It could be worse. Yes, it’s been more than a week since the Royals last won a game. In the eight games since their 10-0 drubbing of the Mariners, they have been blown out, blown leads, blown ties, been postponed in a dome and even missed the chance to see Shohei Ohtani pitch. It’s been a very rough go of things for the Royals, and now at 3-13, any dreams of contention from even the most optimistic of fans no longer exist. But it could be worse. And actually, you could make a strange argument that’s what has happened has actually been quite good for the long-term health of the franchise.
The Royals are 3-13 without their starting catcher, starting right fielder and one of their three best starters (even though he will now be one of their three best relievers when he returns). In their first 16 games, you can already attribute at least three losses directly on a dumpster fire bullpen and they’ve given up leads in two more ties. Let’s say the Royals win all three games they were leading before the gas can crew entered and one of the tie games. That puts them at 7-9 through 16 games. After a strong start from Danny Duffy on Tuesday night, and with the return of Salvador Perez soon to go along with Nate Karns eventually making it back and Jorge Bonifacio on the way in a couple more months, that might be enough to convince Dayton Moore and company that this team might be able to surprise.
But now we know they can’t, so let the fire sale commence. Of course, we thought that last year when they reached 10 games under .500 at the 30-game mark, so I suppose we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions just yet, but I think it’s clear the talent isn’t there on this team to do anything but contend for a top-10 and probably top-5 draft pick. And that fire sale is where the truly good news lies. Craig touched on this yesterday, but I believe the Royals have seven players who they would like to move and one who they probably don’t want to move but should. All eight have shown enough that there will be some sort of market for all of them. Let’s take a look at their potential markets.
Potential Fits: Wilmington?
Duda has been pretty much exactly as advertised. He’s hit for some power and he’s missed some time hurt already. He is exactly what he’s supposed to be, and there’s some value in that for a team looking for a power bat down the stretch but one that doesn’t need him to be THE GUY. Depending on how he’s hitting at the time, I think the return for Duda could be anywhere from a team’s 25th best prospect or so to a throwaway name we never hear from again. The hope is that the Royals need to trade Duda regardless to make room for someone else ready to go, and the minimal cost should make him attractive to someone even if it’s just in an August deal.
Potential Fits: New York Yankees, Seattle, New York Mets, Colorado, Toronto (this is a stretch, but Morales is already hurt and not getting any younger and Donaldson isn’t exactly a beacon of health so they could use a DH)
Duffy doesn’t want to get traded and I don’t think the Royals especially want to trade him. But they might need to because of what he can bring back in a deal. No, he’s not really an ace, but every pitching staff could benefit from having Duffy around. His control has been iffy this year, but his strikeouts are up and he looks like he might possibly be rounding into some sort of form with his velocity back in his last start and at the end of the start before that. If he can get back to moving some of the medium contact back to soft contact, he might go on a bit of a run over his next few starts. There is some injury concern, and he’s not exactly cheap over the next few years, but if he’s even an average starting pitcher, he’s a good value at $46 million over the next three years and whatever is left of his $14 million salary this season. The return for Duffy has a pretty big range. If he continues to be up and down, it’s probably not worth dealing him unless the Royals believe he’s a ticking time bomb. But if he has more outings like the one on Tuesday night, then he can bring back quite a bit from a team in need of not only a starter, but one they can use in their playoff rotation this year and in coming years. The other nice thing about Duffy is that if a team moving forward is worried about injury, he’s shown that he can be a plus in the bullpen as well, so even if his performance wanes as a starter in coming years, he can be a key piece in relief for playoff runs.
Potential Fits: Minnesota, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jay won’t bring back much in a deal, but he should be a valuable commodity on a team in need of a guy who will give you a really good plate appearance and can give you decent enough defense in a corner and can play center field in a pinch. The absolute ceiling for a return is probably what the Royals gave up for Melky Cabrera last year, but I don’t expect them to really get close to that. You’re probably looking at a low impact arm or a flyer. I’d probably take my chances on the flyer.
