Dayton Moore never dreamed about working for his hometown baseball team, but the opportunity to revive a once-great franchise proved to be too much for him to turn down.
The journey was long and arduous, but Moore and the Royals climbed back to the top of the baseball world in 2015 with their World Series championship. The general manager knows how difficult it will be to get back there in 2017, not to mention the challenges that will present themselves next winter when four of his club's everyday players are set to become free agents.
MLB.com recently sat down with Moore on a back field at Surprise Stadium in Arizona to discuss what he learned from John Schuerholz, the loss of Yordano Ventura and what it meant to instill a winning culture in Kansas City.
MLB.com: You graduated from George Mason University and spent four years there as assistant baseball coach. Did you think coaching could be your future?
Dayton Moore: I wanted to coach. I wanted to be a college coach. Once my college baseball career was over, I signed with an Independent team and was released out of there. Billy Brown, the head coach at George Mason, asked me to come back and coach. He knew that was part of my plans. When he recruited me, I told him, 'When I'm done playing, I would like to coach someday and I would like for you to consider me.' He said he would, and he was true to his word.
The Braves called and asked me if I was interested in being an area scout. I said no. They called me back 48 hours later, convinced me to come down and meet with them in Atlanta. They offered me the position and I decided I was going to do it, but I was going to do it just for four years and get back into college coaching. Then one thing led to another and I enjoyed so much who I was working with -- I was learning a great deal, I had great mentors in my life like Paul Snyder, Roy Clark, Bill Lajoie, Jose Martinez, Jim Beauchamp, John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, so naturally I was learning a lot and growing a lot. I was thinking about the game in ways that I had never thought before. It just motivated me and stimulated me to want to do more in the game."
MLB.com: You ultimately were promoted to assistant GM under Schuerholz. What did you learn most from him?
Moore: John is an unbelievable competitor. He relies deeply on his people. He's a great listener. He has a way of filtering all the information and the opinions of people and putting a plan together based on that information. John was always very inclusive toward me. He welcomed me in his inner circle, and for that I'm forever grateful. All I've ever wanted to do is learn this game and grow in this game. I've never concerned myself with being exposed with what I don't know, because I just want to get better. I'm hopeful that somebody exposes me every single day of what I don't know, because that puts me in a position to grow and to learn.
MLB.com: In June 2006, you became GM for the Royals. A lot of people you sought counsel from advised you not to take the job. What appealed to you most about taking over a team that hadn't experienced success for more than 20 years?
Moore: We knew it was going to be an unbelievable challenge. I kept going back to [owner David] Glass' openness ... wanting to build a model organization. That was intriguing to me, to be able to maybe come here and have a hand in creating a culture and an environment. To breathe life back into a franchise that, as we all know, was once a model franchise. To have the opportunity to breathe life back into a fan base. I didn't realize it until we got here, but we had lost a generation of Royals fans.
How did I know that? When I would watch our fans enter the ballpark from my office, the only time the young kids would come is when we played the Yankees or the Red Sox. Their parents or grandparents would have on Royals hats or George Brett, Willie Wilson or Frank White jerseys, and their kids would have Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. I knew they weren't coming from Boston or New York; they were Kansas City kids. That was hurtful to me. That was extremely bothersome. It became a great source of motivation to put players on this field and in our community that would connect with our fans and ultimately guide our success and grow the game in Kansas City.
MLB.com: "Trust the process" has become a cliché in sports, but in your position, is it important to do just that?
Moore: It is. We try to just have a laser-type focus, just trying to get better each day. I would say, "Guys, let's just try to get better each and every day." If we maintain that approach and trust that process, someday we might wake up and be good.
MLB.com: You traded Zack Greinke to Milwaukee as part of a six-player deal that brought back Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar in the trade. Was it tough dealing a homegrown ace, or did you see it as a good opportunity to acquire multiple players that you could use as a part of the Royals' future?
Moore: You battle on two fronts. You realize how important Zack is to our fans, our community, our fan base and the fact that people love to watch him compete every fifth day. But we also knew that the best thing for the Kansas City Royals was to trade Greinke and perhaps multiply with what we got in return.
We knew that we had an outstanding young catcher emerging [in Salvador Perez]; we knew we had a third baseman and a first baseman in Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. We had Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, two young hitters that were now experiencing a point in time in their careers where we felt they would start being consistent, producing players. But we didn't have a shortstop and we really didn't have a center fielder prospect, so we tried to execute deals that would get us back maybe a center fielder, maybe a shortstop. We were fortunate to execute that to get both.
MLB.com: Kansas City may be best known for its BBQ, so I have to ask: What's your BBQ joint of choice?
Moore: I like 'em all. I know that's probably what you're supposed to say. I'm not a picky eater. I never have been. I like them all; you can't go wrong. Joe's is right near our house, Gates is right near our house, Jack Stack is near our house, so we just go with what's convenient. Whoever's got the shortest line.
