Finding a Spot for Raul Mondesi

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When the news broke last week that the Royals were looking to bring Alcides Escobar back into the fold, a lot of questions were needing to be asked. Most asked why, a few asked what we had done to anger Dayton Moore but one question hovered over the rest: Where does this leave Raul Mondesi?

The belief all winter was that Mondesi would take over at shortstop and (for the most part) would be allowed to sink or swim. Now that idea has been turned on its head by not only the Escobar news but also a piece that ran on Fangraphs last week that didn’t paint a fuzzy picture of the relationship between the organization and Mondesi. In fact, it felt like a damning piece for the former prospect’s future:

The term “makeup” might have different meanings from scout to scout. In Mondesi’s case, evaluators are concerned about his defensive consistency, especially as it pertains to throwing accuracy, and have seen him fail to execute routine plays. Others were not thrilled with what they saw from Mondesi as he worked back into playing shape following his PED suspension in Arizona, citing poor effort and on-field focus which they particularly disliked in an environment laden with young, impressionable teenagers.

With Nicky Lopez coming up fast through the Kansas City system, it feels like Mondesi isn’t the “Chosen One” anymore and that the Royals have moved on to a prettier girl, so to speak. But…that can all change in an instant based on how he performs this spring or at the beginning of the minor league season. It’s forgotten sometimes because of how long we have heard about him, but Mondesi will only be entering his age 22 season in 2018, so it’s not like he is a washed up prospect trying to make it work in his late 20’s.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

So I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Let’s throw out a couple of situations and find a spot in the lineup for Raul. This activity is a best case scenario and more than likely the reality will be somewhere in between this and struggling in the minors. The good news is that Mondesi has some versatility and a few options besides shortstop.

Scenario #1: Mondesi has a great spring offensively and forces the Royals to move him back to second base.

Sound crazy? It wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility, considering he had a good spring last year, even if the numbers weren’t telling the entire truth.

So they could start the year with Mondesi at second base, moving Whit Merrifield to the outfield. Whit played center field a little bit in the minors and has seen a bit more time in left field, which could slide Alex Gordon over to center. While Merrifield has experience at the position and played there quite a bit in college, this scenario doesn’t feel like a long-term solution.

Gordon playing there could be a bit more interesting, but you would have to question how he would hold up manning the position for a full season. One could make the argument of Whit going back to being a super-utility player, although I doubt the Royals would allow that to happen after the season he pulled off in 2017. The best case scenario for playing Mondesi at second base would be a trade of Merrifield, which doesn’t look likely at the moment.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Scenario #2: Mondesi has a great spring and wins the center field job.

Alright, I think this is actually possible, despite the fact it sounds crazy to me. Mondesi has always been lauded for his glove and it feels weird that the Royals would move a guy that is that good defensively in the middle of the infield and plop him down in the outfield, where he has never played professionally. Obviously the organization has been thinking of doing this for a while, as it was first brought up in July:

“He’s such a good athlete. We’ve even talked about his ability to play the outfield – centerfield specifically – not that we’re necessarily moving on that right now.”

Let’s be honest here: the Royals right now don’t have a great center field option. There is Paulo Orlando, Billy Burns and…maybe Bubba Starling. That’s really it. This is what the Royals have to deal with unless they go out and sign a free agent this spring. So the idea of Mondesi playing center isn’t the worst idea ever; if he hits well, adapts to the outfield and shows some patience at the plate, he could be a possibility. Chalk this up as a long-shot, but one that might just pan out.

Scenario #3: Mondesi starts the year in AAA and gets off to a hot start. The Royals struggle offensively and decide to recall him and see if he can inject some life into the lineup.

We’ve all seen the Royals’ bats go cold early in the season. In fact, we just saw it last year. Mondesi actually had a good offensive season for AAA in 2017 and has shown a pattern of improving at different levels in the minors after his second go around at that level. He hit .305/.340/.539 in 357 plate appearances last year in Omaha and we continue to see his power numbers improve the older he gets. I’m not saying he has figured out AAA pitching, but it does appear that he is learning and his production could be on the upswing.

The main issue I see with this scenario is the same one we saw in scenario #1: who gets bumped out of the lineup? We can probably assume that Escobar will be trotted out there every day, so scratch him off the list. Whit is a possibility, but only if he is in the middle of a big cold spell. Center field still looks like the best spot, unless Whit shuffled around the diamond.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Scenario #4: Mondesi is the starting shortstop.

The likelihood of this happening is probably slim and none. But it does make you wonder just what it would take for the Royals to break camp with Mondesi in the starting role. Outside of an injury, it’s hard to think of a situation where the Royals would pick Mondesi over Escobar. Even if Mondesi tore it up this spring, my belief is that the team would find another role for him rather than picking him over Esky. Now, if Raul continued to play well as the season progresses there could be a situation where he would start seeing more playing time than Escobar, but that feels like an August-September situation rather than a March-April one.

The one scenario that feels like a step back is the one where Mondesi makes the team as a backup infielder. The key at this point is for Raul to continue his development, which could be stunted sitting on the Kansas City bench. Ned Yost is not widely known as a manager who uses his bench regularly and if this happened the worry would be how much playing time Mondesi would actually see. Repetition is what he needs and the only way that happens is with regular playing time.

The good news is that while it looks a bit bleak right now for Mondesi attaining a starting big league job, those tides can turn fast. He is just a Merrifield trade or an Escobar injury away from getting his shot to show what he can do. The Royals obviously have their concerns and most of us aren’t too blind to see them. He needs to work on his plate discipline, continue to improve his power numbers and fix whatever small flaws he has on the defensive side of the ball.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

The Royals did him no favors back in 2016 when they called him up to the big leagues and they would be doing him a disservice now by looking past him. Luckily, at 22-years old it wouldn’t take much for him to get back into the organization’s good graces. Solid play with continued development feels like the best way to get management’s attention. While Mondesi might not be in favor at the moment, there is too much talent there to ignore what he could still be.

