Start from the Beginning – Episode 1: The History of the First Base War
Previous Episode: The King in the North
As the baseball season slipped past the midpoint of May, the Kansas City Royals found themselves in a rut. The handful of players keeping the team afloat found their numbers normalizing, and the struggling majority didn’t improve in kind. A terrible 1-7 run against the Rockies, Orioles, and White Sox left them with a 24-23 record and stuck in third place. The GM of most teams would just wait out the trouble and hope for a rebound. But Pat Burrell and Strike-O-Matic knew that they couldn’t let the Royals fall any further behind.
There were two hurdles to this plan. First, teams typically don’t make huge trades in the middle of May, especially not trades to give up Major League talent. Second, there were just too many possible players to replace. There wasn’t any specific hole that needed to be filled. They could use an upgrade almost everywhere. Granted, the Royals had players with potential at some of these positions, but they couldn’t afford the chance that their performance wasn’t just a slump. But who would go? And who would replace them?
Hosmer and Burrell were easily the best two hitters on the team, so there was no reason to go out and find someone to play 1b/DH. Colby Rasmus’s average wasn’t anything special, but so far he’d played a solid CF so he was safe. Alex Gordon was on the bubble, since a .762 OPS from a left fielder is somewhat concerning, and Burrell could step in if somehow they acquired an even worse fielder at the position. But given the poor performances of his teammates, upgrading from Gordon was probably the slightest improvement the team could make. Every other position–RF, C, SS, 2B, and 3b–could clearly be performing better. There was some thought of putting Mark Teahen in on full time duty, but everyone knew that his small sample size success was probably an illusion.
The divide on the pitching end was much easier to see. Strike-O-Matic, Kyle Zimmer, and Bruce Chen were all pitching very well in the rotation. In the bullpen, Soria, Herrera, Holland, and especially Tim Collins–who had yet to allow a run–were excelling. Crow had been a gas can out of the pen, and one had to wonder why Ned Yost kept using him. Vargas and Guthrie weren’t doing great, but the biggest disappointment was clear as day. “Big Game” James Shields had been responsible for more than 1/3 of the Royals total losses. A horrendous outing against Chicago had ballooned his ERA to near 8 in almost fifty innings.
Either Shields needed to be moved to a new team, or he needed to be moved to the bullpen. But it still wasn’t assured that the Royals would acquire a new starting pitcher. Perhaps Shields didn’t deserve his own hype, but he seemed more likely to rebound after an adjustment than some of the underachieving players in the lineup.
It was clear there were many positions at which the Royals could improve, but who would they trade for in the middle of May? Fortunately, in the robot-altered version of 2014, MLB maintained an active “trading block” list which showed the players who would be easiest to acquire. The list, as of late May 2014, is reproduced below:
Indeed, there were a surprising number of players available. And, of course, these weren’t the only guys who could be acquired in the right deal. This left Burrell with a new dilemma. Who should he acquire to bolster the team? He did the only thing he could think of: he gave the list above to his teammates and asked for their advice.
An avid reader of Fangraphs, Alcides Escobar immediately latched onto the possibility of trading for Andrelton Simmons, even though it would put him on the bench. He was undeterred by the effect such a move would have on his own playing time, and insisted that if the Braves were foolish enough to move Simmons that the Royals should be first in line.
Other members of the team were even less helpful, suggesting players similar to themselves who wouldn’t measurably help a competitive squad.
Even some of the relatively good suggestions came with caveats.
So, who should Pat Burrell and the Kansas City Royals trade for? Should he acquire Andrelton “The Fangraphs Flash” Simmons? Take Nick Punto’s advice and increase the grit factor exponentially with Skip Schumaker? Maybe he should go after the “biggest” name on the list, Bartolo Colon? And why the fuck are the Cardinals willing to trade Michael Wacha?