Potential Fits: Cleveland, Seattle, New York Mets
Hammel isn’t especially good, but since this is the last year of his deal, he brings value to a team in need of a pitcher to actually throw pitches for them. He’s a great fit on a team that has three or four quality starters already and just needs 10-12 starts to get them to the end of the season. Of course, that means he won’t return very much because his impact isn’t especially big, but he can play a role for a contender that Kris Medlen sort of did for the Royals in 2015. The return is probably a PTBNL type or a guy not even in a top 30, but clear some salary, even if it’s only about $3 million and that’s a win for the team.
Potential Fits: Minnesota, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle, Washington, Milwaukee, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco, Oakland, Atlanta
I think Herrera is the guy who could really bring back the most in a deal. It’s going to require him continuing to be his old, dominant self and a team getting desperate, but we’ve seen it happen before where a closer brings back a haul. The way he’s throwing right now, he could absolutely impact both a playoff race and a playoff series or three. Any pitcher with a 1.22 ERA in 28.2 postseason innings to go along with 38 strikeouts and no homers allowed will be seen as a pitcher who can handle the big stage. I don’t anticipate them getting back a Gleyber Torres-type return, but pretty much any team could use him, so there could be a bidding war. If you want to talk about a franchise-changing return, the Royals might be wise to look at some fits that need other Royals parts as well and things might get cooking.
Potential Fits: Minnesota, Los Angeles Angels, Houston, Seattle, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago Cubs, Arizona, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kennedy’s first three starts were fantastic, not even allowing a home run until the third one. That’s after a homerless spring training too, so it was very impressive. And even after a less than stellar outing yesterday, he’s had a nice start to the year. Every day that passes, his contract gets more and more tradeable, though we’re not at the point where they can expect much for him. He’s still owed two years and $33 million after this season, so add another $8 million or so to that and that’s what a team would have to potentially take on. The only way he gets dealt where he brings back a real return on his own is if he continues what he’s done this season through the deadline, which there’s no guarantee on, obviously. My guess is if he gets moved, it’s with someone else and it lessens the return, but on his own, he’ll get probably a similar prospect to Jay.
Potential Fits: Minnesota, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle, Washington, Milwaukee, Los Angeles Dodgers
I have no idea what to make of Merrifield, his trade value or the Royals desire to move him. After a fantastic 2017 season, he’s come out of the gates slow, but there have also been some really good signs for him. Plus, he hit a very healthy home run yesterday after looking like he was close to busting out a couple times. He’s swinging at way less pitches outside the strike zone and he’s also played three positions really well and has stood around the first base bag too. So he’s versatile, which is really valuable in a trade. One good week and his slower start is forgotten after he’s at or exceeding last year’s numbers. Plus, there’s the fact that he’s under team control for another four years after 2018, so I’m not sure how desperate the Royals are to move him. That said, if he picks it up and they do shop him, he could bring back a pretty solid haul. He won’t rebuild the system as a trade chip, but he can bring back a prospect who could turn into something pretty solid.
Potential Fits: Toronto, Cleveland (if Kipnis continues to struggle), Los Angeles Angels (Kinsler final year of deal and not the picture of health), Milwaukee, New York Mets
On one hand, his start to the season has shown that he’s both healthy and still a good player. He looks like he’s moving better, which I think was something that hurt his market as a free agent. And that brings up the other hand. Any team could have had him without giving up players all winter long and nobody bit. Most teams are pretty well set at third base, which is another reason why he struggled as a free agent, so a lot of these potential fits are based on some injury risk and some guys who I don’t think are great bets to perform. Still, I think if a team needs him and he’s putting together another solid offensive season, a team might give up a decent haul for his left-handed power at a very reasonable cost. I don’t think the Royals will be getting a top 3 prospect for him, but I could see them getting a prospect who ranks around 8th or 9th in an organization and then another piece or two. I’m not sure Royals fans would be excited by the return, but it’ll certainly help the system.
Potential Fits: Cleveland (Kipnis note from above), Los Angeles Angels (Kinsler note above), New York Mets (first base issues and they move Frazier), Philadelphia, Atlanta
So no, things haven’t gone great for the big league club on the field, but this is a transition year at the big league level. So many people are struggling to understand the juxtaposition of a team in a rebuild having such an old roster, but this is step one. And as long as they take advantage of the value quite a few of these veterans will have on the trade market, it will be a successful season and will help to make the next few steps run that much smoother.