The Royals have a long and more recent history of bad trades.
Brandon Maurer hasn’t worked out all that well and although he was having a career year before his injury, you could make a frail argument that trading Wade Davis for Jorge Soler cost the Royals a shot at the postseason in 2017. On a smaller scale, trading Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez after a career-year from Melky in 2011 didn’t make much sense, even as the Royals were searching for starting pitching.
“He’s a very dynamic left-handed pitcher,” Moose said. “He’s somebody our scouts feel is a breakout candidate moving forward into 2012.”
Yeah, that quote didn’t age well.
While there are many trades that Royals can look back on and scratch their heads about, they all at least served a purpose in theory. Kansas City was in contention and needed arms when they traded for Maurer, Trevor Cahill, and Buchter. In fact, a lot of people liked the trade at the time.
The Royals needed a right fielder that could potentially help them compete in 2017 while also being a future asset, which they hypothetically got in Soler and the Royals desperately needed starting pitching when they traded for Sanchez. The trades didn’t work but they kinda-stora made sense and at least they failed with a purpose.
One trade that doesn’t fit that criteria is the Jose Martinez trade. In this exchange, the Royals dealt the 27-year-old for cash considerations, causing few people to bat an eye. In his short time with the Royals, Martinez played in 135 games at the Triple-A level, which included a Pacific League batting title in 2015 when he hit .384 in 98 games to the tune of a 177 wRC+.
He regressed to start the 2016 season, but still notched a 110 wRC+ in his first 37 games with Omaha. But then, the Royals decided it was time for Whit Merrifield to be a big leaguer. To make room for him on the 40-man roster, Martinez was designated for assignment and soon after traded to the Cardinals.
Few people thought anything of it, including the Cardinals. St. Louis had the chance to trade for him in 2015 for Tony Cruz but decided to take a chance on the other Jose Martinez in the Royals system.
Fast forward just over two years and you will most likely find Jose Martinez batting third for a Cardinals team in the thick of a postseason hunt. In his first 214 games as a Cardinal, Martinez has put together a .301/.368/.485 slash with a 128 wRC+.
Earlier, I said that you could make a frail argument that trading Davis for Soler cost the Royals a shot at the postseason and when I say that, it is very much with Martinez in mind. Last season, Martinez spent much of his time playing right field, albeit poorly. There is a scenario where Martinez rakes in right field while Davis is still trotting out for the 9th inning during the 2017 season and the Royals slide into the postseason. It isn’t a likely scenario, but a scenario nonetheless.
This is all to say that baseball can be absolutely brutal sometimes. I would be lying to you if I said that there were alarms going off in my head when the Royals dealt Martinez. Given he played a position of need and was hitting everything at Triple-A, it wasn’t my favorite decision, but the Pacific League is full of guys like Martinez.
It’s hard to fault the organization for the decision that was made, although Dayton Moore does take responsibility for it. In a Kansas City Star article written by Sam Mellinger earlier this year, Moore gave a brief explanation.
“I’ll take responsibility for it,” Moore said, adding, “There wasn’t any room for him. The way we were built at the time. If Jose Martinez is in our system right now we wouldn’t think about (letting him go).”
In the article, even the Cardinals admitted they got lucky, getting more in return than they had bargained for. It’s easy to look at a move like this and pile onto Moore’s recent struggles, but we shouldn’t do that. For the few people who were up in arms about Martinez being let go, have at it. Send me your tweets. But for the rest of us, we are in the same boat as Moore and the Cardinals front office when this move happened. Absolutely nobody saw this coming.
It’s unfortunate as we look back, but the Royals also won a World Series thanks to some dumb luck when a bottomed-out failure of a starting pitcher became the best reliever in baseball. If the last five years of Royals baseball has taught us anything, it is that baseball can be completely random and incomprehensible at times.
The Jose Martinez trade is just another example of that.