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Waiting On Soler

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Credit: Kansas City Star

On the surface, the expectations for Jorge Soler were simple: play average defense, take a few walks and most importantly, hit bombs. He didn’t have to be the main cog in the middle of the Kansas City Royals offense; all he needed to be was a dangerous bat who could drive mistakes over the outfield fence. Instead, Soler’s inaugural campaign in Kansas City has been rather mundane, as he is hitting a pedestrian .154/.245/.275 with 2 home runs and a wRC+ of 34 in 102 plate appearances. Because of the lack of production,  Soler was optioned back down to AAA (again), with Billy Burns taking his roster spot. Manager Ned Yost explained that the lack of at bats and production factored into the decision:

“It’s just been a struggle to get going,” Yost said. “He just doesn’t look comfortable in the box. He just hasn’t been able to get on a role up here. We were hoping after his stint down there where he was hitting .320 and hitting homers that he could get up here and get comfortable. But we just need him to get at-bats.”

So now the Royals are left with a struggling DH in Brandon Moss and a player who many hoped would be a run producer in the Kansas City lineup now sent down to Omaha. But I am here to tell you that it is too soon to give up on Jorge Soler.

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Let’s start with the easy reasons. For one, Soler is just 25 years old. Two, the Royals still have control of him through the 2020 season. If you have ever wondered why the Royals only got one player (Soler) for Wade Davis, this is why. One contract controlled season for Davis equals four controlled seasons for Soler. Third on the list of reasons is his raw power. His power can be a game changer:

Some scouts give Soler 80 raw power on the 20-80 scale…

This came from a scouting report in Baseball America from back in 2013 and if you have seen him in batting practice you know that power is legit. The belief has always been that if he could get regular playing time and stay healthy (both have plagued him in his short career) we would start seeing improvement from Soler. Unfortunately, the injuries have piled up (Soler was even hurt to start this year) and 2015 was the only year where he received over 400 plate appearances. Even this year has seen his at bats scattered, as he has spent about the same amount of time in both Kansas City and Omaha. Soler is a player who needs consistency and so far this year he hasn’t been able to get that.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

One of the reasons I am not too down on Soler is because of what scouts and those close to him have said this past winter. One comment mentioned numerous times was that Soler takes a bit to adjust, whether it be to a new team or a new league and he is one who needs to be comfortable, which he has not been at the plate this year. The promise is in the numbers he has accumulated in Omaha: .324/.453/.667 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI’s. But we all know that AAA is not the same at the major league level and it shows in his numbers. Some of the issues he had earlier in the season have expanded and led to the reason for his demotion. While his walk rate isn’t awful (10.8%), his strike out rate is the highest of his career as is his ISO and wOBA. while his hard hit rate, line drive rate and fly ball rate are on par with his 2016 numbers. Besides the strike outs, his contact rate is the lowest of his career (65.3%), which is not a good sign. If one was to digest these numbers, you would tend to believe that if he made a bit more contact and even be a bit more aggressive at the plate, you might see some of those numbers progress up. In the past he has been accused of being a bit too aggressive at the plate, but over the last couple seasons he has been more patient and while I am a big proponent of the walk (and on-base percentage), in his case it might be better for him to be a smidge less selective. The problem to this whole scenario is that the Royals can’t afford for him to figure this out at the big league level, not with them in the hunt for a playoff spot.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Colorado Rockies

The patience and at bats that Soler need isn’t readily available at the moment since the Royals need production now from their DH, as Brandon Moss has struggled throughout most of the 2017 campaign. Moss’ numbers are borderline anemic: .191/.261/.383 with 10 homers and 16 RBI’s, not exactly the numbers Dayton Moore expected when he signed him to a 2 year deal this offseason. With Soler slugging in Omaha, it made sense to recall him and give him a shot to produce. The only problem is he struggled even more these last few weeks, striking out 15 times over 37 plate appearances in June and July. Soler just hasn’t found his groove and with the Kansas City offense being a streaky bunch, the Royals need offense now, not a few weeks from now. The hope has to be for Soler to get hot again down in AAA and recall him again, hoping it shifts over to the big league club. If not, the more time goes on the more it will feel like 2017 was a wasted season for Soler.

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While 2017 hasn’t been what the Royals wanted from Soler, his contribution to the team isn’t relegated to just this season. When I had read the comments from scouts about him needing to be comfortable, I knew not to expect much the first few months of the season from Soler. In fact, considering all the factors in play (the injury, new team, new league, the weight of being the guy traded for Davis, etc.) I wasn’t even planning on making a judgment on him until midway through the 2018 season. The Royals still have him under contract for the next three seasons after this and very well could end up being the elite power bat that Kansas City needs. The problem is the Royals are contenders NOW and immediacy is of the highest value. Royals fans, don’t shun Soler just yet; he might end up where he needs to be, it just might not be as fast as we would all like.

 

Depth Is King

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(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The World Baseball Classic has been a nice distraction through the dog days of Spring Training (I forget every year how long the preseason drags on)but there is an aspect of it that can shake a baseball fan to the core-an injury. I agree with most that an injury, for the most part, is just as likely during a spring game, with the main difference being that at least in a Spring Training game the major league team has control over when and where a player is in the game. With that in mind, most Kansas City Royals fans lost their breath for a short bit a few weeks ago when catcher Salvador Perez was in a collision at home plate with Royals teammate (and his backup catcher) Drew Butera:

After my initial thought of “man, that was one awkward slide”, my next thought was Perez’s health and how he needed help being escorted off the field. My mind scurried back to 2012 and the meniscus tear in Salvy’s knee and how he missed the first few months of the season. Then my mind ventured to who could take his place…and I got really worried. There is Butera, who is a great backup but too much playing time would expose his flaws. Brayan Pena is in Royals camp, but like Butera, is better suited to occasional starts, not full-time duty. Cam Gallagher is in the Royals pipeline and is a great defensive catcher…but can’t hit a lick. This meant my mind then started thinking of trades and what catchers might be available. The Royals just don’t have great depth at the catcher position and when I started thinking if there is any other position on the field that Kansas City would have a hard time filling, I was relieved to realize that this 2017 Royals team was not only very deep from position to position, but it also might be the deepest team they have had over the last four years.

