Royals camp report: Time is right for players to prove GM was right

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The farther you get from the Royals, the easier it is to think Dayton Moore was wrong.

The price was too high. The timing wasn't right. You hear it all about the Royals' huge winter trade with the Rays.

You hear it plenty of places. You don't hear it here.

You don't hear it from the scouts who are watching the Royals this spring, the ones who are starting to believe not just that the Royals are ready to compete, but that they could be ready to be this year's version of the A's.

"Much, much, much improved," one scout said.

"Why is everyone complaining about the trade?" another asked. "I don't get it."

Not everyone is complaining about the trade, the one that cost the Royals big-time prospect Wil Myers but gained them James Shields, Wade Davis and maybe a chance to redefine their franchise. In fact, in one very important precinct, you won't find anyone who is complaining about it.

"We lost some prospects," Alex Gordon said, sitting in a Royals clubhouse where the general manager (Moore) and his trade enjoy universal approval. "But it seemed like we had been building prospects forever. You can't make everyone happy, but I can tell you, in this clubhouse it made us happy."

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It's a clubhouse that has been transformed, even though there really weren't that many changes. It's a clubhouse where the Royals, who lost 90 games last year and have had just one winning season (and no playoff appearances) in the last 19 years, are speaking words that have rarely been spoken around here.

"I want to win championships," closer Greg Holland said. "Win a World Series. I'm sure a lot of people want to just see us get to the playoffs. Sure, that would be a big step, but we want to win a World Series.

"I think it's silly to say we just want to be competitive. You get paid to win. We 'competed' last year. Being competitive is not the mindset. It's about winning."

And that's exactly what Dayton Moore had in mind.

He believed the Royals had reached the point where the time was right for a bold move. He believed that the organization had enough prospects to sacrifice some, even some of the best ones. He believed that the people he had in place will continue to find other big prospects to replace them.

More than that, he believed in 2013, which is why when the Royals set out to find pitching, they were determined to get it without hurting their current big-league roster. Trading Billy Butler would have brought back pitching, but Moore and his staff decided they would rather trade Myers (higher ceiling, but still unproven) than Butler (established big-league, middle-of-the-order hitter).

It was a show of faith in this group. It was a show of faith in 2013. It was hugely appreciated in the Royals clubhouse, where the players know that they're the ones responsible for proving Dayton Moore right.

"I want to win now," Butler said. "Dayton's a great GM. I want to do everything to see him succeed."

Whether or not Moore and his plan succeed depends on whether Shields pitches like the No. 1 starter the Royals firmly believe he is. They're so sure he will that after Shields' one-inning spring debut last week against the Padres, some Royals people were saying, "He had the look of a No. 1."

It was one inning, one spring training inning. But remember, these people are anxious to see this plan work.

Whether the plan succeeds depends on whether Davis proves to be a capable major-league starting pitcher. The Royals are convinced he will.

But the other part of the plan has nothing to do with the guys who arrived from the Rays in the big trade. The other part of the plan has to do with the guys who were already here.

Because if Gordon and Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain aren't what the Royals think they are, then it doesn't really matter how much Shields and Davis and Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie help the rotation.

The thing is, it's those young position players who have the rival scouts in Surprise starting to believe in the Royals.

"They're going to be improved because the kids are better," one scout said. "You can see it -- in their at-bats, in the way they do things. They have a bunch of hungry kids.

"Hosmer looks better. Moustakas is going to be a star."

If the scouts are right, then Moore was right. If the scouts are right, then this really was the time for the Royals to make their big move.

Farther away from Surprise, others are skeptical. They say that the Tigers are going to dominate this division, anyway. They wonder if the Royals were ready to win.

"Every question I could be asked, I've asked multiple times in different ways myself, to a variety of people inside and outside the organization," Moore said. "It's very difficult to trade young players. But I have not second-guessed anything about that deal."

Moore understands that turning an organization from loser to winner takes more than simply upping the talent level. Shields was attractive as much for who he is as for what he can accomplish on the mound. Adding someone like Shields was important for more than just the 200-plus quality innings he can be expected to pitch.

And Moore realized that it's crucial for the Royals to start winning soon, before young players like Hosmer and Moustakas and Gordon go through year after year of losing.

"There's a sense of urgency for us to right the course and create the culture," he said. "If we don't start winning games, we can't expect Hosmer, Moustakas and other guys to become All-Star players."

So yes, the time was now. For Moore, the time had to be now.

"I'm 100 percent convinced of it," he said. 'And I can't be talked out of it."

There's one very important place where no one will ever attempt to talk him out of it. There's one very important group that believes very strongly that Moore's timing was right.

Fortunately for Moore, it's the group with the biggest opportunity to prove him right.

Now they just have to do it.

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