CHICAGO -- Ervin Santana has been dynamite on the pitching mound for the Royals this season. The question is, with the Trade Deadline approaching on Wednesday, will he still be pitching for the Royals for the rest of the season?
Santana, with free agency looming next winter, is one of the pitchers allegedly being sought by contending teams in search of a starter. At least his name is one being floated by those folks who like to start trade rumors.
He's a logical target. He has a 6-6 record, despite minimal run support and a 3.06 ERA. He's pitched six or more innings in all but one of his 20 starts. He's struck out 107 and walked just 30 in his 138 1/3 innings.
Santana is a free-and-easy, smiling and quick-witted guy in the Royals' clubhouse. Bring up a possible trade and his eyes just twinkle and he grins.
"I don't think about it, not at all," Santana said. "I'm enjoying my time. If anything is going to happen, it's going to happen. But we're playing very good, so who knows?"
Well, we know that he does think about it sometimes. After all, it was Santana who produced and tweeted a clever video in which he's sitting in the clubhouse supposedly discussing possible trades. Suddenly, they go diving onto the floor as a "missile" strikes, blowing up the rumors.
With his career with the Angels winding down, the Royals grabbed Santana (and his $13 million contract option) last winter in a trade for Minor League reliever Brandon Sisk. He became a vital ingredient in the rebuilt rotation.
"I'm enjoying my time here. Just having fun and relaxing," Santana said. "That's it."
If the Royals were hopelessly out of the American League Central race, a decision to trade Santana would be easier for general manager Dayton Moore. But the Royals experienced an upsurge after the All-Star break. With a division title still a possibility, should one of their best pitchers be dealt away?
Word on the street is that the Royals, in order to deal Santana, would have to be overwhelmed with Major League-ready talent that would help them win -- if not this year, then certainly in 2014.
Analysts frequently point to second base and right field as the two positions that most need upgrades. Or do they?
David Lough has been a reliable replacement in right field for the discarded Jeff Francoeur.
"He's been real productive for us, he's been one of our better players through this stretch offensively," manager Ned Yost said. "He's been consistent against both right-handed and left-handed pitching and done a nice job in the outfield."
Chris Getz began the season as the regular second baseman, lost the job for a while to Elliot Johnson and then Johnny Giavotella, but is now back.
"He does a lot of things that nobody ever notices to help win ballgames," Yost said. "Takes walks, takes the extra base when nobody notices it, steals a base, bunts runners [over]. He's played well defensively."
Then, there's the matter of public opinion. If Santana, or another key player, were to be traded for a package of prospects, how would that sit with Kansas City fans? They'll remember that just last winter the Royals dealt top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to Tampa Bay to bring in immediate pitching help in James Shields and Wade Davis.
Moore, since taking over as general manager in 2006, has been active with Deadline deals more often than not. In that first year, Moore made several July deals -- capped off at the last minute by sending pitchers Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista to the Rockies for first baseman Ryan Shealy and reliever Scott Dohmann.
He swapped pitchers on July 31, 2007, sending Octavio Dotel to the Braves for Kyle Davies. That opened the closer's job for rookie Joakim Soria. In 2008 and '09, the Deadline passed without a ripple from the Royals.
Then, on July 31, 2010, Moore sent outfielder Rick Ankiel and reliever Kyle Farnsworth to the Braves for pitchers Tim Collins and Jesse Chavez and outfielder Gregor Blanco. He sent infielder Mike Aviles to the Red Sox on July 30, '11, for pitcher Kendal Volz and infielder Yamaico Navarro.
Last year, although it occurred 11 days before the Deadline on July 20, Moore made his best in-season trade, bringing in Jeremy Guthrie from the Rockies for Jonathan Sanchez. His July 31 swap sent reliever Jonathan Broxton to the Reds for pitchers Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran.
This year, Moore has until 3 p.m. CT on Wednesday to make a deal.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com.