Finding a Dance Partner - AL Edition
The craziness of free agency before the lockout might lead to a souped up trade market after it.
The days leading up to the beginning of the lockout a couple weeks ago were pretty crazy with hundreds of millions of dollars in free agent contracts being handed out. The Royals were involved in that with their signing of Taylor Clarke, but that’s all they did before everything halted. Now what we’re left with is a waiting period, but similar to the summer of 2020, we just don’t know when the wait will be over. Everyone I’ve spoken with over the last few weeks has been optimistic that this won’t cost any time and I’ve even written a couple times that I think they’ll ramp up conversations after the new year and be good to go by early February at the latest. But whether that timeline holds or they come out of this lockout before or after that, one thing that I think will be interesting will be player movement.
With no negotiations to be had right now, general managers have an opportunity to either take a little time off at the holidays (which many are likely doing) but also to work with their fellow general managers to work through what might be a very creative trading period before Spring Training starts, whenever that is. General managers don’t always have the opportunity to work through these deals like this. Even after the trade deadline, they’re working on their regular season roster. Then once the season ends, they don’t have the luxury of talking for weeks to work out big deals because they need to strike while the needs are still there for their trade partners.
But now, what’s the rush? Outside of a surprise announcement that the lockout has ended that won’t be coming, these general managers now have just about all the time in the world to truly pick through organizations and maybe even involve a handful of others. That’s why I think things could get creative. And after the Royals were so quiet to start the free agency period, it makes me wonder if they’re going to be a bit more active in a trade market that wasn’t very active while all those deals were being signed.
The team matches up in trades with just about any team not necessarily looking to win in 2022 and maybe 2023 with all their high pedigree arms with years of control remaining in addition to some very solid offensive prospects even beyond their big three of Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto. It would likely take a blockbuster to move Melendez, Pratto, Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch or Asa Lacy, but there can be some more mundane trading done if they include guys like Nick Loftin, Michael Massey, Jonathan Heasley, Austin Cox, Vinnie Pasquantino, etc.
And they also likely match up with teams looking to compete but who aren’t in need of a star. Brad Keller, Mike Minor and Andrew Benintendi could help a team in a supporting role. Not every team is going full bore every year and it’s nice to find some innings or a slightly above average bat. I don’t think the Royals would move anyone out of the bullpen given their lack of activity combined with their stated desire to fortify it, but they also have some pieces that could help both rebuilding teams and teams trying to win. So there are dance partners for the Royals to find their outfield bat, starting pitcher or reliever they might desire.
I went through some of these when looking at arbitration-eligible players who might be available so there’s some repetitiveness, but also some others because I’m looking beyond the arbitration players now. Some of these might not even be that realistic, but, hey, it’s a lockout. I’ll start with the American League today and move on to the National League tomorrow.
The Orioles and Royals met in the ALCS less than a decade ago and while the Royals appear to be emerging on the other side of their rebuild, the Orioles are still, well, there. They do have some big time talent in the system with Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez, but they’ve got a ways to go. And they also have a center fielder who won a Silver Slugger and finished ninth in the AL MVP vote. Would they move Cedric Mullins? I don’t know. Under the expired CBA, he wouldn’t be arbitration eligible for another year and showed that he can be a difference maker in 2021. But he also hit .225/.290/.342 the previous three seasons, so maybe there’s some impetus to sell high. Either way, it would require a lot.
The Royals could look to move one of their big guns if they really want Mullins, but the Orioles are still in a spot where they could benefit greatly from quantity as well. They don’t have to shop only players who will need to be added to the 40-man following the 2022 season, but they could put together a pretty decent trade package by doing that and kick the can down the road a bit on some minor league decisions. Given the depth of the Royals system, they’re one of the teams who could be a player for Mullins if the Orioles are actually going to move him. They also have local boy John Means, but I’d be very careful of him given the shoulder injury and the way he pitched after he came off the IL. Still, if he can find his early season form, he’d be a great get as well.
