If you live by it, you should die by it. That's the right thing to do.
The Kansas City Royals have bottomed out their payroll, watched high-priced free agents land everywhere else and avoided any distractions in their quest to build through the draft. In the process, they've drafted well, been careful with their assets and invested heavily in prospects both foreign and domestic.
Just yesterday I asked Bryan Brickhouse, the Royals third round choice in last year's draft, why he didn't go to North Carolina as planned. He said, "I had a set number and if they offered it I knew I would go pro." That number was $1.5 million on yet another high school arm to put in the low minors. The Royals, in other words, continue to go over slot, invest in Latin America and come out richer for the process.
Thus, it makes no sense for the Royals to stop now, not when they're on the verge of something great -- or at least the perception of it. Dayton Moore might have fumbled the ball (to mix sports metaphors) on some moves at the major league level (i.e. the Mike Jacobs trade), but the Royals system has been praised by everyone from Bud Selig to Bud Weiser. And Moore realizes that he has to stick with the system put in place years ago when he first arrived in 2006.
"I realize that we won 71 games last year," Moore said recently. "There’s a lot we have to do if we want to win more games. I’m not trying to put limitations on my team. We expect to compete. We have some talented young players. But that young talent has to produce if we’re going to win. And we haven’t shown we can do that yet, over the long major-league season."
In this statement, Moore gives us two ideas of what's to come for the Royals:
1. No wild spending yet this year (or perhaps even next)
There's no need to "seize the moment" when an injury happens to a division rival (a la Victor Martinez). There's no need to panic when a prospect "flops" in a year at AA Northwest Arkansas or AAA Omaha. There's no need to rush a player to the majors to fill a void on the big league team. The Royals are going to wait and see what they have with each asset they've carefully invested in before they write him off, trade him away or move him forward.
This means that Edwin Jackson won't be making $11 million per year in Kansas City anytime soon. It also means fans might be frustrated at the lack of activity by the Royals when others make moves like sign Yu Darvish from afar or grab Roy Oswalt in the present. This is the process and the Royals are sticking to it.
2. There will be growing pains
The youngsters are going to get their chance to perform at the major league level and play all the way through. If that's the case, then that not only takes time but patience. Danny Duffy's rookie year or Mike Moustaksas' first few months are going to be repeated ad nauseum, and fans need to be prepared for that. Moore specifically mentioned a few prospects like Chris Dwyer in the same interview, showing that he's zeroed in on his own market, not the one everyone else is pouncing on.
We could have probably jumped in there on some pitchers who were traded, but we need another year to find out what we have here with guys like Chris Dwyer, Jake Odorizzi and Montgomery," Moore said. "We may be more receptive to a deal like that next year. We’ve already sacrificed so much. We have to do this thing the right way. We can’t try to speed it up at the end, even though it’s tempting."
So Royals fans will need to be patient. The farm system is exciting and some pieces are already in place. But multiple starters are still needed. Hitters have to come through in their sophomore year. The Royals are going to improve, but it might be ever so slightly. Or even when they start to succeed, they might fall back the next year. That's what it means to go through growing pains, but you know in the end that the best product will be here for years to come. The Rays are enjoying that same routine and the Royals can take heart along the way from such an example.