of his life, Ryan Shealy was hitting like crazy, Butler was starting to show good power, patience had made a big appearance in Gordon’s game and Callaspo was playing every day at second base after Gload decided Grudzielanek’s grit made him look bad.

This team was just a couple key acquisitions away from possibly making a really big 2009 run. The bullpen was great, the offense was coming around and the top three in the starting rotation could compete with anybody. What could go wrong?

Part IV:
This part of the ongoing saga is probably the most difficult for me to write as it seemed so good at the time, but then things fell apart rather magically.

Following the strong finish to the 2008 season, there was a lot to be excited about with the Royals going into 2009. Many of the pundits were predicting them to break out much as the Rays had in 2008. Those who did not predict that believed the Royals would be a strong team that was maybe a year away.

In his neverending quest to remove David DeJesus from centerfield, Dayton Moore made a trade early on in the off-season acquiring Coco Crisp for super effective setup man Ramon Ramirez. Yeah, losing Ramirez was a big deal, but acquiring Crisp was the answer to the center field defense and the leadoff spot. Around the same time, Dayton traded off Leo Nunez to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs, a 1B coming off a 31 homerun season. We had our speed and we had our power. This lineup promised to be more balanced and more adept at the big inning.

To replace the lost production, Kyle Farnsworth was signed to a multi-year contract. Dayton cited his high strikeout totals as a reason that he would be a strong member of the bullpen. He believed that adding Farnsworth to Mahay and Soria would give the Royals one of the strongest back ends of a bullpen in all of baseball. Robinson Tejeda and John Bale would also help to make the units one of the deepest in all of baseball. Then right before spring training, the chance to sign Juan Cruz arose and the Royals signed him to a two year deal. Many believed the Royals bullpen would be among the very best in all of baseball with this signing.

The team expected to be strong around the diamond with Miguel Olivo and John Buck manning the catching duties, Billy Butler and Mike Jacobs handling first base and DH, Alberto Callaspo bringing his .300 bat to second base, Mike Aviles coming off his player of the year season at SS, Alex Gordon coming off his improved 2008, David DeJesus bringing plus defense to left, Crisp in center and 97 RBI man Jose Guillen in right. As I mentioned above, this team would be balanced offensively.

The pitching staff looked great, too, with the aforementioned bullpen and a rotation that included Gil Meche, Zack Greinke, Kyle Davies (coming off that spectacular September), #1 overall pick Luke Hochevar and Brian Bannister. Of course, it became apparent that Hochevar wouldn’t start the year in the rotation. That spot would instead by manned by Horacio Ramirez. The luster of the off-season was already beginning to wane. Then came the Sidney Ponson signing which pushed Banny to AAA. The Royals would be sure to lead the league in unnecessary perspiration.

But that was okay because the team was looking good, coming off some success and primed to make a run at the franchise’s first playoff appearance in 24 years.

The dream season was set to begin.

Part V:
When we last left you, we were ready to start the 2009 season in which many analysts predicted a similar season to the American League championship season of the Rays in 2008. The lineup looked strong with Coco Crisp at the top followed by DeJesus, Teahen, Guillen, Jacobs, Butler, Gordon, Olivo and 2008 Player of the Year Mike Aviles. The rotation was strong with Meche and Greinke at the top followed by Davies coming off a huge September, Bannister likely to be solid and Hochevar emerging. The bullpen even looked pretty decent with Soria at the end and Cruz, Farnsworth (at a way too high cost), Mahay, Bale, Wright and the gang. Things were going to be good.

One thing I forgot to mention was that Mark Teahen was the starting second baseman. His third Opening Day position in four years (third and right field the others). A risk, but one worth taking according to many.

Opening Day in Chicago featured Gil Meche’s third consecutive Opening Day nod and he pitched well. Going into the bottom of the eighth the Royals had a two run lead. With two on and Jim Thome coming to the plate, Trey Hillman went to his new fireballing setup man Kyle Farnsworth. The blogosphere collectively groaned and knew what would soon transpire. Sure enough, Jim Thome hit a homer and the Sox went on to win the game.

Over the next two days, Greinke and Davies shut down the White Sox and the MGD trio was off to a good start. Unfortunately, the Royals had PBR (Ponson, Bannister, Ramirez) to follow. While some of the lower points of the early 2009 season have been forgotten, I do remember forgettable outings from both Ponson (home opener no less) and Ramirez that led to the Royals being in a bit of a hole record-wise early.

Soon, sitting at 12-11, the Royals went on a six game winning streak that vaulted them to 18-11 and three games up on second place Detroit. Then they went to the West Coast for a road trip. Six losses later, the Royals returned home at 18-17 and still somehow tied for first.

