Billy Brewer was a pretty good Rule 5 draft pick by the Kansas City Royals, a solid left-handed pitcher who would throw three seasons out of the Royals bullpen. Clearly, his work in the Expos system was good enough to give him a flier, and the scouts were absolutely correct. But, neither Brewer nor the Royals knew that in his trade tree, the Royals would inevitably acquire a core of players to help them win it all.
In a November 2015 interview with Clubhouse Conversation, the 6-foot-one Brewer talked about just how much he loved Kansas City and what a shock it was for him to be drafted by them out of the Montreal Expos organization. He even revealed that while during his first spring training with the Expos, he dealt with extreme homesickness, and even considered quitting!
Brewer and the Royals are damn glad he didn’t quit! In his first full season in Major League Baseball, 1993 with the Royals, he pitched in 46 games with 39 innings pitched. He ended up with 2 wins and 2 losses credited to his name, with a solid 3.46 ERA (34 percent better than league average in ’93), a performance good for a Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement of 0.8 WAR. That’s a pretty solid pick.
In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Brewer was even better, pitching in 38 and two-thirds innings over the course of 50 games with a sparkling 2.56 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 197 or 97 percent better than league average. Baseball Reference credits the pitcher with 1.9 WAR, and he had 4 wins against just one loss credited to Brewer’s name. Unfortunately for Brewer, that was the beginning of the end for his promising career as a lefty specialist, who came in mostly just to get out left-handed batters. Inevitably, Brewer would finish his career actually better against right-handed batters than left-handed batters, as righties hit .244/.341/.387 against him, while lefties hit .269/.352/.483.
Interestingly, Brewer was quite excellent against lefties in 1993, allowing them to hit just .183/.286/.333 in 70 plate appearances VS righties hitting .267/.361/.467 in 87 plate appearances. So, the Royals deployed him correctly; it’s just that there were a lot of righties he inevitably had to face due to pinch hitters or lineup construction. In 1994, however, these platoon splits dramatically flipped, with lefties suddenly hitting .237/.303/.475 in 66 plate appearances against him, while righties hit just .184/.292/.263 in 91 PA. These splits led the Royals to think, hey, this guy is actually just good no matter who he’s facing. Given the information at the time, it’s not surprising that the Royals leaned on him more in 1995.
Unfortunately for Brewer, in 1995, lefties not only hit better than righties off of him, they cleaned his clock. Lefties hit a whopping .301/.376/.518 in just 93 PA against him in 1995. The story was slightly better against righties, with them hitting a collective .282/.357/.427 in 116 PA. According to Baseball Reference, lefties hit Brewer 14 percent better than average than other lefties, and righties hit 27 percent better than average against other lefties. Essentially, Brewer turned the left-handed hitters he faced into 1995 Bernie Williams and the right-handed hitters into prime David Segui, both star hitters at the time. At this point, after running a clearly ineffective Brewer out there for 48 games, it was time for the Royals to move on from the lefty.
What the Royals didn’t realize was that trading Brewer to the Los Angeles Dodgers on December 17, 1995 would start a chain of events that would inevitably lead to the Kansas City Royals winning their 2nd ever World Series in 2015. Right away, though, the Royals made a very good trade, flipping Brewer for infielder Jose Offerman. According to MLB Trade Trees, Brewer netted the Royals 9.7 Wins Above Replacement in this trade, as Offerman proved to be a well above average player for KC.
While Offerman later became famous for being extremely cranky, and even had an explosive temper at that point, for a time, Jose was actually a heck of a ballplayer. He’d been an All-Star for the Dodgers in 1995, and it was only his, let’s call them character concerns, that gave the Dodgers pause in wanting to retain him. Brewer never pitched for the major league Dodgers, although he pitched to a solid 3.13 ERA in 31 AAA games for Albuquerque, and in June, was traded to the Yankees for Mike Judd. Indeed, Judd would pitch for the Dodgers, but not well, in coming years. Brewer pitched poorly for the Yankees Triple-A team and was released after the season. Brewer’s career wasn’t over and he’d have another good year for Philly in 1997, but after that he faded away and was out of baseball after the 2000 season.
