If you’re a Royals fan reading this post, it shouldn’t require much explanation.
Over the years, the Royals have managed to let dozens of guys get away from their organization. Sometimes these players were granted free agency because the small-market Royals simply couldn’t afford them anymore. Other times, the Royals pulled the trigger on miserable trades. Other times, they simply missed on a superstar in their own backyard.
This is purely my opinion, and there are definitely others to add to this list (and some I may have spaced out on), but here are the Top 10 Royals That Got Away:
10. Jose Bautista
Yep. The bomber for the Toronto Blue Jays spent part of the 2004 season with the Royals as a rookie while also spending some time with Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh that year. He played in 13 games and went 5-25 with 12 K’s in his short stretch with KC. Not shocking we ditched him, I guess. Now he plays in Toronto and has averaged 30+ home runs over the past 4 seasons.
9. David Cone
This one hurts because we actually let him get away twice. Cone was drafted in 1981 and debuted with the Royals in 1986. He pitched in 11 games and had a 5.56 ERA that season. Just before the start of the 1987 season, the Royals traded him to the Mets.
Then as a free agent in 1992, Cone came back to Kansas City from 1993-1995. Then we brilliantly shipped him away to Toronto for three players, only one of whom would actually play for the Royals, and that was Chris Stynes who only appeared in 58 pitiful games over two years. Cone would end up as a Yankee after his half-season with the Blue Jays.
Interestingly, Cone’s two best seasons were his two years in a Royals uniform. He won the Cy Young in 1994 and posted a career best 7.2 WAR in 1993. But man it would’ve been nice to have him longer. He left just as the Royals decline began.
8. John Buck
Okay, so this is strictly a homer pick. I’ve been the co-president of the John Buck Fan Club since around 2004 (when the Royals acquired him in a trade for another player on this list). I was heartbroken when they let him walk and he signed with Toronto. What made it worse was that the Roylas decided to go with an 83 year old, washed up mountain troll, Jason Kendall, instead. Kendall started at catcher for one year: 2010. Let’s compare JK and JB’s splits that year…
- Kendall (KC): .256/.318/.297, 0 HR, 37 RBI
- Buck (TOR): .281/.341/.489, 20 HR, 66 RBI
Buck also went to the All Star Game in 2010. Although, by some miracle, Kendall somehow managed to steal 12 bases that year. But he also got caught 7 times. The more I look at it, the more he might actually deserve to be on this list for more reasons than just my crush on him.
7. Zack Greinke
Zack always belonged in the National League anyway – he hit .328 for the Dodgers last season – and unlike others on this list, we never would have been able to pay him anywhere near what he deserved. We were fortunate enough to have him as long as he did. He won the Cy Young award in 2009 after dealing with emotional anxiety the years before. Sure, Zack got away, but it was probably the right move for the organization. Still hurts.
6. Raul Ibanez
Ibanez only spent 3 years in KC from 2001-03, and in that time he batted .291/.347/.492. Prior to KC he spent 5 years in Seattle only playing semi-regularly in 1999 (82 games) and 2000 (92 games). He was instrumental in the Royals 2003 out of nowhere winning season under manager Tony Pena. When his contract expired after 2003, we let him sign back with the Mariners.
Ignoring the past few years of decline, Ibanez was incredibly consistent for the 7 years (5 with SEA, 2 with PHI) after leaving KC posting a nearly identical line: .286/.352/.482. Until last year, the Royals haven’t had a winning season since he left.
5 & 4. Jermaine Dye & Johnny Damon
In 2000, Damon and Dye led the Royals in WAR with 6.1 and 4.6, respectively. Then before the 2001 season, the Royals decided to trade Damon to the Athletics for a SS prospect named Angel Berroa. Later that year, the Royals would ship Dye to Oakland through Colorado for another SS named Neifi Perez. Perez would play through the 2002 season posting a -2.2 WAR in his time as a Royal. He left in 2003 to make way for Berroa, who would miraculously beat out Hideki Matsui for AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2003 and would be instrumental to the Royals weirdo 2003 campaign. He posted a 2.5 WAR that year, and then backed it up with a -1.1 WAR over the next three seasons.
Dye/Damon would both go on to the postseason with the A’s in 2001, and would both win a World Series in consecutive seasons with the Red Sox in 2004 (Damon) and the White Sox in 2005 (Dye). The Royals would finish with the worst record in the majors those years, losing 104 & 106 games. Embarrassing, but somehow it gets worse.
3. Albert Pujols
Wait, what? Pujols never played for the Royals. He was a Cardinal and now he’s an Angel. How did he “get away”?!
Pujols is from Independence, Missouri, and he grew up playing baseball at 3&2 Baseball in Jackson County, right under the nose of the Royals. Yet on the day of the 1999 MLB draft, he wasn’t drafted until the THIRTEENTH ROUND, and it wasn’t by the hometown team. It was by their cross-state rivals instead. The Royals had 12 rounds worth of opportunities to pick up the local talent, and they let him get away.
2. Carlos Beltran
Sigh. Beltran was a 2nd round pick in the 1995 draft, debuted in 1998, and won AL ROY in 1999. Unlike Angel Berroa, he would only get better over time. Carlos was the perfect 5-tool player: hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, arm and defense. He posted double digit assists in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 – and the only reason he didn’t in 2000 was because he only played in 98 games. He hit .287 with the Royals, and stole 164 bases and blasted 123 home runs.
Beltran was – and still is – the man but in a move that was now too familiar to Royals fans, he was traded to Houston for John Buck, cash, and a pillow to cry into at night.
And then, to make matters worse, Beltran decided to tease us during the offseason. He was a free agent with the Cardinals, and we brought him into KC and wooed him with a “Welcome Back Carlos!” Jumbotron message at The K. Beltran fever took over Royals fandom for a week or so. We were prepared to give him a longer deal to make him happy. We were prepared to jettison Billy Butler to make space for his bat as a DH.
And then Carlos signed with the Yankees.
Why’d it have to be the Yankees? It hurts so so badly. We miss you Carlos. We thought you loved us as much as we loved you. That’s right. Loved. Past tense. You burned that bridge the moment you put on pinstripes.
1. Jon Schuerholz
The #1 Royal that got away isn’t even a player. It’s a General Manager. Schuerholz came to the Royals in 1981, and led the team to the playoffs 3 times in his first 5 years, culminating in their only World Series Championship in 1985.
The Royals continued to be competitive under his watch, but he left for Atlanta in 1990 and led the Braves to 14 NL pennants over 15 years, only missing on the shortened 1994 strike season. While the Braves were experiencing success after success – 14 division titles, 3 World Series appearances and 1 championship in 1995 – the Royals spiraled slowly into obscurity.
One wonders what life might have been like as a Royals fan if Schuerholz hadn’t left for ATL. Would the Braves success been ours instead? Would we have claimed our second World Series championship in the mid-90s instead?