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Dayton Moore and the division of baseball theories

If the Royals think they've built a core poised for a breakout, why didn't they employ the same type of extension strategy as the Atlanta Braves this winter?

Ed Zurga

The discrepancy between sabermetrically inclined and old school front offices has been well documented, and with an essentially complete off-season that has featured significant economic changes resulting from the advancement of new-age evaluation, its only a matter of time until every club completely purges old school habits of the non-analytical sort.

Like the Mariners for instance, who showed zero reluctance in distributing a $240 million deal to a 31-year old Robinson Cano, or the Diamondbacks, who believe Bronson Arroyo is deserving of $12 million a year and that Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed contain more value than Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Davidson. It's a case of a contrived utilization of theories that give an upper hand to players that have produced, and for many years, instead of younger, less-experienced talent whose best years are forthcoming.

These newly constituted economic methods aren't exactly news to the world, but hadn't exactly been universally implemented until a swath of young, analytic types started flooding major league front offices back in, let's say, the last five or ten years. Until then, these were only unsupported concepts with little proof of benchmark success, but have since become exercised immensely by a number of teams, as most recently with the Braves.

After bringing former Indians general manager and MLB Network analyst, John Hart, into the fold, he and Frank Wren worked to extend four of Atlanta's core talent. And they were successful, too, as Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Julio Teheran will don red and navy for the next million years. But Atlanta isn't the only club to rely on what is the ability to formulate wins in both the present and future by buying out arbitration years ahead of time, and long-distant free agent years of players far from peaking.

This is different from the Moneyball theory. This is about using value as leverage with the intention of replacing it either during or following a player's decline. That way, investing in less-established, higher ceiling guys by buying their ages 25-29 years rather than free agents that would generally sell their 32-35 years, gives a club more flexibility in generating value. And, specifically, the Braves existentially inserted themselves into contention for at least the next five seasons, not only by guaranteeing four solid players roster spots for that span, but because they can spend a little extra money on wins since the expenditure of the aforementioned quad permits four less than expected arbitration raises by year, and Freedie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons might very well turn their would-be free agent years into 3-4 win campaigns. If not, they'll still be considered a bargain, as I can only imagine the value of 2 win players in 2018. Because of Atlanta's clearly blatant, newly implemented strategic planning, I was surprised that so few teams put as much of an emphasis on seasonal wins (using fWAR, of course) than others.

I was particularly surprised with the way the Royals handled the off-season. Not because the signings of Jason Vargas and Omar Infante were bad, which they weren't entirely, or because Norichika Aoki projects to be just slightly better than replacement. I was mostly shocked because the "one-year window to win" seemed to have caused Kansas City to stand pat on, when really the club's best years might come shortly after 2014.

Because the Royals made it clear that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are their guys, their future, and arguably their versions of Freedie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons, I was stunned that neither became topic of extension talk the way Atlanta's young players did.

To be exact, I'm more shocked that Kansas City hasn't began exploring options of a new third-baseman, considering Moustakas can't really hit at all, and that there isn't at least some concern of Hosmer's glove at first. Kansas City's devotion to their young players, their first round picks from 2007 and 2008, displays optimism of improvement for both Moustakas and Hosmer from a front office that, sadly enough, hasn't reeled in too prominent of a young core over the years, especially one that they were able to perennially keep in Kansas City.

So assuming that there is life in Hosmer's glove and Moustakas' bat, its somewhat bewildering that there was hardly any news of discussion of a long term deal. On the other end, a team hungry to win with an "ace" in his contract year wouldn't employ a questionable third-baseman or no-glove first-baseman who, on most teams, would otherwise be slotted in an corner outfield spot.

There is reason to believe that Royals officials sense a breakout year for the latter, and if Hosmer does indeed improve his numbers, he'll be in line for a more substantial payday than the deal he could have inked this past winter. It seems as if the past eight Dayton Moore off-seasons have all been the exact same thing, like an extreme, back-and-forth pinball machine that teases the chance of silverball domination. That's a whole different conversation, though.

We don't know for sure if the Royals put an emphasis on advanced statistics and analysis to determine player value, but we know the Braves do, and if Dayton Moore's transaction history tells us anything, its that he likes the idea of hits and homers to propel a ball club, rather than run values and defensive ratings. In other words, that's a ball club whose front office's surmise is evident, and rather old-school.

The Braves, Royals, Astros Cardinals, Athletics, Marlins, and Rays (not to exclude any other analytic-savvy teams), because of solid drafting and even stronger player development personnel, have to deal with managing numerous stockpiling salaries that coincide with markets that aren't anywhere near baseball's largest. I didn't want to pick on the Royals just to be mean, but there's hardly a club in baseball that have the same amount of arbitration raises bearing in and an entire season to play before talks begin, assuming Gregg Holland, Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy, Lorenzo Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas focus less on extension talks until the season's end.

Because of baseball's rapidly altering market and the intense influx of sabermetrically inclined writers and analysts on the internet and around baseball, it'll only take another year or so until all major league front offices implement some sort of fixed economic approach, and that's really probably optimistic. It's clear that long term deals given to older players spawn hardly any production past the first two or three years, and distributing low-risk 30-year olds a one-year contract is the way to go in free agency, and the newfound task of organizations include a combination of obtaining players with value and contract flexibility that ideally limit the chances of losing value.


Dave Gershman is a contributor to Beyond The Box Score. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Gershman.