MLB.com: From 1994-2012, the Royals had one season with more than 80 wins. You went 81-81 last year and it was considered a huge disappointment. How encouraging is it that winning is now expected from this organization and its fan base?
Moore: That's where we wanted to ultimately be. We knew that we had to change the environment, reengage our fans and make it a place where players hopefully wanted to play and stay. People talk about prospects a lot; the most important thing to me with your prospects in the Minor Leagues is emphasizing the importance of winning and playing together as a team. To cast aside self for the good of the group.
That's a challenge, because ultimately we're rewarding players in the Minor Leagues based on individual performance. There's somewhat of a conflict there, but to me, you've got to continue to train your players to cast aside self and do everything for the good of the team and the organization. That's why it's so important that the leaders you have in place -- your coaches, your managers, your front office, your instructors -- are able to do that themselves so it's displayed in the right manner to the players where hopefully they will follow. Culture and environment is everything to me.
MLB.com: When the Royals lost Game 7 to the Giants in 2014, did you feel confident that you guys would get another chance?
Moore: No. You know how hard it is to get back to that moment. That's why it's so disappointing. Did I know that we would play winning baseball? Absolutely, because I trust in [manager] Ned [Yost] and our coaching staff, our players and our fans to support our product on the field. But you never know if you're going to get back there; it's just too challenging. All those years in Atlanta, we won one World Series. It's very hard. A lot has to go your way once the playoffs begin. You need a break or two.
MLB.com: The Royals' payroll last year of $135 million was the highest in franchise history. After the season, you suggested it might be scaled back a little bit. As you've developed some really good players who are now in arbitration years and approaching free agency, do the realities of being a small-market team start to really set in?
Moore: We've never made an excuse for our market; it's more about the player than the money. We feel strongly about the type of players that we have here. They're winners, they care about being a great teammate and they connect with the fans. We also know we won't be able to keep them all, but we've had success with signing a lot of our young, homegrown players to long-term contracts.
We signed Joakim Soria to a long-term contract before he made All-Star teams, we signed Greinke to a long-term contract before he was a Cy Young Award winner. We signed Gordo before he was an All-Star, we signed Butler to a long-term contract before he was an All-Star. Escobar, Perez, they were all given long-term contracts before they made All-Star Games and won Gold Glove Awards.
The natural question for you is, "Hosmer has won Gold Gloves and championships and [Most Valuable Player Awards], Moose has been to All-Star Games and Cain has been to All-Star Games and they're not signed long-term." Well, it's going to be a challenge for us, but we'll do the best we can to continue to do what we've always done. That is draft to the best of our ability, develop to the best of our ability, continue to be aggressive internationally and put players on this field each and every night that want to win for each other and our fans.
MLB.com: How difficult was it to trade Wade Davis this offseason, given how good he'd been for you during this run?
Moore: Very challenging. We could not have won without his presence and his dominance in the back end of our bullpen, so it was very challenging to make that deal. As it was with Jarrod Dyson; he had been here from the very beginning. Him and I had been here together; we both came around the same time. To watch him grow and mature on the field and off the field was extremely rewarding -- a great example of perseverance. We couldn't have won without him, either. It was challenging to trade both those guys.
Historically, especially since we began this run, you get a group of players together, homegrown players; we've traded very few Major League players. We've traded players in our Minor League system, but we've traded very few Major League players. This winter, we traded some. It was challenging, emotionally.
MLB.com: What will you remember most about Yordano Ventura?
Moore: There are a lot of things that we'll remember about Yordano. He had an infectious smile, he cared deeply about his teammates, he loved to compete, he overcame a lot -- extreme poverty and neglect, at times -- to reach the highest level. Obviously you have to have ability to do that, but you have to have an unbelievable desire to compete. He had all of that. We'll miss him. We spent a lot of time with Yordano and we got to know him very well because of some of the maintenance that was required to help him develop as a player and as a man. We all took our turns at pouring into his life and trying to help raise him. We embraced that. We enjoyed that.
MLB.com: On a personal level, I'm sure it's going to take quite some time for you and everybody in the organization to cope with it and deal with it and get past it -- if you ever do. Purely a baseball standpoint, how difficult is it to deal with that type of sudden loss?
Moore: You can't replace that. You certainly can't. We had him under a long-term contract. We had those costs fixed with our financial projections for the future. Obviously the talent is exceptional and we felt that he was just scratching the surface and continuing to get better. This past offseason, he was extremely dedicated. He was at our academy on a consistent basis working with Victor Baez, he was in great shape and his commitment level was the best it had been in several years. He was a week away from coming to Arizona early to begin training, which he always did. We were really excited about his future and we felt he had a chance to be a Cy Young Award winner someday.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.