Nine Trade Offers the Royals Should Have Accepted

Jim McIsaac

With the power of hindsight and stark judgment, we go back in time and look at nine trades the Royals should have executed when given the chance.

Baseball fans love trades. Trades offer change, and change offers the possibility of improvement. Trades give fans hope.

"I'm not sure which is more insulting, being offered in a trade or having it turned down."

-- Claude Osteen, Dodgers pitcher

Here is a look back at nine trades offers the Royals reportedly rejected, but should have accepted. Of course, these are just rumors, so its difficult to know if these trade proposals were truly on the table. We also have the benefit of hindsight - who knew a speedy basketball player out of Arizona would turn into a borderline Hall of Famer? But its fun to look back and think "what might have been?"

January 1987 - P Danny Jackson to Minnesota for 1B Kent Hrbek

The Twins had a nucleus of sluggers, but lacked the pitching to compete in the Western Division. Int he offseason before the 1987 season, the Sporting News reported the Twins were willing to part with one of their young sluggers - either rightfielder Tom Brunansky, third baseman Gary Gaetti, or first baseman Kent Hrbek - for Royals pitcher Danny Jackson. Jackson was coveted by many teams that winter, as he was a solid left-hander with post-season experience, and everyone knew the Royals were loaded with pitching.

Jackson was coming off an 11-12 3.20 ERA season and the Royals were looking for some pop to add to their lineup. Kent Hrbek was a 26 year old first baseman coming off a .267/.353/.478 29 HR 91 RBI season. He had finished second in MVP voting in 1984, and was not eligible for free agency until after the 1989 season.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

If the Royals acquire Hrbek, they can split him and George Brett between first base and designated hitter, and pass on re-signing disappointing slugger Steve Balboni. Hrbek would have a terrific 1987 season, hitting .285/.389/.545 with 34 HR 90 RBI and 3.8 WAR. Jackson would have a disappointing season, losing 18 games, posting a 4.02 ERA and just 1.7 WAR. The Royals would finish just two games back of the eventual World Champion Twins that year, and the addition of Hrbek for Jackson would likely push the Royals into first place. Hrbek would also provide a productive 1B/DH bat the next two seasons for the Royals, allowing them to pass on weak designated hitters like Bill Buckner and Pat Tabler, giving them a much better chance of competing with the slugging Oakland Athletics. A Hrbek-for-Jackson trades precludes the Royals from acquiring shortstop Kurt Stilwell from the Reds, but Stilwell only provided two seasons of above average play.

If the Royals trade for Hrbek, it makes it less likely they pick up young slugger Danny Tartabull from Seattle for pitching prospect Scott Bankhead in the spring of 1987. However, if the Royals still pursue that trade to fill their hole in right field, then they probably pass on trading another young pitcher battling for a rotation spot - David Cone. Cone would then fill in the rotation spot left by Jackson's departure and post a 1 WAR season in 1987 before his career really takes off.

December 1991 - C Brent Mayne and P Luis Aquino to the Houston Astros for CF Kenny Lofton and IF Dave Rohde

According to Jeffrey Flanagan, the Royals and Astros had agreed on a principle deal to swap Lofton for Mayne with the Royals also sending an unnamed Major League reliever. But the Royals balked at receiving infielder Dave Rohde, instead insisting upon Major League reliever Al Osuna. With Brian McRae already patrolling centerfield in Kansas City, the Royals felt they could walk away from any deal that didn't give them exactly what they wanted, and that's what they did. The Astros quickly dealt Lofton to the Indians in a similar deal that netted them catcher Eddie Taubensee and pitcher Willie Blair.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

Lofton went on to become a six-time All-Star, providing almost 35 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over the next six years. McRae could have moved to left-field where he likely would have been a much better fielder (he was probably overrated as a centerfielder) which could have prevented a list of crummy left-fielders like Kirk Gibson, Kevin McReynolds, Vince Coleman and Tom Goodwin from ever playing in Kansas City.

Would this have made a difference? In 1993, the difference between Kenny Lofton (7.3 WAR) and Kevin McReynolds (0.7 WAR) might have added six wins to an 84-win Royals team, putting them within striking distance of the 94-win first place White Sox. And the difference between Kenny Lofton in 1994 (7.1 WAR) and Vince Coleman (-1.7 WAR) possibly adds nine wins to a 64-51 Royals club, which would have given them the best record in the league at the time of the strike. Lofton would have also provided a terrific trade chip once he approached free agency for a rebuilding Royals club to cash in for prospects.

