After another tough weekend for the Royals, the question seems to be more of a when than an if they’ll be unloading their key free agents. Sitting at 7-16 and drifting farther out of the playoff picture at a far quicker rate than anyone expected, the organization will face some tough questions. As you know, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Jason Vargas are all scheduled to become free agents following the season, so a decision needs to be made on at least them.
Basically, the Royals have to first decide in short order if they have interest in extending qualifying offers to any of the five. My guess is they would give the QO to Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas. As an average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, this year’s offer will be right around $17 million. Contrary to popular belief, the Royals aren’t really hurt that badly by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. For them, they’ll still receive a pick following the first round if the player they extend a qualifying offer to both turns it down and is signed to a deal with a total value of more than $50 million. If they are offered and turn down the QO and sign for a total value of less than $50 million, the Royals receive a pick following the second round.
We can discuss the merits of that at a later date, but they do need to determine whether the value they can receive in a trade is better than the draft pick. Given the organization’s draft history, especially in recent years, I’d say it’s likely that it will be, but that’s also another story for another day.
Let’s take a look at where their trade chips might be a fit.
Cain, a dynamic center fielder who can shift to a corner would likely be a good fit on any contender, though some just don’t need him badly. The Red Sox, for example, have no need to trade a valuable piece for a player like Cain. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for a player who looks as quick as he’s looked in years and is showing off new plate discipline.
Best fits: Indians, Rangers, Giants, Cubs, Astros, Nationals
A couple of those might not make a ton of sense. The Astros have gotten great production from basically everyone this year, but I’m not sure I expect that to continue from Nori Aoki, and Josh Reddick has platoon issues anyway. Jake Marisnick started the year hot before heading to the 7-day disabled list, but he’s also never really shown that he can be the type of impact player they need. I’d be surprised if they wouldn’t move Springer off center field for the better defender in Cain. The Giants are also interesting because they’re struggling badly, but if they’re in it, they could really use an outfielder like Cain. And the Rangers have plenty of outfielders, but none performing that well. I could see that being a good fit.
The best fit of all for Cain may very well be the Nationals after they lost Adam Eaton for the season over the weekend. Combine Cain with someone listed below and the Royals could potentially get a haul to help expedite the pending rebuild.
I’m not sure there’s a market for Esky, so I doubt he gets traded. But there could be a team that likes his playoff experience and defense. Also, you never know when an injury hits and a team has a need, but that’s kind of a copout.
Best fits: Nobody
Escobar is a Royal until the day his contract expires, I believe.
The debate on Hosmer could run for months about what his next contract will be. In spite of his horrifically slow start, I still believe he’ll get hot and bring his numbers to respectability and command a contract that he doesn’t deserve. It only takes one. As a low-power first baseman, his trade market may not be as big as his free agent market because teams who think they can fix him won’t have the time to do so in-season. Still, he has the pedigree and the talent. The results are just lagging behind a little bit.
Best fits: Yankees, Astros, Rangers, Marlins
The Yankees have gotten next to nothing out of Greg Bird and they’ve been seen as a natural fit for Hosmer since he hit that home run in Yankee Stadium in 2011. The Astros are on the list only because while Yuli Gurriel has been great recently, he also hasn’t shown a ton in his career and maybe could fall off. They’re unlikely, but a possibility. The Rangers have gotten very little from Mike Napoli just like the Marlins have gotten very little from Justin Bour. Trading for Hosmer would likely be a desperation move for any team, but I could see a market for him. I toyed with putting the Giants on the list and them just moving Belt to left field, but I don’t see that happening.
Moose is having the best season of any of the offensive free agents, so you’d expect there to be a pretty decent market for him.
Best fits: Red Sox Giants, Nationals, Orioles
The Orioles? I have them on the list because I don’t trust JJ Hardy to stay healthy and if they shift Machado to shortstop, Moose could be a good stand-in. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of contending teams in need of a third baseman or even a designated hitter. If Martin Prado gets hurt in Miami, that could be a fit too, but as great as Moustakas has been, the market seems pretty gloomy for him. The Red Sox are on there because who really knows how much they believe in Sandoval?
It’s been a renaissance this season for Vargas as he’s getting swings and misses at a greater rate than ever before. It seems that a different arm slot has given his pitches a lot more deception and has fueled his good start. Of course, he’s still a soft-tossing lefty who has made eight starts (to this point) since July of 2015. Basically every team could use another starter, though, so there’ll be a market if he keeps this up.
Best fits: Orioles, Astros, Rangers, Marlins, Cardinals, Mariners
Like I said, there’s a market everywhere, but these are teams that I think could use a guy to step into their starting five. Vargas isn’t an ace, but playoff teams need four or five starters as much as they need an ace sometimes.
While the pending free agents make the most sense when it comes to trade talks, there are other Royals players who might bring back a good haul in the right deal, and if the Royals are committed to rebuilding (which they probably aren’t), they can trade some players under contract for 2018 and/or beyond and maybe get back some good pieces.
Most of these pieces probably won’t bring huge returns. Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss could be interesting. Jorge Soler could be spun if he has a big first half and the Royals like what they saw from Bonifacio. And I won’t even get into Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez because they aren’t going anywhere.
But there are a couple players who could bring back some pieces.
The Royals closer is having a strong season after a rough first couple outings. He throws hard, he gets strikeouts (well,not yet this season, but he does) and he’s closed games before. Like with Vargas, any competitive team could use Herrera to work in any inning as a reliever, but some could use him more than others.
Best fits: Tigers, Astros, Rangers, Cardinals, Nationals
I like the Astros bullpen more than many, but I think they could become dominant in the late innings if they add Herrera. We all know about the Rangers bullpen troubles and the Cardinals are in desperate need of a stabilizing force in their relief corps. The team that needs him the most, though, is the Nationals. Combine him with Cain and Washington would basically get the last two pieces they need to compete for a title and they’d probably give up quite a bit to get it. That makes sense to me.
Kennedy is an odd person to try to deal because of his contract. He has that opt out at the end of the season. If he doesn’t exercise it, he’s owed three years and $49 million. If he does, whatever team he’s with at the time has to pay him a $6 million bonus, and I’d bet that trading for him would lead him to opt out. That makes a deal difficult. That said, he’s also having a good start to the season after a solid debut with the Royals. He isn’t a pitcher to head up a playoff rotation, but he’s plenty good enough to start game three of a series.
Best fits: Orioles, Astros, Rangers, Marlins, Cardinals, Mariners
It’s the same group as Vargas because if you’re not trading for an ace, I think anyone in the middle to back of a rotation can kind of group together.
Soria had a rough outing on Friday, but wasn’t helped at all by his defense or some circumstances. He’s walked too many hitters to start the season, but his breaking stuff looks good and he’s getting plenty of strikeouts. He’s not a closer anymore, not for a playoff team anyway, but he’s a solid seventh inning guy at this point who has experience closing games.
Best fits: Yankees, Astros, Rangers, Cardinals, Nationals
The teams are basically the same as Herrera’s list, but I added the Yankees because I’m not sure I trust Clippard, Mitchell and Holder to keep up what they’ve been doing. Again, he’s not an ace reliever, but especially if the Royals pay down some of his $9 million for next year and some of this year’s remaining money, they might be able to get a good return given his early pitching performance.
Is it time to sell yet? You could argue it absolutely is. If you think 87 wins is the minimum to secure a Wild Card spot, they have to go 80-59 the rest of the way. Anyone think this team can do that? I sure don’t. I understand that the Royals aren’t ready to sell just yet, and I get it, but if and when they’re still floundering at the end of May, they should be open for business, and the eight players above are the key candidates to get dealt.