Royals Rundown: KC's history with trade deadline deals includes notable ups, downs

Todd Fertig
Special to The Capital-Journal
Then-Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Johnny Cueto holds the Commissioners Trophy in the clubhouse after defeating the New York Mets to win Game 5 of the World Series at Citi Field in New York. Cueto was acquired by the Royals in a trade-deadline deal that helped bolster a Royals team that was already 20 games above .500.

The Major League Baseball trade deadline passed on Friday, closing the period when teams in contention and teams in rebuilding mode get "transactional." 

That’s the word general manager Dayton Moore used earlier this summer, confessing that the Royals needed to be more "transactional" in rebuilding the big league club. 

Moore has been criticized at times for not being aggressive enough at the trade deadline when the team is bad. An aggressive approach would be, when you know you’re not going to make the playoffs, to trade the good players currently on the roster for prospects, in essence tanking in the present to build for the future. 

Equally aggressive would be to trade prospects when the team is good, adding reinforcements for a playoff run. In Moore’s tenure, which began in 2007, this opportunity has arisen only a couple of times, and Moore has proven to act aggressively in that instance.  

Generally speaking, Royals fans should be careful what they wish for, although the club has made a few profitable moves over the years.  

If you want to make yourself sick, take a look back at a few deadline trades made just prior to Dayton Moore’s tenure: in 2001, the Royals traded Jermaine Dye for Neifi Perez; in 2004 they traded Carlos Beltran for Mark Teahen, Mike Wood and John Buck; and also in July 2004, the Royals traded Jose Bautista – just before he developed into an elite slugger – for Justin Huber.)

The deadline trades executed by Moore can be divided into two categories: “Trades for a Playoff Run” and “Trades for the Future.” 

Trades for a Playoff Run

The two most productive trades by Moore helped bring home the 2015 championship. Having come up short in the 2014 World Series, Moore pushed all his chips to the center in late July of 2015. The Royals were about 20 games over .500 and leading the Central Division, but Moore saw some holes that needed to be filled.  

On July 26, Moore sent three pitching prospects, including Brandon Finnegan, who had already made a mark on the big league club, to the Cincinnati Reds for starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.  

Then just two days after the Cueto trade, Moore struck again. He saw the need for help at second base and in the outfield, and filled both holes with one player, brilliant utility man Ben Zobrist. Moore was forced to part with rising star pitcher Sean Manaea and another minor league pitcher, but it was well worth it.  

Zobrist became an everyday player, batting .284 with seven homers down the stretch. In the playoffs, he added two more home runs and batted .303. Cueto ran hot and cold during the regular season, but he hurled a masterful two-hit complete game in the World Series. Winning Kansas City’s first championship in 30 years made the high price for Cueto and Zobrist well worth it. 

Moore saw what looked like another opportunity at a playoff run in 2017, but a trade for bullpen help blew up in his face. He traded three promising young players to the San Diego Padres for relievers Ryan Buchter, Trevor Cahill and Brandon Maurer. It felt like the cavalry was coming to save the day. But Cahill and Maurer suddenly forgot how to pitch when they arrived in Kansas City. They just threw gasoline on the fire and were no help for a depleted relief corps. The team cratered over the remaining two months. 

Moore deserves credit for sending a minor-league prospect named Spencer Patton to the Texas Rangers for Jason Frasor in 2014. It was just a three-month rental, but boy did it pay dividends. Frasor put together a terrific run in the Royals' bullpen, helping the team reach the World Series. He was great in the playoffs, appearing in seven games, giving up just one earned run.  

Trades for the future

The only deadline trade Moore made for the future that proved to be productive was a 2012 trade of pitcher Jonathan Sanchez for Jeremy Guthrie. Sanchez had been a complete flop in his first season in Kansas City, and it’s a wonder any team was willing to trade for him. But on July 20, the Colorado Rockies inexplicably gambled on Sanchez, sending the Royals Guthrie in return.  

Sanchez never won another big-league game. But Guthrie, already an established big leaguer, flourished in Kansas City. He became a reliable starter as the team learned how to win. Guthrie won 36 games over the next three seasons. 

Trades of veterans for prospects haven’t netted the Royals much the last few seasons. In 2018, Moore parted with relief ace Kelvin Herrera in June, netting three prospects in return. Of those three, Kelvin Gutierrez was tried at third base, but has since been traded. There’s still a glimmer of hope for pitcher Yohanse Morel and outfielder Blake Perkins. 

Then on July 27, 2018, Moore dealt fan-favorite Mike Moustakas for pitcher Jorge Lopez and outfielder Brett Phillips. Both had some brilliant flashes, but neither could ever put it together in Kansas City. Both Lopez and Phillips are now barely hanging on with other teams. 

In 2020, the Royals found themselves in possession of coveted reliever Trevor Rosenthal. They took the best offer they could get for him at the deadline, and have two prospects who show promise in outfielder Edward Olivares and pitcher Dylan Coleman. Perhaps that trade will work out better than the Herrera and Moustakas deals did.