January 1993 - P Jeff Montgomery to Atlanta for OF David Justice or 1B Ryan Klesko

The Braves were coming off their third straight division title, but had no championships to show for it. The lack of a proven closer had been a glaring weakness on the team, and in the winter before the 1993 season they engaged in talks with the Royals over closer Jeff Montgomery. The Royals wanted not only one of either slugger Ron Gant or David Justice, but minor league reliever Mark Wohlers as well. There was some talk of minor league first baseman/outfielder Ryan Klesko, but the Royals weren't going to give up an All-Star closer like Jeff Montgomery for an unproven player.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

David Justice had a sensational 1993 season, hitting .270/.357/.515 with 40 HR 120 RBI and 4.9 WAR. Instead of nabbing Justice, the Royals instead kept Montgomery, and traded for Cardinals outfielder Felix Jose, who was a huge bust. Jose was acquired for infielder Gregg Jefferies, who had a terrific season for St. Louis. If the Royals don't execute this trade and keep Jefferies at third, they don't ever pick up Gary Gaetti off waivers. So here's how it all plays out:

Royals Get

1993 Stats

WAR

Royals Give Up

1993 Stats

WAR

OF David Justice

.270/.357/.515

40 HR 120 RBI

4.9

OF Felix Jose

.253/.303/.349

6 HR 43 RBI

-0.9

3B Gregg Jefferies

.342/.408/.485

16 HR 83 RBI

4.9

3B Gary Gaetti

.256/.309/.477

14 HR 46 RBI*

2.4

Replacement Level Reliever

0.0

P Jeff Montgomery

7-5 2.27 ERA

87 IP 45 SV

4.3

9.8

6.2

*-stats only with Royals, excludes stats with the Angels

It should be noted that Jefferies moved to first base with the Cardinals, and was an awful defender at third, so that affects how his value would change with the Royals. The Royals would win 84 games in 1993, finishing ten games back of Chicago, so this upgrade might have put them within striking distance of a pennant race. Justice was also under team control through the 1995 season and would have provided a good trade chip (Gant on the other hand, missed the entire 1994 season after an ATV accident and was released).

If the Royals instead think long-term and ask for Ryan Klesko straight up for Montgomery, they get six years of a left-handed slugger they greatly needed, providing 9.6 WAR over six seasons before hitting free agency. Interestingly, the Braves continued to have interest in Montgomery over the next few seasons, again discussing Ron Gant before the 1994 season, then discussing prospects like Odalis Perez and Bruce Chen before the 1998 season.

December 2000 - OF Jermaine Dye to the New York Yankees for 2B Alfonso Soriano

The time to trade Jermaine Dye was probably in the winter of 2000. The team had already decided to trade Johnny Damon, and Dee Brown had put up a solid season in Omaha, suggesting he was ready to join Carlos Beltran and Mark Quinn in the outfield. Dye was coming off a career season, having been named an All-Star. The Yankees had a gaping hole in left-field and needed a long-term replacement for Paul O'Neil in right-field. Making a move for an unproven, but promising prospect like Alfonso Soriano would have made sense for both clubs.

Instead the Royals were emboldened by their 77-win season and thought they were a bullpen away from contention. They were wrong. After a disappointing start, and a rough April for Dye that depressed his trade value, the Royals began to shop the right-fielder. The Yankees reportedly rejected a deal for Soriano and minor league first baseman Nick Johnson, although owner George Steinbrenner was said to have been pushing for the deal. In June, the Yankees dealt hot prospect infielder D'Angelo Jimenez to San Diego, making it harder for the Yankees to deal Soriano without a replacement in-waiting. A few weeks later, the Royals dealt Dye to Oakland in a three-team trade that netted them shortstop Neifi Perez. Perez would put up -2.4 WAR In two seasons in Kansas City. Soriano would put up 4.7 WAR in 2002 alone.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

If Dye is successfully dealt for Soriano, the words "Neifi Perez" are not considered a curse word in Kansas City. Alfonso Soriano becomes an 18 WAR player over six seasons in Kansas City. In 2003, the difference between starting Soriano (5.9 WAR) or Desi Relaford (-0.3) at second base is almost enough to close the gap between the Royals and the first place Twins. Soriano also becomes a very valuable trade piece in 2006 when he has a career season just before he hits free agency.

