Vahe Gregorian

Royals’ recent moves show their singular purpose: winning World Series

The Royals traded for starting pitcher Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline. It represented a radical departure from largely standing pat at the trade deadline a year before.
The Royals traded for starting pitcher Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline. It represented a radical departure from largely standing pat at the trade deadline a year before. The Associated Press

Before Friday at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals last had played at home “a year ago,” as manager Ned Yost put it.

It hadn’t been, in fact, since July 26, way back before the organization underwent a facelift — by acquiring ace starter Johnny Cueto and utilityman extraordinaire Ben Zobrist — that finally was on display here Friday.

The bold moves, for five minor-league pitchers, weren’t exactly an extreme makeover of the team, which already had a potent nucleus and was well-perched to defend its American League championship.

They did, though, represent a radical departure from largely standing pat at the trade deadline a year before — and seemingly from a prime directive that for years had been predicated on the future.

But all that building and biding time always was about one point in particular.

“We’re in this thing to win a World Series,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “That’s why we come to work.”

That’s why the Royals were obliged to go all-in now, when the opportunity is ripe, because what if this someday never comes again?

That’s why they had to seize the moment rather than hem and haw and just hope that their starting pitching would spontaneously snap into alignment and that All-Star left-fielder Alex Gordon would return from his groin injury in a relatively timely way (early September).

That’s why even carrying the second-best record in baseball, 64-44, and the most lopsided divisional lead (9 1/2 games) heading into Saturday’s games, Moore still is seeking ways to bolster the roster.

“We haven’t done anything; we haven’t accomplished one thing yet,” said Moore, noting the Royals haven’t won a divisional title since 1985. “So we’ve got to attack every day with a sense of urgency. And (as if) it’s the most important day of the year regardless of the standings.”

This is a bright window, and maybe it looks onto tomorrow, too.

But it’s a tight window, too, potentially fleeting as you can see just about anywhere in baseball.

No matter how much it looks like what’s happened over the last year is sustainable, every season is subject to its own dynamics, every team susceptible to its own variables going forward.

Nothing, really, is assured but now (though Moore says the Royals “feel good” about what they gave up to buoy themselves because they didn’t have to surrender prospects such as Miguel Almonte, Cheslor Cuthbert, Raul Mondesi and Bubba Starling).

As divergent as the approach might seem, Moore suggests the recent maneuvers are an offshoot of the blockbuster trade of outfield prospect Wil Myers (and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard) for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

The 2013 deal jumpstarted the Royals we know now, giving them a veteran leader at the top of the rotation whose imprint remains and one of the most daunting relievers in the game.

The scenario for that deal, of course, was fundamentally different than these. It was made in the offseason, for one thing, and at a time when the Royals still were seeking traction toward a .500 record across a whole season.

The connective thread, though, is that it meant dipping into the wellspring.

Moore remembers hearing criticism of the Myers deal instantly, but he points back to that as a turning point of an evolving philosophy in development.

Yes, they were harvesting prospects to be brought to Kansas City — but also to be traded as needed.

When Moore would hear people say that if the Myers deal “doesn’t work out, it’s going to be awful,” he thought, “ ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa: This is the first in a series of moves that we’re going to have to continue to make if we’re going to win.’

“You have to keep reshaping things.”

Now, this is the shape the Royals are in:

They may or may not get back to the World Series, but they’ve got a better chance than anyone else as dictated by record, odds-makers and even the eye test.

Other than the normal fluctuations of a marathon season, in which they won 13 of 18 before losing six of their next 10 as different players heated up and cooled off, the Royals have few trapdoors to avoid now.

Obviously, they’ll be a better team with the return to form of Gordon, who seems on trajectory to begin a minor-league rehab stint by the end of the month.

But whatever urgency they might feel to get him back, which in turn would figure to allow Zobrist to help at second base, Moore is wary of rushing Gordon.

“Because we’re at a point in time in our season,” he said, “if you have a two-week setback, that’s a problem.”

The only other thing resembling a problem is uncertain starting pitching beyond Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Danny Duffy.

Particularly, there is the matter of opening day starter Yordano Ventura, who trumps every step forward with several back — and confounding drama, too.

Since being optioned to Class AAA Omaha but never actually departing in the wake of Jason Vargas’ season-ending injury, the volatile Ventura has held faithfully to that form.

After his seven-inning, one-run performance on July 26, Yost dubbed him the “old” Ventura … followed by Ventura giving up 11 runs in 12 innings over his next two starts, accented by another temperamental outburst, this time via Twitter.

It seems some kind of psychological overhaul is needed for Ventura, whose velocity and stuff appears much the same as they did during his banner rookie season.

But if you believe as some of us do that a little minor-league shock therapy time would help, Moore has sensible counterpoints.

“If you have a great night in Triple-A,” Moore said, shrugging, “I don’t know what that means for Yordano.”

Moreover, Moore and his braintrust are persuaded that Ventura must work through his issues at this level.

“This is the Major Leagues, and this is where the best competition in the world exists,” he said. “And if you’re going to be able to improve and get better, you need to be able to do it up here.”

Perhaps mindful that some of this is a matter of perception for Ventura, Moore said he thought Ventura just made “a couple bad pitches” on Thursday in Detroit.

He also was hurt, Moore said, by potential double plays that failed to be turned in a game in which “you’ve got to cover each other.”

Still, Moore nodded when asked about the difference between knowing and wondering if Ventura will perform.

“It goes back to three things for me all the time,” he said. “Is the player working hard and staying positive? Does the coaching staff want him on the team? And thirdly, and as importantly, do his teammates remain confident in him?

“And if you can’t answer all those questions … (affirmatively) or you’re unsure, then you’ve got to think about sending him down. And I don’t see any issues there.”

If he’s right, the Royals will cement their frontrunner status as October approaches and they seek to fulfill their singular purpose now — not in some vague future.

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

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments