A 1995 trade repeated and aggravated a mistake the Royals made years before. It ranks as the club’s third-worst trade.
The sun shone a bit brighter than usual for baseball fans on April 2, 1995, the day the strike that washed away the last two months of the 1994 season and the World Series came to an end. But dark clouds returned to Kansas City just four days later when the Royals defied history and traded away David Cone for the second time.
Although Cone wasn’t yet a star when the Royals sacrificed him to get Hearn in early 1987 (Cone I) and spent his first Shea Stadium season in relative obscurity, he went 79-45 the following five seasons, winning 20 games once, 14 games three times, and 17 in a 1992 campaign split between the Mets and Toronto. He became an All-Star and one of the game’s brightest stars. That the Royals erred seriously when they traded Cone for Hearn is beyond dispute.
The Royals delighted their fans when, needing pitching help after going 72-90 in 1992, they brought free agent Cone back to Kansas City. Despite an 11-14 record his first season back, he lived up to expectations in the strike-shortened 1994 season, going 16-5 with a 2.94 ERA and winning his only Cy Young Award. There was every reason to believe Cone’s winning ways would continue.
But Cone’s Kansas City years were again numbered: just four days after the ’94-’95 strike ended, and less than three weeks before the ’95 season started, Kansas City startled the baseball world by trading Cone to Toronto, the team he had left to rejoin the Royals. Not surprisingly, success followed him to Canada before the Jays dealt him to the Yankees and Cone began his famous Bronx tenure that included a 20-win season and perfect game.
The difference between Cone’s six-year record of 84-51 following Cone I, his 27 wins in his two years back in Kansas City, and his eight-year record of 83-56 after Cone II, suggests the Royals traded almost as good a Cone in 1995 as they originally traded in 1987. So why did they trade him again?
Times had changed. The strike soured fans; the game’s future popularity was in doubt. Teams worried about the high salaries players of Cone’s stature commanded. And it was obvious the Royals were in the early stages of decline.
It was against this backdrop that the Royals traded Cone again. Although he might not have won as many games with the Royals as he did without them, he would have won a lot, and the Royals would have been better with him. That financial concerns motivated the second trading of Cone is a safe assumption and it reflected the Royals’ developing conservative approach to expensive players.
And what of Chris Stynes, Kansas City’s main target in the trade? He spent most of his two seasons in the organization at Omaha and played only 58 games in KC. The other two players the Royals received for Cone, pitcher Dave Sinnes and utility man Tony Medrano, never made it to the majors.
Cone II was, like Cone I, a bad trade. The Royals failed to learn from their first mistake, traded away a fan favorite dominant pitcher with overwhelming talent and received virtually nothing in return.
Fool me once…