December 2000 - OF Johnny Damon not traded

Johnny Damon rejected a 5 year $32 million deal from the Royals in part because his agent was Scott Boras, but also in part because he wanted to see a commitment to winning from the franchise. They Royals decided to trade him one year before he hit free agency in a three-way trade that netted the Royals pitcher Roberto Hernandez, shortstop Angel Berroa, and catcher A.J. Hinch. Hernandez gave the Royals the closer they thought they needed to become reasonably competitive, and Berroa was the shortstop of the future they had been looking for. However the deal turned into a bust as Hernandez showed his age and Berroa, aside from a good rookie campaign, was a huge bust.

I'm hard-pressed to find any trade rumors that would have worked out much better. The Dodgers were very interested, but only offered pitchers like Mike Judd and Al Reyes, while rejecting the Royals request for young starting pitcher Eric Gagne. The Mariners were interested in doing something bold, but offered pitchers like Brett Tomko and were unwilling to meet the Royals demand for reliever Jose Paniagua.

The best option in hindsight, was to do nothing.

What happens if the Royals don't make the trade?

Not trading Damon means the Royals keep second baseman Mark Ellis, who was included in the deal to Oakland. Ellis turned into one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball over the next decade, which ironically, the Royals have been searching for since Frank White retired. Once Damon departed via free agency to Boston, he left his former club with two compensatory draft picks. Oakland turned those picks into Nick Swisher and Mark Teahen in the famed "Moneyball" draft. Even if the Royals weren't as sabermetrically inclined to take Swisher, the next picks were: Cole Hamels, Royce Ring, James Loney, Denard Span, Bobby Brownlie, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Joe Blanton, Matt Cain, and John McCurdy. The first round of the 2002 draft was loaded. So not trading Damon was essentially a trade for Nick Swisher, Mark Teahen and Mark Ellis. Not too shabby.

July 2002 - P Paul Byrd to Atlanta for 2B Marcus Giles

Paul Byrd was an impending free agent having a career season, winning 17 games with a 3.90 ERA. He was the sole entertainment at Kauffman Stadium in an otherwise dismal season. Byrd expressed interest in signing a long-term deal in Kansas City, but the Royals were unsure they could meet his asking price. Allard Baird began to shop the right-hander around, insisting on receiving a Major League player in return.

According to Peter Gammons, the Royals had an interesting three-team deal in place where they would have acquired Blue Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson, but the Mets balked at sending minor league pitcher Aaron Heilman to the Jays in exchange for Byrd. Gammons also reported on a Paul Byrd for Marcus Giles deal that may have fallen apart because the Royals asked for too much. Marcus Giles was a second baseman with the Braves in the middle of a disappointing season in Atlanta, his second in the big leagues. The Royals denied this rumor, so its hard to say it was ever on the table, but if offered, this deal should have been accepted by Baird.

That summer, Allard Baird told reporters he was working on either a trade or a long-term contract for Byrd. "I can't afford to just get a draft pick for him at the end of the season," he told reporters. But in the end, that's what he got, a pick that was used to select outfielder Mitch Maier.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

Giles would bounce back to become an All-Star in 2003 with 7.7 WAR, and his performance may have been able to put the Royals on top in the Central that season. He declined pretty rapidly at age 29 with rumors of PED use. However, he put up 14.9 WAR from 2003 before hitting free agency after the 2006 season. The trade would prevent the Royals from ever drafting Mitch Maier however, depriving Royals Review readers of amusing tales from summer camp.

June 2004 - OF Carlos Beltran to Boston for 3B Kevin Youkilis and C Kelly Shoppach

The Royals were insistent on receiving a third baseman and catcher in exchange for two months of Carlos Beltran, so its quite possible they could have gotten a better deal had they moved off that position (reportedly the Phillies offered outfielder Marlon Byrd and pitcher Gavin Floyd). The Yankees offered second baseman Robinson Cano, even showcasing him at third base, along with catcher Dioner Navarro.

The Royals showed little interest in Youkilis or Cano, instead focusing on three third basemen - David Wright of the Mets, Dallas McPherson of the Angels, and Mark Teahen of the Athletics. The Mets flatly rejected any inclusion of Wright, and the Angels were reluctant to throw catcher Jeff Mathis into any deal. Athletics General Manager Billy Beane (who the Royals should have blocked calls from after the Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye deals) lacked the catcher the Royals needed, but some creativity on his part netted a three-team trade where Houston catcher John Buck accompanied Teahen and A's pitcher Mike Wood to Kansas City.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

The Royals couldn't really go wrong accepting either the Red Sox or Yankees offer. The Boston offer was slightly better, with Youkilis putting up more value over his pre-free agency years (25.6 WAR) than Cano (21.4). Catcher Kelly Shoppach has also been more valuable than catcher Dioner Navarro (7.8 vs. 1.8 WAR). Youkilis was eligible for free agency after the 2010 season, a season in which he posted a .975 OPS and likely could have fetched a nice package of prospects had he been a Royal.