It’s possible that Brewer doesn’t realize that his trade to LA netted the Royals a darn good player worth more than 3 wins above replacement per year. While Offerman didn’t return to the All-Star Game until 1999 with the Boston Red Sox (keep the Red Sox in mind, as it’s very important to this story), Offerman played very well. He was a solid on-base threat with blazing speed, stealing 24 bases in 1996 before injuries limited him to just 9 in 1997, coming back to steal 45 bases in 1998. Offerman hit .306/.385/.419 in those three years, one of them being only 106 games, for an OPS+ of 108. While he wasn’t the best defensive, he was above-average at first base and barely below average at second base, while being a bit scary at shortstop. All in all, this was the best Offerman ever played, and the Royals got him for just Billy Brewer.
After the 1998 season, Offerman became a free agent for the first time and was good enough to net the Kansas City Royals two compensation picks after he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Offerman would have just one All-Star quality season left in him before injuries torpedoed his ability to run, field, or hit for any kind of power. Inevitably, he’d run himself out of baseball with his growing dissatisfaction with watching his playing time evaporate. To be fair, teams didn’t treat him all that well, either, and unfortunately Offerman’s temper got the better of him.
The Royals made two draft picks that came to them via Offerman, one good, and one not so good. The not-so-good one was Jay Gehrke, who never played in MLB. But, the other pick turned into a solid pitcher in Mike MacDougal. The righty would earn an All-Star appearance in 2003, alongside teammate and solid MLB player Mike Sweeney, although his season numbers wouldn’t finsih all that great. In all, MacDougal was worth 2.4 WAR in exactly 162 games over his Royals career, which enjoyed its share of injuries. Coincidentally, that’s perfect for a full season worth of games, and you can’t argue with 2.4 WAR of production from any one player over that span of games. He was a perfectly fine pick.
Unfortunately, the Royals would trade MacDougal for Tyler Lumsden and Dan Cortes from the Seattle Mariners. Lumsden never reached MLB as the promising pitching prospect imploded in 2007. Cortes never pitched for the Royals, although hilariously, he’d kick around long enough to make his Major League Debut in 2010… for the Mariners.
Believe it or not, it would be the Royals that would get Cortes back to the Mariners! What’s strange is that Cortes didn’t even pitch that badly in the minors for the Royals. In fact, it’s fair to say he pitched well enough to get a look in both 2007 and 2008. He fell off a bit in 2009 before he was traded back to the Mariners along with another guy who never made the majors, and pitched even worse for the rest of 2009 and 2010 in the Mariners system. But, while Cortes would eventually get to pitch a few Major League Innings for the Mariners over the next two seasons, the Royals got back a very interesting guy.
In exchange for Cortes and another minor leaguer, the Royals acquired shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, widely known as one of the worst full-time defensive shortstops in Major League history. However, Betancourt hit just enough as a shortstop that he was actually a league-average shortstop for 2006 and 2007 for the Mariners. But, his bat fell off a bit in 2008 and off a cliff in 2009. He’d play even worse for the Royals in 2009 but rebounded in 2010. Unfortunately, while his bat was back, his glove was worse. In the end, it looked as if the Billy Brewer trade tree would end here, which is sad considering that Dan Cortes was probably wasted for three years in AAA and had thrown his best bullets by the time he reached MLB in Seattle.
This is when the story takes an unexpected turn. Betancourt would be traded in the 2010 offseason to the Milwaukee Brewers, alongside Zach Greinke, great even then but going to be too expensive for the Royals to afford. Who did the Royals get back? They only got Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi.
OK, it’s obvious that Betancourt was a bit of a throw-in when you consider that Greinke was the focus of the trade. However, we all know in retrospect that the Brewers saw Betancourt as a starting shortstop for 2011. Perhaps the Brewers weren’t wrong, because the Brew Crew rode Greinke and Betancourt’s literal replacement level play to a playoff berth. Betancourt actually hit extremely well in the postseason, but was let go after the 2011 season. In December, he signed with the… wait for it… Kansas City Royals. He’d be dreadful in 2012 in limited action for the Royals, but still, they literally got him right back.
