Start from the Beginning – Episode 1: The History of the First Base War
Previous Episode: Trade Winds Part One
Pat Burrell and the Kansas City Royals thought that trading for Major League pieces in the middle of May would be a difficult proposition, but they had underestimated the power of the trading block. After putting out feelers for a few players listed on the block, it became clear that they were more than just available–they were priced to move. The Royals would be able to upgrade both their rotation and their lineup with some judicious planning.
The first call Pat Burrell made was to Sandy Alderson, GM of the struggling New York Mets. The Mets had not been expected to contend in 2014, and in the new alternate future they were more than living up to expectations. They sustained a 9-18 record in April and continued to barely limp along into May. Alderson already knew there wasn’t much hope of competing, and wanted to move some of the older spare parts off for pieces in the future.
The Mets were indeed talking about Bartolo Colon, the 40-year old right-handed starter who had come up with the Cleveland Indians back in 1997 as a hard-throwing power pitcher, but had reinvented himself in the face of age and years of buffet dinners. Now his fastball didn’t break 90 MPH, but he’d balanced that out by honing excellent command and continued to be effective. A losing team didn’t have much use for a 40 year old pitcher, though, and Alderson was glad for a chance to ship him off for a prospect.
After literally no haggling, the New York Mets agreed to deal the hefty pitcher for John Lamb, a 23 year-old lefthander whose promising career had been cut down by the grim specter of Tommy John. Lamb, who had previously injured his elbow in a car accident in high school, was one of the unlucky pitchers to return from the table of Dr. James Andrews with a few miles short on his fastball. He didn’t recover to his pre-surgery ability, which had once seen him rated as a top 20 prospect by Baseball America, and found himself compensating for his natural velocity by overthrowing the ball and losing command of his pitches.
The Royals knew that, with good conditioning and great luck, Lamb could put it back together again and turn into a mid-rotation starter. But 2014 was more important than the future and Bartolo Colon could help them win in 2014.
The rotation wasn’t the only place the Royals were struggling. Most of the lineup was struggling to live up to expectations. Most telling was probably the performance of Norichika Aoki. The struggles of Escobar, Moustakas, and Perez could all be excused because they played skilled positions that were hard to fill. But Aoki was a right fielder and didn’t have a history to suggest that he might bounce back. The Royals needed to replace him in the starting lineup. He could still be a useful bench player, but regular at bats exposed the holes in his swing.
This was a harder task than adding Bartolo Colon to fill into the rotation. There were fewer bats on the market, and those that were available had serious flaws or serious contract issues. Fortunately, there was one guy who didn’t have either problem. One of the side effects of several robots travelling through time was that a digit was dropped from the contract of Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday. Now, even though he had been slated to early 17 million a year, he was only owed 7 million a year. This should have made him untradeable. Why would anyone want to get rid of Holliday on a very affordable contract?
If there was anything that could sour Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny on a player, it was a refusal to take the bunt seriously. And Matt Holliday didn’t give a shit about the bunt. Tensions had been high in the clubhouse all season, even though the Cardinals were blazing to a huge division lead behind the robotic talents of Primetime Moose. Matheny wanted an emphasis on smallball, but several members of the team–led by Holliday–were tired of holding their bats up by the barrel.
The Cardinals were a competing team, so they weren’t gonna take a random prospect for Holliday. They wanted an upgrade as well. Specifically, Mike Matheny coveted Royals SP James Shields. Despite his terrible season so far in 2014, Matheny was convinced that the name “Big Game James” couldn’t be false advertising. The Royals probably would have been happy with a straight-up swap of Holliday and Shields, but Pat Burrell wanted to push his luck. The Cardinals were listed on the trade block as needing a CF and a relief pitcher. Pat Burrell though he could provide an answer to both of those needs and further improve the rotation.
Even he was surprised at who Mike Matheny offered up.
The world of baseball was shocked by the KC/STL trade. No one expected the contending Cardinals to ship off their starting LF, who had been a mainstay for years. And Carlos Martinez, while best known for having a discriminating, but not discreet, eye towards favoriting images on Twitter, had a live arm and was projected to be an excellent late-inning reliever even if he didn’t stick in the rotation. Throwing him into a trade just to get Lorenzo Cain and Andrew Triggs was borderline insane.
Colon, Holliday, and Martinez met up with the Royals in Los Angeles just as they were about to start a series against the Angels, the team that Strike-O-Matic was supposed to join up with. Even without him, they were a formidable opponent, featuring Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and a video of a dancing monkey that could annoy even the calmest of batters. Matt Holliday slotted into the number 2 spot in the lineup, while Alex Gordon moved from LF to RF. Aoki was relegated to the bench.
Colon and Martinez replaced Shields and Vargas in the rotation, with Vargas moving to the bullpen in a long relief role. James Shields had been set to pitch the first game of the series and Bartolo Colon was fully rested, so less than 24 hours after being traded from the Mets, he took the mound for the Royals.
However, before Bartolo Colon threw even one pitch for the Royals, Matt Holliday stole the spotlight with his own debut:
Holliday’s home run started off a torrent of hits and the Royals pulled to a 5-0 lead in the first inning. With a commanding lead, Colon could settle into his usual routine of throwing strikes and letting the fielders do the work for him. He put together over 7 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits. He even struck out Albert Pujols.
Meanwhile, Pat Burrell and Sal Perez led the Royals to three more notches on the board, putting the game out of reach for Anaheim.
Was this the beginning of a new hot streak or just a fluke win? Would the lopsided trades help the Royals pull out of their mediocre start? Next week, the May recap and a look around the league.