Meanwhile, Mark Teahen put up 2.6 WAR in five seasons in Kansas City before being traded for second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields. Getz has bunted his way to 0.7 WAR in three seasons with the Royals, while Fields played thirteen big league games after being traded. The Royals got a total of 1 WAR out of John Buck in six seasons.

July 2005 - 1B Mike Sweeney to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 1B Casey Kotchman and P Ervin Santana

Mike Sweeney and the Royals were praised by local media for coming to a creative agreement on a deal in 2002 that kept the slugger in Kansas City on a five year $55 million deal if the team had a winning record in any season before 2004. The Royals did enjoy a winning season in 2003, ensuring Sweeney was locked up through the 2007 season. However by the 2005 season, Sweeney's $11 million annual salary was becoming a bit of an albatross for a team going nowhere and they looked to move him. Sweeney had a limited no-trade agreement, but it was presumed the Southern California native would approve a trade to the Angels.

Casey Kotchman was a former hot prospect for the Angels that had disappointed in limited Major League action. The Angels did not see him as a long-term answer at first base, having signed Cuban free agent Kendrys Morales. The Royals showed great interest in Kotchman, but the two clubs had trouble coming to agreement on the rest of the package. There are some reports rookie pitcher Ervin Santana was discussed. Reportedly the deal fell apart when the Royals insisted on (a) getting shortstop Erick Aybar in return; and (b) not paying any of Mike Sweeney's remaining $30 million salary.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

Taking simply Kotchman in this deal probably would have been a winner for the Royals, even if they had to eat some salary. Not that Kotchman was any great shakes, but 2005 was Sweeney's last useful year, and he spent the next two seasons being a very expensive player on the disabled list. Kotchman would only put up about 4 WAR before hitting free agency. Landing Santana however, would have been the icing on the cake. Sure he's a bit of a risk now, but he would have produced 9 WAR over his six years before free agency eligibility.

July 2010 - P Joakim Soria to the New York Yankees for C Jesus Montero

We can't say for certain this trade (or any others on this list really) were offered, but Jon Heyman did report the Yanks were interested in the Mexicutioner, and Jayson Stark reported they "dangled" Jesus Montero. The Yankees knew Mariano Rivera was near the end of the line, they knew Soria was young, had several controllable years left, and had a team-friendly contract. They also were either down on Montero or unwilling to suffer growing pains with him in a win-now environment, as evidenced by the fact they traded him a year later to Seattle. Its not unreasonable to think that such a trade was indeed offered.

What happens if the Royals make the trade?

While its true that with Salvador Perez at catcher and Billy Butler at designated hitter there might not be room for Montero, you acquire impact players like that now, and sort it all out later. Its clear that Montero had value on the open market, and acquiring him to spin him into a starting pitcher like Michael Pineda would have been infinitely better than watching Soria land on the disabled list in 2012 and leave the club this winter. If the Royals grab Pineda, who knows, maybe they don't feel the need to go get an "ace" for 2013, and never trade outfield prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for pitcher James Shields.

A few remaining observations:

  • I have heard many Royals fans insist the team was offered Barry Larkin or Kurt Stillwell from the Reds for Danny Jackson and chose Stillwell. I couldn't find any reports that corroborated that. The reports were that the offer was Stillwell or Jeff Treadway. Seeing as how Larkin was a first round pick and native Cincinnati kid, it seems unlikely that he was offered, and in fact, the availability of Stillwell was more likely a result of Larkin's entrenchment in Cincinnati.
  • Reporters were much better about printing trade rumors in the 1970s, but I didn't list any because well, the Royals really nailed trades in those days. The rumors of trades they did not execute were either neutral or bad, and the ones they did execute tended to be big winners.
  • The Royals seem to compromise themselves by "insisting" on a certain position. Shortstop and catcher in particular seem to be positions that have eluded them.
  • For all the talk of "rebuilding" in Kansas City, it never seems like the franchise actually purged the roster like say the Astros have done this winter. In 1995 they dumped David Cone and Brian McRae, but kept expensive players like Kevin Appier, Tom Gordon, and Jeff Montgomery. In 1998 they traded Appier, but kept Montgomery and Jeff King. In the early 2000s, they traded Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, but kept Mike Sweeney, Jeff Suppan, and traded for expensive players like Roberto Hernandez and Neifi Perez. A complete roster purge and planning for the future at some point would have put the franchise in a much better situation down the road.
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