Royals feeling holly and jolly after deadline haul
Given it’s late July, it’s plenty hot enough as it is, but for baseball fans the temperature may get cranked up even further with the midseason trade deadline looming this Friday.
The hot stove started heating up once again last Thursday when the Houston Astros nabbed pitcher Scott Kazmir in a trade with the Oakland Athletics and it doesn’t show any signs of cooling down until 3:01 p.m. on July 31.
Postseason contenders have certainly been busy so far, with the Pirates welcoming home Aramis Ramirez in a trade with the Brewers, the Mets acquiring Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe from the Braves, the Los Angeles Angels bringing Shane Victorino to the west coast after a deal with Boston and the latest coup from Toronto, which acquired Troy Tulowitzki in a deal with the Rockies.
Kansas City got in on the action this year as well, reeling in one of the biggest fish splashing around in the form of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. To get the ace they craved (for the rest of this season), the Royals gave up three minor league pitchers, the most notable being one of last year’s postseason heroes, Brandon Finnegan.
Giving up Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed left KC with some chips to play with and the team pushed more of them into the middle in order to bring in veteran utility man Ben Zobrist (OF/2B) in a deal with Oakland.
Again, the Royals gave up no Major League talent as two more minor league pitchers (Sean Manea and Aaron Brooks) were traded away as part of the deal. While both Zobrist and Cueto will be free agents at the end of the season, the Royals did receive cash considerations from both teams to lower the price tags on their rentals.
Zobrist provides flexibility that could allow manager Ned Yost to rest players down the stretch as Kansas City takes aim at its second consecutive postseason appearance after a previous 28-year drought. The switch-hitter is currently batting .268 this season with six home runs, 33 RBI and 39 runs scored.
Coming into the situation, Zobrist will likely spend the bulk of his early time for the Royals filling in for the injured Alex Gordon in left field. When Gordon comes back, though, expect Zobrist to slot in more at second base and spell the left side of the infield when needed as well (the majority of his career he has spent playing second base, right field and shortstop, in that order).
The importance of depth cannot be stressed enough in regards to this move. After seeing how well it worked for the bullpen last postseason, it was clearly a goal of the organization to address that on the offensive end as well.
While the Royals stood pat (for the most part) at the deadline a season ago, barely hanging onto playoff contention at the time, 2015 sees the team going all in on a World Series bid.
On top of Zobrist’s solid bat and glove, which will fit right in with the defensive-minded Royals, Cueto brings enough to the table on his own to make his trade alone worth the wait.
Cueto’s overall record this year (7-6) is modest, but he boasts a 2.62 ERA and 120 strikeouts so far this season. Also, he is in rarified air with the reigning NL MVP, Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, as the only other player to pitch 500-plus innings since 2011 and hold an ERA under 2.8.
If it seems like Christmas in July in Kansas City, well it might not be far off. Patience proved to be a virtue for the Royals and instead of getting the lumps of coal they are used to at this time, fans can now look forward to seeing their team’s bright, shiny new toys in action starting at the end of the week.
Kansas City’s work is not done by any means, with a long two months left before the start of postseason play, but general manager Dayton Moore (a.k.a. Santa) is clearly paying back the fans’ good faith and trying to make good on his promise of a World Series title.
To do that, he’s turned a mystery bag of minor league pitchers into gift cards, or proven commodities, in the form of Cueto and Zobrist. Because of that, Christmas may in fact come early for the Royals in November as the team clearly has its sights set on another World Series appearance and this time, they don’t want to walk away empty-handed.