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On Monday, manager Ned Yost announced the winner of the 5th spot in the starting rotation:

Karns was part of a deep pool for Yost to dig from, as he was battling with Chris Young and Travis Wood to wrap up the rotation. Any of the three fit into that spot and cases can be made for all three as to why they would be valuable in the bullpen as well. Since the Royals have made their run for postseason contention back in 2013, I can’t remember a time when they had as many quality options in the rotation as they do this season. This isn’t even mentioning prospects like Josh Staumont or Kyle Zimmer, who both could be valuable to Kansas City at some point this season, whether it be in the rotation or the pen. If the Royals are hit with an injury at some point this season, it does appear as if there will be a pitcher that can easily slide into a spot in the rotation.

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The bullpen is just as deep, with Kelvin Herrera taking over the closers role and Matt Strahm and Joakim Soria leading the way as setup guys. Add in Wood and Young from the rotation battle and lefty Mike Minor, and you have the make-up of a solid bullpen crew. But the depth extends; Staumont and Zimmer are possible additions later in the year, along with Eric Skoglund in the minors. Throw in veterans Peter Moylan and Al Albuquerque (who are in camp on minor league deals) and there are arms galore for Yost to choose from. While the relief core might not be Holland-Davis-Herrera deep, it is still an above-average group that is a good ten-men deep.

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The infield backups, while not a group of all-stars, are still all serviceable and capable of filling in on a semi-regular basis. Kansas City has Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier at third base if something happened (again?) to Moustakas, Raul Mondesi can fill the glove of Alcides Escobar in a pinch (although there are questions about his bat, which has been solid this spring) and the group of Mondesi, Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield are all able at second base, a position without a true starter. Initially I thought first base might not be as deep, but it might be even deeper than the other three spots in the infield. If Hosmer went down, Kansas City could plug-in Cuthbert, Dozier, Brandon Moss, or even Peter O’Brien, who has shown some massive power this spring. Even Hosmer’s future replacement (probably), Ryan O’Hearn, has shown marked improvement this spring and might be available late in the season. While not a collection of offensive juggernauts, the infield could survive a few injuries if something happened and in some ways be able to put up fairly comparable numbers.

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The outfield is more of the same, with Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jorge Soler scheduled to be the starters from left to right. If Gordon goes down, Moss, O’Brien, Dozier or Paulo Orlando could fill in. Cain? Orlando’s best defensive position is actually center field and Billy Burns could take over for a few weeks as well. If Soler went down to an injury (or started seeing more time at DH), there are even more options in right field: Moss, O’Brien, Dozier, Orlando and even Jorge Bonifacio could man right if so needed. You can mix and match some of these players, shuffle them all around the outfield but they would spell the same thing-suitable replacements that the Royals have stockpiled within the organization, the most I have seen in years in Kansas City.

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What will be the most interesting aspect of all this depth will be how Ned Yost uses it. It is very well-known that Yost is not a manager who uses his bench a ton and in the past has penciled in the same lineup for weeks on end. Now that he has a surplus of talent all around the diamond, will he use it to maximum effort or get locked in on a set ‘9’ and go with that most of the time? No matter how the lineup shakes out, this amount of depth can only be a positive for the Royals in 2017. If you go back over the years and look at teams who play deep into October and even win championships, the one constant is almost always how deep of a roster they have. If the Royals are serious about playing in the postseason again, their roster is set for an extended run in the playoffs. It has to make management feel a little bit better, knowing there is a replacement for almost every starter on the team in case something happens. Now, if Perez goes down again…

Royalty’s Notebook: February Royals Thoughts

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Spring Training is so close that we can practically smell the freshly cut grass and see the perfectly drawn baselines. It’s that time of year when the phrase ‘Pitchers and catchers report’ is music to any baseball fans ears. Over the last few weeks, I have had a number of thoughts littering my head and figured rather than writing four separate articles, I would shoot out a few short notes on some Kansas City Royals related activities that have been going on. What better way to start than with the pitcher we call ‘Duffman’…

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There are so many reasons to love Danny Duffy right now. Duffy showed himself to be a true front of the rotation starter last year and was rewarded with a nice new contract, which means he will be around for at least the next five years. There is his return to twitter where he is trying to do some good. Speaking of Duffy the good samaritan, if you weren’t already ‘Team Duffy’, than him meeting and talking to fans at Kauffman Stadium after Yordano Ventura’s death should have swayed you. But the story that made me really proud to know that Duffy is on ‘my team’ is the one where he bought a Yordano bobblehead. This story must be read, so click here. In short, a Royals fan in the Kansas City area sold his Ventura bobblehead on ebay and right before he mailed it off, he saw it was addressed to Duffy. He canceled the payment and sent Duffy a message, telling him he wasn’t going to charge him for the bobble. Duffy told the guy he was trying to buy up as much Yordano merchandise as possible and then mail it to his mom at the end of the season. When I first read that, a legit huge smile broke out on my face. I have long rooted for Duffy to succeed, if anything because the guy has shown again and again that he is an awesome human being. The fact that he was accumulating as much Yo’ memorabilia as possible because it would help her “remember the good times” was just phenomenal. Talk about being proud that he is in Kansas City; I have never seen an athlete who is so open about his feelings AND in such a positive way, to boot (Yes, that was slightly directed at Zack Greinke). We might love our Salvy, our A1 and our Moose, but dammit if I’m not a Duffy fan for life because of what he represents as a player and a person.

