Notwithstanding newcomer Justin Maxwell’s game-winning 12th-inning home run Saturday, the Royals essentially stood pat at last week’s trade deadline.
With the first playoff berth in a generation actually within their reach, if not yet their grasp, they didn’t force a grand-standing, blockbuster, franchise-changing maneuver just to say they did.
Which just amplifies and accentuates the fact that that move already was made — in December, when they surrendered a potential chunk of their future for what has become the bedrock of their present: ace starter James Shields, from whom much of what has happened this season has drizzled down.
Shields, who is only 6-7 but has started 13 games the Royals won largely because of how he pitched, of course isn’t the sole reason for the Royals’ revival through this point of the season.
But his presence set the tone for and aligned a pitching staff that is tops in the American League through Friday’s games (3.62 ERA), a staff whose work has further been enabled by stellar defense.
That meant from the get-go that the Royals would have a chance at something special — albeit relatively — if and when the bats cranked up.
Presto, with runs no longer a rarity, the Royals are soaring with 10 wins in their last 11 games and are on the scent of the playoffs.
So never mind that with each thunderous swat for the Tampa Bay Rays, Wil Myers, the headliner on the other end of the trade, may prompt some Royals fans to wince, sigh, curse, mutter or shake their heads.
Even if Myers goes on to the preposterously prosperous career he appears to have before him, and even if the other promising prospects the Royals surrendered in the momentous move ultimately succeed, the deal was a must.
It was a bold, risky declaration that the future is now for the Royals, who haven’t been to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985, have had one winning (full) season since 1993 and haven’t won more than 75 games in a decade.
Without it, I don’t believe the Royals would be immersed in one of their most intriguing runs in eons. Even if the playoffs seem far-fetched, and I don’t know why that has to be with the Royals about to play 17 of 22 at home, the truth is that even a .500 record would be a breakthrough.
That or more would represent a change in the direction and maybe even the complexion of the franchise.
It would create an actual foundation and rational basis for more and better ahead, perhaps a particularly salient point seven years into general manager Dayton Moore’s tenure.
In other words, even though Shields is signed only through 2014, this was an investment for the long haul.
Because without the beginning of a change, well, there never will be a change.
Or as Moore put it in a preseason interview with The Star’s Bob Dutton: “I believe and it’s my hope that it’s going to set us on a different course whether Shields is here in 2015 or not. That’s what I go back to all of the time with that deal.
“We can’t win unless we have consistency in our rotation. And if we don’t start winning, we’re never going to be ready to win.”
Fans can only subsist on hope and faith and a much-trumpeted minor-league system for so long.
Myers was a steep price to pay, but the Royals’ resistance couldn’t fend off Tampa’s insistence.
The GM in all of us thinks we could fleece everyone else, and the pessimist in all of us frets we always are about to get swindled.
But sometimes a compromise doesn’t mean everyone had to settle. Sometimes a trade can work out right for both parties: Each had a surplus and a need, and each made themselves better with it and for it.
There are some caveats, though, to how all this will come to be seen and remembered going forward.
The undercard of the trade, for instance, remains an undercurrent, unclear beneath the surface.
For the Royals, Wade Davis is just 5-9 with a 5.42 ERA and several times has seemed a start or two from losing his place in the rotation only to redeem himself, and reserve infielder Elliot Johnson was hitting just .193.
On the Rays end, pitcher Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery have spent most of the season with the Class AAA Durham Bulls, for whom Odorizzi is 8-5 with a 3.73 ERA and Montgomery 5-5 with a 4.26 ERA. Third baseman Patrick Leonard is hitting .222 playing A-ball for Bowling Green.
It will take time for all those components to play out, but the jewels of the deal — Shields and Myers —and their impact now are the most fundamental issues of defining the virtue of the trade for the Royals.
Shields was a pivotal, even vital pickup for the Royals, setting up Ervin Santana as a terrific No. 2 starter to lead a rotation that has eaten up enough innings to help set up strong bullpen work, too, most notably that of closer Greg Holland.
Without that, there’s no way to know how much more offense it would take for the Royals to be where they are now.
So regardless of how it might sting to see Myers flourish, Moore’s reasoning in making the trade has worked masterfully.
Yet even if you applaud the audacity and logic of it, and I do, the fact is the Royals simply have to sustain this pace or better the rest of the season for it to have truly paid off.
Or at least they have to sustain it to the last home game in August, when they play host in a makeup game against the Rays and Myers, who no doubt will have fans pining for what might have been if the Royals don’t make their future now.
The Royals had to make that move.
Now it’s up to the players to demonstrate that it was the one to change a franchise.