After scrambling back into contention in the AL Central, the Kansas City Royals are gearing up to make another bid for a postseason spot.
The Royals acquired three pitchers from the San Diego Padres on Monday, getting starter Trevor Cahill, closer Brandon Maurer and reliever Ryan Buchter. Kansas City sent pitchers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, minor league infielder Esteury Ruiz and cash to San Diego. The deal came one week before the nonwaiver trade deadline.
Kansas City entered Monday night's game at Detroit trailing first-place Cleveland by only 1 ½ games, and the Royals are also right in the mix for a wild card.
"We wanted to move sooner than later," general manager Dayton Moore said.
The Royals had been looking to bolster their rotation and bullpen, and did it with one swap. Cahill was 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Padres. The 29-year-old right-hander was an All-Star with Oakland in 2010.
Maurer is 20-for-23 on save tries, and 1-4 with a 5.72 ERA. The 27-year-old righty began his big league career with Seattle in 2013 as a starter.
Buchter is 3-3 with one save and a 3.05 ERA in 42 games. The 30-year-old lefty pitched 67 times for the Padres last year.
Kansas City won the World Series in 2015 and the American League pennant the year before that. The Royals fell back to .500 last year, and after they went 7-16 this April, it looked like 2017 might be the end of their chance to contend with this core of players. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain can all become free agents after this season.
The Royals are back over .500 now, though, and they entered Monday on a five-game winning streak.
"We're very excited. We've always felt good about this team," Moore said. "We're certainly very much in the thick of a pennant race in our division."
Moore said the Royals did their due diligence on Cahill, who missed time earlier this season with shoulder issues. Eleven different pitchers have started for Kansas City this year, with unimpressive results aside from Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy.
Kansas City's bullpen, meanwhile, looks a lot different than it did during its 2014-15 peak. Greg Holland and Wade Davis are no longer on the team. Kelvin Herrera is the closer, and Joakim Soria and Mike Minor have been solid this year.
Maurer and Buchter can now pitch more meaningful innings than the Padres have been playing. San Diego is in fourth place in the NL West.
The Padres are in deep rebuilding mode and don't expect to contend for a few years. Many observers and fans figured the first player to be traded would be reliever Brad Hand, San Diego's only All-Star.
"It's tough in the sense that you're losing three guys that you love and appreciate and have poured themselves out for the club," manager Andy Green said. "You actually enjoy the guys a lot. The three of them have been great teammates, great contributors. Losing two back-end pieces and a starter that statistically has been your best starter all year, those things are tough.
"But we're excited about what we're getting in return, excited about the future prospects, even though a couple of them won't play for us this year. But we see high upside and with Travis Wood we get some other help to stabilize things. I think he's going to have an opportunity to kind of re-establish himself in the National League," he said.
The 25-year-old Strahm went 2-5 with a 5.45 ERA for the Royals this year in 24 appearances — 21 in relief. Kansas City had been high on the young lefty but ended up using him to help acquire what figures to be more immediate help.
Wood was 1-3 with a 6.91 ERA this year for Kansas City. The 18-year-old Ruiz has put up good numbers with the bat at the low levels of the minors.
Kansas City also recalled left-hander Brian Flynn from Triple-A Omaha for Monday's game and designated right-handers Al Alburquerque and Luke Farrell for assignment.