Q&A: Royals GM Dayton Moore on deadline deals, division series comeback

Royals general manager Dayton Moore acquired rental players Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist prior to the trade deadline in July. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

KANSAS CITY – Last season the Kansas City Royals passed along the longest post-season drought to the Toronto Blue Jays when they won the wild card and advanced to the World Series, which they lost in seven games to the San Francisco Giants.

This year, general manager Dayton Moore’s club won the American League Central, its first division title since claiming the American League West in 1985 en route to a World Series championship that came in its previous trip to the playoffs.

That year included a rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series, and the rematch opened Friday after Toronto ended its drought dating back to 1993.

The difference between the 2014 and ’15 runs for the Royals?

"We’d gone 29 years without being in the playoffs, last year it was a relief," Moore says in an interview. "This year, we set out and knew it was going to be a tremendous challenge to win our division, that’s something the Royals hadn’t done in 30 years, so it was going to be important for us to do that. Detroit had dominated this division for so many years. Of course once you play on this stage, the playoffs, that’s all you think about, you want to get back here and you knew that would motivate the players. We really haven’t been any different in our processes, though, our processes as far as putting this team together has been pretty consistent from when we arrived here."

Here’s more from Moore’s chat with Sportsnet ahead of Game 1:

At the deadline you spent some prospect capital on rental players Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, which is a departure for the Royals. How did leveraging your current core play into that decision?

"We tried to make some deadline deals in 2014, there was really nothing that we felt would benefit us in a way that would really improve our team. When we left spring training this year we felt that if we were in the thick of things we were going to have to probably make a move to improve our rotation, not knowing Johnny Cueto would be available, but we had that in mind, that a deadline deal was perhaps something we would need to do. Sure enough, we were able to execute it, but the fact that the team was in a strong position, we were healthy, we were performing, we were leading our division and we felt really to put the psychology of our team and the talent of our team in a better position, it was going to be important to do something. We were fortunate to win the negotiations for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist."

In contrast to teams like the Blue Jays and Astros who made moves because they needed to make up ground or fortify their position in the standings, you had a comfortable lead in the Central. How did that impact your shopping and was it more geared toward post-season needs?

"What you’ve got to understand is that when you approach the deadline, and you feel like you’ve got a chance to be in the playoffs and perhaps go deep in the playoffs, there are seven or eight other teams that are going to try to improve as well. Not knowing what they’re going to do, you can look at where their potential holes are – whether they can execute or not is another thing – but you can’t just sit back and say we’re going to be all right, we can win our division with what we have. Minnesota was certainly trying to get better, Cleveland’s rotation is so gosh darn good, and they were capable of getting on a roll at any time, and you didn’t know what Detroit was going to do, either, let alone New York, Toronto, L.A., Texas, they made some great deals, Houston. All those teams arguably improved themselves greatly so we were going to have to do everything we could to keep pace with them."

You mentioned going into the season thinking you’d try to add pitching at the deadline. The Blue Jays, by design, saved some of their off-season resources for the deadline because they felt they’d have better options in-season than in the winter. Given the success teams that made deadline deals have had, can it make sense to do more in-season shopping if the winter market isn’t ripe?

"It depends. Bill Lajoie always told me you’re not going to win the pennant in December of January, you’re going to have to make moves along the way to improve your team, but, look, you just keep trying to get better every day, and you take advantage of the players available to you if indeed they fit your profile, and what you need to improve your team. You don’t necessarily set out to do it that way because nobody has a crystal ball, you don’t know what’s going to be available to you. The only thing you can take advantage of is what’s presented to you at the time."

Last year in the wild-card game, your team rallied late to advance. This year, in the division series, the Astros were six outs away from ALCS with a four-run lead before you rallied. How does a team learn to function under difficult circumstances?

"If you love playing baseball, and that’s what both of these teams have, a group of players that really enjoy competing, they love to compete, they play to win, that’s part of your fibre of who you are. You don’t necessarily play to the scoreboard. If you focus on the scoreboard, other than to navigate through situations, whether you’re five runs down or five runs up you don’t play any differently, you play with the same intensity, you play with the same desire to compete, and that’s what our guys have always done since they’ve joined the organization."