Royals Preview Spring Baseball

Speaking of Ventura, there has been a call amongst many Royals fans for the team to retire his number 30 this season. I understand that for most of us there is an emotional attachment to the group of players who guided this team to their first championship in 30 years. I was just as broken up about Ventura’s passing as most other Royals fans and I figure the home opener on April 10th will probably cause a few lumps in throats. That being said, it feels like the push to retire his number is an emotional thought and not a logical one. Over the team’s 47 year history, they have retired three former Royals: George Brett (5), Frank White (20) and Dick Howser (10). That’s it. In my eyes there have been a few worthy numbers that could have been retired by Kansas City over the years, but I do like that they aren’t just retiring numbers left and right. To me, if you are going to go that route, it better be a player who really marked their spot in franchise history. While Ventura had a number of big moments in his short career, he did only have three full seasons under his belt, and was just slightly above league average overall during that time. I have heard a number of great ideas in honoring Ventura this year, like leaving the ball on the mound opening day and letting manager Ned Yost make a “pitching change”, or naming a baseball academy down in the Dominican Republic after him. Those are just two great examples of honoring his passing and I wouldn’t even have a big issue with putting him in the Royals Hall of Fame in the future, even if it would feel like it was being done because he passed away while still with the team. But retiring his number feels like an emotional reaction to his death and I just don’t agree with it. I’m sure the Royals will honor his time in Kansas City this year and they should; but lets not overreact. Honoring Ventura is fine, but retiring his number is unnecessary and to be brutally honest, not really earned.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

With the Royals signing of Jason Hammel this week, Kansas City has marked off almost every need that they were searching for this winter…that is, except for another bullpen arm. The thought has been that the Royals would possibly sign one more reliever and with Spring Training looming in just a few days, there could be a last-minute signing, especially if they bring Luke Hochevar back into the fold. Hochevar is coming off of Thoracic Outlet Surgery but it’s been thought all along that as long as he is healthy, the team would look to bring him back to Kansas City. If not Hochevar, there are a few options still available on the market. Guys like Travis Wood, Jonathan Niese and former Royals Joe Blanton and Jorge De La Rosa are still available. The Royals also checked in on Seth Maness last week, the former Cardinals reliever who bypassed Tommy John Surgery and elected an experimental surgery that would have him back on the field in 7 months. While I tend to think Hoch will be back fairly soon, Kansas City has many choices and with a group of young arms also in the running ( Josh Staumont, Kevin McCarthy and Eric Skoglund among them) there will be some definite competition in the bullpen this spring for the Royals.

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals-Game Two

The Hammel signing also meant that room would have to be made for him on the Royals 40 man roster, and Alec Mills was the unfortunate person to be sent packing. Mills was dealt to the Cubs for outfielder Donnie Deewees. Mills was a solid arm for Kansas City’s system but at best was probably someone who would have success out of the bullpen rather than in the rotation. Deewees is an interesting acquisition, as he is a speedy outfielder type that Dayton Moore continually covets. The scouts evaluation of Deewees seems to be on par with current Royals outfielder Billy Burns:

ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated Dewees 15th among Cubs farmhands, noting that he’s a 70-grade runner that can handle center field from a range standpoint but has a 20-grade arm that limits him to left field. Longenhagen ranked him 19th among Cubs prospects offering a similar take (albeit a 30-grade arm instead of 20), writing that without the power to profile as a left field regular, his best scenario is a Ben Revere type. B-Pro’s Steve Givarz was a bit more optimistic about his glovework but still pegs him as more of a fourth outfielder than a potential starter.

Deewees is still only 23 years old and more than likely will start the year in Kansas City’s High A Ball team in Wilmington. This could be a trade to monitor over the next couple years and see how Deewees has (or has not) developed. When all else fails, Moore will always lean towards speed.

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Finally, Kansas City went out and signed Brayan Pena to a minor league deal this past week. Pena is a former Royal who played for Kansas City from 2009-2012 and spent most of his time as a backup catcher. Pena is a serviceable receiver who has a bit of pop in his bat and is well liked in the clubhouse. The honesty is that this is a depth signing and much like Tony Cruz last year, Pena will most likely be spending his time in Omaha this year unless something goes wrong for Salvador Perez or Drew Butera. It’s good to see Brayan back in blue, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of him once the season starts.

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In just a few days pitchers and catcher will be reporting to Spring Training and we can actually start digesting some news on our ‘Boys in Blue’ and start getting a feel for what the major league roster will look like come April. I can say with all honesty that I feel better about the feel of this roster now than I did even a few weeks ago. For all intent and purposes, the Royals are looking to gain back what they lost last year, which would be the top of the Central Division. Next week, step one begins on a long road to their (hopeful) final destination, October baseball.As always, hope springs eternal.

Royals Roster Math

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You know it has been a slow winter for the Kansas City Royals when two moves in one week feels like a tidal wave. It all kicked off earlier this week as Kansas City picked up Peter O’Brien from Arizona and was capped off Friday afternoon, as Royals fan favorite Jarrod Dyson was dealt to Seattle for pitcher Nate Karns. So what did the Royals get and how does it affect the team moving forward? Let’s dive in!

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks

On Tuesday, the Royals acquired Peter O’Brien from the Diamondbacks for minor league pitcher Sam Lewis. O’Brien was once a top prospect in the Yankees farm system but was traded to Arizona in 2014 and has only seen 36 games of big league action. In that short span he hit just .176/.228/.446 with 6 home runs, 12 RBI’s and a-0.4 fWAR. Over five minor league seasons, he hit .269/.317/.532 with 116 home runs (which for those that struggle with math, an average of about 23 a season). O’Brien was originally a catcher in New York’s system but at this point is primarily an outfielder when on defense. It’s obvious by the numbers that O’Brien’s big catch is his power, as he has slugged over .500 at every level in the minor leagues. His power is why teams will give him chances over and over again. There are flaws in his game, as obviously defensively he probably is best suited to be a DH, which tells you a lot right there. O’Brien has been adequate in the short amount of time he has seen at first base, which makes me think he is probably a Billy Butler type at first (which is not completely a knock; Butler worked hard to become an average defensive first baseman). O’Brien, like most sluggers, strikes out quite often and isn’t too fond of walks; it’s easy to see why teams are both enamored with and frustrated with him at the same time. His numbers have been a tad better against left-handed pitching and one has to wonder if he would be best suited in a platoon type situation where his flaws might not be as noticeable. The good news is he will only be entering his age 26 season (he’ll turn 27 in July) and the Royals are starving for some power in their lineup. Meanwhile, Sam Lewis was the pitcher given up by the Royals for O’Brien, and he is coming off a good season, where he threw 44 innings, with an ERA of 1.62, a WHIP of 0.857 and a 5.57 strike out to walk ratio. I don’t know if there was much of a future for Lewis in Kansas City, so trading an extra arm in the system for a guy who could help the big league club is plus-plus in my book. I don’t know if O’Brien will be helping the big league club to start off the season, but it’s a good bat to keep around and see if the Kansas City coaching staff can work out some of the kinks in his swing. Overall, good trade by Moore.

