Gammons: No quick fix to rebuild
Rays, Rockies top small-market clubs to sustain turnaround
General manager Dayton Moore was reluctant to dismiss manager Trey Hillman because he knew the Royals weren't 12-23 because of Hillman. The problems of one of the game's smallest markets is far more complex than a bullpen or lineup decision, a wronged trade here, a Yuniesky Betancourt there, a misplaced revenue-sharing check over there.
When Moore took over the Royals in May 2006, he knew the climb would be steep. He understood that his predecessor, Allard Baird, was never allowed the kind of amateur budget that small-market teams need to have to survive. Moore got those guarantees, and he told the Glass Family that "it takes three or four years to develop a young player for the Major Leagues, and two to four years in the Majors for a most big league players to be productive."
The Royals are a terrific franchise in a small market; I've gone on their winter caravan, and less than an hour out, they stop in towns smaller than a bleacher crowd. Right after the Messersmith-McNally Decision, the Royals were one of the great American League powers, averaging 95 wins from 1976-78 under Whitey Herzog, getting to the 1980 World Series, then -- as they began their decline -- stealing away the 1985 World Series from Herzog and the cross-Missouri rival Cardinals.
As late as 1993, the Royals were still an 84-78 team. Since then, they have had one winning season, in 2003, and that 83-79 aberration may have actually set the franchise back, because it deluded ownership into believing the view in the mirror made them appear closer than they really were.
Moore is trying to build. With the Glass money, he spent close to $30 million in his first three full seasons, 2007-09. The Royals shelled out the $6 million in 2008 to sign power hitter Eric Hosmer, and they ignored slot and signed catcher Wil Myers and left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery, the top pieces of a suddenly loaded farm system. But Moore knew when he fired Hillman and replaced him with Ned Yost that he is still three years from having the Royals in the position he feels they need to be.
"If a small-market team is going to be successful, you need most of your roster to be homegrown," said Moore. "Free agency to fill key positions is not an option for most small-market teams. I look at Minnesota and Colorado as models. It takes six to eight years of good scouting and development to be where you need to be to be competitive over any period of time. In doing that, one has to build a culture that is a good place for scouts and developmental people, a place where they want to work."
Which is precisely what the Twins and Rockies have done, enduring a lot of pain in the process. From 1993-2000, the Twins were 177 games below .500. Terry Ryan and Bill Smith never swerved to grasp at short-term solutions to broader problems; Ryan, Mike Radcliffe and the entire organization remained loyal to their scouts and development people.
Not only were the Twins 137 games over .500 from 2001 through Saturday's loss to the Yankees, but their scouting staff has resisted attempts by bigger-market teams to raid them.
"It's practically impossible to get one of their scouts to leave," said a big-market general manager. "It's never about money -- it's about the respect that Ryan and Radcliffe imparted, even when they were near the bottom of the standings."
The Rockies went through a similar process. In 2000, they felt they were close to winning, spent hundreds of millions on Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle and promptly went 73-89 in 2001 and '02. Instead of firing GM Dan O'Dowd, ownership -- and here the steady hand of the late Keli McGregor deserves much credit -- stuck with O'Dowd and scouting director Bill Schmidt. Colorado lost 89, 89, 88, 94, 95 and 86 games from 2001-06 but never lost focus, making the World Series in 2007 before reaching the playoffs against in 2009 and, despite a rash of injuries, setting themselves up for a chance at the high life again in 2010.
In Kansas City, it has been frustrating for Zack Greinke to have enough leads blown to stand at 1-4 with a 2.73 ERA. It's frustrating for Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies to have ERAs over 5.00. While Billy Butler has established himself as a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat, it's frustrating waiting on Alex Gordon; perhaps he can find it playing right field. Maybe the Royals can get two prospects for Jose Guillen, especially considering the average American League team is getting a .140 average and .700 OPS out of its designated hitters.
Mike Moustakas is hitting .358 at Double-A. Montgomery moved up to Double-A and has a 1.54 ERA there. Aaron Crow has yet to get untracked there, and lefty Chris Dwyer will soon move there as well. Down below, Hosmer has a 1.029 OPS at Wilmington, Myers has shown great promise in the Midwest League and lefty John Lamb has 40 strikeouts in 33 innings.
By 2012, most of them should be here, Gordon may have found himself in the outfield, Hochever will have returned to the stuff that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 Draft. By 2013 and '14, they could be ready to produce and challenge in the AL Central.
When you're in Kansas City or Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Cleveland or Oakland, the window isn't open for long; look at the Indians, one game away from the World Series in 2007. Help isn't likely to come in collective bargaining. The next agreement is not between players and owners, but between small-market owners and big-market owners, and reality is that the big markets that complain most about sharing revenues -- the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets and Phillies -- are the straws that stir the national media drink. The Rays may be the best team in the game, but how many times will you see them on Sunday Night Baseball?
Dayton Moore understands that the foundation has to be modeled on the Terry Ryan Twins and the Dan O'Dowd Rockies. Neal Huntington in Pittsburgh understands it as well. The problem is convincing ownership, fans and local media that if you play for the quick fix and set .500 as your goal, you may be stuck inside that Forever .500 mobile, with the Memphis Blues Again.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.