How things came together in such a memorable way for the Royals

Lorenzo Cain has played a major role for the Royals in their second straight run to the World Series. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Nine years and two World Series appearances into his tenure as Kansas City Royals general manager, Dayton Moore takes a philosophical stance on moves that failed to pan out. When he reflects on the decision to sign veteran outfielder Jose Guillen to a three-year contract or acquire Jonathan Sanchez in a trade with San Francisco, it's like looking at an old high school graduation photo with a bad haircut.

The formative years are history now that the Royals have raised the caliber of baseball in Kansas City to a level not seen since George Brett was ripping doubles into the gap. Every experience, both good and bad, has been an opportunity to learn, improve and ultimately bring the Royals closer to their main objective of winning a title.

The cardinal sin, in Moore's book, is playing it safe. Moore came up as a scout in the Atlanta organization and was exposed to some brilliant baseball minds. One of them, longtime Braves scouting director Paul Snyder, drafted Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, David Justice and a slew of other successful big leaguers and is considered one of the all-time greats in his profession.

"I remember asking Paul Snyder one time, driving in the car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, 'What's the hardest thing for scouts as they continue to grow in this game?'" Moore recalled. "He told me: 'Staying strong in your convictions. Most of the time, you're wrong, but you can't back off. Once you stop making recommendations and being convicted in your judgments, that's when you're going to get fired.'"

As the Royals prepare to take on the New York Mets in the World Series starting Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, they're a testament to Moore's imagination and insistence on exploring every possible avenue of improvement. The Royals' $113 million Opening Day payroll -- 17th highest in baseball -- was downright generous by their recent standards. But the roster also reflects a mix of bold moves, creative thinking and collaborative decisions that have helped Kansas City improve from 69-93 in Moore's first full season in 2006 to 95-67 and an AL Central force in 2015.

Here's a look at how things came together in such a memorable way in Kansas City:

Homegrown talent

Of the 25 players on Kansas City's American League Championship Series roster, 10 broke into pro ball through the first-year player draft or as international free agents. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and several other players rode the buses together, subsisted on meager minor-league meal money together and forged bonds that have served them especially well now that it's time for high-pressure baseball in October.

"They came up as a core, and they won championships in Double-A and Triple-A together," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "Their goal from the minute they got here was to win a championship together at the major-league level.

"Having them experience that over the past five or six years, it just gives them a certain comfort level when you get into this type of position. They know each other. They all have the same goals and the same dreams and the same values. It just makes for a closer team."

That said, Kansas City's first-round draft picks over the past decade have been a mixed bag. Alex Gordon, Hosmer, Moustakas and Luke Hochevar have all been part of the Royals' rise to prominence. But the Royals chose Christian Colon ahead of Matt Harvey, Chris Sale and Christian Yelich in the 2010 draft and opted for Bubba Starling with Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, George Springer, Jose Fernandez and Sonny Gray still on the board in 2011.

Notwithstanding the impact that economics and signability have on the draft, the mind boggles at where the Royals might be if they had zigged instead of zagged with those picks.

A strong Latin influence

Moore routinely raves about the contribution of Rene Francisco, Kansas City's vice president of international operations. Starter Yordano Ventura, reliever Kelvin Herrera and catcher Salvador Perez are all testament to Francisco's handiwork.

Perez, who signed for a $70,000 bonus out of his native Venezuela at age 16, has already made three All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves at age 25. Perez's deal was a major windfall in comparison to the $28,000 the Royals spent to sign Ventura in 2008.

Modest free-agent signings

Moore and the Royals didn't exactly dominate the hot stove news cycle with their 2014-2015 offseason acquisitions. With limited financial wiggle room at their disposal, they signed Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million deal, added Kendrys Morales for two years and $17 million and took a one-year, $11 million flyer on Alex Rios.

The Royals have gotten their money's worth, and more. Volquez led the staff with 200 1/3 innings and has been Kansas City's most reliable starter in the postseason. Morales rebounded from a lost 2014 season with 22 homers, 106 RBIs and an .847 OPS, and Rios is hitting .333 in the playoffs after posting some underwhelming regular-season numbers.

In addition, Moore cleaned up with his offseason bargain shopping. Reliever Ryan Madson and starter Chris Young have made substantial contributions in exchange for sub-$1 million base salaries.

Two killer trades

In December 2010, Moore sent disgruntled starter Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers in a six-player trade that brought outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitcher Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City. Cain might finish third in the AL MVP balloting behind Josh Donaldson and Mike Trout, and Escobar made his first career All-Star team and just won the ALCS MVP award.

In addition, Ozorizzi was part of Kansas City's prospect package (with Wil Myers and others) that fetched James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay in 2012. Shields won 27 games and pitched 455 innings in two seasons as a Royal, and Davis has emerged as an All-Star and one of baseball's most dominant closers.

It's all good on this front.

Two ambitious deadline deals

With the Royals in go-for-it mode, the Glass family gave Moore the latitude to tap the farm system for two veteran rentals at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Ben Zobrist has been an outstanding pickup, while Johnny Cueto has had too many bad starts sprinkled in with the good. But they helped bring Kansas City to the World Series, and that was the intent all along.

All of the above transactions speak to Moore's reliance on his scouts and his thirst for information regardless of the source. While the Royals aren't known as hardcore number crunchers, Moore said he never makes a personnel decision without seeking input from Mike Groopman and the team's analytics department.

Moore also has plenty of room in the tent for different viewpoints. Years ago, Snyder counseled him on the importance of surrounding himself with "gray-haired men" -- seasoned baseball people who could bring perspective and allow him to take a deep breath during chaotic times. Art Stewart, Donnie Williams, Bill Fischer and Mike Arbuckle all fit that description in Kansas City.

Moore, who wrote a book on leadership in the aftermath of Kansas City's 2014 pennant run, has tried to cultivate an inclusive environment in which duties are freely delegated and voices are readily heard.

"No one feels intimidated if you have a different opinion from the group," Arbuckle said. "I've seen places where if you feel different from the GM and the group, you worry about your job. Dayton wants input, and he'll filter all the different opinions and make his decision. Everybody understands that you may win or lose the battle, but at least you know you've been heard and he values what you've said."

Moore grew up in an Atlanta organization where it was a badge of honor for scouts to pound the table if they felt strongly about a player. While cooperation in a front office is nice, it's even better when infused with just the right amount of creative tension.

"You're always looking for organizational harmony," Moore said. "That doesn't mean that everybody is agreeing. It's quite the opposite. You learn to debate and argue in a very constructive way, and you want everybody to give an opinion in a way that's heard and respected.

"As long as everybody's heart is in the right place and we're all doing what's best for the Kansas City Royals, we have an opportunity to be successful. It's not analytics vs. traditional scouting. It's about baseball, and we're just trying to get it right."