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Karns is entering his age 29 season and is coming off a lackluster 2016. Over 22 games in Seattle, Karns posted a 5.15 ERA over 94 innings, with an ERA+ of 79, WHIP of 1.484 with a 2.24 strike out to walk ratio. Karns has plus velocity, averaging around 93 on his fastball last year (92.2 mph over his career) and can gun it up to the upper 90’s on occasion. Karns did deal with some injury issues in 2016:

He has also had some command issues and (for right now) will be competing for the Royals 5th starter job. One of the reasons that Moore had his eye on Karns for awhile (they tried to work out a deal for him during the Winter Meetings) is contract control:

It’s obvious with all of the Royals trades this winter that Moore is looking for players who will fit on the roster past 2017, as the club will be losing a number of key players after this season. While Karns has been a starter, a big part of me wonders if he would be better suited out of the pen and could be a bit like Wade Davis when Kansas City acquired him. If you remember back to that trade, Davis was coming off of a good season out of the bullpen in Tampa but Kansas City wanted to try him in the rotation. Davis struggled as a starter, was moved back to the pen and became one of the best relievers in the game. Karns probably won’t reach the heights that Wade did, but a guy with a plus fastball being used in the back-end of the bullpen can be a big positive for a team like the Royals, who are trying to rebuild their pen this winter. Overall, I like the trade and think Kansas City got a quality arm for Dyson.

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I would be remiss a bit if I didn’t mention the value that Kansas City is losing with Dyson. While not a regular in the outfield during his time in Kansas City, Dyson was an important cog on the Royals world championship team and a vital part of the team. In fact, Dyson led the Royals offense in bWAR in 2016, at 3.1. Dyson was a fan favorite but it appeared for a awhile now that his days in Kansas City were numbered, as he will be a free agent at the end of the season, the team had a surplus of outfielders and losing his contract would free up some payroll issues. We all have our favorite Dyson moments, although many of them occurred on the basepaths. Dyson has plus speed and you always knew business was picking up (thanks, JR) when Dyson would enter the game as a pinch runner. While the Royals have a suitable replacement on the field in Billy Burns (a comparable player), Dyson will mostly be missed in the clubhouse and by the organization:

Dyson will be missed, but this game constantly moves on. I’ve long thought fans are going to have a hard time when the players from the 2015 Royals start departing, since we fans get attached to them. Dyson’s a perfect example of a player who will live long in the heart of Kansas City baseball.

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Two moves in one week for Dayton Moore and both are quality moves. He is under a number crunch with this year’s payroll and acquisitions like this help soften the payroll while also trying to improve the team that will take the field this spring. It’s obvious that Moore is trying to get players who can help the team beyond 2017 without completely tearing down the roster and starting over in 2018. O’Brien and Karns could both be additions that could help the Royals do just that. Not every deal has to be a blockbuster that shakes up the structure of the team; sometimes you just need small pieces to fill out the puzzle.

 

Firing Up The Royals Rumor Mill

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We are halfway through December and the Kansas City Royals’ hot stove is lukewarm at best. So far this offseason Kansas City has re-signed Drew Butera, traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler, and have said goodbye to Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Tim Collins (who signed a minor league contract with the Nationals this past week). So we have seen a very uneventful  winter so far and the likelihood of something happening around the holiday season is very slim at best. That being said, a number of Royals have been linked in trade rumors so far, which makes sense as the Royals don’t look to be major players in the free agent market. So which Royals could be dealt and where? Let’s dive in and break down these rumors.

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Let’s start with the most recent rumor, which is that the Houston Astros are looking at upgrading their rotation and have placed Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy on their targeted list. I tend to feel like the chances of Duffy being dealt are slim or none, especially considering the Royals have opened talks with him on a contract extension. So if we take Duffy out of the equation (for now), then that leaves 25 year old Ventura, who has been a lightning rod throughout his early career. Most know Ventura has electric stuff, as he can reach 100 MPH on the radar gun and an equally as nasty curveball. The issue with him has been bouts of inconsistency and maturity, which continues to rear it’s ugly head. The potential of Ventura, plus his age, makes him a salivating target for GM’s around baseball, and when you add in the fact that he still is under team control for another three seasons (plus two more years of team options), you can see why a team like Houston would be interested. With all of that factored in, I can see a scenario where a Ventura trade could happen, but only if Kansas City got a healthy haul from their trading partner. Kansas City doesn’t have one of the best rotations in baseball, so if they dealt a Ventura, they would have to get at least one more arm in return that could fill his spot on the team. I actually believe Kansas City should look deep into a deal with someone like Houston, since they have a stocked farm system and could help bring them a couple of players in return to help replenish the Royals main roster and/or farm system. It would be hard to deal a player with the potential of Ventura, but one has to wonder if he will ever grasp the mental aspect of the game, which would elevate his game to the level of his potential. I think this is a deal worth exploring if you are the Royals front office.

