Only four Royals players have reached the Hall of Fame. They traded a young, budding star and future Hall of Famer in 2004 in a deal still questioned today.
The Royals lost one thing they’ve always craved, and another they like when they can find it, when they traded young phenom Carlos Beltrán in 2004–gone with Beltrán were his speed and power.
Beltrán was just 24, but a veteran of five full productive big league seasons when the Royals shipped him to Houston as their contribution to a three-way deal with the Astros and Oakland that saw Houston send Octavio Dotel to the A’s, who sent Mark Teahen and Mike Wood to Kansas City while Houston sent John Buck and cash to the Royals. Beltrán was the key man and biggest piece in the deal and the only player involved who went on to stardom.
Wood went 11-19 in three KC seasons; claimed off waivers by Texas in late 2006, he never pitched in the majors again. Buck and Teahen, however, became important short-term assets for the Royals, Teahen at third base and in the outfield and Buck at catcher. Teahen made his debut as a KC regular in 2005, batting .270 and averaging over 12 home runs and 73 RBI’s in four seasons. He declined sharply after the Royals traded him to the White Sox (and obtained Chris Getz) after the 2009 season and played only three more years in the majors.
Before giving way to Miguel Olivo in 2009, Buck was the regular KC backstop and averaged over 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in his six Kansas City seasons. He averaged almost 16 homers and over 56 RBI’s in four seasons after leaving via free agency after the 2009 season, but then declined and was out of the big leagues for good after a poor 2014 season.
In the five seasons they played together in Kansas City, Teahen and Buck combined to hit 117 homers and drive in 522 runs; during the same span, Beltrán belted 127 homers, drove in 466 runs (averages of over 25 and 93) and hit .281. He was an All-Star each season and won three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers. Beltrán, a superb base stealer with the Royals, averaged almost 20 steals a season during the period while Buck and Teahen were never threats to steal.
And while Buck and Teahen were both gone from the majors within a few years after coming to Kansas City, Beltrán remained productive and didn’t retire until he returned to the Astros and won a World Series in 2017. He finished with solid Hall of Fame numbers: 435 home runs, 1,587 RBIs, 312 steals, a .279 average, and a career .279/.350/.486 slash. He made the All-Star team nine times.
The Royals lost Beltrán’s outstanding and consistent production for 14 seasons. Although they truly contended in only three of those seasons–2013, 2014 and 2015–the Royals would have been better with him than without him. In the end, it was the Royals’ conservative approach to high salaries that doomed Beltrán in Kansas City, and reflected their inability to retain key potential free agents.
And who knows if Beltrán, considered a hot managerial prospect and a front-runner for the Mets’ managerial opening, might now be a candidate to replace Ned Yost if the Kansas City Royals hadn’t traded him so long ago?