The KC Royals took an infielder in the first round of the 2010 draft who had clutch hits in two memorable postseason games. They could have had Chris Sale.
Somewhere, for some reason, the KC Royals lost confidence in Christian Colon, an All-American college shortstop they drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2010. He was coming off a junior season in which he hit 17 home runs–more than twice as many as in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined–and hit .358 to top the previous two campaigns’ .329 and .357.
Colon made it to Kansas City in 2014, hit .333 in 21 games and followed with .290 in ’15. He slumped to .231 in 54 games in ’16; the Royals traded him to Miami when he was struggling at .176 in 2017. Colon never met the expectations that convinced KC to prefer him over Chris Sale, Yasmani Grandal, and Matt Harvey–the top players available when the Royals called his name in 2010–but Colon remains beloved in Kansas City for three shining moments.
The first two came in the magical 2014 Wild Card game. Colon’s infield single scored Eric Hosmer to tie Oakland in the bottom of the 12th inning; he scored the winning run minutes later when Salvador Perez shot his memorable single past third base to trigger the Royals’ amazing playoff run to the World Series.
The final occurred in the next season’s Fall Classic when Colon hit a pinch-hit, 12th-inning single to score Jarrod Dyson with the eventual winning run in the Royals’ Series-clinching fifth game:
Colon, however, never convinced the club he was an everyday big-league player. When baseball returns, he’ll resume his quest to make the Reds’ roster; he was hitting .174 in 12 spring games.
His heroics aside, would the Royals have been better in the long run if they’d drafted Sale, Grandal, or Harvey instead? Grandal is a power-hitting two-time All-Star catcher who’s hit 101 home runs in the past four seasons, but only .241 in eight campaigns. But he doesn’t equal KC’s Salvador Perez, a six-time All-Star who broke in with the Royals in 2011 and has five Gold Gloves. And his power matches Grandal’s–both have 141 big league homers in eight seasons.
What about Harvey or Sale? It was Harvey who Mets’ manager Terry Collins infamously allowed to stay in the game and pitch the ninth inning against the Royals in the 2015 Series finale, a mistake that gave KC life and helped the Royals force extra innings. His 13-8 record that season is one of his two career winning marks; serious injuries have plagued him and he’s now an unsigned free agent.
Sale is quite a different matter. The White Sox picked him nine spots after the Royals chose Colon; while it took Colon almost three years to reach the majors, Sale made it to Chicago just two months after the draft. A starter since 2012, he’s 109-73 with a 3.03 ERA in 10 seasons, averages 11.1 strikeouts and only 2.1 walks per nine innings and has won 17 games three times.
Sale is also a seven-time All-Star and, although he’s never won a Cy Young Award, he’s been among the top six vote-getters seven times. In the eight seasons he’s been a starter, Sale has five times exceeded or tied the highest win total by any Royals starter. He recently had Tommy John surgery and will miss this season.
Whether the KC Royals would have been better off with Sale than Colon depends on perspective. The club would have played in the World Series in 2014 and ’15 without Sale; with him, he wouldn’t have had the game-tying hit in the ’14 Wild Card or the winning hit in the ’15 Series. But no one knows if someone other than Colon would have come through with those clutch safeties.
Had Sale been a Royal, he would have pitched in the same league, in the same ballparks and against the same hitters (except the Royals, and the Red Sox for whom he pitched the last three seasons). Presumably, his record would be close to what it is and KC would have dozens more victories. Would his 17 wins in 2016 been sufficient to push the Royals into the playoffs? On numbers alone, and no other variables, “Yes.” Those 17 additional wins would have given the Royals the AL Central; his 2-1 record against KC wouldn’t have made a difference.