With more than two months left to go before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Royals plan for the offseason still has time to become clear. At this point, though, I’m having a hard time seeing where it is they’re heading. When they traded Wade Davis to the Cubs in exchange for Jorge Soler, the message was that the move was made with an eye on 2017 and the future. And that’s acceptable if the moves made from this point on reflect that. With that in mind, there are a few rumors circulating that make varying degrees of sense, so let’s look at those.
The Astros are interested in Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura
Let’s look at the semantics of this one before we get too invested in worrying about the Royals trading one or even two of their top three starters for 2017. The Astros are interested. There’s nothing saying that the Royals are shopping either of these two. Of course the Astros are interested in young starting pitchers who could help their team in 2017. They’re all in and need some help in the rotation.
That said, let’s pretend like these rumors are more than just talking about what the Astros want. I think it could actually make sense to trade Ventura in a deal to Houston, but I can’t see a scenario where trading Duffy is justifiable if they have an eye on contending this season. You don’t trade your opening day starter if you think you can win a division. The Astros do have a deep farm system, so if the Royals have determined that they’d rather reload for beyond 2017, trading Duffy could make sense, but it just doesn’t jive with competing this season.
Now, trading Ventura could actually work even if they plan to contend. The Royals could conceivably deal Ventura to Houston and receive prospects along with one of the two big league starting pitchers the Astros seem to be dangling, Collin McHugh or Mike Fiers. You could make a case that either or both of those two will be more effective than Ventura. McHugh is under team control for three more seasons, but is in arbitration, so he isn’t cost-controlled like Ventura and he doesn’t have the upside. Fiers also is under team control for three more seasons and is in arbitration. McHugh will turn 30 in June and Fiers will turn 32, so neither is a long-term bet, but they are a short, long-term bet.
I’m not going to pretend to have a deep understanding of the Astros system, but if you can get one of those two for Ventura along with some prospect like Daz Cameron, Teoscar Hernandez and maybe a Brady Rodgers, then you’re looking at either maintaining in 2017 or maybe getting better and boosting the future. Of course, if you make that deal, you’re giving up on the potential of Ventura. I know that he’s lost much of his luster from his prospect days and his rookie season, but he’ll be just 26 in June and is signed so cheaply that even if he’s moved to the bullpen, he’s probably a decent value. And on the off chance that everything clicks, he’s a number two/borderline one starter. It’s hard to walk away from that, but it would be understandable to move him for the right deal.
The Royals still want to boost their bullpen
After trading Davis, it became clear that the Royals would emphasize improving the bullpen. At the start of the offseason, the Royals had talked about wanting to get back to the dominating bullpen they had from 2013 to 2015 after a down year in 2016 that saw them rank tied for fourth in ERA in baseball. We know that ERA doesn’t tell the whole story for bullpens, but the Royals bullpen had a much lower strikeout rate than we’ve become accustomed to with more walks and some struggles from key members.
So what are they supposed to do to build back the dominance? Former closer Greg Holland is still on the open market, but all indications are that the Royals haven’t really entered the fray for him in quite some time, which is odd to me. He might end up too expensive for the risk, but if the price is right, he’s the perfect guy to add to Kelvin Herrera and Matt Strahm. They can also look to members of the 2016 bullpen like Peter Moylan and Luke Hochevar, but those are more middle guys and they could really use one more late inning reliever. At this point, it seems like a trade is the way to go, but then that could impact the idea that they want to contend in 2017. You see why this is so complicated? Unless…
Jarrod Dyson is still receiving interest
With the acquisition of Soler, Dyson is now theoretically expendable as the Royals have six outfielders who project to be on the big league roster. As I’ve said before, I think Soler being on the roster makes Dyson even more valuable, but I can also see the argument that they can now live without him a little easier. I still don’t get why you’d trade someone projected to make just $2.5 million who is actually valuable, but IF they can somehow get back an impact reliever, I could see where it would make some sense in the big picture.
The A’s and Orioles have been the teams with the most interest in Dyson, and both have relievers to trade. That said, reports indicate that the Orioles have balked at trading Brad Brach, and he’d be the one to make the most sense of their relievers. I’ve mentioned Sean Doolittle from the A’s, and that would be a fit for the Royals bullpen to give them two lefties in Doolittle and Strahm along with Herrera in the late innings.
So those are the rumors around the Royals right now. Some would be understandable with their stated mission of winning in 2017 while others simply would not. Maybe they’ll surprise and make a big move that we don’t see coming. They’ve certainly done it before.