It is July 1, which means the MLB trade deadline is only 30 days away. Normally the Royals would be preparing to build a market for some of their better players in an attempt to gain prospects or fill some holes for next season. This year may be somewhat different.
Kansas City enters July just 4.5 games out of first place and are coming off a month where they went 16-11 and outscored opponents 108-89. More hope seems to be around the corner as Dayton Moore has ditched Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur for more the more capable bats of David Lough and Johnny Giavotella. Given the expected improvement from the offense and strong starting pitching, the Royals may be able to make a good run for a playoff spot if they can add one more piece to the puzzle.
If the Royals are going to make that run, then adding a starting pitcher may be the rout to go.
While the offense could use an upgrade, there really isn’t much room to add a bat. Consider the Royals are not going to replace their catcher, first baseman, third baseman, shortstop, or left fielder any time soon, so this eliminates many possibilities for the moment. Giavotella was just brought up to play second base every day so (hopefully) the second base problem should be solved for the remainder of the season. This leaves an outfield spot as the only area of the lineup where the Royals could make an improvement.
At the moment, the Royals second best outfielder is David Lough, but he is flawed in some ways because he does not walk and does not have much of a MLB track record. Jarrod Dyson is injury prone and does bring too much pop to the plate, which is something the Royals desperately need. Lorenzo Cain has some pop but, along with his own injury issues, is very streaky (he’s batting .183/.232/.308 since May 25).
So while an upgrade in the outfield would be useful, there are few options currently available via a trade. Nate Schierholtz, Alex Rios and Marlon Byrd are probably the best options but they also don’t pose too much of an upgrade either. Schierholtz is a platoon guy who hits much better against right-handed pitching than he does against lefties. Byrd and Rios are probably the Royals best options, but they won’t provide the kind of boost Kansas City needs, as each have an OPS below Dyson and Lough.
Any offensive improvement in the second half is going to have to come from Giavotella, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. There simply isn’t much available in the trade market that would make Kansas City’s lineup significantly better.
If Kansas City is going to make a big splash this season, without ruining their opportunities in the future, then adding a starting pitcher to replace Wade Davis in the rotation may be the best option.
The case for adding a starter begins and ends with Davis. He’s currently the worst starting pitcher who qualifies for the ERA title in baseball. His 5.55 ERA, .328 BAA, and 1.815 WHIP are among the worst in baseball. When you consider the Royals have one of the best rotations in baseball, even with Davis in the rotation, it is kind of staggering.
There are in-house options for the Royals, should they choose to go that route. Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino are progressively getting closer to returning from Tommy John surgery, top prospect Yordano Ventura is now in AAA. The issues there are that all three may not be ready to be big contributors until next season. Venutra has a 4.94 ERA in AAA, Duffy is working on getting through six innings consistently, and Paulino had a minor setback in recovery with a back strain. Even if the Royals brought one of these three back, there is little certainty they would be effective.
Additionally, the Royals have to find a replacement for Ervin Santana next season. Santana is in the final year of his deal, and is on a one-way track to free agency. The Royals could get a jump start for next season, while adding a big piece this year, by finding a replacement for Santana now at a potentially lower cost.
Here are a few names who could help Kansas City make the leap from being a fringe contender for a playoff spot to a real contender.
Contract: $10 million remaining this season plus 2-years, $50 million ($27.5 million club option in 2016; $12.5 million buyout).
Odds of Happening: low
This deal would have to be about creativity. Philadelphia is going to need to eat some cash if the Royals are going to be able to pull this deal off. If the Phillies are looking to dump the Lee’s full salary, then this deal will never happen as the Royals cannot afford to have a third of their payroll locked up in one guy.
Still, Lee could be the difference between 85 wins and 88 wins for the Royals. The difference in WAR between Lee (3.5) and Davis (-1.4) right now is nearly five games. That could potentially be the difference between KC being 43-36 and in first place as opposed to 38-41 and 4.5 games back as they are now. And that is with the putrid offensive production we’ve seen in the first half of the season.
If KC could get Philly to eat $25 million of the remainder of Lee’s contract, then the Royals could have a one-two combination of Lee and Shields for the next season and a half that would rival almost everybody in the American League. And if Hosmer and Moose start hitting then things get really interesting.
Contract: $4 million remaining this season plus 1-year, $11.5 with no options.
Odds of Happening: medium
Gallardo is the best option for the Royals in my mind. He’s far more affordable then Lee and not too far off Lee’s pace in terms of talent. He cannot be controlled as long but could be extended if they were able to acquire him soon.
A putrid defense behind him in Milwaukee has made some of his numbers look bad so far this season: 4.20 ERA, 1.389 WHIP, 9.2 hits per nine innings. But Gallardo is a career 9.0 strikeouts-per-nine pitcher who has gone 200 innings in each of the last two seasons. he’s only 27 and has playoff experience.
He won’t come cheap but he could be a guy who could put the Royals over the top almost as much as adding Lee.
Contract: $1.5 million remaining this season plus two years of arbitration. Free agent after 2015.
Odds of Happening: medium-high
Norris doesn’t bring the same kind of impact as Lee or Gallardo but he could significantly improve the rotation for the long term. He’s is the cheapest financially compared to the other two and would have two more years of control after this season. Norris has also proven he can pitch effectively in the American League.
Norris has a 2.2 WAR so he could still be the guy who makes the difference to propelling the Royals towards 88 wins.
Again, the Royals still need improvement from their offense if they are going to make any kind of serious run. But with the recent moves at second base and the outfield, along with the steady improvement from Moose and Hosmer, there is reason to believe the offense could be on their way towards being respectable.
Dayton Moore said at the beginning of the season this year was about winning and went all-in on the James Shields trade. A big move before the deadline would help make this season (and next) a winning one.