On the heels of a 22-10 run over their past 32 contests, the Royals are in the market for upgrades in both their rotation and the bullpen, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman.
“We’re evaluating the landscape, and paying close attention to what may be available in the pitching market,” GM Dayton Moore tells Heyman. “…We’re looking to improve our roster and make it more balanced for the second half. … I don’t know why anyone thought we’d be sellers.” Those comments largely back up recent statements made by manager Ned Yost on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM and to reporters following last night’s game (link via the Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd).
Heyman goes on to add that the Royals aren’t likely to have too much payroll flexibility due to the fact that they entered the season with a franchise-record $145MM payroll. However, there’s a belief that Kansas City is open to adding a veteran starter on an expiring contract, according to Heyman. A look at MLBTR’s list of 2017-18 free agents shows starters that fit the bill, though obviously not all of those arms are available in trades, and some may not fit into an apparently tight Royals budget.
The following names are purely my own speculation, but if the Royals are aiming to add affordable rotation rentals, any of this bunch could make some sense (listed from lowest salary to highest salary):
- Trevor Cahill: Cahill was only just activated off the disabled list after missing seven weeks due to a strained right shoulder. While he doesn’t come with much in the way of name value these days, Cahill has broken out in his return to a big league rotation, throwing 45 2/3 innings with 10.8 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 and a 62.3 percent ground-ball rate. That’s led to a 2.96 ERA that is backed by a 2.98 FIP, 3.25 xFIP and 3.51 SIERA. He’s earning just $1.75MM in 2017, so from a financial standpoint, he’s an ideal fit.
- Jhoulys Chacin: Teammates with Cahill, Chacin is also earning $1.75MM this year. He’s been the more durable of the two, and although he posted terrible numbers early in the year, he’s logged a 2.98 ERA with a 39-to-15 K/BB ratio and a 50.4 percent grounder rate over his past 42 1/3 innings. He’s hardly an impact upgrade, but right now it doesn’t look like there’ll be an impact rental available at all.
- Scott Feldman: The 34-year-old has been the Reds’ best starter this season, turning in 102 2/3 innings of 3.94 ERA ball. Feldman’s 7.5 K/9 mark is the best of his career, and he’s averaging a reasonable 2.9 walks per nine innings with a 45 percent ground-ball rate. Despite playing his home games at Great American Ball Park, he’s managed to limit home runs (1.1 HR/9). Feldman has a cheap $2.3MM base salary, though he’s already added $1.3MM worth of incentives and will tack on another $300K after his 20th start. Since this is all speculative anyhow, the Reds have a number of shorter-term bullpen pieces that could move (e.g. Drew Storen, Blake Wood) plus a shortstop that would be a significant upgrade for the Royals’ infield.
- Alex Cobb: It’s worth debating whether Cobb will even be available because of the fact that the Rays are contending, but Tampa Bay will almost certainly lose him for nothing this offseason as a free agent rather than make him a qualifying offer that could top $18MM. Cobb carries a 4.01 ERA with 6.1 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and a 44.6 percent grounder rate in 107 2/3 innings. He hasn’t been the borderline ace that he was prior to Tommy John surgery, but he’s earning an affordable $4.2MM. From the Rays’ vantage point, they’ll get Matt Andriese back in August while Jose De Leon and Blake Snell wait in the wings for full-time rotation spots. And, Jacob Faria has already laid claim to a starting job with five brilliant starts.
- Derek Holland: Holland has given the division-rival White Sox 16 starts of 4.52 ERA ball and a total of 87 1/3 innings, but his production has cratered over the past month or so. He’s averaging 7.8 K/9 but 3.7 BB/9 and 1.75 HR/9. Metrics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA all actually feel that he’s been somewhat fortunate to hold down that 4.52 ERA. Holland is affordable, though, with a $6MM base salary and $2MM worth of incentives ($1MM for reaching 150 innings and another $1MM for 200 frames).
- Lance Lynn: As is the case with Cobb, Lynn is no lock to be available. The Cards are a manageable 5.5 games out of the NL Central lead and may take their deadline course of action down to the wire. However, they could also simply slide Luke Weaver into Lynn’s rotation spot, so there’s room to move him even if they still aim to contend. Lynn has a 3.87 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 42.3 percent ground-ball rate through 95 1/3 innings in his first year back from Tommy John. But, he’s also been torched for 1.9 HR/9, as 19.6 percent of the fly-balls he’s yielded have left the yard. That’s a 10 percent departure from his career mark of 9.3 percent, so perhaps the home run spike is somewhat fluky. If the Royals (or another club) believes him capable of reigning in the homers, Lynn’s $7.5MM salary is hardly backbreaking.
- Jaime Garcia: Garcia has bombed over his past four starts, allowing five runs or more in each outing. He’s still sporting a 4.55 ERA on the season with a 54.3 percent ground-ball rate, 6.7 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. None of those are especially eye-catching, and the Royals may well wish the Braves to pay down some of the $5.7MM that remains on his $12MM salary. The Braves, though, are surely open to moving Garcia, who looks to be a steadier option than the Royals’ current fifth starter, Travis Wood.
Other potentially available rentals include Jeremy Hellickson, Johnny Cueto, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano, though each of that bunch makes more than anyone listed here and/or has struggled on the mound thus far. Yu Darvish would be the only potential ace that’d be available as a rental, but he’s reportedly likely to stay put even if the Rangers fall out of the race, and the asking price on him would be exorbitant anyhow.
From a broader perspective, Moore’s comments seem to throw cold water on any suggestion that Kansas City would entertain the thought of trading key impending free agents like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Mike Minor. (Alcides Escobar, too, is a free agent, though his lack of production makes him a tough sell as a trade candidate anyhow.) Those names have all recently fallen off of MLBTR’s list of this summer’s top 60 trade candidates.