First, there are some things we should probably get out of the way:
Dayton Moore is not evil
He is not purposefully trying to go out and lose, much the way that David Glass did back in the late 90's and into the 21st Century, in some quixotic hope to enact serious reform regarding baseball's revenue system. Nor does he hire coaches who flat out state that the Royals will finish last in home runs -- there is "no benefit" to them trying to hit home runs, apparently -- because he thinks it is a sound strategy to go out of your way to hit the ball on the ground. There is a method to what he's trying to do, regardless of whether or not we agree with how he goes about doing it. He wants to win, and if American culture has taught us anything, it is that winning is good. Additionally...
Dayton Moore is not stupid
He isn't. Even though he may have said that Kauffman Stadium suppresses walks, or that finishing above .500 felt like winning the World Series, he's not stupid. It's a flippant reaction, and a judgement that disregards how hard he works and how much effort he puts into his job. He's an intelligent guy, and he has gotten far in his life and his career by having an eye for working within the system that is afforded him. It is, after all, a fact that the Royals are better suited today to compete than they were in 2006 when he arrived. There farm system is night and day. Their presence in Latin America is a revelation. His success in the amateur draft, though it has obtained muted results in major league production thus far, has been consistently praised over the last six years or so. The smoke that is the Best Farm System In The History of Whatever doesn't become the sarcastic knee-jerk response to every minor setback at One Royal Way without the fire that created it. Dayton Moore deserves credit for that.
That being said...
Dayton Moore is marginally mediocre to downright abysmal when it comes to major league roster construction
Whether it is dumping $36 million on Jose Guillen, or $55 million on Gil Meche, or $25 million on Jeremy Guthrie, $32 millon on Jason Vargas, retaining Hochevar at $5 million a year, trading Wil Myers for James Shields and thinking that Wade Davis might be a long-term solution for the rotation, or retaining the services of Yuniesky Betancourt twice, there is a strong amount of evidence suggesting that he has difficulty putting together an effective roster.
Now, some of that may be due to not having the greatest resources available to him. He can't buy his way out of a mess, particularly when he buys his way into one. He can't retain every good-to-great player that comes along (although Greinke is really the only player whose ability would make the eccentricity worthwhile, and he kind of didn't want to be here anyway). Gordon is likely to be gone after his contract expires, as is Butler, and Hosmer. Shields will likely be gone. And that is a part of the story.
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And another part may simply be that nobody wants to play in Kansas City, particularly pitchers. Gil Meche needed an extra year and $11 million to sign. Between him and Omar Infante, there was not a single prominent major league free agent who signed with Kansas City. Santana was a trade. Shields was a trade. Guthrie, initially, was a trade. Jason Vargas doesn't count as prominent.
So maybe that's a factor. And maybe the question we need to be asking is whether or not free agent players avoid Kansas City like the plague for a reason that extends far beyond their Midwest location. It is clearly not just a money issue, at least not anymore. They've shelled out over -scribbles numbers- $100 million on starting pitchers alone the last two years. If it's not money, it's competitiveness. It can't really be competitiveness anymore, and it clearly can't be the overall budget. So what else could it be?
It may be as simple as saying that Dayton Moore doesn't know how to quit you. And by you, I mean any number of players he has shown an extra-ordinary loyalty to, thus further impairing his ability to construct a more effective roster. In brief:
-Luke Hochevar has been tendered the last two off-seasons at a prohibitive cost to fill a bullpen need that doesn't exist.
-Jeff Francoeur was given a two-year extension because Leadership and crazy eyes trumps production sometimes.
-Bruce Chen was given two years and $9 million back in the 2011 off-season for reasons that are still unclear.
-Wade Davis will be given a shot at getting back into the rotation because Trade (and he's earning $4.8 million regardless).
Which brings us to today: Bruce Chen is back for his third tour of duty, after re-signing with the team on a one-year deal for $3.25 million plus incentives with a mutual option and a $1 million buyout. Bruce Chen is, by all accounts, a really nice guy. He's also going to be 37 next year, throws a fastball that sits around 86 miles per hour and, as far as the Kansas City Royals go, has no convenient roster position.
The Royals have three starter spots locked in (Shields/Guthrie/Vargas), and a fourth that is being semi-reserved for Danny Duffy. The fifth, in the BC (Before Chen) era, was going to be fought over by Hochevar, Davis, and Yordano Ventura who, realistically, should be given the spot. That doesn't even mention Brad Penny, who could theoretically make a run at it. Kyle Zimmer is also a lurking shark for the rotation at some point next season. They have some filler in AAA as well. So Chen is kind of pointless as a starter.
So maybe he goes to the bullpen. Sure. Which of Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Hochevar/Davis, and cheaper left-handed options Donnie Joseph, Chris Dwyer, and Francisley Bueno - all of whom are on the 40-man already, and all of whom are capable of performing at the same level as Chen - do you want to dump?
In a vacuum, Bruce Chen is a decent swingman, a 12th pitcher on a deep staff who can pitch against left-handed hitters. He also was extremely lucky last season, particularly once he became a starter again. Opposing hitters put up a .222/.274/.369 triple slash on a .236 BABIP. That's unsustainable. His career BABIP is .280.
As a reliever, he sported a 6.42 K/9 rate and a 3.42 BB/9 rate. The fact that hitters managed a .273/.342/.409 triple slash and he somehow got away with a 2.41 ERA in relief is pretty remarkable in and of itself, but those numbers are pretty much the definition of dissonance between expectation and result.
All of which ignores the larger issue of opportunity cost. No, Bruce Chen alone is not going to cost the Royals a playoff berth financially. But Bruce Chen, combined with Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, and Jason Vargas, very well may.
The Kansas City Royals will be paying those four players $20 million this season. Twenty. Million. Almost a quarter of their payroll will be spent on four players who might throw 350 innings, who could produce around 4-5 WAR, if everything breaks right, and three of which who will end up working almost exclusively out of the bullpen by season's end. That is simply too volatile and wasteful a way for a team of limited means to spend its restrictive payroll. $20 million is $8 million more than James Shields will make this season. It is roughly what Alex Gordon and Billy Butler will make combined. It is $7 million more than Matt Garza's AAV on his new contract, and is definitely more than Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez will see this off-season.
And oh, by the way, they still need a starting pitcher if they really want to compete in 2014. The Royals spent $4.25 million today to take a step back or, at best, run in place. That's pretty impressive, even for a general manager who is, by all rational accounts, not evil or stupid.