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Royals trade partner history: The Braves

Did the Royals have a Braves pipeline?

Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

It is the cold winter, still several weeks from spring training. That gives us some time to reflect on Royals seasons past, so after being inspired by the Yankees blog Pinstripe Alley we’ll begin a series looking back at their trade history with each team in baseball. Today, we’ll start with the Atlanta Braves.

Total number of Royals/Braves trades: 29

The long-running gag when Dayton Moore took over was that he was simply stockpiling former Braves players, but he actually only engineered eight trades with his former employer in just over 16 seasons. Three of those trades came in his first 14 months on the job, which was probably where the meme originated, as Moore picked up Tony Peña Jr. and Kyle Davies from Atlanta early in his tenure.

Later on, the Royals dumped the final two months of Jorge Soler’s contract on the Braves, and engineered a creative trade of their competitive balance draft pick in a three-player deal that included Drew Waters. In this off-season, Dayton’s successor J.J. Piccolo has pulled off two trades with the Braves, getting Nick Anderson and Kyle Wright in separate deals.

Best trade: The Royals traded Keith Lockhart and Michael Tucker to the Braves for Jermaine Dye and Jamie Walker on March 27, 1997

Michael Tucker was a former first-round pick with a sweet left-handed swing that scouts figured would one day win a batting title. He put up a solid, albeit unimpressive line of .260/.346/.442 in 1996, his first full season in the big leagues. But the Royals already had two speedy left-handed hitters in their outfield in Tom Goodwin and Johnny Damon, and general manager Herk Robinson wanted to add some right-handed power.

The Braves had called up Jermaine Dye in 1996, and he won the starting right field job for the rest of the season for the pennant-winners, hitting .281/.304/.459 with 12 home runs in 98 games. But after losing to the Yankees in the World Series, the Braves under John Schuerholz decided to revamp their outfield, trading David Justice and Marquis Grissom to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton, and acquiring Tucker for Dye in the same week near the end of spring training.

I hated this trade at the time, and I was not alone. Star columnist Jeffrey Flanagan wrote “the Royals have lost their minds” while the usually optimistic Joe Posnanski slammed the deal.

“This was just one of those moves that hurts a team, even if Dye turns out to be good, which is no guarantee by the way. Dye had a reasonably good half-season for the Braves, but they were not sold on him. It’s hard to be sold on a guy who walks less than Marlon Brando.

This guy chases bad pitches like Tommy Lee Jones going after the Fugitive.”

-Joe Posnanski

Dye struggled his first two seasons, largely due to injury, but in 1999 he smacked 27 home runs, and the next year he was an All-Star. Tucker never won that batting title, but he did carve out a decent 12-year career as a regular, including a second stint in Kansas City. Walker became a serviceable lefty reliever for the Royals, and Lockhart was a popular utility infielder for the Braves for six of their post-season runs.

Worst trade: The Royals traded Charlie Leibrandt and Rick Luecken to the Braves for Jim Lemasters and Gerald Perry on December 15, 1989

The Royals had plucked Charlie Leibrandt from the Reds organization in a minor trade, and he became a breakout starter at the age of 27. He won 17 games for the championship team in 1985, leading the team in ERA and innings pitched, and starting the pivotal Game 6 of the World Series. But by 1989 he had begun to decline, putting up an ugly 5.14 ERA that year. The Royals were trying to keep up with the Bash Brothers in Oakland, and had trouble finding production from the DH position, cycling unsuccessfully through veterans like Bill Buckner and Pat Tabler.

Perry had been an All-Star for the woeful Braves in 1988, hitting .300, but his numbers fell off the next year as he battled a shoulder injury. He was a first baseman/outfielder who could run - he stole 42 bases in 1987 - but had little power for a power position. He became expendable when Atlanta signed free agent first baseman Nick Esasky, and Leibrandt became expendable when the Royals signed free agent pitchers Storm Davis and Rich Dotson, so the teams made a swap.

Leibrandt was discovered to have a rotator cuff tear and missed the first two months, an ominous start to the deal. But he ended up stabilizing the rotation for a lousy Braves team with a 3.16 ERA in 24 starts. Meanwhile, Perry was a bust, hitting just .254/.313/.361 with eight home runs in 133 games as a DH. The Royals non-tendered him, while the Braves re-signed Leibrandt, who would win 15 games as the Braves went from worst-to-first, winning the National League pennant.

Weirdest trade: The Royals traded Nicky Lopez to the Braves for Taylor Hearn on July 30, 2023

Lopez was a slick fielder who could all over the infield, could handle the bat and run, and occasionally draw a walk. But he was at that bottom of the league in power, and had struggled to hit for average since reaching the .300 mark in 2021. He had lost his starting job, and the assumption was the Royals would likely non-tender him at the end of the season.

So J.J. Picollo’s options were likely limited, however it was confounding when he traded Lopez at the deadline for Hearn, a pitcher who had been on waivers from the Rangers just days prior and was shelled in his only outing with the Braves. Hearn pitched in just eight games with the Royals before being cut loose, while Lopez ended up being traded again to the White Sox this past off-season. The White Sox ended up tendering him a contract after all while the Royals ended up signing a similar player in Garrett Hampson.

Underrated trade: The Royals traded Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to the Braves for Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins on July 31, 2010.

The Royals signed veterans Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to serve as placeholders until they were ready to promote prospects from their top-ranked farm system. Injuries limited Ankiel to just 27 games in a Royals uniform, while Farnsworth was a solid reliever, but both were on expiring contracts. Yet in the waning hours before the trade deadline, the Royals were able to not only get rid of players that weren’t part of the future, but they got three Major League-fringe players in return.

Blanco didn’t last with the Royals long, but he was soon a 2 WAR outfielder who started for the 2012 and 2014 champion Giants. Chavez also didn’t stay in KC long, but he carved out a 16-year career in the big leagues as a versatile swingman. Collins, a diminutive lefty, made 228 relief outings for the Royals with a 3.60 ERA, and was part of the 2014 pennant-winning club (he missed the 2015 season after Tommy John surgery).