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It Takes Time

Vlad compares Neal Huntington to Royals GM Dayton Moore:

Just one point of comparison: The Royals hired Dayton Moore as their new GM on March 31 [actually May 31 - ed.], 2006. Know how many guys who were on KC's 40-man roster when he took over are still there? By my count, twelve. That's 70% turnover in a year and a half.

A quick comparison to the Royals shows just how far the Pirates have to go, even if Huntington turns out to be the GM of our dreams (and that's hardly a safe assumption at this point).

We Pirates fans are used to watching bad baseball, but actually, no Dave Littlefield team had as many bad baseball players occupying key roles as the 2005 Royals did. They had Angel Berroa, Ruben Gotay and Terrence Long stinking it up in their starting lineup (and Berroa was still in it throughout most of 2006, putting up a 52 OPS+ and playing terrible defense to boot). And their pitching was an abomination - they had Jose Lima, Runeylvs Hernandez, an unripe J.P. Howell, and a troubled Zack Greinke in their rotation, along with a amazingly bad bullpen that ranked dead last in the majors.

No doubt the current Pirates have a bunch of problems, but for the most part, they aren't nearly as glaring. No one in their current lineup stands out as being spectacularly bad; there certainly aren't any Angel Berroas. There are holes in the rotation and the bullpen, but compared to the pitching staff of the '05 Royals, the Bucs look downright competent.

Moore turned over a big chunk of the Royals' roster very quickly, it's true, but a lot of that was just cleaning up the mess his predecessor Allard Baird left at the big-league level. For example, here are a few of the transactions Moore made to turn over the 40-man roster early in his tenure:

June 9, 2006 - Selected Todd Wellemeyer off waivers.

June 11, 2006 - Purchased Brandon Duckworth from the Pirates; designated Kyle Snyder for assignment.

July 19, 2006 - Traded Gotay to the Mets for Jeff Keppinger.

July 25, 2006 - Traded Tony Graffanino to the Brewers for Jorge de la Rosa.

November 2, 2006: Granted free agency to Mark Redman.

December 7, 2006 - Released Runelvys Hernandez.

My point here is that a lot of the turnover in the Royals' roster had to do with the fact that Baird had left a huge, stinking mess on the floor, and Moore had to clean it up. The mess had been there for a very long time, and so now the Royals are in the unfortunate process of replacing the floor. But early in Moore's tenure, he was just begging neighbors for wet paper towels - replacing guys who had no prayer of ever smelling good with guys like Wellemeyer who had some chance of soaking up some of the scent.

What do Gil Meche and
the Royals have to teach
us about the Pirates?

Photo: Old Shoe Woman.
Dave Littlefield also left a stinking mess, but the stench isn't really on the big-league roster (where there's an appalling lack of depth, but at least one player at each position with some redeeming qualities). Instead, it's in the farm system and in the Bucs' approach to acquiring amateur talent. Cleaning those up have to be Huntington's top priorities. And he's got to fix the major league roster, too, but the problems there aren't calling out for obvious fixes the way the Royals' problems were. So, while I'm disappointed that Huntington hasn't been more active in improving the big-league roster this winter, a direct comparison to Moore's Royals doesn't seem entirely fair.

Besides, a look at the Royals' current roster says a lot about the way Moore approached those first few months. It's at least partly to Moore's credit that the Royals won 62 games in 2006 and 69 in 2007 after winning just 56 in 2005. (I say "partly" because some of the changes that resulted in improvement in 2006, such as the acquisitions of Mark Grudzielanek and Esteban German, took place after the 2005 season but before Moore arrived.) That's a nice accomplishment, especially given the very high quality of play in the American League in the past couple years. But that improvement mostly occurred because Moore cleaned the crap off the floor. It's still unclear what kind of tile he's going to put down to rebuild the floor, or what sort of furniture he's going to put on top of that.

The 2007 Royals were better than the 2005 Royals mostly because Moore fixed the more obvious problems with their pitching staff. Their rotation's still patchy, but Moore got very nice work last year from Gil Meche and Brian Bannister. And their bullpen was downright good, with solid contributions from Joakim Soria, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, David Riske and Leo Nunez (yes, him - he'd look great in the Pirates' bullpen right now).

