Vahe Gregorian

Standing pat at trade deadline proved crucial to Royals’ breakthrough

By the end of September, when general manager Dayton Moore joined the Royals in Chicago, the importance of his trade-deadline decisions was clear.
By the end of September, when general manager Dayton Moore joined the Royals in Chicago, the importance of his trade-deadline decisions was clear. The Kansas City Star

Sluggerrr is the official Royals mascot, or, for traditionalists, it’s the now mothballed illustration of Mr. Royal.

Considering the number of times these Royals were left for dead and administered last rites, though, maybe there’s room for an honorary adoption of Lazarus — the dog who’s become a national name by surviving what was supposed to be a lethal injection.

It’s not hard to think of ample instances when it seemed this magical season was expiring, and never more dramatically than when the Royals trailed Oakland 7-3 as late as the eighth inning of the American League Wild Card Game.

But that monumental comeback, which morphed into the Royals’ berth in the AL Championship Series starting Friday in Baltimore, probably never would have happened if the Royals hadn’t done what they did at the trade deadline.

Which, in fact, was nothing … despite considerable screeching that they were being negligent.

There were numerous reasons for standing pat, a term that belies the furious efforts general manager Dayton Moore and his front office were making to upgrade as they hovered five games behind Detroit in the AL Central standings July 31.

The gridlock was in part financial, in part because the Royals were stuck at the intersection of the future is now and securing their future.

They had to balance responsibility with what they viewed as recklessness, measure holding against folding, buying against selling … and the price for anything substantial would have been the likes of Yordano Ventura or Danny Duffy.

Some critics thought they should consider trading James Shields, the anchor of this team in every way, because the chances of signing him next year are infinitesimal.

In the end, though, it all came to this: a principled, resolute last stand of sorts, both for the season and perhaps Moore’s regime.

“At the end of the day, there just wasn’t anything that we felt significantly upgraded our team,” Moore said Tuesday, pausing and bluntly adding, “You get to a point in time where you’ve been together for so long, you’re going to do it together or you’re not going to do it.

“And that’s where we were.”

Even so, Moore seemed wistful at a news conference that day, and his words then sounded less like conviction than wishful thinking.

“They haven’t played their best baseball yet, collectively,” he said flatly. “So that’s what we have to count on at the end of the day, and we believe it will happen.”

It didn’t help that Detroit sent a shudder through baseball, not to mention the Royals, when it added star pitcher David Price to an already stocked rotation.

Of less direct concern to the Royals at the time, Oakland apparently enhanced itself by acquiring Jon Lester.

Each example was used to heap vitriol on Moore.

But neither proved to be what it appeared.

The Tigers still won the division, of course, but they were swept by Baltimore in the division series.

The Royals beat the Athletics, who started Lester, in that freakish Wild Card game.

And on the Royals go.

“You’re aware of (other trades), but we live in a different world,” Moore said Tuesday. “We focus on what we do, we understand who we are and we try to operate within those measures. We can’t control what Detroit does.…

“Everybody tries to do the right thing for their team. We can’t worry about that. We just can’t. We have to focus on what we have, and what we can do.”

It didn’t look like enough at that point, and the front office’s stance suffered another blow that very night when Eric Hosmer aggravated a hand injury that would keep him out a month.

A team whose greatest void was offensive production thus suffered the double-whammy of adding no reinforcements and losing a key player.

You know what happened next:

The pieces were there all along, even if it looked like a scrambled jigsaw puzzle at the time.

The Royals won their third in a row that night, and they’d seize 19 of 23 overall before they’d lose as many as two games in a row again.

Led by Shields, the sensational starting pitching not only held up, but flourished.

The staggering bullpen took on more definition with Kelvin Herrera claiming the seventh in the same dominating way Wade Davis and Greg Holland were owning the last two innings.

The punchless offense scored five or more runs 12 times over that span, and most of the time it did with a variety of players coming through.

Then came September, when the Royals had more ebb than flow at times but came more into the identity we know now by adding another dimension of speed with minor-league flash Terrance Gore.

Sure, the Royals also cobbled together a few additions from outside the organization, adding the likes of Josh Willingham, Jason Frasor, Liam Hendriks and Erik Kratz.

They all helped in varying measures, but Kratz was the only who called the deal that brought Hendriks and him from the Blue Jays for Danny Valencia a “blockbuster.”

He was joking when he said that, of course.

But it turns out the real blockbuster was the trade, or trades, the Royals didn’t make when it seemed to all outside they had to.

“Dayton and I sat down and we said, ‘You know what, we believed in this group when we left spring training. We believe in this group now. We feel like this is a group that is capable of winning a championship,’” manager Ned Yost said. “We don’t have to go out and make a big splash.

“And so far it’s been right on.”

There were many other reasons for that, yes, but in the end it’s a credit to Moore for holding tight as buzzards circled.

If you think about it, it’s a lot like poet Rudyard Kipling put it:

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,” Kipling wrote in his poem, “If,” then “Yours is the Earth, and everything in it.”

Maybe this isn’t quite the Earth and everything in it.

But after 28 years of futility, this is something Royals fans wouldn’t trade for the world … in part because Moore wouldn’t trade for just anything when others were losing their heads.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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