Tracy Ringolsby

Moore's big gamble paying off for Royals

Trading four top prospects for Shields, Davis has put club over the hump

Moore's big gamble paying off for Royals

Born in Wichita, Kan., in February 1967, Dayton Moore grew up a diehard Kansas City Royals fan, his interest piqued even after the family moved back East, thanks to summertime trips to visit his grandparents.

It was easy to be a Royals fan when Moore was growing up. He is from a generation that was treated to the success of a franchise that advanced to the postseason seven times in a 10-year stretch, capped off by winning the 1985 World Series championship.

By the time Moore was hired to be the general manager of his boyhood team back in June 2006, however, there was an entire generation of Royals fans who had never experienced the excitement of a pennant race, much less a postseason.

Moore's mission was to change that, and after 6 1/2 years of building -- refusing to sacrifice the future for hopes of immediate success -- Moore took his gamble. He sent four prospects to the Rays for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis in December 2012.

It was a risky move. The payoff, however, is in sight.

A late-season surge put the Royals on the fringe of the postseason battle a year ago in what was only their second winning season in the past 19 years.

This year, Kansas City heads into the final 10 days of the regular season very much a factor in the American League postseason race, and it is "Big Game James" Shields who the club is counting on to carry it into October for the first time since 1985.

The Royals will host the Tigers in a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium beginning on Friday night, trailing the Tigers by a half-game in the AL Central. Entering play Thursday, Kansas City also had a two-game lead on Seattle in the fight for the second AL Wild Card spot.

Given a chance to realign his rotation for the stretch drive thanks to Thursday's off-day, manager Ned Yost didn't hesitate to put Shields in position to pitch what could be the biggest game the franchise has played since Game 7 of the 1985 World Series.

Jason Vargas (Friday) and Shields (Saturday) will stay on their regular rest in starts against the Tigers, with Jeremy Guthrie being pushed back two slots in the rotation to start on Sunday. The Tigers will counter with Justin Verlander on Friday, Max Scherzer on Saturday and Rick Porcello in the finale.

What the Royals' rotation revision does is set up Shields to start the Sept. 25 opener of a four-game series with the Chicago White Sox that will wrap up the regular season, and then be rested and ready to either start Game 1 of the AL Division Series, if the Royals overtake the Tigers to win the AL Central, or to make the start in the win-or-go-home AL Wild Card Game on Sept. 30 if Kansas City winds up a Wild Card.

Surprised? You shouldn't be.

This is the reason the Royals were willing to give up four well-regarded prospects in the trade for Shields and Davis, even though they knew that Shields would have the option to become a free agent after this season.

After a quarter of a century of waiting for a postseason return, even Moore -- whose background was in player development and scouting with the Braves -- was willing to roll the dice.

So far, so good.

Davis has morphed into a critical part of Kansas City's bullpen, providing the eighth-inning bridge to closer Greg Holland. The former starter has gone 9-2 with a 0.94 ERA in 66 appearances this season.

Shields has been as advertised when games matter the most.

It was never more obvious than Sept. 10 in Detroit. After losing the first two games to the Tigers, the Royals turned to Shields to avoid being swept, and he responded by tossing seven shutout innings in a 3-0 victory.

More than being 14-7 with a 3.15 ERA in 32 starts, Shields has gone 5-1 in his past nine starts, with Kansas City winning seven of those games. That includes two wins against the A's and one each against the Giants and Yankees, in addition to the strong-arm job he did on the Tigers in Detroit.

As for the four players the Royals gave up to acquire Shields and Davis … as the late Jim Fregosi so often put it, "There's a reason they call them prospects."

Jake Odorizzi has claimed a spot in the Rays' rotation this season and is 11-12 with a 3.98 ERA. Wil Myers, who won the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Award after being inserted in Tampa Bay's lineup last June, has been limited to 80 games this season because of a wrist injury. Power-hitting prospect Pat Leonard has spent the past two seasons at Class A, and lefty Mike Montgomery, who was drafted 36th overall in 2008, has not yet made it to the big leagues.

The Rays' payoff in this deal could still come.

The Royals, and their fans, however, have already waited long enough.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.