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Royals trade partner history: The Cubs

Who have the Royals sent to the “friendly confines”?

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St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

This is a series that looks back at their trade history with each team in baseball. The first entry was a look at trades between the Royals and Atlanta Braves. Today, we’ll look back at the history of trades between the Royals and the Chicago Cubs.

Total number of Royals/Cubs trades: 19

The Cubs didn’t call the Royals for a deal until 1976, when they sent light-hitting first baseman Pete LaCock to Kansas City in a three-team trade. The Royals would later send veteran catcher Jim Sundberg onto the Cubs in 1987 in a salary dump. They brought back Michael Tucker to Kansas City for his second stint in 2002. And the Royals sent speedster Terrance Gore to the Cubs for their playoff run in 2018.

Best trade: The Royals traded Jose Cuas to the Cubs for Nelson Velázquez on July 31, 2023

It is probably too early to call this a great trade, but there aren’t a lot of good deals to choose from here. Jose Cuas was a neat story - a minor league infielder who was out of baseball at one point working as a FedEx delivery guy who reinvented himself as a side-arming reliever. But he had mixed results - perhaps a result of misuse - and the Cubs were interested enough in him to acquire him last summer in exchange for young slugger Nelson Velázquez. The outfielder had not done much in the big leagues, and didn’t even have a great minor league track record, but he went on a tear with the Royals, smacking 14 home runs in just 40 games, while hitting .233/.299/.579. The Royals will likely give him a long look this year to see if he was a fluke or a late bloomer, but the upside is pretty good for a guy acquired for a middle reliever.

Worst trade: The Royals traded Brian McRae to the Cubs for Geno Morones and Derek Wallace on April 5, 1995

The McRae family is royalty in a Royal organization. Father Hal was a three-time All-Star and clubhouse leader who went on to manage the club for four seasons. His son Brian grew up in the Royals clubhouse and became a first-round pick and starting centerfielder for the team, dazzling fans with his defense. In 1994, the Royals went on a surprise run with Brian enjoying career highs in stolen bases (28) and walks (54) when the season abruptly ended due to a player’s strike.

The work stoppage came about because owners planned to unilaterally impose a salary cap and new rules on free agency. Under these new rules, Royals outfielder Brian McRae was eligible to be a restricted free agent, and that winter, the Cubs offered him a three-year, $9 million deal. Ultimately, a federal court ruled against the owners and scrapped the owner’s new rules in favor of the rules under the old collective bargaining agreement. That meant McRae would no longer be eligible for restricted free agency, being instead subject to the old arbitration system.

But with no changes to the economics of baseball, and with owner Muriel Kauffman passing away during the work stoppage, the Royals were in immediate need to dump salary. Less than a week after the court ended the strike, the Royals shipped McRae to the Cubs for two minor league pitchers.

“It’s like I’m leaving a family,” lamented McRae.

McRae would have some of his best years with the Cubs, putting up 9.3 rWAR in three seasons. Wallace only stayed in the Royals organization for a few months before he was traded to the Mets in a deal for pitcher Jason Jacome, returning to the organization in 1999 and appearing in eight games for them. Morones never got past Double-A and was out of baseball by 1997.

Weirdest trade: The Royals traded Martin Maldonado to the Cubs for Mike Montgomery on July 15, 2019

The Royals signed Maldonado out of desperation when Salvador Perez needed Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2019. He didn’t replace Salvy’s bat, that’s for certain, but he did provide great defense, particularly pitch-framing, which attracted attention from contenders. The Cubs were interested when Willson Contreras got hurt, and picked him up for pitcher Mike Montgomery.

The trade was a bit odd from the Royals’ standpoint - they were rebuilding and picking up a 29-year-old starting pitcher didn’t seem to fit in those plans. But they had some years of control for him, with the hopes he could rebound in Kansas City. He didn’t.

Meanwhile, Maldonado lasted just four hitless games with the Cubs before they traded him again, this time to the Astros, where Maldonado had spent the previous season. It was a weird sequence of events for both the Royals and Cubs, but ultimately probably didn’t matter much.

Underrated trade: The Royals traded Wade Davis to the Cubs for Jorge Soler on December 7, 2016

Okay, so I did not like this trade, and still do not like this trade. I list it as an underrated trade though, because as a pure trade, it wasn’t bad at all.

After the 2016 season, the Royals still had the core of their championship together, but for only one more year. They could either go all-in and push for one more title with that core, or tear it all down and rebuild for the future. They tried to have it both ways with this trade, dealing All-Star closer Wade Davis to the Cubs for a young oft-injured slugger. In fairness, Davis had experienced some forearm tightness that summer which may have hurt his trade value. But that is just another reason why they should have hung onto him and made one more push in 2017.

Ultimately Davis was pretty terrific again that year, while Soler wasn’t enough to move the needle for the Royals once the core of the team departed. The Royals slumped late in the year and ended up missing the playoffs by five wins. So in the big picture, this was a bad trade.

But in a vacuum, the Royals got decent value for one year of Wade Davis. Soler was hurt his first two years, but led the league in home runs in 2019, setting a club record with 48. Had the Royals traded him away at his peak, they could have really maximized this deal. But they didn’t, and what was a good trade in a vacuum ended up being squandered.