KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sometimes the best moves a general manager can make at the trade deadline are the ones he doesn’t make.
In the Royals’ case, that may have been Dayton Moore’s decision not to move Ervin Santana.
Moore did listen to offers for Santana, but none was compelling enough to disrupt the winning attitude that is prevailing on the Royals’ 25-man roster right now.
The Royals, with Thursday’s 7-2 win over the Twins, have now won nine straight for the first time in 10 years. And while they are not gaining noticeably on the AL Central-leading Tigers, who are red hot, too, they are just 4 ½ games behind the equally hot Indians, who are leading the pack in the chase for the final wild-card spot.
And the Royals are just three games behind Cleveland in the loss column.
Moore won’t say this publicly, but he probably knew he wasn’t going to get a can’t-refuse offer for Santana, perhaps partly because he really didn’t want to.
Keeping Santana ensures the Royals have a legitimate shot at a wild-card spot, at the least. The Royals’ schedule from here on is not that daunting. They have seven more games against the hopeless White Sox, seven with the Mariners, six more against the Twins (whom they just swept), not to mention three-game series with such cupcakes as the Mets, Marlins and Nationals.
By keeping Santana, Moore gives the Royals a chance to play meaningful games in September for just the second time in 20-plus years, something the Royals truly owe their fans after all these years of suffering.
And Moore has said repeatedly he also owes it to the players he has signed long-term, players such as Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar and Jeremy Guthrie, all of whom signed here with the promise from Moore that the Royals are on the verge of competing for the playoffs.
“I’ve said this before, but we’re at the early stages of the window for our young guys to win now and in the future,” Moore told me by phone Thursday. “We’re not building for the future. We’re here to win now.
“We’re playing good baseball right now and hopefully we can continue to do that. We expect to do that.”
Keeping Santana rather than taking a marginal offer for him should be a signal to the Royals’ clubhouse that the front office is not tossing up the white flag.
“Ervin has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year,” Moore said. “Why would we trade him right now when we’re just a few games back (in the wild-card race)? You can do all the hypothetical (trades) but the bottom line is we still have some good baseball in front of us this season, and Ervin is going to be a major part of that.”
The counter-argument, of course, is that Santana’s value perhaps has never been higher, and keeping him now makes sense only if the Royals are serious about signing him long-term.
That’s something the Royals aren’t necessarily ruling out.
“I don’t want to comment any more on that other than to say we’ve always done our best to keep our players in Kansas City,” Moore said.
While Moore’s stance with Santana this week suggests an all-in approach — something Royals fans certainly aren’t accustomed to over the last two decades — some fans likely were hoping for a more prominent trade than the Justin Maxwell one.
But Moore said that while the Royals are committed to winning now, they also weren’t willing to sacrifice high-ceiling prospects for just anybody.
“There was nothing we discussed (with other teams) that made sense to us now or in the long-term,” Moore said, “other than the move we made to acquire Justin Maxwell. He is a player who fits our ballpark and who hits left-handers well and who gives Ned (Yost) some better matchup possibilities.”
So while there is always a chance the Royals could swing another deal for a player or two who has secured waivers — which wasn’t necessary prior to July 31 — it is likely that Moore and Yost will compete for a playoff spot with the roster they have now.
“This is a good team that is improving each day,” Moore said. “We want to see it keep improving and we’ll take our chances.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.