Normally this time of year, Royals fans are begging general manager Dayton Moore to sell off the team’s most valuable free-agent-to-be to bring in more prospects for the future. Two years ago, it was Ervin Santana. The Royals kept him and went on a tear through August and September that saw them fall just short of making the playoffs.
Last year it was James Shields. A week after the All-Star break the Royals were floundering and it seemed like the smart move to sell Shields and hope 2015 might finally be the year. Moore stood pat and, well, the next three months was one of the best stretches in my life of loving sports.
But this year the Royals are in a completely different place. Best record in the American League. Las Vegas’ favorite to win the World Series. There would be no selling this year. The question was how aggressive would Moore be in bolstering his team for the stretch run. A utility player or two who could provide defense and better hitting options that the current backups? A bold move to replace Alex Rios or Omar Infante? Or another arm for the beleaguered rotation?
There had been rumors aplenty that the Royals were seriously looking into acquiring Cincinnati ace Johnny Cueto. I discounted them quickly. That was too big a move for the Royals to make. No way would Moore package the two or three high-end prospects needed for two (hopefully three) months of Cueto. More likely he’d go after someone like Cueto’s teammate Mike Leake, a good, sometimes very good, pitcher who can also be mediocre and would slot into the back of the rotation. Moore needed another pitcher, but he wasn’t going to blow up the minor league system for a late-summer rental.
But holy shit he pulled it off!
I LOVE this trade. Freaking love it. If as much for the symbolism of the move than the actual exchange of talent. The Royals are all-in for 2015! Sure, Brandon Finnegan might figure out his mechanics and find the right role and be a stud. Sure John Lamb might remain healthy and turn into a solid, middle of the rotation starter for a decade. Sure prospect Cody Reed might blossom and turn into the best arm in the deal. But all of that is future and unknown. Cueto is now and real.
Flags fly forever, or so the saying goes. Johnny Cueto’s presence guarantees nothing for the Royals. As the Royals learned last year, when they came from behind to beat Oakland, you want nothing to do with the Wild Card game. While the Royals have the best record in the AL now, who knows what will happen over the next nine weeks. Even if Cueto isn’t great, maybe he’s good enough to get one or two more wins that Chris Young or Joe Blanton or, ahem, John Lamb would have earned over the same stretch and can keep the Royals in one of the top two playoff spots.
And then he’s as good as any #1 starter the Royals might see in game one of the ALDS or ALCS. Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, and Yordano Ventura? Hell yes I’ll go to battle in the playoffs with that rotation!
I’d still love the Royals to grab another bat. But the way guys like Paulo Orlando and Cheslor Cuthbert keep providing hits in huge moments, I almost wonder if the Royals can stand pat and hope Alex Gordon comes back 100% healthy in another month. Still, I would not be disappointed if Moore could find a way to snag Ben Zobrist, or someone else who can play multiple spots and provide good at-bats in big situations.
What a time to be a Royals fan! There was last October. Now we have the team with the American League’s best record and biggest divisional lead. And they’re making one of the biggest splashes in acquiring talent for the final third of the season. Black is white, up is down, dogs and cats living together.
- Perhaps in his brief time in KC Cueto can be another steadying influence on Ventura, as Shields was for Duffy last year. A huge potential bonus to the trade. ↩