Building a roster to win a World Series is a difficult task, and sometimes tough decisions have to be made. KC Royals general managers John Schuerholz and Dayton Moore made some of those decisions when the club won titles in 1985 and 2015.
Sometimes such calls involve players who choose to move on because of free agency or even retirement.
Other times they involve trading or releasing players in hopes of finding an upgrade.
Today, we look at some important Kansas City players—some of whom had long, productive careers with the team—who just missed winning a World Series championship with the Royals.
Some KC Royals stats leaders came close to being World Series winners.
Lefthanded starter Larry Gura missed the 1985 World Series championship run by just a few months after being release by the Royals in May of that year with a 12.46 ERA. He won 12 games for the 1984 club that fell to Detroit in the American League Championship Series. Gura’s 10-year KC career ended with 111 wins, the fifth best total in team history; he pitched in the 1980 Series that KC lost to Philadelphia.
Although lefty Paul Splittorff also pitched in the ’80 Series, he lost out on the ’85 World Series by a season. Winner of a club-best 166 games in his 15-year Royal career, his last victory came May 26, 1984, in a relief appearance in Boston; he made his final start exactly one month later, was tagged with the loss, and retired just a few days later.
On the offensive side, longtime shortstop U.L. Washington played eight years in Kansas City and made it to the Fall Classic in 1980, but his playing time reduced significantly in 1984. Onix Concepción and Buddy Biancalana were expected to take most of the playing time in 1985, and the switch-hitting Washington was traded before the season to the Montreal Expos and missed out on the ’85 run to the Series. Washington remains among the club’s all-time leaders in stolen bases.
After five seasons in the Royals’ organization and three big league campaigns, catcher Don Slaught saw most of the action behind the plate in 1984. Following the season, though, the club dealt him to Texas as part of a four-team trade that brought catcher Jim Sundberg to the Royals.
That meant Slaught wasn’t around for Kansas City’s trip to the 1985 World Series, but Sundberg was and scored the winning run in the club’s controversial Game 6 victory over St. Louis.
Several other KC Royals players just missed being World Series champions.
Following Kansas City’s loss in the seventh and deciding game of the 2014 World Series, longtime first baseman-designated hitter Billy Butler opted to sign with the Oakland A’s as a free agent, leaving behind a Royals career that ended with a .295 average, 127 home runs, 628 RBIs and an All-Star appearance. Kendrys Morales signed as a free-agent to fill the gap left by Butler. Consequently, Butler didn’t get to enjoy the 1985 World Series title as a Royal, but Morales did.
Prior to the 2014 season, the Royals swapped pitcher Will Smith to Milwaukee for right fielder Nori Aoki. In his lone season in Kansas City, Aoki swiped 17 bases, hit .285 and made it to the 2014 Series. Allowed to become a free-agent after the season, Aoki signed with San Francisco, the team that had defeated the Royals in the Series; so, like Butler, he left KC a year too early. Alex Rios signed as a free agent to fill the spot vacated by Aoki, and grabbed a World Series ring when the Royals won the Series in the final season of his 12-year career.
James Shields spent 2013 and 2014 with the Royals, led the league in starts both years, and posted a 27-17, 3.18 ERA record. He pitched in the 2014 Series, then signed with San Diego following the season and wasn’t around for Kansas City’s 2015 championship.
Pitcher Brandon Finnegan was a late-season phenom for the 2014 Royals and became the first pitcher to appear in the College World Series and the major league World Series in the same season.
But as the trade deadline neared in 2015 with Kansas City looking for a veteran starter, the Royals traded Finnegan and two other players to the Reds for Johnny Cueto, whose two-hitter in Game 2 of the World Series helped propel the Royals to the title.
Finnegan had little big league success after the trade and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox last December. Ironically, Cueto, who lasted just the remainder of 2015 with the Royals before becoming a free agent, recently signed with the White Sox as well. Both are pitching for Triple-A Birmingham.
Many Royals left the club before they could enjoy a World Series title.