The Kansas City Royals, after so many years of irrelevance, broke through in a big way from 2013-2017. They rejuvenated a dormant fanbase and rekindled a passion for baseball in a town starving for something good. There were many moments that defined this team throughout those years. This is a list of the Top 25 moments. They could be specific moments in time or something that spanned most or all the era. Our No. 18 moment:
#18 – The Royals trade for Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto
Every July teams and fans are always interested in what players are going where. The teams that are out of the hunt and have a player in a contract year are shopping them for prospects. That was the Kansas City Royals for so long. However, in 2015, Dayton Moore took his poker chips, pushed them to the center of the table, and said “All In!”
The Royals were boat racing the American League Central Division. They weren’t interested in making the playoffs, they were interested in winning the whole thing. To do this, the Royals needed one or two more players to make that happen.
The Royals first went in search of an ace. The starting pitching had been the weak spot of the Royals. The Royals found a willing partner in the Cincinnati Reds who had one of the best pitchers in the game in Johnny Cueto. Cueto was an All-Star and Cy Young runner-up the previous year. He also was 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA with Cincinnati that year.
No trade for a talented player like Cueto comes without a price. The Royals gave up Brandon Finnegan, a key part of the run to the 2014 World Series, along with John Lamb and Cody Reed.
The Royals then went in search of an impact bat who could fill a hole at second base. They found a partner in the Oakland Athletics who had super utility player, Ben Zobrist. Zobrist had spent many years with the Tampa Bay Rays and could play anywhere on the field. In exchange for Zobrist, the Royals gave up Aaron Brooks and Sean Manaea.
The trades would pay huge dividends for the Royals. Zobrist filled in for the injured Alex Gordon in left field and then would replace the underperforming Omar Infante at second base. Zobrist also became one of the best two-hole hitters in the league. He would hit .284 with sixteen doubles and seven home runs for the Royals. Zobrist was even more impressive in the playoffs for the Royals. He drove in the game-winning run in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Astros. He also hit two home runs against the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series and hit four doubles against the New York Mets in the World Series. Zobrist would also tie a Major League record for most doubles in a single postseason. Royals fans were thankful yet heartbroken when Zobrist would sign with the Chicago Cubs in the offseason.
Johnny Cueto would provide very little for the Royals in the regular season. He went 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA for the Royals. However, the Royals did not trade for him to get them to the postseason, they got him for the big games. In a winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Division Series, Johnny Cueto practically shut down the high-flying offense for Houston. In fact, had Mike Moustakas not made a bad throw in the top of the second, Cueto may have thrown a perfect game. Then, in Game 2 of the World Series, Cueto pitched the first complete game for an American League pitcher in the World Series since Jack Morris did it for the Minnesota Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. It was much needed since Game 1 had been a fourteen-inning marathon and both bullpens needed rest. The Mets had to go to their bullpen early, Cueto saved the Royals bullpen and the Royals went to New York with a fully rested bullpen.
Both players were rentals and it cost the Royals a lot in the farm system. Many fans will wonder if the Royals could have won the World Series without making the trades. However, without Ben Zobrist providing pop at the top of the lineup, without that lights out stuff of Johnny Cueto, it’s hard to imagine how they don’t win the whole thing.
The life of a small-market franchise is a cruel one and you must sacrifice some good years for an opportunity to win a championship. In the end, the Royals gave up some good prospects, however, flags fly forever. Without Zobrist and Cueto, that flag doesn’t fly.
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