The Best and Worst Trade of the Decade for the Kansas City Royals

Aside from 2014 and 2015, the last decade has been dreadful for the Kansas City Royals. Their Cinderella run in 2014 ended in a World Series defeat by the hands of the San Francisco Giants. But the following year the Royals once again returned to the Fall Classic, winning it this time around. They have failed to have a winning season since, including two consecutive 100-plus loss seasons in 2018 and 2019.

To make two consecutive World Series appearances, the Royals front office had to make important trades to strengthen their roster such as acquiring Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar from the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2010 offseason. Although the team is struggling now, there was a lot of strategy behind their rise to being a World Series contender. Their roster was totally stripped after their World Series title, though, losing numerous key pieces in the coming years such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Cain, and Ben Zobrist.

One bright spot for the Royals has been Jorge Soler, who had a breakout year in 2019. He hit a career-high 48 home runs, which lead the American League. The Royals added a few pieces this offseason such as former Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco, who should add a spark at the plate. Other than signing Franco, this team remains relatively the same and seems to be in the midst of a rebuild.

Over the next several weeks Baseball Essential will be doing a series on the best and worst trade every team in Major League Baseball has made over the last decade. Here is the best and worst trade the Kansas City Royals have made since 2010.

The Best Trade the Kansas City Royals Have Made Since 2010: Kansas City acquires James Shields, Wade Davis, and Elliot Johnson from the Tampa Bay Rays for Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard, and Jake Odorizzi (December 9, 2012).

James Shields has been negatively involved in a lot of these trade pieces that we’ve wrote at Baseball Essential over the last couple of weeks. But this time around, it’s about how instrumental he was for the Royals from 2013-14. Along with Shields, Wade Davis was also dealt by the Rays. These two right-handers played a huge part in the organization’s turnaround over the next couple of years, as they went from an American League nobody to a World Series contender.

Shields arrived in KC as a relatively proven starter who was one of Tampa Bay’s go-to guys for seven years. He was in the prime of his career when he became a Royal, so it seemed like a great move for their sake. In two seasons with Kansas City, Shields was absolutely spectacular. He compiled a 3.18 ERA while leading the AL in games started in 2013 and 2014. The righty also led the league in innings pitched in 2013 and went on to toss just under 230 innings in consecutive seasons.

Shields was an absolute workhorse who gave manager Ned Yost a reliable arm at the top of his rotation that could pitch deep into ballgames. Shields never overpowered anyone, but he consistently threw strikes and kept his defense busy by pitching to contact. His competitive spirit and leadership were also very important to the Royals, as they developed into a contender.

Davis, meanwhile, struggled as a starter in Tampa Bay before they transitioned him into a reliever in 2012. He thrived in that role, but once he landed in Kansas City, they moved him back to a starter where he went through hard times once again, compiling a 5.32 ERA in 24 starts. But in 2014 the Royals made the right decision by moving Davis into the bullpen for good, where he became one of the most dominant late-inning arms in the game.

By no coincidence, Davis enjoyed his two best seasons when KC appeared in back-to-back Fall Classics, posting a 1.00 and 0.94 ERA in 2014 and 2015, where he served as their eighth-inning guy while Greg Holland closed. But once Holland left town, Davis instantly became the Royals closer and dominated, using his high 90’s heater and knee-buckling breaking ball to baffle hitters. He left KC after the 2016 season, but he’ll go down as one of the best relief arms in team history.

Although the Royals gave up Wil Myers in this trade, who was a big-time prospect at the time, Shields and Davis were extremely vital to their success. If it wasn’t for them, KC wouldn’t have won a World Series.

The Worst Trade the Kansas City Royals Have Made Since 2010: Kansas City Acquires Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez from the Milwaukee Brewers for Mike Moustakas (July 28, 2018)

At the time, a lot of people thought this was a good trade. Phillips was an enticing prospect who had a lot of raw tools that could translate into something special. Lopez was an arm who hadn’t pitched much at the big-league level. But they gave up Moustakas, a fan favorite who was so important to their success over the years, one of the best hitters in franchise history, and the heart and soul of the Royals. Moustakas was a player who went through all the ups and downs over the years with the organization after they nabbed him in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft as a teenager.

Although Moustakas has declined over the last couple seasons, Phillips and Lopez haven’t done anything special in a Royals uniform. In just 30 games last season Phillips hit .138. In 2018, when he came over from Milwaukee, the 25-year old slashed just .188. So far, he has been very underwhelming for a guy who was supposed to be a solid addition. Lopez was absolutely lit up last year in 123.2 innings, compiling a 6.33 ERA in 18 starts and 21 relief appearances.

Moustakas came up big at the most important times for the Royals. In their World Series-winning 2015 season, he hit a career-best .284 while smacking 22 home runs. A year later, he suffered numerous injuries that limited him to just 27 games. But that didn’t hurt Moustakas, returning in 2017 to club 38 home runs and hit .272. Sure, he dealt with his struggles as a youngster in the early 2010s, as he learned how to succeed at the big-league level. At the same time, he grew as a player and became one of the best players to ever play in Kansas City; he was a fantastic third baseman and a guy who came up with clutch hits.

I know he was with the Royals for a long time, but he was one of the last pieces left of their World Series team. Even though they were struggling at the time, Moustakas could’ve still been a building block.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing in youngsters like Phillips and Lopez with the hope that they’ll offer production. But almost two years later it hasn’t worked out. Meanwhile, Moustakas inked a four-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds this past offseason; the 31-year-old could’ve still been a Royal.

Stay tuned to Baseball Essential over the next few weeks for more on the best and worst trades made by all 30 MLB clubs over the past 10 years.

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