The Royals have been saying for weeks that they have no plans to sell at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, keeping their core group of impending free agents Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Jason Vargas together for one last ride. Given that their recent hot streak has pushed them
The Royals have been saying for weeks that they have no plans to sell at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, keeping their core group of impending free agents Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Jason Vargas together for one last ride. Given that their recent hot streak has pushed them not only into an American League Wild Card spot but just 1 1/2 games out of the AL Central lead entering Tuesday, that's clearly the right call -- and they made a move on Monday to acquire three pitchers from the Padres to reinforce their staff.
So, no, the Royals won't be sellers. The only question remaining is, why stop now? If you're going to go for it, why not go for it?
Let's be blunt: This is as much a "win-now" team as there is in MLB. Most (though likely not all) of Kansas City's core free agents will depart after the year. The Royals don't have any prospects on the new MLBPipeline Top 100, while their rebuilding division rivals in Chicago have eight. While Kansas City wisely has Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez locked up through 2021, the club also owes nearly $80 million to Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy from 2018-20, which is a lot for two veterans in their 30s no longer producing like they once did.
Those are all real issues that the team will be forced to confront, but there's also not much to be done about it right now. Right now, the Royals control their own 2017 postseason destiny. Right now, Kansas City still has 10 more head-to-head games against Cleveland, six against Minnesota and three against AL Wild Card competitor Tampa Bay -- plus the AL's best winning percentage (.630) since June 1.
This is a team playing well, with a ton of recent postseason success and great incentive to try to win now. But with limited prospect capital to sell -- there's not going to be a Yu Darvish or Sonny Gray coming anytime soon -- what can the Royals do to get the most of out of what may be their last ride? We have some ideas.
Trade for right fielder/designated hitter Jay Bruce
The thing about the Royals' offense is that it's got a few bright spots -- Moustakas has been great; Cain, Hosmer and Perez have been around what you'd expect; and Whit Merrifield has been a pleasant surprise -- around some serious rough spots. For example, if you look at the combined output out of right field and designated hitter, Kansas City has had the third-weakest production in the game. Opening Day right fielder Paulo Orlando didn't last through April, Jorge Soler has been sent back to Triple-A twice and Brandon Moss is hitting just .206/.282/.416, though he's been better in July.
It's true that right fielder Jorge Bonifacio (.259/.331/.464) has been a league-average bat since arriving, but he shouldn't be a roadblock toward improvement. Nor should Moss and nor, strange as it is to say, should Gordon, who hasn't been an above-average hitter since 2015 (though he remains a good fielder).
Enter Bruce, a rental having a strong season (.264/.328/.523 with 25 homers), and one who's been named in Royals rumors for years. Remember, this is not a strong market for selling outfielders; when J.D. Martinez, another rental (and one with a stronger bat than Bruce) went to Arizona, few were impressed by the return Detroit received. The Mets are likely sellers, and this is where the Royals can improve without having to send back a top prospect in return.
Trade for relief pitcher Pat Neshek
Yes, Neshek made the National League All-Star team. Yes, every team could use a reliever. No, 36-year-olds who don't throw hard don't command large Deadline returns, which puts Neshek on Kansas City's radar. While new acquisition Trevor Cahill reinforces the rotation and Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter help the 'pen, there's no such thing as too many arms. Remember, the 2015 World Series champion Royals won on a bullpen that had Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Luke Hochevar -- and three of them are gone (though Mike Minor has been very impressive).
While Neshek's 1.12 ERA is shiny, that's not the appeal here. He's just been good, whiffing 45 against a mere five walks in 40 1/3 innings. Beyond that, he's limited dangerous contact. Using our latest Statcast™ metric which evaluates quality of (and amount of) contact, Neshek has legitimately been one of the five best relievers in the game. Plus, as a fly-ball pitcher, he'd thrive in Kansas City's large outfield in front of Cain and Gordon.
If you wanted, you could expand it to include first baseman Tommy Joseph, who has been a league-average hitter (.252/.307/.473) in two seasons but is blocking prospect Rhys Hoskins in Philadelphia -- and Joseph could help at designated hitter now and be first-base insurance if Hosmer departs.
Trade for shortstop Zack Cozart
We know, we know, Alcides Escobar is still there. His slash line of .229/.253/.314 could easily be improved upon. And remember: this offense doesn't need superstars so much as it needs to plug some leaks. Cozart likely won't sustain his current .318/.404/.570, but he's still an upgrade and, like Bruce, he's in a market where there just aren't many suitors for shortstops.
The Royals don't have to do these moves, but they ought to do something. After all, the end of an era is nearing. Why not send it out in the best possible way you can? After all the times Kansas City has proved us wrong before, it sure seems possible the Royals have one more left in them.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.