SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Nearly four years after Dayton Moore was hired to turn the Kansas City Royals around, they still aren't turned.
Judged solely by wins and losses, last year was even a step backward. Hampered by injuries, the Royals wound up 65-97, 10 fewer wins than the year before in spite of Zack Greinke's Cy Young Award season. Without exception during the still-young Moore era, the Royals have remained in or near last place in the AL Central.
Nevertheless, although he knows the patience of fans and ownership is far from inexhaustible, Moore seems entirely comfortable staying the course.
"I don't feel any more pressure than I always do," said the crewcut 43-year-old native of Wichita, Kan. "We're committed to the plan. I know our plan is working as far as what we're trying to do. I'm confident and continue to stay motivated."
Nobody, not even owner David Glass, predicted instant gratification in the summer of 2006 when Moore was hired off the staff of the Atlanta Braves as general manager. At the time, the Royals were one of the poorest-run and least-committed organizations in baseball.
But the Glass family, for the most part, has kept the promise it made when Moore accepted the job. Money has been spent in a much more generous way. Scouting and player development have been increased, particularly with an eye toward Latin America.
A minor league team was also added. Now, Moore points to a bevy of prospects being patiently brought along. He believes they are the core of a group who are destined to break a postseason drought which is entering its second quarter-century.
He is in this for the long haul and hopes that fans are, too.
"I feel good about the progress," he said after watching pitching prevail in the second intrasquad game of the spring. "I know what we were up against. We knew what our challenges were when we came here. I'm very confident we'll continue to build our farm system."
Before Moore arrived, the Royals habitually drafted with money in mind as much as talent, often using their high-end picks on middle-range prospects because they would cost less.
But that is no longer true. In the past three drafts, Moore has spent millions signing first-round picks Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, power-hitting high school infielders, and former Big 12 pitcher of the year Aaron Crow. Chris Dwyer, a promising left-hander with three above-average pitches, was signed for a $1.45 million bonus even though he was not drafted until the fourth round.
But an even more obscure name to most fans may be a better gauge of how the plan is working.
Just getting his bearings in professional baseball is Noel Arguelles, a 20-year-old Cuban defector with a whiplash fastball. The 6-foot-4 left-hander is the most expensive amateur signing in Kansas City history. After he left his mother and sister in Cuba, the Royals bested the Boston Red Sox with a $7 million offer.
"One of the first things we did after Dayton got here was triple our Latin America budget right away," said assistant general manager Dean Taylor. "Arguelles was the first time we really went out and spent a significant amount of money on a Latin American. We have that commitment to leave no stone unturned anywhere in the world, whether it's in the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico in the draft, in Japan, players coming out of Cuba. We're going one step at a time."
The Royals know they'll never outgun teams like the Yankees, Angels or Red Sox when it comes to writing checks. But that doesn't mean they can't win.
"I wouldn't expect the Glass family to employ us if we didn't feel we could win a championship in Kansas City," Moore said. "When is that going to happen? I don't know. We're going to continue to concentrate on getting better each day. And then some day we're going to wake up and be good."