Ownership, front office persistent during long climb to top
By Richard Justice
KANSAS CITY -- Everything the Kansas City Royals have accomplished in winning back-to-back American League championships begins with a team owner who had an unshakable vision of what the franchise could be.
David Glass hired competent people and gave them the freedom and resources to do their jobs. He stayed the course through plenty of tough times because he was convinced he had the right people in place.
In this most basic of ways, the Royals are a model franchise. Perhaps the most important lesson is this one: The Royals never wavered in their belief in what they were doing. From the beginning, they knew it was not going to be a quick fix.
Discipline? Check this out. In 14 seasons between 1999 and 2012, the Royals lost 90 or more games 11 times. They reached the 100-loss mark four times, including three years in a row -- '04, '05 and '06.
By 2006, the worst was over. It wasn't clear from the outside, but it was. Glass had his baseball team, beginning with general manager Dayton Moore, in place by then. That team had a plan. Every franchise hoping to turn this kind of corner could learn from how Glass and his staff have done things.
These days, the Royals are one of baseball's great success stories, having just drawn a franchise-record 2.7 million fans to Kauffman Stadium and attracted baseball's highest local television ratings.
Their baseball operation might be the most efficient in the sport. Kansas City's payroll was the 19th-largest in baseball in 2014 when they played in their first World Series in 29 years. This season, it's 16th.
Here's how they did it:
1. The single most important decision Glass made was hiring Moore from the Braves. Moore impressed Glass in their first interview by laying out a detailed blueprint to resurrect the Royals. His first priority would be to build a great farm system. Until that happened, the Royals had virtually no chance of competing.
That would not happen quickly. However, Moore convinced Glass that once the farm system was strong, the Royals could sustain their success even if they didn't have the revenues of large-market franchises. He'd have to use every other avenue to obtain players -- trades, free-agent signings, waiver claims -- but a great farm system was the foundation on which everything else would be built.
2. Moore's first two Drafts brought a pair of cornerstone players: third baseman Mike Moustakas (2007) and first baseman Eric Hosmer ('08). Another franchise player, catcher Salvador Perez, was signed out of Venezuela in '06.
When those three players made their Major League debuts in the second half of the 2011 season, it signaled that the worst was over and exciting times were just around the corner. At least that was the plan.
So in just his first three years, Moore added six players who would contribute to both pennant-winning teams.
3. Moore made smart trades, too. As another Royals first-round pick, Zack Greinke (2002), approached free agency in '10, Moore traded him to the Brewers and got three more important players: center fielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and right-hander Jake Odorizzi.
4. Moore's second-best trade may have been after the 2012 season when he sent four players, including Odorizzi and young outfielder Wil Myers, to the Rays for right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis.
That deal came on the heels of a disappointing 2012 season. The Royals had finished strong in '11, and with Hosmer, Moustakas and Perez in the big leagues, '12 was supposed to be the season they returned to the postseason.
Instead, those young guys had some tough stretches, and the Royals still had holes. Moore wanted Shields and Davis because he badly needed pitching depth. Shields was also important because of his reputation as a great leader and someone who would be a role model for every young player in the organization.
Shields pitched 228 2/3 innings and had a 3.15 ERA in 2013, and the Royals went 86-76 to break a streak of nine straight losing seasons. He also helped an entire clubhouse learn the difference between winning and losing in terms of preparation, approach, etc.
Davis? He was penciled in to add rotation depth. Injuries forced him to the bullpen in 2014, and all he has done since is establish himself as one of, if not the best reliever in the sport. In the last two regular seasons, he has appeared in 140 games and registered a 0.97 ERA.
5. Glass stayed the course with Moore in 2012 despite plenty of calls for his firing in Kansas City. By then, the two men had a tremendous working relationship. And Moore had predicted that Kansas City's best young players would need some adjustment time. Moore and Glass were convinced they were headed in the right direction.
All of them contributed as the Royals took over sole possession of the AL Central on June 9 and eventually won it by 12 games.
At the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Moore traded for Ben Zobrist to play second base and Johnny Cueto to fill out the rotation. Zobrist has given the Royals arguably baseball's deepest lineup.
Cueto had a disappointing 4.76 ERA in 10 regular-season starts, but he pitched eight strong innings in the clinching Game 5 victory over the Astros in the AL Division Series before stumbling in the ALCS vs. the potent Blue Jays.
In looking back at his nine seasons in Kansas City, Moore shakes his head as he reflects on a body of work that has brought the Royals back to a place a lot of people thought was out of reach.
Maybe the methodical nature of the climb has made these past two seasons even more gratifying. The Royals didn't win because of free agency or the Draft or trades. They won because they used all those things. Mainly, they got to this point because Glass believed in Moore's plan and allowed him to get where he promised to go.
They celebrated together on Friday night as the Royals won their second straight ALCS. They hope there's more good times ahead when the Mets-Royals World Series begins on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8 p.m. game time) in Kansas City.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.