But so what? It's questionable whether Bannister can maintain his 2007 pace. Peralta's in his 30s. Meche had a terrific season, but he's going to continue to cost the Royals a bunch of money. And Riske has already left via free agency. Nunez and Gobble look like decent relievers, and Moore deserves a heap of credit for acquiring Soria for free, but that's it.

So where are the Royals? They have two excellent young hitters in Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, both of whom were acquired before Moore arrived. They've still got Greinke, although it looks like he'll never reach the superstar potential he seemed to have a few years ago. After that, things are dicey, and Moore hasn't gotten a ton back in the trades he's made with the future of the organization in mind (although, to be fair, he hasn't given up a whole lot, either):

June 20, 2006: Traded Howell to the Rays for Joey Gathright and Fernando Cortez.

July 24, 2006: Traded Mike MacDougal to the White Sox for Daniel Cortes and Tyler Lumsden.

July 25, 2006: Traded Elmer Dessens to the Dodgers for Odalis Perez, Blake Johnson and Julio Pimentel.

July 31, 2006: Traded Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista to the Rockies for Ryan Shealy and Scott Dohmann.

December 6, 2006: Traded Ambiorix Burgos to the Mets for Brian Bannister.

March 23, 2007: Traded Erik Cordier to the Braves for Tony Pena.

July 31, 2007: Traded Octavio Dotel to the Braves for Kyle Davies.

What have the Royals really gotten here? Gathright's a fun player but he has absolutely no power, so the .307/.371/.342 season he put up this year may well turn out to be his peak. Shealy looks like a bust. Bannister had a very successful season for the Royals in 2007, but his strikeout rate was very low and he's not an extreme groundball pitcher, so it's questionable whether he can keep it up. (Giving up an interesting young reliever in Burgos for a rotation option was still a good trade, however.) Pena's defense undoubtedly helped the Royals' pitchers a bunch last year, but he can't hit at all. Lumsden, Johnson and Pimentel are all very fringy minor league pitchers. (Some might argue that Pimentel is a prospect, but I won't until I see a better strikeout rate from him.) Cortez isn't a prospect, and Dohmann is already out of the organization.

That leaves Daniel Cortes, who's a real, in-the-flesh pitching prospect, and Kyle Davies, who could turn out to be a good back-of-the-rotation starter.

The Royals still haven't developed much of a core to complement Gordon and Butler. The only players Moore has added through trades, free agency, and free talent acquisitions who are decent bets to help them after this year are Soria, Meche, Cortes, Davies, Bannister, Jose Guillen and maybe Alberto Callaspo. (And I guess Pena, although he doesn't seem like any sort of long-term answer at shortstop.) That's not chopped liver, but it's not overwhelming, either, and those Meche and Guillen contracts could become unpalatable after a year or two in the fridge. Their farm system still isn't that impressive, and it hinges heavily on their last two first-rounders, 2006 top overall pick Luke Hochevar and 2007 second overall pick Mike Moustakas. It'll be several years before Moustakas makes an impact even if he meets expectations while in the minors. And Hochevar is already 24 and was only decent in Classes AA and AAA last year.

It's way too early to judge the Royals' 2006 and 2007 drafts, of course, and Moore wasn't even in charge of Kansas City's 2006 draft, because of potential conflicts of interest regarding his previous job helping draft players for the Braves. Still, their 2006 draft doesn't look like anything to write home about.

Nearly two years after Moore was hired, the Royals have a long way to go, and many of the good things Moore did soon after he arrived were done mostly with the goal of getting the major league roster to where the Pirates' is now, if you can believe that. Cleaning up a mess like the one Baird made is actually not that hard to do, and the example of Moore's tenure in Kansas City shows that really constructing something in the space you've cleared is a much more complex and time-consuming process. He could still turn out to be a very good general manager, but he's still got a big hole to carry the Royals out of. In other words, Huntington's work is going to take a long time to do, and we've got a long road ahead of us.

Two Bad Teams: Royals and Pirates (from February 2006)