At 20-18, the Indians were in town and up on the Royals 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth. Jose Guillen started the ninth against Kerry Wood with a harmless out. Next to bat was Mike Jacobs. He hit a ball onto the Pepsi Party Porch that gave the 25,000 in attendance a bit of hope. The next batter was Mark Teahen and he hit an opposite field homerun that landed just beyond the camera bay. It was now 5-4. This team had life.

Here’s the most amazing part of this comeback – Miguel Olivo took a walk next. Following that miraculous base on balls was David DeJesus who had been dropped in the order after struggling early on in the season. He roped a triple into the right center field gap that scored pinch runner extraordinaire Mitch Maier and tied the game at 5. Next up was Willie Bloomquist, who was still hitting .320 at this point and he hit a sacrifice fly to score DeJesus and the Royals pulled off the improbable win.

The team was now 21-18, one game back in second place and they had some serious life to them again. This was going to be a fun season, right?

Part VI:
At last glance, our faithful 25 were still tied for first place in the American League Central after a thrilling comeback against Kerry Wood and the Indians. After a six game winning streak followed by a six game losing streak, it appeared things were getting back on track.

From that point forward, the Royals went 44-79. That is a disgusting record. How did they go from being 21-18 and leading their division to being one of the five worst teams in all of baseball? Well it started with a couple of Dayton Moore’s trades that ultimately did not pan out. We’ve discussed trading Leo Nunez for Mike Jacobs. What people don’t realize is that at the 39 game mark, Jacobs was hitting .270/.343/.540 with nine homeruns. At this point, he was doing exactly what he was supposed to do. From that point forward, he hit .211/.278/.344 with ten homeruns and struck out 94 times in 308 at bats.

The other big trade we’ve discussed is Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp. Similar to Jacobs, his early season crescendo was merely a mirage. In the first 39 games for him (his decline began around game 30 actually), Crisp hit .238/.353/.427 with some admittedly bad luck. The thought was that with that walk rate and the BABIP righting itself that he would be in for a pretty impressive season. From that point forward he hit .189/.268/.189 but more germane to the topic, he did that in just 11 games before he was shut down for the season and ultimately had surgery on both of his shoulders.

Dayton Moore had made mistakes before, such as signing Jose Guillen, but these two mistakes were and the biggest chinks in his armor to this point. The Guillen signing was bad, but it was not, at the time, blocking any prospects from emerging and was nothing more than wasted money rather than wasted opportunity. Trading two cogs in a successful bullpen for a DH who couldn’t hit and a guy who couldn’t stay on the field was the death blow to the 2009 season.

Related mistakes that occurred due to these trades were the signing of two middle relievers, Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz. Moore gets a pass on Cruz because his peripherals were so fantastic with Arizona that nobody could have known he’d be a malcontent and a bad one at that. The Farnsworth deal was stupid when it was given out and in spite of his current solid pitching was still a big mistake. Not trading those two relievers would have been a turning point, but alas it happened.

One other thing that occurred early in the 2009 season was the loss of 2008 player of the year, Mike Aviles. Aviles struggled big time at the plate early in the season when it was revealed he had some forearm stiffness. A few visits to the doctor later and Mike was on the operating table having Tommy John surgery. The Royals needed a shortstop. For the interim, they turned to Willie Bloomquist, Luis Hernandez, Tony Pena, Jr. and a few other short term fill-ins.

Injuries were the name of the game in the early going. Alex Gordon went down in the season’s first month to hip surgery. While the importance of Gordon’s future runs parallel with the importance of the future of the franchise, this allowed Alberto Callaspo to get on the field and show us all that he could hit .300 in his sleep. Mark Teahen moved to third and played passably there.

As the losses mounted, confidence in Moore was beginning to wane mightily. The season was going down the tube and fast. Summer began and Moore felt the pressure of needing a shortstop, so he went out and made a trade for a player he had been rumored to be after for years. He traded Daniel Cortes (top pitching prospect) and another minor league arm for Yuniesky Betancourt. Yep, he really did. It wasn’t a bad trade. Yuni was on the DL, but would be brought up soon and would solidify the shortstop position for years…at least that’s what we were promised.

This was probably the lowest point in Dayton Moore’s regime as general manager. He’d made some poor decisions before, but if you squinted tightly you could see the reasoning behind them. This move was simply indefensible and no amount of lateral movement could cure that.

Would Dayton’s star begin to shine again soon?

——————————–

And that’s where I left off. Mostly because it was depressing. I suppose as you’ll see in the coming days that this could have been “The Rise and Fall…and Rise Again…of the Dayton Empire.” Anyway, just thought I’d share the beginning to this series on the chance that I have new readers on a different site.

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