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AL Notebook: Royals, Tigers have hot trade chips

@feinsand
June 1, 2019

Executives around the Majors are laser-focused on next week’s Draft, but it appears one team is also preparing for an early-summer sell-off. According to a source, the Royals have started to let it be known that nearly anybody on their roster is available in a trade, with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi

Executives around the Majors are laser-focused on next week’s Draft, but it appears one team is also preparing for an early-summer sell-off.

According to a source, the Royals have started to let it be known that nearly anybody on their roster is available in a trade, with shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and third baseman Hunter Dozier among the select untouchables.

The source cited Whit Merrifield as the most intriguing trade candidate, as he’s having another good season and recently signed a club-friendly four-year, $16.25 million contract in January. Merrifield is earning $1 million this season and is due $5 million in 2020, $6.75 million in ‘21 and $2.75 million in ‘22, with a ‘23 club option worth $6.5 million (with a $750,000 buyout).

That contract makes him appealing to virtually every club out there, which is why the Royals will need to be overwhelmed by an offer to trade him. For a rebuilding club, being able to pencil in an affordable, productive player is the dream, but if a contender is willing to part with some notable prospects, it appears Merrifield might be available.

Jorge Soler could be another player the Royals are looking to move to a club seeking some pop in its lineup. Soler, who had 14 home runs and an .800 OPS in 212 at-bats entering the weekend, is making $4 million this season and is due the same salary in 2020 before becoming a free agent.

Alex Gordon could be an intriguing trade option for several teams, but the 35-year-old lifelong Royal has 10-5 rights, allowing him to reject any trade scenario if he decides he wants to remain in Kansas City. Gordon is having a superb season -- nine home runs, 37 RBIs and .863 OPS through 53 games -- and would add a veteran presence to a contender’s lineup if he was willing to move.

On the pitching front, the two most desirable arms would be Danny Duffy (3-1, 3.12 ERA in six starts) and Ian Kennedy, who was excelling in a relief role until a couple of recent hiccups. The biggest roadblock with these two would be their salaries (Duffy is owed more than $38 million through 2021, while Kennedy is owed more than $26 million through the end of next season), so the Royals would likely need to pay down either contract in order to move them.

Easy being Greene

When the floodgates eventually open on trade season, most contenders around the Majors will look to bolster their bullpens, whether it’s adding a new closer or beefing up its core of setup men.

One of the most sought-after relievers will be Shane Greene, giving the Tigers a huge trade chip to dangle. The 30-year-old right-hander is earning $4 million this season and has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before he hits free agency, but Detroit is in rebuilding mode, making it likely the closer gets moved either this summer or after the season.

“For a team looking to add to its bullpen, Greene is probably going to be the best arm out there,” one Major League scout said. “That wouldn’t have been the case last summer.”

Greene had 32 saves a year ago, but his 5.12 ERA was the highest among all relievers with at least 25 saves. In fact, only five other closers (minimum 25 saves) posted an ERA above 4.00 for the season, while Greene’s 86 ERA+ was also the lowest among that group.

This season, Greene leads the AL with 18 saves, and his other numbers entering the weekend are off the charts: his 417 ERA+ is tops among all closers this season, while his 1.12 ERA is the best among AL closers and second in the Majors behind San Diego’s Kirby Yates (1.08). Greene’s 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings are a career high, while his 2.6 walks per nine are a career low.

Greene’s 28.4% strikeout rate is up from 23.3% last season, while his profile of batted balls allowed has improved greatly. His 51.7% ground ball rate is up from 40.7% last year, while his 11.7% line-drive rate is down from 20.6% a year ago.

The key to this improvement? His sinker, which he throws nearly half the time (40.6% usage in 2019). Greene’s opponent average against that pitch this season is .103 with a .138 slugging percentage, down from .291 and .487, respectively, last year.

Given the erratic nature of relievers -- see Edwin Díaz and Blake Treinen, for example -- unloading Greene while his value is high would seem to be the Tigers’ best play this summer.

Series to watch: Twins at Indians (June 4-6)

The Twins have built up the biggest cushion of any division leader, entering Saturday with a 10 1/2-game lead, but the second-place Indians will have their chance to cut into that lead when they host Minnesota for three games this week. The AL Central rivals met at Target Field in the opening series of the season (the Twins won two of three), but after this upcoming week, they won’t see each other again until after the All-Star break. Then they’ll play 13 times from July 12 through the end of the season, giving Cleveland a shot to have a say in the division.

Stealth star of the week

Jorge Polanco sits atop the AL WAR list for position players, while Eddie Rosario is among the AL leaders in both home runs and RBIs, but it was another member of the Twins' lineup that stood out this past week. Max Kepler hit .440 (11-for-25) with three home runs, five doubles, 13 RBIs and a 1.444 OPS, helping the Twins to a strong 4-2 week.

Stat of the week

The Orioles’ pitching staff has given up home runs at a historic pace this season, and Monday’s win over the Tigers marked just the ninth time this season that Baltimore hurlers held the opposition homerless in a game. The Orioles are 8-1 in those games and 9-38 when they allow a long ball.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.