MLB Trade Deadline: Should The Royals Be Sellers?


Last Tuesday night, after the Kansas City Royals beat the New York Yankees for the second straight night on the road, it looked as if things might be coming together just a bit for the Royals. They were starting off 5-3 during a brutal 20-game stretch of their schedule in which every team they play is either in first or second in their respective divisions (except for the Yankees, who were 8 games over .500). People were excited.

Jul 11, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning of a game at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Things quickly fell apart. The Royals dropped their two remaining games in the Big Apple before heading to Cleveland, their closest competitor as chief challenger to the Tigers for the AL Central title. Cleveland promptly swept the Royals, leaving them suddenly 6 games under .500 and 8 games out of first.

What are the Royals to do? The chances of leap frogging two teams, one 8 games head, and the other 6.5 games, are slim. The Royals just don’t seem built to go on a long, extended streak where they can get enough consistent hitting to win 45 games after the All-Star break. 45 games – that will get them to 88 wins, maybe not even enough to win the division. 45-25? It doesn’t seem likely.

The Royals really can stay their hand until after this weekend’s series at home against the Tigers. If the Royals don’t sweep that series, they have to be sellers. Even if they win 2 of the 3 games, they will still be 7 games back of Detroit. If they win all three, the Tigers will still lead them by 5 games, but the Royal brass can at least justify not throwing in the towel.

It just seems highly unlikely the Royals can sustain a strong enough run in the last two months to overtake both the Tigers and the Indians.

Jul 14, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) delivers in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

For a moment, let’s revisit the the controversial trade in which Dayton Moore sent Wil Myers and others to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis. Most bloggers mocked, ridiculed, and railed against the move. I was not one of those. At the time, I believed it necessary to compete. Moore had to do something. I still agree with that trade – it needed to be made.

Kansas City made that trade, they acquired Ervin Santana, and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie. The rotation was massively upgraded. That is not refutable. My biggest issue was that Moore stopped there. He made no real improvement to an offense that, as a whole, was not productive in 2012. The Royals did not pursue Michael Bourn strong enough, or Nick Swisher, or any offensive free agent.

You see, the Royals were operating on a faulty premise. The Royals believed Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain were going to take that elusive step forward in development. So did I! The Royals assumed Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and Alcides Escobar could maintain their 2012 levels of production. Dayton Moore and his minions probably still held out hope Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz were going to be better than they are, despite overwhelming evidence proving otherwise.

The Royals thought they could stand pat offensively and their hitters would improve by a natural progression of development. They obviously believed the rotation was improved enough that the Royals could compete for the division because the offense was going to improve on sheer increased experience alone. They were wrong.

And so was I. I fully admit it. I really believed Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain would be better. I believed Gordon and Butler had gotten to the point in their career where they would maintain, and maybe even increase their production (in all fairness, these two haven’t been brutal, just not as good as hoped). The difference is that Dayton Moore and his minions are paid to know their personnel. I am not.

The Royals are better overall team than they were a year ago. They are more competitive. They are more fun to watch. I do have more faith they can win more games. That rotation, despite the cracks that have recently appeared, is better. It doesn’t matter though because the offense did not improve as hoped.

So, for all practically purposes, the Royals are done. Who should they consider trading? Dayton Moore should be spending this entire break working the phones to see what he can get for Ervin Santana. It is not clear if he is or not.

Yesterday, Tim Dierkes from MLB Trade Rumors posted an article on the present trade market for starting pitchers. He listed a number of available pitchers who would be considered a rental because they are free agents after the season. He mentioned several more who had controllable contracts. At the end, he mentioned a few “pitchers…not currently believed to be available”. James Shields, Ervin Santana, and Jeremy Guthrie were on this final list.

I can understand why they are not shopping Shields. For Kansas City to trade him now, before they at least made an attempt in 2014, would be utterly ridiculous. As it appears more and more likely that Wade Davis is not going to develop as a starter, Shields and the hope he brings for next year is the only thing of value received for Wil Myers. The only way the Royals could trade Shields was if they received a player of equal skill and readiness as Myers and that is not going to happen.

It is even understandable that Guthrie hasn’t been shopped because it is doubtful he would bring back much in return due to his contract and poor recent performances. Ervin Santana is another story all together.

Santana is a free agent after this season and there is no way he will be re-signed. If the Royals keep him, they will offer him an obligatory one year deal for approximately $14.5 million, he will refuse. He will sign a 3-year, $16 million deal somewhere else, and the Royals will get a compensatory pick in next year’s draft. Whoopee!

Jul 9, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) and Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) congratulate one another after defeating the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If Dayton Moore and the Royals front office folks are serious about competing in 2014, they will trade Ervin Santana. While the compensatory draft pick for losing a free agent is nice, that pick is most likely several developmental years away from helping the major league team, and even then, the chances are not all that good that player will be successful. Santana is worth a more known, a more immediate commodity, one that can fill a hole or two for the Royals sooner rather than later.

If the Royals don’t sweep the Tigers, and Moore doesn’t trade Santana, he should just go ahead and back his bags. It will be but the latest indication he has no idea how to go about building a winning major league roster. Sorry, Dayton. No one wanted you to succeed more than I, but there just hasn’t been the expected, and promised) improvement at the major league level.

If the Royals do value a compensatory draft pick more than a more proven player, and they don’t trade Santana, then they might as well trade Shields because Kansas City won’t be in the divisional race next year either. The same holes are going to exist.

KC Kingdom’s own Jacob Meysenburg argued last week that the Royals should trade Greg Holland. His point may be unpopular but it is still a valid one. Closers breakdown or  become ineffective on a regular basis. Holland’s value will probably never be higher, so Moore should take advantage and get another puzzle piece or two while the opportunity is there. The Royals pride themselves on their bullpen depth. Well, it is time to put it to good use and trade Holland.

Other than maybe Salvador Perez, no Royal should be untouchable. The very thought of a full scale re-building project makes my heart stop beating for a few seconds, but if the Royals have a player another team really wants, and are willing to send back multiple, legitimate pieces in return, Moore must listen and consider. There are some players on this team it would be very difficult to see leave but it might eventually be necessary.

A real problem is if Dayton Moore can be trusted to make appropriate deals. He has had some successes – Jeremy Guthrie for Jonathan Sanchez was a terrific move – but we all know there have been failures as well.

It is pretty obvious that with a couple of guys who have really high value right now, namely Santana and Holland, the Royals must look to sell and improve this team going forward. If not, then it is very likely that a year from now, we will discussing the exact same scenario, but with James Shields name subbed in for Ervin Santana’s.

Long suffering Royals fans seem fated to suffer a bit longer.