Greinke did pitch two great seasons for the Brewers before they themselves needed to get something for the impending free agent. In the end, the Brewers got back only Jean Segura, a very good player, of course, but not at all reaching what the Royals ended up with. Without Betancourt being involved in that Royals trade, it’s likely that the Royals wouldn’t have received the king’s ransom that they did, although in retrospect, those four players for a season and a half of Greinke probably doesn’t look so bad.
All four players would go on to solid MLB careers, although Jeffress would be traded for cash in November 2012, but still pitch in MLB through 2020. Strangely, after an amazing stretch with the Cubs in 2020, Jeffress didn’t make the Nationals in 2021, and wasn’t resigned in 2022 for some reason. As it would turn out, Jeffress was the only guy from the Betancourt/Greinke trade that didn’t work out for the Royals.
MLB Trade Trees shows just how big of a trade Betancourt/Greinke was for the Royals, crediting them with 30.76 WAR from this trade. Lorenzo Cain would become one of the better center fielders in baseball before he leaves in 2017, going to… the Brewers. Cain alone would be worth 24.7 WAR, including a 7 WAR season in 2015, the year the Royals would win it all.
Alcides Escobar would be up and down during his Royals tenure, but overall, be worth 8.1 WAR over the course of 8 seasons as a regular starter at shortstop. In fact his one All-Star appearance was in 2015, in which he also won a Gold Glove. He was worth only 1.0 WAR that season, although the Gold Glove wasn’t entirely unwarranted, as he did post 8 Defensive Runs Saved that year. Even if you consider that Betancourt was probably the straight swap for Escobar in that trade, the Royals still won big time.
Odorizzi didn’t even stay that long, with only two mediocre starts before being traded to the Rays alongside Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers in 2012 for then ace James Shields, Wade Davis, and Eliot Johnson. While Johnson straight up stunk and got picked off waivers in August 2013, the other two became key pieces of the Royals ascent, although Shields would actually leave in the 2014-15 offseason. Wade Davis would become the best closer in baseball for a few years.
In retrospect, the Royals won that trade, too, with MLB trade trees crediting them for about 7 WAR. Eventually, as Wade Davis started to show signs of decline, they flipped him to the Cubs in the 2016-2017 offesason for Jorge Soler While Soler had a huge HR season with 48 in 2019, injuries hampered him in 2017, 2018, and 2020. This made Soler worth just 1.4 WAR over 4 seasons, although that included only 395 games and above-average offensive production in that span of games. In 2021, the Royals decided to cash in on Soler’s power potential by flipping him to the Braves for promising relief pitching prospect Kasey Kalich. The Braves won the World Series and Kalich struggled in the latter half of 2021, although he still looks promising.
So, the trade tree involving Billy Brewer is still alive and well, with Kalich hanging on in High-A ball for the Royals going into 2022. FanGraphs rates Kalich as a 35+ Future Value going into the 2022 season, thanks to his command being seen by scouts as below average. Still, his fastball, curveball, and cutter all rank as above average, and his strikeout to walk ratios have been excellent. In fact, despite mediocre results after coming to Kansas City, his strikeout-to-walk ratio improved dramatically. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Kasey Kalich make his MLB debut at some point. The question is, will it be with the Royals, or will they flip him for another All-Star talent?
In any case, the Royals fan-base has Billy Brewer to thank for this trade tree. Granted, his part in the tree led directly to Yuniesky Betancourt. But, without Betancourt, that Greinke trade is nowhere as incredible for the Royals. After all, the Brewers did value Betancourt as a starter! While Kasey Kalich could easily be the end of this trade tree, it’s hard to say. After all, one look at the 2022 Kansas City Royals Depth Chart from Roster Resource shows how stacked their bullpen is already. The Royals are well known for developing great relief pitching, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kalich be yet another reliever that succeeds in KC.
If Kalich doesn’t work out in KC, if his command improvements from the latter half of 2021 are real, it’s possible the trade tree continues. The Royals are expected to only win 75 games in 2022, but so were the 2021 Giants, and we saw how that worked out. In any case, thanks must be given to Billy Brewer. Your trade helped bring the city you loved a World Championship, twenty years later.
Also, for a laugh, check out this obviously very fake and hilarious piece from the Catching Up with the 1994 Royals about Billy Brewer selling his above-ground pool business and moving to Dubai with Suzanne Somers.