Vahe Gregorian

Jeremy Guthrie’s still making Royals’ trade with Rockies look like a steal

Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who will have to bat in an NL park, worked on his bunting during Friday’s practice.
Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who will have to bat in an NL park, worked on his bunting during Friday’s practice. The Kansas City Star

From the outside, anyway, the text message to Royals general manager Dayton Moore sounds more like the stuff of a prank or a joke than a sincere inquiry:

“Hey, would you be interested in swapping struggling starters?”

That’s the casual but all-too-true way Royals manager Ned Yost remembers Colorado dangling Jeremy Guthrie to Moore in the summer of 2012.

Even with no stability or direction in their rotation, the Royals didn’t so much pounce as grasp at the notion of swapping lefty Jonathan Sanchez — who was 1-6 with a 7.76 ERA at the time — for Guthrie, who was 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA.

Moore and Yost looked at each other, Yost said, and Yost prompted him with words to the effect of, “Man, let’s give it a shot, right?”

As rallying cries go, that might not make the sequel to “The Power Of Positive Thinking.”

But it proved to be a vital deal for the Royals, first providing a foothold toward creating structure in their debilitating void of starting pitching.

And rippling through to Friday at AT&T Park, where Guthrie will start game three of the World Series.


It’s a long way from 2012, when the Royals’ theory was that Guthrie somewhat was a victim of altitude more than attitude or aptitude in Colorado.

He just might prosper in the more expansive acreage and less incendiary atmosphere of Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals also were cultivating remarkable outfield play to come.

The hunch proved prophetic, and not just because Sanchez never won another Major League Baseball game.

Almost instantly, Yost was taken by the simple fact that Guthrie “commanded the ball down.”

“At that point on our staff we didn’t have anybody that could do that,” he said. “We had a bunch of young starters and guys that were probably fourth or fifth starters. We didn’t have anybody that could consistently command the ball down and change speeds like he did.

“And I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s got a chance to do something.’”

A few tweaks later with pitching coach Dave Eiland, and a career seemingly fading away was resuscitated.

Guthrie was the first cog in a makeover of the rotation that later was upgraded with James Shields and Jason Vargas from outside the organization and bolstered with homegrown products Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy.

The rest of the group had been so strong, in fact, no one would have guessed that Guthrie would be the one to provide the best postseason start to date:

He allowed Baltimore just one run and three hits in five innings in the opening game of the American League Championship Series.


But Guthrie, 35, shakes off the idea he was at the crossroads of his career two years ago.

In part, that’s because he still felt like he had the velocity to perform.

But mostly it’s because he believes he had faced that crisis moment long before and gained equilibrium from it that has carried him since.

To get to that moment in his life though, it’s worth first taking the scenic excursion there with Guthrie.

His path and his way are somewhere between atypical and rare.

The real foundation to that was before Guthrie became known for his insatiable need for shoes … and his love for chess … and his social media mania … and his thing for T-shirts … and translating for Ventura … and as a Stanford man (who still seeks a few credits to complete his degree in sociology) … and the guy wearing not only goggles but a snorkel for all those champagne celebrations.

Before any of this, Guthrie had become disillusioned with baseball during his freshman year at Brigham Young.

At 19, he went on his Mormon mission to Spain and didn’t throw a baseball for two years.

“When I left, baseball was not something that I foresaw in my future, at least long-term,” he said. “I loved the game. I enjoyed playing it, but I was burned out.

“I had pitched poorly as a freshman, and quite frankly it was not fun. So when I took my call to be a missionary for two years, I left my glove behind, I left the ball behind.”

Mostly, that was because such is what’s asked of missionaries: “to leave everything behind that could be a distraction to them,” as he put it.

When Guthrie returned, he said, it was with no expectations other than the faith that wherever his life went from there would reflect God’s will.

There was no magic moment of crystallization, though, unless you count this:

As he enjoyed more and more success after transferring to Stanford along the way to being Cleveland’s first-round draft pick in 2003, Guthrie realized he had few answers as to how his career had flourished. He simply began to think he just had “a tremendous blessing.”

And he’d need that conviction through his first three years in the Indians organization because, he said, “I was not good, and I did not have confidence, and … I didn’t have anything going for me as a professional pitcher.”

As he tells the story, he flashes through his five seasons in Baltimore, where he was 47-65, zips by Colorado and zooms to now.

“So life, baseball, everybody has a story. I’m no different,” he said. “But what I learned as a missionary in those two years away are the foundation for everything that happens to me in my life.”

Not to mention Colorado wanting to swap struggling starters.

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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