KANSAS CITY -- In the final hours of the 2012 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Royals general manager Dayton Moore huddled with his top scouts and front-office lieutenants in a suite at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.There had been a trade offer on the table for more than a day, a deal
KANSAS CITY -- In the final hours of the 2012 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Royals general manager Dayton Moore huddled with his top scouts and front-office lieutenants in a suite at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
There had been a trade offer on the table for more than a day, a deal that would require Moore to commit to the future and no doubt draw criticism from a frustrated fan base and a skeptical national media.
Moore had taken over the job to rebuild the Royals' organization in 2006, and by now he felt in is heart it was time to push forward. The trade that would do that sat in front of him.
"We had spent years building one of the top farm systems in baseball," Moore recalled. "But it was definitely time to start winning at the big league level. A great farm system is nice to have, but the whole point of it is to help your team win at the big league level. That's where we were."
The Royals hadn't had a winning season since 2003, and Moore was convinced his team was just one or two players away from becoming a winner and a contender. Prospects such as Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain had reached the Major Leagues but had yet to mature into winners.
So Moore examined the offer from the Tampa Bay Rays: pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis (and later infielder Elliot Johnson) to the Royals for top prospect William Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, as well as outfielder Patrick Leonard.
Moore knew if he could just get one frontline starting pitcher and another with frontline potential, he could transform his team into a winner. Plus, Shields had the reputation of being a strong clubhouse presence who could guide young players into winners.
Moore wanted the deal. But he listened to his advisors.
Moore was ready for the push-back. In building a top-notch farm system for years, Moore had given the Royals' fan base hope in the potential of such players as Myers and Montgomery. That precious farm system was the reason Royals fans and bloggers had reason to believe in the future, after years of losing seasons.
But Moore didn't buy into the romanticism of the farm system.
"You don't win anything with a great farm system," Moore said. "You have to use that farm system to make you better at the big league level, pure and simple."
Moore's inclination was to make the deal. But even his own people were highly skeptical that night in Nashville, Tenn. No one wanted to part with Myers, the team's top prospect, a can't-miss player.
That's when Moore walked to a chalkboard in his hotel suite, a chalkboard that had nearly a hundred names of Royals prospects written on it by order of position and ranking.
Moore erased the names of Myers, Montgomery, Leonard and Odorizzi. He then turned to his troops and said, "What are the odds we can replace these guys? I mean, it's not like they have abolished the Draft. We can reload next year and the year after that, right?"
The men in the room looked at each other, perplexed at first. Though not entirely convinced, mainly because they had spent more than six years rebuilding one of the worst farm systems in baseball into one of the best, they began to nod in agreement over Moore's reasoning.
Moore decided to sit on the idea of the trade until after they left Nashville, but 48 hours later, he decided to make the deal.
"At that point, where we were, we needed to take the next step," Moore said. "We needed to start winning at the big league level, and we needed to learn how to win. We brought guys in who knew how to win. And it was time for our young players to start believing they could win. Quite frankly, we had to make that next move."
And that is exactly what happened. The 2013 Royals won 86 games -- their first winning season in 10 years -- and stayed in the postseason hunt until the final two weeks of the season.
Shields was a big part of it. He went 13-9 and made 34 starts, tied for the MLB high. He threw 228 2/3 innings, and more importantly, he helped to change the culture in the clubhouse.
"We started to believe how fantastic it was to win games," Hosmer said. "We believed how important winning was. Big Game James brought in the disco lights and smoke machine to celebrate each win in the clubhouse, and we really bought in to that concept. It was like each night was winning the World Series. We needed to know that."
The skeptics remained, however. National columnists insisted the Royals got robbed in the trade, and a local blogger even suggested that the Royals gave up everything to be "mediocre."
Moore himself was lampooned by local newspaper columnists, bloggers and talk-show hosts for suggesting after 2013 that finally getting a winning season "felt like winning a World Series."
But the critics were silenced a year later when Shields and Davis, the latter of whom transitioned to the bullpen and posted a 1.00 ERA and later evolved into one of baseball's top closers, helped push the Royals to Game 7 of the World Series against the Giants. A year after that, the Royals won their first World Series championship in 30 years.
At least for a while, the critics were mum.
"When we did the Zack Greinke trade in 2010 for Cain and Escobar," Moore said, "that was the pathway to where we got. But the Shields trade pushed us over the edge. It was a deal we had to make.
"And history will prove it was the right deal to make."
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.