From a public relations standpoint, this isn’t the best time to be a team owner at the Truman Sports Complex. Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt faces allegations of his organization tapping employees’ phones. In addition, general manager Scott Pioli is said to have used a dropped candy bar wrapper as a teaching moment about attention to detail, according to the Kansas City Star’s Kent Babb.
Then there’s David Glass, whose attention to detail got to be so great, he was rumored to have torpedoed the team’s on-field chances for several years from the time he purchased the club in 2000. David’s son, team president Dan Glass, allegedly forced then-general manager Allard Baird to trade Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez in 2001. Rumors also swirled that the Glasses nixed a deal that would have sent Joe Randa to the Chicago Cubs for prospects a year or two later.
In short, the Glass family was rumored to be far too involved in decisions that were best left to front office members who actually held some knowledge about baseball players. Ownership also developed a reputation as not being willing to spend money on talent to improve the major league club. However, that all seemed to change in 2006 when Dayton Moore was hired to replace Baird as the team’s GM. The Glasses backed off and agreed to give Moore the space he needed to make decisions for the on-field component of the Kansas City Royals, Moore said.
"I feel very comfortable with the autonomy I've been given as general manager of the Kansas City Royals to not only get the answers that we need but also the flexibility to go forward and make decisions and do what needs to be done to be successful," Moore said in May 2006.
This season will be Moore’s sixth full year, and it appears he’s been allowed what was promised to him years ago. Glass opened up the pocketbook on multiple occasions, once to sign Gil Meche to a team-record $55 million deal, and again to pick up Jose Guillen for $36 million. Neither of those signings – especially Guillen – worked exactly as planned, but Moore has had the ability to get the players who were fits for the club from personnel and financial standpoints. David and Dan Glass have mostly stuck to the shadows, provided the money when necessary, and stayed out of Moore’s way.
However, that has not been enough for some, who continue to rail on the Royals owner for being cheap and part of a problem group of owners who don’t sink enough cash into their teams’ payrolls. Joe Sheehan, a fantastic writer formerly of Baseball Prospectus who can be seen on MLB Network, became the newest member of this group on Monday when he published this piece about owners who value dollars over wins. An excerpt of Sheehan's article follows.
Glass has, since taking over the Royals in 1993, consistently been a hawk on labor issues, pressing for his Royals to get more of the money generated in other places, but rarely putting any money generated anywhere into the team. In recent years the Royals have spent a bit more in the draft and in international amateur signings than they had, but their approach to building the MLB roster remains penurious at best. Three weeks ago, Glass could have written a check that made the Royals three, maybe four wins better by signing (Edwin) Jackson, who would have immediately become the team's best starting pitcher. The Royals have an exciting young lineup and a strong bullpen, as well as young starters who may not be ready in 2012. Adding Jackson to the mix to challenge a Tigers team reeling from the loss of its DH would have cost nothing but money and made Kansas City better.
Sheehan makes some worthy points. Glass led the charge in the early 2000’s to get small market clubs a greater chunk of revenue sharing dollars and ultimately succeeded to do so. The Royals receive a significant amount of revenue sharing money every year, and yes, they usually have not had high payrolls as a result, at least when compared to other teams around Major League Baseball.
However, that has not always been the case. From 2007 to 2010 – Moore’s first four full seasons on the job – the Royals median payroll was more than $68 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That’s not the $100 million that mid- and large-market clubs spend on a yearly basis, but that’s certainly high enough to keep the team out of the MLB payroll basement. In those years, the Royals inked Meche, Guillen, Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz, traded for Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs, and retained Mark Grudzielanek. All of those players received significant salaries because the Royals and Moore believed the team could compete for a division title, especially in 2009.
Fast-forward to 2011, and the Kansas City payroll was dead last in baseball at nearly $39 million. Most of the team’s high-paid veterans were let go with an eye toward making room for the wagon train of prospects Moore assembled through the draft and international free agent signings. Before the season, Eric Hosmer was knocking on the door. Mike Moustakas was knocking even louder. Several relief pitchers were almost ready to pitch in the big leagues.
As a result, there was not much need for a high payroll. In fact, the team’s low payroll was and is a representation of Moore’s long-term plan succeeding: The drafted talent has developed and the majority of the 25-man roster will be comprised of homegrown players who benefit the club not only from their youth and enthusiasm to be Kansas City Royals, but also in their inexpensiveness.
Sheehan is absolutely correct when he writes that the Royals could have made themselves quite a bit better by backing up the truck to sign Edwin Jackson to lead their starting rotation. Jackson became an underrated pitcher this winter. When Moore said at the start of the offseason that he did not expect to pursue starting pitching help through free agency, he probably did not believe a pitcher of Jackson’s abilities would not find a suitor until early February. Jackson signed a one-year deal with the Nationals and reportedly turned down a three-year offer from Pittsburgh. But he was available, he was probably getting desperate, and a sizeable contract might have brought him to Kansas City.
However, there’s more to the story here, and it has everything to do with Moore’s autonomy. Since 2006, Moore has been able to go to ownership and get approval to sign talent, both professional and amateur. The Meche, Guillen, and Farnsworth contracts were all for significant dollars, even if they were wasted dollars to varying degrees. If Moore had gone to Glass and asked for the payroll space to sign Edwin Jackson, odds are that would have happened too.
But that didn’t happen. At no point were the Royals rumored to even be interested in signing a free agent starting pitcher aside from Bruce Chen. The decision to do that probably came from Moore and his lieutenants’ knowledge of the market and of future roster decisions, not from David Glass refusing to dole out the cash. Jackson might have had no interest in coming to Kansas City, too.
Still, from the day Moore started his restructuring of the organization, he has made one thing clear: That he has no interest in blocking young, homegrown players with expensive veterans who are placeholders. Perhaps that’s how he sees the team’s starting rotation. Mike Montgomery is close to being ready. So is Jake Odorizzi, with a big first half in the high-minors. With Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino already rotation favorites, the Royals would potentially have to hold back the prospects from taking the next steps in their development.
That being said, pitchers get hurt and the problem might sort itself out. But that factor combined with the possibility that Moore believes the team doesn’t stand a good chance of winning the division in 2012 is reason enough to not spend eight figures on a starting pitcher who figures to add three to four wins to the team’s total this season. If everything goes according to plan this year, Moore likely will be more aggressive on the free agent market after 2012.
So yes, the Royals will once again have a low payroll in 2012, probably one of the five lowest in baseball. But that doesn’t mean the Glass family is chickening out on an opportunity to sign high-priced talent. It means Dayton Moore’s plan is working, and that he has the freedom to see it through.