MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Constructing a winner: Royals

How Kansas City used the Draft, trades, free agency and international signings to build its playoff team

Constructing a winner: Royals

MLBPipeline.com is breaking down how each of the postseason teams was built, looking at the composition of projected Division Series rosters.

A year ago, the Kansas City Royals made the postseason for the first time since 1985, then made an improbable run from Wild Card team to Game 7 of the World Series on a combination of homegrown talent and gumption.

The Royals are back at it again this year, this time as a division champ for the first time in three decades. There's still plenty of talent promoted from within, but the front office realized reinforcements were needed. Especially for a small-market club, the Royals were active on the free-agent market and the trade market.

Beyond just filling personnel holes, the Royals were very cognizant of not messing with a good thing.

"The core of our group is homegrown guys," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "We wanted to make sure everybody we brought in, No. 1, were guys who would fit in our clubhouse in terms of character and desire to compete. All those players, we checked that box and felt good about that."

HOMEGROWN
Player, how acquired, year
Christian Colon, Draft, 2010 (1st)
Terrance Gore, Draft, 2011 (20th)
Danny Duffy, Draft, 2007 (3rd)
Jarrod Dyson, Draft, 2006 (50th)
Alex Gordon, Draft, 2005 (1st)
Kelvin Herrera, Int'l sign, 2006
Luke Hochevar, Draft, 2006 (1st)
Eric Hosmer, Draft, 2008 (1st)
Mike Moustakas, Draft, 2007 (1st)
Salvador Perez, Int'l sign, 2006
Yordano Ventura, Int'l sign, 2008

Even if the Royals needed more external help in 2015, they are still one of the more homegrown playoff teams this October. The nucleus comes from the Draft, with Kansas City cashing in on several early picks to have five former first-round picks on the roster. A quartet of homegrown hitters -- Gordon, Hosmer, Moustakas and Perez -- produced more than half of the team's home runs, over 40 percent of the RBIs and well over a third of their runs scored in 2015.

Of course, the Royals' farm system did more than just feed the lineup. Ventura and Duffy made up two-fifths of the rotation, while Herrera, Hochevar and Greg Holland (before needing elbow surgery), were key cogs in the American League's best bullpen.

"That's always going to be the formula for us," Moore said of the homegrown flavor. "The one thing about our group, there's a tremendous amount of pride, they've grown up together, they've experienced winning together in the Minor Leagues. There's a pride of winning in Kansas City together. It's a genuine emotion they have for winning together."

TRADES
Player, year, acquired from
Drew Butera, 2015, Angels
Lorenzo Cain, 2010, Brewers
Johnny Cueto, 2015, Reds
Wade Davis, 2012, Rays
Alcides Escobar, 2010, Brewers
Paulo Orlando, 2008, White Sox
Ben Zobrist, 2015, A's

Genuine emotion for winning isn't always enough. As early as Spring Training, Moore and his staff had a feeling some help would be needed along the way should the club play well enough to compete for another postseason run.

As the team began the 2015 season, it was fairly apparent to the front office that some starting pitching would be needed. The Royals made one of the first big splashes leading up to the non-waver Trade Deadline when they used some of their homegrown talent, including 2014 draftee and postseason contributor Brandon Finnegan, to get one of the best starters available on the market in Cueto.

Game Date Result
Gm 1 Oct. 8 HOU 5, KC 2
Gm 2 Oct. 9 KC 5, HOU 4
Gm 3 Oct. 11 HOU 4, KC 2
Gm 4 Oct. 12 KC 9, HOU 6
Gm 5 Oct. 14 KC 7, HOU 2

"Leaving Spring Training, we knew we'd have to make a deadline deal," Moore said. "We kept our pulse on who was going to be available. We scouted Johnny, we probably saw every start leading up to the Deadline for two months. Our players, with the way they played, motivated us to do a deal."

Moore used more of his farm system to bring in the versatile and postseason-tested Zobrist at the Deadline as well. In August, the Royals played .643 ball, extended their AL Central lead from eight to 12 games. Beyond the numbers Cueto and Zobrist put up, the front office's willingness to be buyers sent a clear signal to the clubhouse.

"The psychology of our team was very strong," Moore said. "When we made the deals to get Cueto and Zobrist, it made it even stronger, it motivated them to go on that run. We were able to build a tremendous lead and put us in position to win the division for the first time in 30 years."

FREE AGENTS
Player, year
Ryan Madson, 2015
Kris Medlen, 2014
Franklin Morales, 2015
Kendrys Morales, 2014
Alex Rios, 2014
Edinson Volquez, 2014
Chris Young, 2015

As a smaller-market club, the Royals have to be creative in how they approach the free-agent market. They can't spend carelessly, instead looking for value additions to the roster.

The best example of that has to be the signing of Morales, ostensibly to replace Billy Butler as the team's designated hitter. Morales was coming off of an injury-shortened 2014 season that saw him finish with a .612 OPS for the Mariners and Twins. Giving him a two-year, $17 million deal wasn't just taking a flyer on the slugger.

"We liked his makeup a great deal, and that was important for us," Moore said about Morales, who was one of the top RBI men in the AL this season. "Our scouts felt his approach and swing has a lot of timing to it. The fact he had missed an entire Spring Training last year, he couldn't get out of the chute and get going. They felt after a full Spring Training, he would come back and do well, and they were right."

The Royals were also very creative in looking for pitching help. Volquez was the more "normal" signing, and he's been a workhorse. But they also signed Medlen, even though they knew he wouldn't be ready to pitch until June after multiple Tommy John surgeries kept him off the mound for two years. Veteran Young signed a minimal deal in March, and bringing Madson out of retirement appears to be a brilliant stroke, especially given the loss of Holland to elbow surgery.

"There was no reason to overhaul anything," Moore said. "The formula for us winning wasn't going to change. It was going to be with defense that we felt was very dominating. We didn't want to mess with the back end of our bullpen. We wanted to make sure the pitchers we added… that they know the importance of using their defense. Volquez, Medlen and Young are at a phase in their careers that they've learned how to pitch like that.

"We can say this now, we wouldn't have said it then: We knew Hollie was experiencing some things at the end. We wanted to make sure we fortified that bullpen as well."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.