Royals Trades: Context and Impact


It may have been a week ago when I saw Bob Dutton from the Kansas City Star answering reader questions on Twitter when someone was asking him about the Wil Myers trade. Part of their line of questioning emphasized that the trade that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City was the biggest trade in franchise history.

I agree that it’s a big trade, but it was an odd statement coming out of a conversation about the relative value of other alternatives.

December 12, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitchers James Shields (left) and Wade Davis speak during the press conference at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The frequency with which minor league players of the year are traded early in their big league careers is rare. To have one traded before their big league career truly starts is unprecedented. And if Shields brings a playoff appearance (or two) with him, then yes, it’s probably going to go down as the biggest trade in team history.

But for now, I just can’t put it in that category. It’s too soon to make that claim and there are strong contenders for that title already.

To be the Biggest Trade in Royals History, I’m thinking it has to be transformative. Something that impacts the franchise for years to come. There are some that looked like run-of-the-mill deals but turned out to bring Royals legends into the fold (like the trades that brought Cookie Rojas,  Hal McRae or Amos Otis to Kansas City), but they may not have been the blockbusters that break into SportsCenter today or put the Royals at the center of baseball coverage.

The Zack Greinke trade is close. A year removed from the Cy Young Award, the Royals traded him off for four players who looked like they could all be regular contributors. Alcides Escobar had been a top shortstop prospect for years. Lorenzo Cain was among the Brewers best prospects and even today, despite injury questions, he’s getting every shot to be the everyday center fielder. Jeremy Jeffress‘s potential was being compared to Craig Kimbrel‘s at the time. Some called Jake Odorizzi “Zack Greinke Lite”.

That’s a big trade. In one move the Royals restocked their upper minors and major leagues with potential regulars with room to grow. (And Odorizzi, of course, was included in the Shields trade).

I remember being younger when the Royals traded Bret Saberhagen to the Mets. I wrote more in-depth about this deal a while back, but it wasn’t dissimilar to the Greinke deal. Cy Young winner traded for parts who could contribute soon. It was even bigger to me than the Greinke deal, partly because it was a surprise to me at the time, and partly because Saberhagen had won two Cy Young Awards and had brought a World Championship to Kansas City.

Oct 22, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran (3) hits a base hit against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning of game seven of the 2012 NLCS at AT

But to me, the biggest trade, both in names and in meaning to the franchise was the trade that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston and brought Mark Teahen, Mike Wood and John Buck to Kansas City. The Royals weren’t thrust into the spotlight but the symbolism involved was immense. The Royals had already dealt away Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon. Beltran was the last piece they couldn’t lock down and, in near-desperation to get anything for him, they gambled on players who had to produce.

Wood turned out to be irrelevant. Buck had his moments, but never ended up being anything but a near-average catcher. Teahen looked like a true star in the making after leading the team in homers in 2006, but just two years later, he was falling below replacement level. The Royals missed, just as they’d missed with most of their pitching prospects in the years when they still had Beltran, just as they’d missed on strong returns for All-Star players in Dye and Damon. Missing on the Saberhagen trade didn’t cripple the Royals. Their 1992 wasn’t good, but they were able to turn it around in 1993 and were surging before the strike in 1994.

But this Beltran trade turned many fans away and cemented the “stars won’t stay here” narrative in Royals fans’ psyche. In their best month of the 2004 season, they were three games below .500. They lost 104, 106 and 100 games in the 2004-2006 stretch and have just Chris Getz (who came over from the White Sox for Teahen) as the thread of that deal. The need for a complete rebuild led to the ouster of Allard Baird and the new investment in the farm system that led to going after high-ceiling high-bonus players like Wil Myers.

That’s a lot of baggage in one trade.

Perhaps it’s that issue of the time of the deal. I wasn’t alive when the Otis et al deals were made, and the coverage of those moves would have been drastically different from the 24 hour cycle of sports news and Twitter and MLB Trade Rumors that we have now where there aren’t just reports of the deal but rumors for weeks leading up to it and instant reaction from everyone with a modem. The era changes the perception, and a deal made under similar circumstances in 1983 isn’t going to resonate as loudly as it does now (but then, if Gregg Jefferies had had his numbers from 1993 in 1992, he might have stuck around a bit longer and that trade looks a lot better).

I could see an argument that the Myers-Shields deal is right in the running though. It’s a departure from the last 20 years of rebuilding plans. Now the Royals are going out to get the big fish and giving up big prospects to do so. It makes a statement, and if the Royals win a division or make the playoffs in the next two years, there won’t be a question about it. It will then be the biggest deal in franchise history.

Until then, there’s still a lot of work to do to overcome the impact of moves completed in the past.