Royals: Examining Kansas City’s best three trades ever
A change of scenery for one of their star pitchers brought the Kansas City Royals two key players for their 2014 and 2015 World Series runs.
On the final night of the 2019 baseball season, in a game to decide who would be crowned World Series Champion, a 36-year old master made Royals fans wonder once again why the club let him get away so many years ago. Zack Greinke, KC’s former All-Star and Cy Young Award winner, shut down the Washington Nationals until the seventh inning, when he proved himself human by surrendering a home run and walk before giving way to a bullpen that eventually lost the game for his Houston Astros.
The performance was typical Greinke and reminded his old fans of the star potential he exhibited in his seven Kansas City seasons, and of his penultimate Royals campaign when he became an All-Star and won his only Cy Young Award, going 16-8 with a major league-best 2.18 ERA in 2009.
At his best Royals days, Greinke was powerful, dominating and unbeatable. But he never seemed comfortable in Kansas City; his previous, well-documented difficulties with depression and anxiety led to a season away from baseball; when he returned, he pitched for bad Royals teams and didn’t always hide his displeasure with the teams losing ways. Greinke simply wasn’t happy with his situation and rubbed some the wrong way.
The Royals decided to make a change in the winter of 2010 and shipped Greinke (and infielder Yuniesky Betancourt) to Milwaukee for light-hitting infielder Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, a promising young pitcher who hadn’t risen above A ball, and outfielder Lorenzo Cain and pitcher Jeremy Jeffress, two youngsters just coming off their rookie seasons.
Betancourt had been a serviceable shortstop for two seasons, but it was Greinke’s departure that irritated and disappointed many fans. The club wouldn’t contend for three more seasons, but the farm system was showing promise, better times were on the horizon, and fans wanted Greinke to be a part of the coming success. After the trade, Greinke posted 145 of his 205 career victories; given the state of the franchise when he left (and since 2015) he likely wouldn’t have won as many games if he’d stayed. But with him, the Royals would have won more than they did.
Despite the loss of Greinke, the trade paid dividends for the Royals. Escobar immediately became the regular shortstop, a position he held until leaving for free agency after the 2018 season. He starred in the 2014 and 2015′ postseasons, batting .311 in 31 games, and was the MVP of the 2015 ALCS. His first pitch inside-the-park home run to open the first game of the ’15 World Series forever etched Escobar in World Series lore. He won a Gold Glove and an All-Star berth.
Cain didn’t play in more than 100 Royals games until 2013 but then, and despite some nagging injuries, became a lineup mainstay, fan-favorite and defensive wizard in center field. That he never won a Gold Glove with the Royals remains a mystery. Always fast, Cain swiped 120 of his 175 career stolen bases as a Royal. Much to fans’ chagrin, the Royals’ history of losing their free agents continued when Cain left to return to Milwaukee after 2017. But Cain, like Escobar at his best, provided much of the spark during the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 World Series seasons.
Jeffress pitched in only 17 games for the Royals before Toronto bought him after the 2012 season, then became a dependable reliever with the Rangers and Brewers.
Odorizzi, the last of the Brewers players in the Greinke deal, pitched only twice for the Royals but went on to play a pivotal role in their future success–still a promising pitcher with a bright future, Odorizzi was packaged with Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard in the trade with Tampa Bay that brought James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals; Shields and Davis would play pivotal roles in the Royals’ run at a 2013 playoff berth and their march to the 2014 World Series, and Davis was vital to the Royals 2015 World Championship season.
The Greinke trade wasn’t the best in the Royals’ history but deserves mention here because it improved the club, brought two unforgettable players, contributed directly and indirectly, and in no small part, to their magical 2014 and 2015 seasons.