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One trade that has been rumored that I believe will happen at some point is the Royals dealing Jarrod Dyson, who is entering the final year of his contract. Dyson so far this winter has been linked to Baltimore, Texas, St. Louis and most notably Oakland, who was talking to Kansas City during the Winter Meetings about Dyson. Dyson is an affordable (he made $3.45 million last year), versatile outfielder who brings plus defense and baserunning, especially as a secret weapon off the bench as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Dyson’s value has never been higher and is coming off a season where he led the Royals in bWAR (3.1). It only makes sense to deal Dyson, especially with Billy Burns on the Kansas City roster, a player who essentially is a younger, cheaper version of Dyson. I would expect before the winter is out that Dyson is elsewhere and hopefully the Royals can get a solid trade piece in return, like a plus arm for the rotation or bullpen.

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Another trade possibility is Kansas City centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who is also entering the last year of his contract in 2017. Cain is coming off an injury plagued season that saw him appear in only 103 games for the Royals.So far this winter the Rangers, Cardinals and Dodgers have all inquired about Cain and at one point they had discussed him in  multi-player trades involving Wade Davis, before Davis was dealt to Chicago. When healthy, Cain has become a force in the Kansas City lineup, a third place MVP finalist back in 2015. But that health is the issue and probably why Kansas City won’t look too deep into extending him past 2017. Cain has only played in more than 140 games once in his career (2015) and has been a regular visitor to the disabled list throughout his seven year career. Add in that he is entering his age 31 season and has been rumored to want at least a four year deal when the Royals had discussed extensions a couple of years ago. I don’t believe there is a very high chance of Cain being traded, but it might not be the worst thing for Kansas City to listen to any offers that teams have for Lorenzo. Cain could probably get a couple of solid big league players and teams would be drawn to his defense and postseason experience. I’m not expecting him to get dealt, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

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A player I see getting traded even less than those mentioned above (and in fact I would say the chances are about as slim as they come with him) is Mike Moustakas. Now, I haven’t really seen his name mentioned, but his name had at least been tossed out there:

Moustakas is also entering the final year of his contract but he is coming off of an ACL injury that sidelined him for the final four months of the 2016 season. While I doubt Moose will get traded, the Royals do have a surplus of third basemen in Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier (who the Royals have moved to the outfield but a team could still be interested in him at the hot corner). While the Royals have mentioned moving Cuthbert and Dozier around to other positions, with the right offer I could see Kansas City dealing one of these three. While the Royals would love to keep all three (especially with Moose possibly gone after 2017), there is always value in trading from a strength and right now Kansas City has one at third base. Like I said, I’m not counting on any of these three being dealt, but never say never, not with the position that the Royals are in right now.

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The Royals are in a tight situation that makes this offseason different than the last few. They are entering the final year of their contending window, as they have a number of players who will become free agents at the end of the 2017 campaign, so it would appear that the team should be pushing all their chips in on another playoff run. Unfortunately, owner David Glass is refusing to increase payroll, leaving the Royals front office in a position where they have to improve the team by making trades and essentially ignoring the free agent market. Because of this, the dealing probably isn’t done and at least one or two more deals appear to be on the horizon. Dayton Moore has spent much of his time in Kansas City working around small market limitations, but this might be the most creative he has ever had to be. How do you stay a contender by not increasing payroll and not having any major prospects on the immediate horizon? Hunker down Royals fans, because a player you are probably attached to emotionally could be gone within the next couple of months. Contending can still be done; but the Royals are being forced to shift the pieces on the board more by subtraction than addition. It can be done, but the makeup of this team is about to change. Time will tell if it is for the better or worse.

 

Shaking Up The Royals Roster

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A few weeks have passed since the Kansas City Royals wrapped up their 2016 campaign and we’ve all had time to really digest what went wrong with this year’s team. That also means we’ve had sometime to ponder what the Royals front office should do this offseason to move forward and take advantage of the last year with Kansas City’s home-grown core that garnered them a world championship. Once the season wrapped, General Manager Dayton Moore talked to the media and one of main talking points was how the Royals could see a regression with the payroll moving into the 2017 season. This really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who has followed this team during Moore’s tenure, as he has a tendency to temper expectations and not show his hand. Moore also discussed how the team worked with most of the world championship team intact, hoping to catch lightning in the bottle a second time. That didn’t work, obviously, but it also appears as if Moore might want to shake things up this winter, which I tend to agree with. That might mean one or two of the main core of players being traded this offseason, which I am also in agreement of. So who would I move? Well, I’m glad you asked as I have put a lot of thought into this and think I have a strategy that could put the Royals in a better position financially while also keeping the team a contender in 2017. Tread lightly, folks; I’m about to shake up the Royals roster.

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Let’s start with a move you that already has been hinted at, trading closer Wade Davis. In fact, trade interest has already started to trickle out for one of the premier bullpen arms in baseball. No teams have been linked with Davis yet, but one would have to believe that some of the teams that showed interest before the trade deadline (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, etc.) will probably still be interested this winter. So far during the playoffs this October, we have seen the importance of having a stellar, lock-down pen and Davis would be a great addition to about any pen in baseball. So would the Royals get a package on par with what the Yankees got for either Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller? Probably something close to that, although it might be a tad less considering some of the issues Davis had during this past season. Davis saw his strike out rate and average velocity fall just a tick this year while his walk rate was the highest it has ever been during his time in the bullpen. Davis did miss about five weeks with a strained forearm, which will no doubt be a concern for any team wanting to acquire him this winter. Now, I’m sure someone, somewhere is wondering why the Royals would part with one of the best relievers in the game. For one, Davis will be making $10 million this upcoming season once the Royals pick up his option, which will be a formality. Freeing up that much money will give Kansas City some flexibility and the ability to use that money on multiple players. Second, no matter what anyone tells you, the Royals still had one of the top five bullpens in the American League this past season and Kelvin Herrera showed the team this year that he is more than capable of taking over the closer’s role. Third, there has to be some concern that Davis is starting to regress, especially seeing the struggles that occurred this past season. That doesn’t mean he will be terrible this upcoming season if he is regressing, but Moore has had issues in the past dealing his All-Star closers at their peak value. Moore held on to both Joakim Soria (version 1.0) and Greg Holland longer than he should have and both ended up on the operating table. Davis not only has great value right now, but the team would be able to ditch some payroll while procuring some young talent that could be mainstays in Kansas City past the 2017 season. Moore wanted to focus on rebuilding his pen this winter, and honestly, finding a young power arm on the cheap really isn’t that hard. To make that happen, move number one this offseason should be to deal Wade Davis.

