KANSAS CITY -- Perhaps the most important trade that Royals general manager Dayton Moore ever made was one of his first, and it involved closer Mike MacDougal.
On July 24, 2006, less than two months after Moore began overseeing the Royals' front office, he dealt MacDougal to the White Sox for Minor League pitchers Dan Cortes and Tyler Lumsden. MacDougal had 50 saves in six seasons with the Royals and had a power arm, but he struggled often with command, averaging nearly four walks per nine innings.
Believe it or not, it was that trade that eventually set Kansas City on a path to two straight American League pennants and a World Series championship in 2015.
If you like to play the Trade Tree game, the Royals’ turnaround under Moore really can be traced back to that MacDougal deal.
• Acquiring Cortes in the MacDougal trade allowed Moore to complete a trade on July 10, 2009, that sent Cortes and left-hander Derrick Saito to the Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt.
• Betancourt then was part of a blockbuster deal on Dec. 19, 2010, when the Royals sent Zack Greinke and Betancourt to the Brewers for outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
• Odorizzi was then part of another blockbuster that helped rebuild Moore’s Royals: On Dec. 9, 2012, Odorizzi, utility man Patrick Leonard, left-hander Mike Montgomery and outfielder Wil Myers were shipped to Tampa Bay for pitchers Wade Davis and James Shields (and eventually player to be named later Elliot Johnson). MLB.com recently ranked this as the biggest trade of the 2010s.
• And if you want to keep going, Davis eventually brought the Royals outfielder Jorge Soler, now the club's single-season home run record holder, on Dec. 7, 2016.
• The Royals also got right-hander Nolan Watson as a 2015 comp pick (No. 33 overall) for losing Shields to free agency. Watson’s career has been slowed by injuries, as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Back to the MacDougal trade. Moore said at the time, “Cortes is a young right-handed pitcher who was in the South Atlantic League and our reports were very good on him. He projects to be a Major League starting pitcher in the next three or four years.”
Well, Moore was right about that. Cortes pitched in the Majors from 2010-11 with the Mariners, posting a 5.06 ERA in 14 games, five of those starts. He last played professional baseball in the Minors in '13.
Fast forward to the Cain-Escobar-Odorizzi-Jeffress deal with the Brewers. Greinke had asked for a trade in the winter of 2010, and along with Betancourt, Greinke completed the deal that Moore often has said truly launched the Royals’ turnaround. Moore got two full-time starters in Cain and Escobar, who solidified the team’s defense and were vital to the team’s success in the years to come.
“We already had agreed on Cain and we had agreed on Odorizzi,” Moore said. “But I told Doug [Melvin] we needed a shortstop and that was [Escobar]. He talked with his people for about a day and they came back and said they’d need a shortstop, too, in return. And that was Betancourt.”
Betancourt had pop -- 16 homers and 78 RBIs in 2010 -- but he had just a .288 on-base percentage that season, and the Royals wanted desperately to upgrade their overall defense as well.
“Getting Cain and Esky did that,” Moore said. “Those were two very dependable defenders. In a close game, Esky was the guy you wanted at shortstop. He had no fear. And Lorenzo Cain, he turned out to be the wild card deal of the trade. He became a tremendous player.”
In the winter of 2012, Moore and his staff were ready to go all-in to contend, which opened the door for the Shields-Davis trade. There was one problem: Tampa Bay wanted Myers, Montgomery, Leonard and a hot pitching prospect in the Minors named Yordano Ventura. But Moore wasn’t ready to budge on giving up Ventura.
“We thought Yordano had the type of arm that comes along once every 10 years,” Moore said. “We couldn’t put him in the deal.”
The Royals offered Odorizzi instead, which satisfied the Rays.
“We really liked Jake Odorizzi as well,” Moore said. “To get something you have to give up something.”
Shields was instrumental in getting the Royals to their first World Series in 29 years. Davis, of course, helped them the next year secure their first World Series title in 30 years, emerging as one of the game’s top closers. And while some critics panned the Davis-Soler trade, it’s hard to argue against its merits now. Soler has emerged as one of the game’s top sluggers. Kowar, meanwhile, could turn out to be a team ace, according to several scouts.
And it all started with the MacDougal trade.
“It’s tough to see ‘Doogie’ go,” then catcher John Buck said back in 2006. “We’ll miss his personality. But in order to get good talent for the future, you have to give up good talent now. That’s the give and take of this game.”