KANSAS CITY -- As the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, the defending champion Royals may be in the market for a fifth starter or an impact bat.While the Royals' rotation in general has been inconsistent, manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore have expressed faith that the foursome
KANSAS CITY -- As the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, the defending champion Royals may be in the market for a fifth starter or an impact bat.
While the Royals' rotation in general has been inconsistent, manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore have expressed faith that the foursome of Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy and Edinson Vólquez will improve as a unit in the second half.
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But as for the fifth starter, the job appears open. Right-hander Chris Young (6.79 ERA) has not been the pitcher he was in 2015, and he was demoted to the bullpen last week. On Sunday, the Royals started right-handed long reliever Dillon Gee in that spot, but it is telling that Yost did not announce a fifth starter for his rotation coming out of the break. Perhaps Moore will make a deal for that spot in the coming weeks.
The other need could be an impact bat. With Alex Gordon struggling, Mike Moustakas (right ACL) out for the year and Lorenzo Cain (left hamstring) still a week or so away from returning, the Royals' offense simply has not been as productive as Yost has hoped.
"That's been the most inconsistent part for us," Yost said. "Just can't get the bats going."
Right fielder Paulo Orlando has been a plus offensively in terms of average (.317), but he has one home run in 208 at-bats.
The Royals were hoping that right-hander Kris Medlen or left-hander Mike Minor could fortify the rotation. However, Medlen recently had a setback (right shoulder strain) in his rehab from rotator cuff inflammation, and Minor (labrum surgery) had a setback (left shoulder fatigue) last month. Neither one is anywhere near helping the rotation, and that could force Kansas City to make a deal to secure a fifth starter.
The Twins have indicated they are "open for business" in terms of selling, and that could mean former Royal Ervin Santana is available. But Santana is owed $13.5 million in 2017 and '18, and Kansas City's payroll is already bursting over a franchise-record $130 million. There also are whispers the Rays could move former Royals right-hander Jake Odorizzi or left-hander Matt Moore, much more affordable options. The problem is that Kansas City gave up five pitching prospects at last year's Deadline, and it may be hesitant to deplete its Minor League system more.
WHAT ARE THEY PLAYING FOR?
The Royals have fallen seven games back of the Indians in the American League Central. While Kansas City hasn't by any means given up winning the Central again, the club knows it is also in decent shape in the Wild Card race. As the Royals proved in 2014, there is no shame in parlaying a Wild Card berth into a deep postseason run. You can expect Moore and his staff to do all they can to improve the team's chances for the last two months.
THE ROAD AHEAD
One reason Kansas City maintains it can catch the Indians is that it still has nine games against them, including six in the final two weeks, and the Royals finish the season with a three-game series against the Tribe at Kauffman Stadium. That could be interesting, but none of those games will matter unless Kansas City's starting pitching and offense shape up.
If there is one player who can change the Royals' outlook, it's Gordon. No one expected Gordon's unsightly drop off -- .207 with seven homers, 14 RBIs -- especially not he after he signed a four-year, $72 million extension in the offseason.
"It's not the contract," Gordon said. "I've just got to be better."
If Gordon, who had a .377 on-base percentage last season, can return to form, that will boost a sagging offense, especially at the top of the order.
PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Infielder Adalberto Mondesi, the Royals' No. 1 prospect, could be a factor as a September callup. He recently returned from a 50-game suspension for PED use, and he was quickly promoted to Triple-A Omaha. Mondesi was on Kansas City's World Series roster last season, and while rookie Whit Merrifield has secured the second-base job for now, Mondesi's speed and defense could help the team down the stretch.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.