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The next deal I would make would be trading shortstop Alcides Escobar. Escobar is coming off of a frustrating offensive season, putting up a line of .261/.292/.350 with an OPS+ of 70 and 0.3 bWAR. Escobar will be entering his age 30 season and defensively is still a plus defender, which should give him some value out on the market. Any team that would be acquiring Escobar would be picking him up for his defense and whatever offense he can contribute, although his best year at the plate was 2012, where he hit .293/.331/.390 with an OPS+ of 96, the highest of his career. If the Royals can find a trade partner for Esky, the team would be able to shed the $6.5 million he will earn this upcoming season (as long as the Royals pick up the option, which is expected) while hopefully acquiring a younger player. Shortstop will be taken care of in his absence, as Raul Mondesi, Jr. could slide over from second base, take over shortstop while freeing up the Royals to look for a second baseman this winter. Defensively, Mondesi might actually be an improvement at the position. Offensively, Mondesi still has some work to do (as evident by his OPS+ of 36) but it wasn’t like Escobar was producing a ton of offense. If you are in the camp of believing that Mondesi will continue to improve, you can imagine him possibly producing close to the numbers that Escobar put up in 2016. The likelihood of Moore dealing Esky is probably slim, but I am in the camp of dealing him and upgrading second base in 2017.

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I would also trade Jarrod Dyson. Now, this might seem a bit odd, in the sense that Dyson is still fairly cheap ($3.45 million in 2016) and is an important contributor not only on the field but in the clubhouse. Dyson is a major role player for Kansas City and in fact lead the team in fWAR in 2016, at 3.1 with Danny Duffy a close second at 2.8. So why would I trade Dyson? Because they already have a similar player who is younger and cheaper. His name would be Billy Burns, who the Royals acquired from Oakland back in July for Brett Eibner. Burns has comparable speed and offensively appears to be on par with Dyson, if you count his 2016 campaign as an off year. Burns won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season and earned $513K in his second year in the big leagues. Dyson, meanwhile, will become a free agent after the 2017 season and is pretty close to peak value right now. I really figured he would be traded away back in July, but nothing came to fruition, as the Royals held pat at the deadline. The Royals wouldn’t be freeing up a ton of cash by trading away Dyson, so a trade would be more about what they could get back. I would imagine a good B level prospect could be had in a deal, which would strengthen the depth in the organization. If I had my say, Dyson would become an ex-Royal this winter.

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So would I deal anyone else? More than likely not, but I also believe the Royals should listen for any player, as there is always the chance a team might overpay for a key piece they want to add to their roster. Take for instance three impending free agents after the 2017 season: Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. On first glance it would seem crazy to deal any of these three, as the offense struggled in 2016 and need as many quality bats as possible. But you could make a legitimate argument for any of the three, especially if the haul garners them some big name, major league talent. You could argue that Cain is injury prone, and the likelihood that he would get a long-term contract from the Royals while entering his age 31 season would seem a long-shot. While I believe that Kansas City really missed Moustakas’ bat this season, you could also argue that the Royals have two younger players (Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier) who are third baseman that could take over the position at a much cheaper price. While the Royals probably don’t have a first baseman in their system that will be ready for the big leagues by the start of the 2017 season, Hosmer is enticing trade bait in my mind for a couple of reasons. For one, he is still really young (2017 will be his age 27 season) and most teams would be more likely to take a chance on a player his age than one in his 30’s. Two, the national media seems to love this guy, no matter how much they try to hide the truth, which is that he regressed in 2016, into a league average hitter. If the Royals can get a “King’s Ransom” for Hosmer, I think they should take it. To me, he is not the player some consider him and while he might have flashes of greatness, he also has valleys of huge proportions. More than anything, he seems to struggle with change. Take last year; after his red hot start, pitchers changed the way they pitched to Hosmer, throwing less fastballs and giving him a nice diet of off-speed stuff. This started before the All-Star game and from June through the rest of the year we saw a player who produced a below league average OPS+. Ian Kennedy could also be a candidate for a trade this offseason, as the Royals would like to get out from underneath the five year deal they gave him last winter. The Royals though will probably need his innings and stability in the rotation and for the moment that might hold more value to the team than any trade they would be able to swing.

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Kauffman Stadium

One of the big reasons this Royals team has been so popular with the fanbase over the last few years has been the ability to give them an emotional connection. This can also be a problem, as it will be that much harder when the front office starts dismantling the core of this team. Baseball is a business and as much as you or I would like to see these players be in Kansas City forever, that just isn’t realistic. The Royals have an opportunity this winter to shake things up, be creative and restructure the roster to make it both a contender next year and build a new core of players to carry the team past 2017. Will that happen? I have my doubts, but if I am being unbiased I know it needs to happen. What the front office needs to ask itself over the next few months is not only what will help the team contend next season, but what is best for the team in the long-term. The best thing for this Royals team is to let the heart fall to the side and let logic take over. Logic says it is time to shake up the team and deal some of their popular players. It will be shunned by some, but it’s the logical thing to do.

Royals Selling, But Who’s Buying?

Edinson Volquez
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

With the trade deadline a few days away(Monday afternoon at 3pm CT, to be exact), there has been much discussion about what the Kansas City Royals are going to do, especially since it now appears they will be selling rather than buying. It’s hard to imagine the defending World Champions being in this position when the season started but the team has been littered with issues in the starting rotation and more than anything else, a litany of injuries. So who might the Royals ship off before Monday? There are a few candidates for Kansas City to deal and it starts with a key part of the rotation.

