As Zack Greinke and his legacy land in KC, Royals believe they’re in a better place

Zack Greinke is back in Kansas City as the Dodgers start a three-game series on Monday at Kauffman Stadium.
Zack Greinke is back in Kansas City as the Dodgers start a three-game series on Monday at Kauffman Stadium. AP

Zack Greinke returns to Kauffman Stadium for the third time in his career and the first time since 2012 on Monday when the Royals open a three-game series with the Dodgers.

Greinke, who won the 2009 AL Cy Young with the Royals and went 60-67 with a 3.82 ERA in parts of seven seasons in Kansas City, has yet to beat the team that drafted him No. 6 overall in 2002.

As a member of the Brewers, Greinke allowed only one run in seven innings June 12, 2012. He struck out eight and scattered six hits with no walks, but settled for a no decision in a 2-1 loss.

Barely three months later, Greinke returned as a member of the Angels and again was saddled with a no decision despite individual brilliance.

He allowed one run in 8 1/3 innings, but the Royals prevailed 3-2 when closer Ernesto Frieri spit the bit, allowing a game-tying home run to Billy Butler and Sal Perez’s walk-off solo shot back-to-back.

Greinke’s legacy with the Royals is a mixed bag. He walked away from baseball for a time and then became the face of a struggling franchise before demanding a trade.

Some fans choose to remember how his starts in 2009 brought light to a forlorn franchise, while others tend to focus on the sting of his departure and his role in orchestrating it.

For a quick refresher, Royals general manager Dayton Moore eventually granted Greinke’s wish and shipped the quirky ace to the Brewers along with Yuniesky Betancourt and cash in exchange for shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress.

“You always respected what Zack did on the mound,” Butler said. “I think everyone did. Some things get lost in translation with how it ended here, how he got traded, how he asked to be traded. I think that rubbed some people wrong. Of course, it would.

“But he’s in a good spot and played on a couple playoff teams. If he got what he wanted, then that’s fine, because the organization today is in a better spot than it was.”

It’s that last part that’s worth focusing on today.

The Royals, despite a four-game skid entering play against the Dodgers, might not be in contention right now were it not for Greinke’s demand.

Cain, 28, has turned into a budding star. When healthy, he’s become one of the game’s up-and-comers in center field.

He leads the Royals in batting (.310) and is third behind Alex Gordon and Perez in OPS+ (111), while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense wherever he’s penciled into the lineup.

Meanwhile, Escobar, 27, has rebounded from a dreadful 2013 season and is on track for the best season of his career. He’s also an integral part of what some consider baseball’s best defense.

Finally, Odorizzi was a key piece along with Wil Myers in the trade that netted James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays.

Where would the Royals be the last two years without Shields’ leadership? Probably not in the midst of a renaissance several decades in the making.

Davis has emerged as one of the game’s best setup men, and his example — the humility he’s displayed to shake off missing out on the rotation and accept a role — doesn’t get enough credit.

“It panned out all right for us,” Butler said with a smile. “In the grand scheme of things, it worked out great for us. At the time, it might have been tough to see a Cy Young arm go, but the organization is better today than it was then, and that’s what you have to look at.”

The hard-throwing Jeffress appeared in 27 games from 2011-12 with a 5.65 ERA in 28 2/3 innings before he was sold to Toronto before the 2013 season. He’s come full circle and now pitches for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate in Nashville.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.