The Royals entered the 2017 season knowing full well that the majority of their World-Series-winning core was slated to hit free agency. Rather than blow it up this offseason, Kansas City traded only Wade Davis, extended Danny Duffy and then made some low-cost veteran additions to help round out the roster. Many of those moves were made in the wake of tragedy, as the Royals suffered the devastating loss of one of their core pieces this offseason when Yordano Ventura’s life was tragically taken in a car accident.
Unfortunately for Dayton Moore and his staff, their offseaon maneuverings have yet to yield on-field success. Kansas City is 5.5 games out of first place in the American League Central and currently sports Major League Baseball’s fifth-worst run differential (-47). Their 4.38 team ERA ranks 18th in the Majors, and they’re without their top pitcher, Duffy, through at least the All-Star break due to an oblique injury. Kansas City has scored the second-fewest runs in baseball as well, and their collective 80 wRC+ is the game’s third-worst mark.
According to just about any report one reads, the Royals haven’t yet decided to call it quits and are still intent on trying to make one more run. But as the summer wears on, it becomes likelier and likelier that they’ll be forced to begin fielding trade offers. Let’s break down who could become available…
Lorenzo Cain, CF | Salary: $11MM
A premium defensive center fielder with plus baserunning skills and an above-average bat, Cain would likely be the most coveted trade asset the Royals have to offer in a potential sale. He’s hitting .265/.345/.412 with six homers (while playing in a pitcher-friendly home park), 12 steals and three to four runs saved with his glove (per Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved). His defensive prowess in center would allow him to play plus defense in an outfield corner, as well, so even contending clubs that already have center field covered could slide him (or the incumbent option) over to left or right.
Eric Hosmer, 1B | Salary: $12.25MM
Hosmer had a terrible second half in 2016 and got off to a slow start in 2017, but he’s reminded everyone why there’s talk of him potentially signing a mega-deal this offseason with his recent play. He’s hitting .314/.363/.469 on the season as a whole, and if you throw out his first 20 games of the season, that slash line jumps to a preposterous .370/.415/.574. That’s admittedly an arbitrary cutoff, and Hosmer has shown to be too ground-ball happy and prone to slumps in the past. But for the past 42 games, he’s been among baseball’s very best hitters, and a club with a void at first base/DH such as the Yankees, Rangers or Mariners (if the latter two end up as buyers) could benefit.
Mike Moustakas, 3B | Salary: $8.7MM
Moustakas missed most of the 2016 season due to a torn ACL, and while there was no way to be certain that he’d return to form in 2017, he’s done that and then some. With 17 homers and a .275/.314/.554 batting line, he’s on his way to the best offensive season of his career. Defensive metrics typically grade Moose as an above-average performer at third base, though they’re a bit mixed in the wake of last season’s knee injury. DRS has him at -3, while UZR has him at +1. At the worst, interested clubs could expect merely passable glovework accompanied by huge production against righties, though Moustakas remains overmatched by left-handed pitchers (.212/.241/.481).
Alcides Escobar, SS | Salary: $6.5MM
Escobar has never been much of an offensive performer, but he’s simply not hitting at all in 2017. With a .180/.205/.234 batting line, he’s been baseball’s least-productive bat (among qualified hitters). However, Escobar remains a gifted defender at a premium position (+2 DRS, +5 UZR) and still runs the bases well. At the least, he could be a bench piece on a contending club.
Mike Minor, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $4MM (plus $1.25MM buyout of $10MM mutual option)
Minor has thrived upon his shift to a bullpen role, embracing relief work with a 2.25 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 44.4 percent ground-ball rate through 32 2/3 innings. Lefties have posted a pathetic .125/.205/.175 batting line against him, and right-handers haven’t fared especially well, either (.243/.300/.351). Minor is technically controlled through 2018, but mutual options are so rarely exercised by both parties that he’s best viewed as a pure rental. I do think there’s at least a plausible scenario where both sides pick the option up due to Minor’s excellence but limited ’pen track record and recent health troubles. But, the contracts secured by Mike Dunn and Brett Cecil on last year’s open market suggest that Minor can do better if he continues at this pace.
Jason Vargas, LHP (starter) | Salary: $8MM
I doubt that many are buying Vargas’ sensational 2.18 ERA, but even if he’s still just viewed as the mid-rotation innings eater he’s always been, there’s plenty to like. He’s affordable, has posted modest improvements over his career K/9 and BB/9 rates and looks to have bounced back from the 2015 Tommy John surgery that ultimately cost him the better part of two seasons. Vargas might not be part of a postseason rotation, but he’d be a valuable rotation stabilizer for a team with uncertainty at the back of its starting five.
