For weeks, fans of contenders have watched the Royals from afar and eyeballed the World Series-tested veterans their favorite team might acquire.
Eric Hosmer. Mike Moustakas. Lorenzo Cain. Alcides Escobar. Jason Vargas. Kelvin Herrera.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline: The Royals have started winning.
They'd reeled off six consecutive victories prior to Saturday's loss in Anaheim. The streak validated an approach Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore has professed since his team posted the Majors' worst record in April: Why rush to break up a team that has won so much together?
Even after that, the Royals have only a 6.7 percent chance of reaching the playoffs entering play Sunday, according to the FanGraphs.com simulator. A roster reboot is inevitable between now and Opening Day 2018, and many rival executives believe the Royals would be wise to leverage the next six weeks to restock the farm system. Among the players listed above, only Herrera won't be a free agent this winter -- and he's due to hit the open market after 2018.
Moustakas, enjoying a career-best offensive year, is the most intriguing Royal to monitor over the coming days. He could become the subject of a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox as the rivals chase the American League East title.
The Yankees are considering upgrades at third base, where Chase Headley is having one of the worst offensive seasons of his career. (He's also committed the second-most errors of any Major League third baseman this year.) Many in the industry have expected the Yankees' improvement to come from within, thanks to top prospect Gleyber Torres. But Torres injured his left elbow in a Triple-A game Saturday, halting (at least temporarily) his rapid progress through the Minors.
Boston's need at third base is even more glaring, with the worst OPS at the position (.565) of any team in the Majors. Pablo Sandoval has fallen out of the everyday job, despite having two years and $37.2 million left on his contract after the current season ends. Headley, for the record, is under contract for 2018 at $13 million.
If the Royals have even the faintest hope of acquiring top prospect Rafael Devers from the Red Sox in a Moustakas trade, their best chance of doing so is if the Yankees are involved and increase the price.
• Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson has posted a 1.131 OPS over his first five games since returning from the disabled list, but the team remains likely to adjust its outfield alignment between now and July 31. Kansas City's Cain is an ideal fit in many ways; he could start in either center or right, where Yasiel Puig's production remains inconsistent. And Cain is a better defender than Detroit's J.D. Martinez, the best pure hitter among potentially available outfielders.
• The Dodgers are optimistic that lefty Julio Urias will return from a shoulder injury and contribute at the Major League level this season, but it has become increasingly apparent that the team will try to upgrade its rotation before the Trade Deadline. Multiple starters have worrisome health histories, and the Dodgers want to avoid having Clayton Kershaw start on short rest for a fifth consecutive Division Series.
The Dodgers and Rays have spoken about Chris Archer in the past, and he would provide the reliable innings they desire: Archer has surpassed 200 innings in each of the past two seasons, and he ranks third in the Majors with 98 1/3 innings pitched in 2017.
• The Yankees' top Deadline priority will be the starting rotation, especially with Carsten Sabathia now on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. But with Greg Bird's recent setback while rehabbing a leg injury, Athletics first baseman Yonder Alonso has become a more viable trade target.
The last-place A's, who rarely are successful in retaining high-dollar free agents, are nearly certain to make Alonso available on the trade market. Like Moustakas, Alonso is enjoying a career offensive year in his final season before he's eligible for free agency. His one-year, $4 million salary will make him easy to move.
Yankees first basemen have combined to post a .659 OPS this season, third-worst in the Major Leagues. The Mariners and Angels -- both Wild Card contenders -- are the only teams that rank behind the Yankees; they also could be fits for Alonso, even though that would involve an in-division trade.