Kickstarting the rebuild

It’s on.

Let’s be honest. It’s been “on” since spring training. “On” being the rebuild. The Royals stocked the farm with the draft earlier this month and the deal that sent Jon Jay to Arizona. They sold again on Monday, sending Kelvin Herrera to Washington in exchange for three prospects.

I saw someone refer to the deal as a “real scout’s trade,” meaning opinions are as divided as you can possibly imagine. On one side, you have a handful of talent evaluators convinced all three will perform regular duty in the majors. The flip side is a pair of defensive-first fringe players and a wild card of an arm.

It’s folly to immediately cast judgement on any deal involving prospects in the lower minors, and that’s the case here. That fact alone makes this trade problematic. In Herrera, the Royals had one of the best relief arms on the market, a closer who has a track record of success and is enjoying one of his best stretches of relieving to date. Perhaps they could have gathered a stronger prospect had they decided to kick in a little of the cash still owed to Herrera, but we know that’s not how the Glass family rolls. Despite all the plaudits the family has collected since hiring Moore over 12 years ago for staying relatively out of the way, they still have ultimate control over payroll and that is something that has impacted this team. They wouldn’t add salary in the 2015 stretch run and that cost them some extra prospect value in the Johnny Cuteo and Ben Zobrist deals. Could they have gotten a better return if they kicked in some cash this time around?

The return for a stalwart bullpen arm like Herrera vibes something that would have been there at the trade deadline. It’s nothing special. Why pull the trigger now when the return wasn’t better?

Of course, the best trade questions are the ones that will forever remain unanswered. It’s undeniable that Gutierrez and Perkins profile as players the Royals covet for their system. They’re athletes who can play above average defense, yet have abundant questions when it comes to the bat. 

The Herrera trade comes on the heels of a solid roster overhaul on Sunday when the club called up Adalberto Mondesi and Rosel Herrera from Omaha as they placed Jorge Soler on the disabled list with a fractured toe and farmed out seldom-seen Ramon Torres. 

Mondesi wasn’t exactly lighting it up in Omaha this season at .250/.295/.492 and a 97 wRC+, but that’s beside the point. Instead, look at his entire body of Triple-A production. In 551 plate appearances for Omaha, he’s hit .292/.328/.527. Due to time spent in the majors and his PED suspension, it’s taken him three years of Triple-A ball to accumulate a season’s worth of stats. Does the cumulative signal his readiness to contribute at the major league level? Who really knows, but isn’t it worth finding out. Recall, the championship core of the Royals didn’t just show up and turn the team into a contender. It took three years. Mondesi already has 121 days of major league service, so if he sticks with the team for the rest of the summer (and assuming he’s a major leaguer from here on out) that means he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2023 season. You know what they say about five-year plans.

The Royals have concerns about Mondesi’s ability to stay on the field and that’s understandable. The Royals are on the record as saying they’d like him to play three to four times a week. That doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Especially if you’re trying to get a player who could be one of your key guys in the future on track. Why would you deny him regular time? Does anyone recall Ned Yost steadfast in his refusal to pinch hit for Alcides Escobar in a key, late inning situation? Just let Mondesi play. 

Speaking of Escobar, Yost also denied that his consecutive game streak (now at 406 games!) does not factor into his decision with how to play Mondesi. Man, I’m not sure I buy that at all. The Royals seem awfully proud of Escobar’s streak, which is just embarrassing. The Royals have this frustrating habit of rewarding the inept with not only an inexplicable roster spot, but with consistent playing time. On any other team, Escobar has been released at this point or at the very least marginalized into a late inning defensive replacement. On the Royals, he’s the everyday starter, amazing at his resiliency and ability to grind it out everyday. 

Escobar’s wRC+ is 45, currently the third-worst mark in the majors. This is familiar territory for him. His 62 wRC+ last year was second-worst in the majors. His 69 wRC+ in 2016 was third-worst. He is not a good offensive player. And his defense does not make up for his abysmal offense. 

We’ve made this argument before and will continue to bang this particular drum. It’s one thing to fill a spot like first base with a player such as Lucas Duda when the Royals don’t have anyone at the ready to step into that position. Duda, who reported to Omaha for a rehab assignment on Monday, is a guy you can hope to flip at the deadline for a lottery ticket. There’s no such upside for Escobar. It’s difficult to imagine there will be any takers for his services.

The current state of the rebuild means contention is still far away. The Royals don’t have many young players in the system ready for the jump, but for the ones who are possibly ready, now is the time to play them to see what they have. That means Hunter Dozier stays up when Duda returns. That means Mondesi and Merrifield get some time together up the middle. And it means Jorge Bonifacio gets some quality playing time when he returns before the end of the month. The rebuild is underway. Play the kids. Let them play.

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