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What’s next for Royals after the end of the Dayton Moore era? Where Kansas City stands after firing its CEO

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The Kansas City Royals fired president of baseball operations Dayton Moore on Wednesday, ending his 16-year tenure with the organization. The Royals peaked under Moore when they posted four straight seasons of .500 or better from 2013-16, a period that saw them win consecutive American League pennants and the 2015 World Series. Moore had since failed to see the Royals through another lengthy rebuild, and his departure coincides with the Royals (currently 60-89) threatening a 95-loss season.

“Dayton has revived this franchise”, owner John Sherman said:. “It wasn’t in a good place. He rebuilt the farming system, player development, international business. He rebuilt the team in a way that culminated in back-to-back American League pennants and a World Series championship in 2015 .”

For now, in any case, Moore will be succeeded as the top manager of baseball operations for the Royals by another Kansas City mainstay, in JJ Picollo. Rival front offices at CBS Sports have already speculated that Sherman and the Royals could hire an executive from outside the organization in the coming months to give the operation a fresh look. Should that suspicion become reality, Sherman would ask someone from the Cleveland Guardians counter. (Sherman was a minority shareholder of the Guardians before buying the Royals.)

Whether the Royals ultimately rely on the wits and wisdom of Picollo or someone else to guide them back to battle, it’s a pertinent moment to take a look at exactly what the organization has to offer. Below, CBS Sports has broken down Kansas City’s major league roster, farming system, and budget, answering three key questions about the track and its future situation.

Prospects in the big league

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

The good news is that the Royals have promoted most of their best prospects to The Show this season, giving them a younger, fresher lineup. Short stop Bobby Witt Jr. and catcher/outfielder MJ Melendez ranked first and second on Kansas City’s list in plate appearances, and the graybeard of the two (Melendez) turns 24 in November. Four of the top 10 plate appearance recipients of the Royals are aged 25 or under. That number improves to six if you stretch it to the top-15.

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Also this year, those six young people have largely held their own. Witt, Melendez and infielder Michael Massey each have an OPS+ just north of 100. First baseman/designated hitter Vinnie Pasquantino, meanwhile, he’s worked his way up to a 123 OPS+ while showing off both power and contact chops. Outfielder Kyle Isbel and first baseman Nick Pratto are the only two of the bunch who have struggled outright.

The bad news is that this lineup hasn’t been able to overcome a horrendous rotation. To bless Brady Singer for reinventing himself after an early season relegation as he was the only positive side of this bunch outside Zack Greinke’s reunion tour. Indeed, the Royals have given seven pitchers at least five starts this season, and Singer and Greinke are the only two pitchers with an ERA+ over 95…or 90…or 87…or 85…or any number up to 81. (Jonathan Heasley came in on Wednesday with an 80 ERA+.)

Here’s a not-so-fun fact that helps explain why the Royals are where they are in this regard: They’ve drafted 10 pitchers in the first round since 2014; only one of those 10, Singer, are both still with the organization and on a positive path. Figuring out whether it’s the scouting department or development staff to blame is someone else’s problem; all we can say is that is a lot of wasted time and design capital.

If you’re Picollo (or Mystery Executive X), you probably want to focus on the positives. That means highlighting how Witt, Melendez, and Pasquantino feel like potential cornerstones; how Salvador Perez has overcome a rough May; and how Singer demonstrated that the Royals are incapable of developing an arm. If they could only repeat that process four more times, they might have something here.

Farming System Outlook

As mentioned above, the Royals have graduated most of their best youngsters to the majors this season. All that upstream movement has left the Royals with an understandably thinned farm system.

Outfielder Gavin Cross, the ninth pick in the July draft, is the top name worth knowing here. He plans to become an above average batter after improving his strikeout, running and power numbers at Virginia Tech last spring. He did better in midfield for the Hokies than most scouts expected, and the Royals have continued to play him there until now. Cross doesn’t have a lot of flash in his game, but he was a defensible top-10 roster and should grow into an outfielder of starting caliber.

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The Royals have failed with other recent top picks. Lefty pitchers Asa Lacy (No. 4 in 2020) and Frank Mozzicato (No. 7 in 2021) have not progressed as desired. Lacy suffered back problems that limited him to 28 innings this season. He walked more than he struckout (42 vs. 35) while on the mound, suggesting that he is still a long way from utilizing his arsenal. Mozzicato, who enjoyed helium as much as anyone in 2021 as a projectable young southpaw, also struggled with his command in 19 starts. He averaged nearly seven walks per nine innings.

Elsewhere, the Royals saw it right Alec Marsh (an offsetting pick in 2019) posts a 7.32 ERA in over 110 Double-A innings, and a utility player Nick Loftin (a compensating pick in 2020) saw his strikeout percentage nearly double after being promoted to Triple-A. That’s not, as the kids say, what you want.

The Royals added several prospects in midseason trades, including outfielder Drew Waters and pitchers Andrew Hoffman, TJ Sikkemaand Beck Way. Waters used to be a well regarded prospect, but he has lost his luster in recent years due to strikeout issues. We could go on, but you probably get the point now.

Budget Outlook

This shouldn’t come as a surprise given their reputation as a small-market franchise, but the Royals have one of the lowest payrolls in the majors. They rank 23rd in spending, according to Spotracmaking them just before the Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlinsand Guardians, among other hyper budget-conscious clubs.

Unsurprisingly, the Royals don’t have many long-term financial commitments. The biggest of the bunch belongs to Salvador Perez, who is credited with more than $20 million annually in the 2025 campaign. Hunter Dozier and Michael A. Taylor are the only other Royals with guaranteed contracts, and together they will make about $12 million by 2023.

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The Royals have a ton of players eligible for arbitration whose prices will dictate the shape of their final payroll. At the same time, it should not surprise anyone if Picollo (or the new CEO) frees up extra money through the ties with, among others, Adalberto Mondesic, Luke Weaver, Amir Garrettand maybe even Brad Keller.

Even if the Royals just match this year’s Opening Day salary figure ($94 million), they should have plenty of room to make moderate additions if they wanted to.

Three big questions

1. Will there be a major overhaul?
It’s reasonable to wonder if further changes lie ahead when a franchise fires someone of Moore’s stature and service time. Even if Sherman stays with Picollo as his top baseball manager, that doesn’t mean he agrees to keep the entire front office or coaching staff in place. This seems like an obvious starting point for manager Mike Matheny. The Royals took advantage of his club option for next season in March but there is no point in bringing him back to serve in a slack capacity.

2. Can the development of the pitching still be saved?
The answer to this question is unknowable from the outside. However, the inability of the Royals to turn those high round pitchers into meaningful contributors in the big league is concerning and needs to be addressed. On a related note….

3. How Much Will Sherman Spend?
Generally, this question is asked regarding payroll in the major class. That is undoubtedly part of it, but there are other aspects within an organization that are worth outsourcing. Take the development problems of the Royals. If those from Kansas City are lagging behind in technology and analytical ability, then it would behoove Sherman to fund at all costs to help them get closer to the hemorrhage. He should know from his time with the Guardians that this stuff often pays for itself.

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