The Royals fanbase greeted the news of the Justin Maxwell for Kyle Smith trade with befuddlement. Justin Maxwell is a superior defensive outfielder with limited hitting ability. If there’s something the Royals probably don’t need, it’s another big-glove/no-bat outfielder. They already have Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and David Lough who all have excellent defensive range but below average OPS+.
The Royals had been looking for an offensive upgrade in the outfield since releasing Francoeur. Short of getting a veteran major league right-fielder, their next preference was to acquire a right-handed outfielder who could platoon with left-hander Jarrod Dyson (or possibly David Lough, if he keeps his position with the club). Jeff Francoeur could not even succeed in even that limited roll this season, hitting just over .200 with barely a .500 OPS against lefties when designated for assignment. Justin Maxwell will easily fill the role. In 303 career plate appearances versus lefties, he’s posted a meaty line of .253/.370/.455 with ten home runs.
He might also be a legitimate upgrade in right field for 2014. Astros announcer and former Royals Radio post-game host Robert Ford says that, when healthy, Maxwell is a definite upgrade over Lough. According to Ford, Maxwell has more power and more speed, but remaining healthy has been a major problem.
The power is easy to see. He’s 6’5″ and 220 lbs. He hit 18 home runs last year in 124 games. His isolated power is .197 (50 points higher than Hosmer this season and about par with the A’s Josh Donaldson). Because his on-base skills are not inextricably tied to his batting average (like Lough; like Frenchy), his results should be more easily replicated from season to season. Lough has won many of us over with his glove and high average, but he’s still unproven. However… is Maxwell really faster than Lough? It’s possible, but hard to believe. Maxwell has a good defensive reputation and showed impressive defensive flourish before hitting the DL for a broken hand and concussion this season.
To acquire Maxwell, the Royals gave up left-handed pitching prospect Kyle Smith, who had been pitching well in High-A Wilmington (2.85 ERA in 104 2/3 IP). Wilmington has a reputation for a pitcher’s park, so his numbers were widely considered inflated. According to BaseballProspectus.com scout Zach Mortimer, he profiled as a possible spot-starter or middle reliever at the major league level. If there is something that the Royals do not need, it’s another middle reliever.
While regarded as a smart pitcher and #12 prospect in the Royals system, his fringe average fastball and terrible changeup limit his opportunity for success. He might become another Brian Bannister, which would be a great pickup for the Astros. He also might flame out in double-A, which happens to many similarly-outfitted pitchers. It might be different with the Astros because they have almost no starting pitching at the major league level now that they’ve traded Bud Norris. He could get a shot at the bigs sooner than expected (and before he’s ready).
One of the less important aspects of the trade is that Dayton Moore now has a trade relationship with the new Astros Regime. This could come in handy in the off-season, because we know Astros Pro Scouting Coordinator Kevin Goldstein really likes Johnny Giavotella and other Royals prospects. Never underestimate the value of comfort when moving around millions and millions of dollars worth of commodities.
When considering overall value, the trade is even. When considering upside, the trade is even. The Royals are slightly better down the stretch for 2013, but next season will be the real key to determining the value of Justin Maxwell. If Maxwell turns out to be nothing better than a fourth or fifth platooning outfielder, the move has cost the team very little. If he hits between 15 and 20 home runs next year while playing excellent defense, he’ll be a low-cost success.