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Volquez has had a very up and down 2016 so far, compiling a 4.56 ERA in 124 innings, with an ERA+ of 98, a FIP of 4.11 and a SO/W ratio of 2.00, all numbers below what he racked up last year but above his career marks. The starting pitching market is fairly weak this deadline and a known commodity like Volquez should garner a couple of very solid prospects. Or…maybe more:

Alright, so maybe we should make that 3-4 prospects. The Royals are in a position where they need to re-stock the arms in their minor league system and dealing Eddie would be a good first start for this to happen. There is a bit of immediacy when it comes to starting pitching(last in the American League in innings pitched, WAR, FIP…yes, the list goes on) and if Kansas City can gain a few major league or close to major league ready arms from dealing Volquez than they should go for it. Volquez’s contract runs out after this season(there is a mutual option for 2017) and if Kansas City was really interested, they could look into re-signing Eddie during the off-season if they happen to deal him. There is a very good likelihood that Volquez is dealt before Monday afternoon(I would say probably an 85-90% chance for a trade) and there is a number of contending teams interested in him. So far, San Francisco, Texas and Los Angeles(Dodgers) have all inquired about him while Baltimore, Boston and Miami could also be options(although the Marlins picked up Andrew Cashner on Friday). No matter the team, there is probably a very good chance that Volquez will no longer be a Royal by Tuesday.

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Also on the trading block is Kendrys Morales. Morales’ numbers are down from last year(.246/.315/.431 with an OPS+ of 95 and -0.4 bWAR) but Morales had a great June and is still a viable power threat. Like Volquez, Morales is signed through this season with a mutual option for 2017(Dayton sure does love his mutual options). So if a team was interested in him, he would be just a two month rental. I can’t imagine many National League teams would be interested, as he is almost purely a DH at this point in his career and is a below average defender. This leaves the American League teams as an option and many of them wouldn’t have a set spot for him in the lineup. I could possibly see him as an option off the bench, but that would be an expensive bench player for most teams. One team that might consider Kendrys is the Rangers, as they found out this week that their high-priced DH, Prince Fielder, will be having season-ending neck surgery. Morales is a great fit in that Texas lineup and might see an uptick in offense at Globe Life Park in Arlington. That being said, the chances of the Royals finding a trade partner for Morales is probably in the 20-30% range, so I wouldn’t expect him to be leaving the confines of Kauffman Stadium by the deadline.

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Then there is the wild card of this bunch, Wade Davis. It’s not hard to see why so many teams are interested in Davis, as he has been one of the top(if not the very top) reliever in the game since 2014. Davis hasn’t been as dominating in 2016(1.60 ERA, 280 ERA+, 2.75 FIP, 8.6 Strike Outs per 9) but is still considered an elite closer. The interesting scenario with Wade is that he is under contract until the end of 2017, which means if he was dealt by Kansas City, whichever team acquired him would get him for the 2017 season. Because of this, the Royals are asking for a bigger haul for Davis than New York got from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman, and rightly so because of the extra year of contract control. Since the Royals are asking for so much, they have also tried to pawn off the contract of Ian Kennedy onto anyone wanting Davis, like the Dodgers. Kennedy’s contract would be a lot for any team to take on, even one has wealthy as Los Angeles. The Royals know at this point they don’t have to deal Wade, as Kansas City is in a position where they could be contenders again in 2017. So the only way Davis is dealt is if a team totally overwhelms Dayton Moore to where he just can’t say no. I would say the chances of him being traded are in the 10-20% area, with Los Angeles, Washington and Cleveland as possible suitors(although I can’t imagine Moore trading Davis to a team within their division, so don’t hold your breathe on that one). I’m not expecting Wade to be dealt, but I also know it is not completely off the table.(Writers note: While working on this piece, it was found out that Davis definitely is NOT going to be traded:

The MRI is planning to be on his right elbow. Try not to think the worst, Royals fans, but with the way this season is going…)

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One name I initially did not plan on talking about in this space was Jarrod Dyson, but I’m now thinking he very well could be gone by Monday afternoon. Why the change of heart?

Let’s see if Burns sounds familiar; speedy guy, slightly above average defensively, doesn’t strike out much, makes contact but sometimes has trouble getting on base. Sounds a lot like Dyson, right? Burns was 5th last year in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, with 26 stolen bases and .334 OBP. He has struggled most of this year and was sent to AAA Omaha after the trade today. But with Burns now in the fold, and Dyson getting more expensive as he approaches free agency after the 2017 season, it appears as if the Royals might have acquired Dyson’s replacement if he was dealt. I don’t know what percentage chance he has of being traded, but it would seem weird to have two backup outfielders with pretty much the exact same talent set. Just saying.

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There is one more Royal that has been heavily mentioned in trade talk, and that is Luke Hochevar. Hochevar looked like almost a lock to be traded away before the deadline, that was until he was placed on the disabled list on Thursday. The news didn’t get better on Friday:

Hochevar and the Royals could not have gotten any worse news. For a guy who was an awful starter, to turn his career around out of the bullpen, AND THEN have Tommy John Surgery, that is some bad luck. To then return from surgery and less than two years later find out you have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, that will defeat anyone’s hopes:

That is a tough break and I don’t even mean that in the sense of Hochevar’s trade value. Sure, the Royals could have traded him and gotten 1-2 good players in return. But it’s even worse to have this surgery and be unsure about one’s future. Moving forward, Hochevar has a long road ahead of him.

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The frame of mind that the Kansas City front office should have right now is of a team that is close to contending but needs to upgrade some pieces for 2017. I am not 100% waving the white flag on this season, but it just doesn’t appear as if the postseason is in the cards for this team. If the Royals are able to swing a few trades, upgrade a few question marks and look ahead toward the future, they will be sitting in a good position next year, the last year for the main core on this Royals roster. I doubt there is a lot of movement by Kansas City but a few tweaks here and there are probable. Major League Baseball extended the trade deadline an extra day this year so that it wouldn’t fall on the weekend. The Royals have an extra day to get creative; the clock is ticking.

 

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