Peter Moylan, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $1MM
Moylan’s ERA is currently residing just north of 7.00 due to the fact that he’s been annihilated by left-handed batters. However, he’s been untouchable against righties, limiting same-handed opponents to a putrid .212/.268/.273 batting line through 71 plate appearances. If used properly, he can be a nice bullpen piece, and he’s certainly affordable from a financial standpoint.
Chris Young, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $5.75MM (plus $1.25MM buyout of $8MM mutual option)
Young was outstanding with Seattle and Kansas City in 2014-15, but he’s been rocked for a 6.31 ERA over the past 117 innings, and his secondary stats don’t offer much encouragement. He’ll need to improve over the next month-plus to have much in the way of trade value. He could also be an August trade candidate, as his salary is all but a lock to clear waivers.
Controlled Through 2018
Kelvin Herrera, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $5.325MM (arbitration-eligible this winter)
Herrera looks like one of the best bets to be traded this summer, but his recent performance can’t be helping his stock. Over his past 10 1/3 innings of work, Herrera has allowed 10 earned runs on the strength of three homers. So long as the homer troubles don’t continue, most will probably look past that blip and find plenty to like in the 27-year-old’s 28-to-5 K/BB ratio through 25 1/3 innings. He’s averaging nearly 98 mph and can help out a team for the next year and a half if he returns to form.
Joakim Soria, RHP (reliever) | Salary: $8MM in 2017, $9MM in 2018 (plus $1MM buyout of $10MM mutual option for 2019)
Soria’s stock in 2017 is up after a pedestrian campaign in 2016. While his 3.81 ERA isn’t too much of an improvement over last year’s 4.05 mark, Soria has averaged a career-best 12.1 K/9 to complement a career-high 60.3 percent ground-ball rate. His walks are up this season, but his uptick in strikeouts and grounders could portend a drop in his ERA. (FIP, xFIP and SIERA all like him for a sub-3.00 mark.) Given his salary, the Royals may still have to kick in a bit of cash to make him truly appealing, but he’s more marketable than he was last year.
Brandon Moss, 1B/OF | Salary: $3.75MM in 2017, $7.25MM in 2018 (plus $1MM buyout of $10MM mutual option for 2019)
It’d be tough to move Moss right now, given his woeful .181/.250/.406 batting line through his first 152 plate appearances as a Royal. He’s striking out in nearly 35 percent of his plate appearances and has become more pull-happy than ever as his hard-hit rate has dropped to its lowest level in the past three seasons. There’s still time for him to improve, but this version of Moss doesn’t carry much value.
Travis Wood, LHP (reliever) | Salary: $4MM in 2017, $6.5MM in 2018 (plus $1MM buyout of $8MM mutual option for 2019)
Like Moss, Wood signed a two-year deal with Kansas City late in free agency and looked like a nice modestly priced addition. Instead, he’s going through the worst season of his Major League career, pitching to an 8.31 ERA with as many walks (17) as strikeouts in just 21 2/3 innings. Wood’s struggles have been pretty consistent, and even left-handed hitters, who usually struggle against Wood, have teed off against him in 2017.
Jason Hammel, RHP (starter) | Salary: $5MM in 2017, $9MM in 2018 (plus $2MM buyout of $12MM mutual option for 2019)
Another two-year offseason deal that hasn’t panned out, Hammel is sitting on a 5.43 ERA with 7.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 35.4 percent ground-ball rate. Each of those marks represents a significant step back from his 2015-16 numbers, though Hammel has offered a glimmer of hope with a pair of excellent outings in his two most recent starts (three runs on nine hits and no walks with 11 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings). If he can continue to right the ship, his salary is reasonable enough to appeal to clubs in need of back-of-the-rotation fortification.
Drew Butera, C | Salary: $1.5MM in 2017, $2.3MM in 2018
Butera hasn’t come close to last season’s career year at the plate, though he’s never been close to even average offensive output with the exception of 2016, so expecting a repeat wasn’t really fair. He’s a well-regarded defensive catcher that could give clubs a veteran backup down the stretch.
The opt-out clause in Kennedy’s contract and the remaining $43MM on his contract (through 2020) make him an almost impossible player to move in light of his struggles. Kennedy’s K/BB numbers have taken significant steps back in 2017, and his 5.40 ERA makes it look certain that he’ll forgo that opt-out at season’s end, barring a sensational turnaround.
Gordon isn’t hitting at all right now, and it’s as difficult to envision a team being willing to take on his a chunk of his contract as it is to envision the Royals eating a huge chunk of money just to get rid of a player that has achieved borderline franchise icon status.
Maness and Burns are both on the 40-man and have both had some Major League success in the past. Burns is getting on base but not hitting for a shred of power in Triple-A. Maness has been better in Omaha than he has in the Majors this year, but the larger story on him is that he appears healthy after undergoing an experimental Tommy John alternative last August.