Kansas City Royals: Understanding who’s running my team

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 13: Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore before an MLB baseball game between the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals on September 13, 2019 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 13: Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore before an MLB baseball game between the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals on September 13, 2019 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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One of a series of articles looking at the front office structure of each major league team. Let’s take a closer look at the Kansas City Royals.

Kansas City Royals

  • Owner: John Sherman
  • Senior Vice President and General Manager: Dayton Moore

Sherman purchased the Kansas City Royals from David Glass for $1 billion last summer. He built his fortune in the energy business, and although living in Kansas City had been a minority stockholder in the Cleveland Indians prior to purchasing the Royals.

Sherman’s tenure has been sufficiently brief to make any guesses regarding his management style akin to reading tea leaves. For the present, all that can be said is that he has retained the existing front office staff, notably including Moore, who is approaching his 15th season at the team’s helm.

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That plus the fact that at the time the purchase was announced Sherman was portrayed as a Glass ally leaves the impression that there will be little boat-rocking in Kansas City, at least in the immediate future.

Any owner of a Kansas City-based team faces inherent challenges, several of which are market-driven. Kansas City is only the country’s 31st largest metropolitan statistical area – smaller actually than seven areas lacking MLB franchises – and that fact is a natural depressant on team value.

The $1.03 billion market value set on the team by Forbes ranks 28th, ahead of only the two Florida-based franchises. The pluses include a relatively positive revenue trend. The Royals generated $244 million in revenues in the most recent season for which that data is available. Although that figure ranks only 27th, it is up 57 percent from $155 million at the beginning of the decade.

Under Glass and Moore, the team committed $111.4 million to player salaries in 2019. That’s about 46 percent, a percentage that is on the conservative side by the standards of the game. That payroll is also significantly reduced from recent trends, which peaked at $185 million in 2017, two seasons after the club’s World Series win.

One of the fascinating unanswered questions is whether Sherman will be willing to allow Moore to power spending back up to some figure approaching those mid-decade levels, even if doing so cuts into team profits. During the aforementioned 2017 season, that $185 million the team spent on salary amounted to a staggering 75 percent of revenues, sending the team into deficit mode that season and in 2018 as well.

On the assumption that Moore retains a wide latitude to control operations, it’s worth looking at what he has done over the span of his tenure. A graduate of George Mason University, he came to the Kansas City Royals following a three-season stint as director of player personnel for the Atlanta Braves. He has Midwestern roots, having been born in Wichita, Ks.

Life running a small-market franchise is a constant challenge, and Moore has seen his share of them. Based on Wins Above Average*, the average impact of his personnel moves on the team’s fortunes has been an almost precisely neutral -0.02 games.

His impact obviously peaked concurrent with the 2014-15 run to the World Series, when system products Eric Hosmer, Yordano Ventura, and Mike Moustakas represented both the team’s and city’s heart and soul. Seeing a window and seizing it, Moore supplemented the core with veterans acquired by trade (Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, Wade Davis) or free agency (Greg Holland).

The accumulation of those moves sent the Royals into the red, but also brought the city’s first World Series championship since 1985.

Moore and the Royals eventually paid for those decisions in the standings as well as at the cashbox. Efforts prior to 2017 to maintain the team’s momentum — notably the acquisitions of Melky Cabrera, Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler — all flamed out in the short tem, although Soler finally blossomed in 2019.

The net impact of those and related move on the 2017 Royals was -6.6 games, significant since Kansas City missed out on post-season play by just five games.

Probably driven by the need that small-market clubs face to create revenue where they can, the Royals have been relatively rough on their fans at the turnstiles. In 2019 they averaged $57 revenue per fan, 13th most aggressive in MLB.

Royals fans will forgive anything – even legal pickpocketing – when their team wins. In 2015, despite the relatively onerous cost of attending, a team record 2.7 million fans poured into Kaufman Stadium to savor the events.

By 2019, however, with the team wallowing through a second straight 100-loss campaign, attendance had fallen to 1.48 million, a 46 percent free fall in just four years.

Only the Miami Marlin made less money from their market than did the Royals ($274 million). Only the Marlins and Rays realized less from their brand than the $82 million produced by sales and licensing of Kansas City Royals stuff.

Going forward the first question will be the working relationship between Sherman and Moore. Simply put, what are the new boss’s demands, how will they differ from those of Glass and how well will Moore adapt?

Despite his tenure, Moore is only entering his age 52 front office season, so he is nowhere near retirement age. It’s entirely plausible that he and Sherman form a strong working relationship projecting them forward as a front office unit into the indefinite future.

History, however, argues otherwise. The owners of 24 of the 30 major league teams have been in place for long enough to have tested what might be termed the “holdover premise.” Of those 24, 15 either replaced or lost their senior baseball executive within two seasons, and in two other cases the breakup occurred during the third season.

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*This calculation is obtained by determining the net impact of all player transactions on team performance for the season(s) in question. Wins Above Average is a zero-based offshoot of Wins Above Replacement; thus, the final figure suggests the degree of positive or negative movement in the standings attributable to front office moves.