Royals add veterans as they make run at postseason
Kansas City's acquisitions of infielders Carroll, Bonifacio should help bolster club
It was an under-the-radar-type transaction on Sunday. The Kansas City Royals acquired veteran utility infielder Jamey Carroll from the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named or cash considerations.
It was, however, a very loud statement by the Royals.
They placed veteran infielder Miguel Tejada on the disabled list with what will be a season-ending right calf injury, and instead of merely reaching down to the farm system and finding a warm body to plug the hole, the Royals went in search of experience, adding Carroll.
They reinforced the move on Wednesday with the addition of versatile Emilio Bonifacio from Toronto.
It's the first time in a decade that the Royals stepped up in the second half of a season and brought in a veteran player they felt could help them win now, because it's the first time in a decade the Royals actually have something to play for in the second half of the season. Forget about last year's trade of Jonathan Sanchez to Colorado for Jeremy Guthrie. Yes, Guthrie has been a key member of the rotation this year, but a year ago, it was merely two teams trying to get rid of mistakes, both hoping that a change of scenery might help, which it did for Guthrie.
No team has been on the outside looking in at baseball's October longer than the Royals.
Yes, the Pirates are trying to end a North American pro sports record of 20 consecutive losing seasons, but they did win their division from 1990-92.
The Royals? Their postseason drought dates back to their 1985 World Series championship season.
Last offseason, however, general manager Dayton Moore made it clear that the long-term future no longer was the Royals' focus.
The one flirtation the Royals have had since then was in 2003, when they actually were in first place with a seven-game lead at the All-Star break. Allard Baird, the general manager at the time, was given ownership approval to add veterans, but only if they didn't add payroll.
So he tried his best, bringing in six 30-somethings: right-handers Al Levine (35 years old), Curt Leskanic (35) and Paul Abbott (35); left-handers Graeme Lloyd (36) and Brian Anderson (31); and outfielder Rondell White (31).
There was no payoff.
By Sept. 2 that season, the Royals had slipped into third place in the American League Central, where they would finish the season. And the organization's focus quickly returned to a long-term rebuilding.
Not now, though.
The desire to make a move was evident in the winter when the Royals agreed to give up the highly acclaimed bat of prospect Wil Myers in a package to the Rays for right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis. Kansas City also signed free agent Ervin Santana to provide a veteran flair for the starting rotation.
The fact that Shields can be a free agent after the 2014 season underscored the importance of now, not the future.
As opposed to 2003, however, this time, there was no early-season surge. A youthful offense that the Royals believed was a cornerstone to success stumbled out the gate. A 6-22 slide from May 6 through June 4 pushed Kansas City seemingly out of the postseason race.
Better look again, however. The Royals have resurfaced.
The Royals are four games back in the AL Wild Card race thanks to a post-All-Star break surge that has seen them win 19 of 25 games. Suddenly they have an offense putting up the type of numbers that they had envisioned from the start of the season.
And they are being noticed by their fans. TV ratings are up 65 percent from a year ago, tops among Major League teams. On Saturday night, they had an August crowd in excess of 35,000 for the first time since 2003.
Maybe it's a growth process. Maybe it was the influence of Hall of Famer George Brett spending nearly two months in uniform as interim hitting coach, working with the hitters on their mental approach in June and July.
There's no maybe that the Royals have made strides, particular the homegrown cornerstones of the infield -- Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
A pitching staff that was good in the first half (3.82 ERA, ranked fifth in the AL) has gotten better since the break (2.47 ERA, second in the AL). The gamble that using Bruce Chen out of the bullpen in the first half could avoid the second-half swoons that have been a part of his history has paid off initially. He's only 2-0 since that July 12 move into the rotation, but he does have an 0.93 ERA in six starts.
An offense that was on first-half life support (.256, eighth in the AL) has hit .275, second to only Detroit's .281, in the second half. Moustakas, who hit .215 before the break, has hit .293 since. Billy Butler went from .271 before the break to .352 since. Hosmer has hit .314 since the break, a 29-point increase.
Kansas City has raised a few eyebrows around the AL with its play the last month. The Royals, however, aren't surprised. This is what they expected all along. And even the struggles of the first half didn't dissuade them.
Tomorrow we start getting at em We will own second half- Ervin Santana (@ErvinSantana_54) July 18, 2013
"We will own [the] second half," Santana proclaimed on his Twitter account on July 18, the final day of the All-Star break.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.