KANSAS CITY -- While the Royals are playing better baseball out of the All-Star break, their hopes of contention are firmly in 2022 and beyond.
And that shapes what the organization will do at the Trade Deadline, fast approaching on Friday at 3 p.m. CT.
“Anything that we would do at the Deadline, regardless of what our record is, would be focused on how to be better in 2022,” general manager Dayton Moore said Tuesday. “So that is continuing as we go forward. But it’s still very early. A lot of the things that get done oftentimes are at the last minute. We’re really just focused on keeping as many of our good players together.”
Moore made it clear that he wants to keep core players and key contributors for 2022 on the Royals current roster, and presumably that means players like second baseman Whit Merrifield, who has seen his name surface in trade rumors every year. The Mariners are interested in the 32-year-old with one more guaranteed year on his contract, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, and the Mets reportedly have interest in him, too.
But any deal for a player of Merrifield’s caliber would have to “overwhelm” the Royals, Moore said without naming any names.
“As it pertains to us, don’t expect us to do any deals moving our core group of specially positioned players and starting pitchers that we feel are part of our future,” Moore said. “Of course, we’ll evaluate every potential deal that’s out there, but I would basically categorize it as, we’ve really got to be overwhelmed if we’re going to move one of our key contributors to this team and those players that we feel are key contributors in the future.
“We like our farm system. We feel like we have a lot of young players on the horizon that will be part of our team in ‘22 and ‘23. We’re going to continue to trust our scouting and player development to produce prospects and not necessarily rely on trades to strengthen our farm system.”
If the Royals do move controllable players at the Deadline -- players like Merrifield or Andrew Benintendi, who has one more year of arbitration before becoming a free agent in 2023 -- the Royals prefer to get Major League talent back.
“That would be our preference,” Moore said. “Unless you get such an impactful prospect going forward that there’s no way you could pass up on a certain player. But if you’re going to trade Major League talent that you can control, you certainly, in my mind, want to try to get back Major League players to multiply, spread out, utilize and build your roster in a more complete and balanced way. That would be the plan. It’s difficult to do this time of year because of the nature of what everyone’s dealing with in the playoffs. They want to hold on to all their Major League players, and I understand why.”
Ahead of the Deadline, the Royals’ focus seems to be on players who are free agents at the end of the year: Left-hander Danny Duffy, who is on the injured list with a left flexor strain; Jorge Soler, who had one of the worst first halves of the season in the American League but who has turned it on as of late; Greg Holland, who has a team-leading seven saves; and Michael A. Taylor, who has played solid center field this season. Duffy is the biggest trade chip of these and has drawn interest from West Coast teams, but questions about his health will arise when discussing those deals.
Other free agents-to-be include Jarrod Dyson, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis.
Moore cautioned that the Royals aren’t going to make a deal just to make a deal ahead of the Deadline, and once again reiterated that teams only have so much space in the Minor Leagues to add players. An organization can control 180 players across its system, so Moore has emphasized that acquiring a prospect who will block someone else’s path has to be the right prospect.
“It’s safe to say that we’re not going to do deals for prospects unless the prospects we get in return are significantly better than what we have, an upgrade over many of the players that we have in our system,” Moore said. “We’re going to be very disciplined in that way.”
The Royals’ No. 13 prospect, catcher MJ Melendez, was named the Double-A Central Player of the Week for last week -- for the third time in the last four weeks. The 22-year-old is raking for the Naturals, hitting .290/.371/.620 with a career-high 23 home runs in 67 games. He hit .400 (10-for-25) during his award-winning week, leading the league with four home runs, eight RBIs and 24 total bases.