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Seven years into rebuilding, Royals "ahead of schedule"

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Jamie Squire

I wasn't planning to write anything else about the Royals this month, since it seems like their season's over and there wouldn't be any real news left.

But then I saw this quote from general manager Dayton Moore (via Jeffrey Flanagan):

"I really feel that based on how we decided to build this team, we're ahead of schedule," Moore told "You know, every baseball team that is constructed gets exposed. We know we have probably seen that, and certainly realize that we have things we need to improve upon.

"But I am very encouraged with the group of players we have. There's not one player on this current roster that is on the downside of his career. They all have upside."

Ahead of schedule? Not right on schedule, or maybe just a smidge behind schedule, but ahead of schedule? Dayton Moore's been running the Royals' front office for more than seven years ... seven years in which the Royals have exactly zero winning seasons. Until maybe this season, anyway. It seems to me that if your schedule doesn't include a winning season until your sixth full season, you're doing something wrong.

Dayton Moore is not a stupid man. Let me say that again, but this time with gusto: DAYTON MOORE IS NOT A STUPID MAN. He does say some stupid things, though, and he does sometimes act stupidly.

Technically, it's true that every player on the current roster has upside. Barry Bonds has upside, too, in the sense that if he gets signed tomorrow he might play better than he's ever played before. The chance is non-zero.

But it's very close to zero.

One thing Dayton Moore doesn't seem to understand about baseball is that baseball players, as a group, peak at around the age of 27. For hitters, it's 27 or 28; for pitchers, maybe 26 or 27. But 27 is a real good benchmark.

Next year, two of the Royals' current regulars -- Chris Getz and Alex Gordon -- will be 30. Technically, both have upside. Realistically, both have more downside. Three of the Royals' current regulars -- Lorenzo Cain, David Lough, and Billy Butler -- will be 28 next season. Which means they've got almost exactly as much downside as upside; putting that another way, what they've been this season is probably what they actually are. Cain and Lough are below-average American League hitters, while Butler is significantly better than average. That's what they were last year, that's what they are this year, and that's probably what they'll be next year. If Moore actually believes they'll be better next year -- as opposed to hoping they'll be better, or praying -- then he just doesn't understand how baseball works, on one of the most fundamental and important levels. If you don't understand aging patterns, you're going to have a difficult time building a winning franchise.

Flanagan writes:

Moore's roster may not be on the downside, but almost to a player, the Royals offensively are all having down years -- Eric Hosmer excluded.

This isn't really true. Again, nearly all of the Royals' hitters are having seasons within the bounds of reasonable expectations. Alex Gordon's numbers are way off. Billy Butler's were down, but he's been hot lately and now they're right in line with his career norms. And yes, Mike Moustakas has been worse than last year, which isn't supposed to happen to a player who's still only 24 ... but you know, players don't develop in perfectly predictable ways. As a group, players improve until they're 27 or 28, then decline. It's a really pretty line on a graph. But individual players don't behave that way. Mike Moustakas will probably be better at 27 than at 23, and probably worse at 31 than at 27. But the lines in between will not be straight.

The good news is that Moustakas and Hosmer and Salvador Perez and probably Alex Gordon are good bets to hit better next season, while they really don't have anyone who's a good bet to hit worse. But it's not because so many guys are having down years; it's because three of their four regulars are still quite young, and all three have solid pedigrees. I don't hesitate to predict that the Royals will score more runs next season than this season. Even if they don't upgrade at shortstop or second base.

What we don't know anything about yet is the pitching rotation. We can assume that James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie will be back, otherwise it's pure speculation, with Ervin Santana likely to become a free agent and sign elsewhere. Well, we know the Royals would like Danny Duffy to fill a slot next season, but that's far from a sure thing.

With a decent rotation in place, you can dream a little about the Royals next spring. But of course exactly the same was true last spring. Which leaves me to wonder if, one year from day, Dayton Moore will say, yet again, that they're ahead of schedule. Regardless of the standings. Probably he will.

But it won't have anything to do with stupid.

(Hey, congratulations to me: I made it through a whole column about the Royals without mentioning Wil Myers.)

For much more about Dayton Moore and schedules, please visit SB Nation's Royals Review.