Tampa Bay Rays
This is a longshot here because I don’t know that the Rays would trade the players the Royals want, though I do think they’d trade players who would make the Royals better. Their starting options right now are Shane Baz, Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos, Josh Fleming, Corey Kluber, Shane McClanahan, Brendan McKay, Luis Patiño, Drew Rasmussen and Ryan Yarbrough. There are some more likely than others there, but there are also a few prospects on the rise who could be a part of this mix.
Would they part with Chirinos to help deepen the Royals rotation with some experience? No, he isn’t the veteran stalwart they probably would prefer, but Chirinos has good stuff and has had success. He is facing a setback after having his elbow fractured in September coming back from Tommy John, but his repaired UCL wasn’t damaged. If not him, maybe they’d part with Yarbrough, who has been a versatile pitcher for them over the last few years. He’s coming off his worst season and doesn’t strike out enough batters, but he also doesn’t walk anyone. Neither would cost a ton and the Rays could shop in the lower levels of the Royals system. Someone who doesn’t need to be added to their 40-man before winter of 2023 would be ideal for them.
Other players they have who might interest the Royals are Kevin Keiermaier (no thank you) and Manuel Margot to complete their outfield.
Honestly, I don’t see much of a fit given what would need to change hands. The White Sox, for a legitimately excellent team, are pretty short on depth. The Guardians need of outfield help matches the Royals need and their pitching depth is in the process of being rebuilt a bit. Though they love Carlos Santana so much and have a need at first base that maybe they could squeeze something out there. I don’t know. The Tigers are in such a similar spot to the Royals that I’m not sure I see anything there without them making another move or two to build depth. The Twins are close to matching up. They could use pitching and the Royals could use an outfielder while the Twins have a slight glut, but they also have to plan for life without Byron Buxton for awhile every year, so they may not be so keen on moving parts. That said, it’s at least a possibility there.
The Astros have some pieces the Royals might want, but I’m having a bit of a hard time finding the pieces from the Royals the Astros would want that the Royals were willing to give up. But, again, creativity might be king coming up after the lockout is lifted, so you never know. Looking at the Astros rotation, they have the newly signed Justin Verlander along with Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy and Jake Odorizzi. That’s six legitimate big league starters right there. They also have Cristian Javier in their bullpen and he was solid as a starter as a rookie and honestly to start 2021 as well. They also have other starters close in the minors. They could afford to part with one.
Their choice would probably be to move Odorizzi, and that honestly wouldn’t be terrible for the Royals if they were focusing on depth over big impact. I like Odorizzi, but he’s just not going to give a ton of innings. He will fill up starts, though, and wouldn’t require much of a return in all likelihood. I’d be interested in seeing how they could pry Urquidy away, though. The strikeout numbers aren’t huge, but the Royals defense promises to be very good and he doesn’t walk guys. Yuli Gurriel won’t play forever, so there might be a match there with a second-tier prospect or two. I’d also love to see them find a way to get Javier, but I don’t know how available he truly would be.
The Astros also have a bit of an outfield glut at the moment. They have Michael Brantley, who also won’t play forever, along with Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, Kyle Tucker, Jose Siri and Pedro Leon is close. Obviously Tucker isn’t going anywhere and Leon probably isn’t either, but I do wonder if there could be a deal struck for one of McCormick, Meyers or Siri. I don’t know how big of an upgrade they’d be over Kyle Isbel, so I’m lukewarm on this, but just a thought. I feel like Adalberto Mondesi could be a fit if the Royals are looking to move him if the Astros want to give Jeremy Pena a little more AAA time.
Los Angeles Angels
As long as the Angels have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon and now Noah Syndergaard and a four-year deal for Raisel Iglesias, they’re going to try to win. A quick look at their current roster and it shows that they can still benefit from some starting pitching, a reliever or four and some middle infield help. You might be wondering what they have that can help the Royals and the answer is outfield. Their outfield isn’t exactly overcrowded, but I feel like they have enough other needs that there might be a deal to be had for either Marsh or Adell, which would be a coup for the Royals.
Would they like a steady defender who broke out a bit offensively like Nicky Lopez? Or maybe a flashy player who could be a star in Adalberto Mondesi? Or maybe a veteran who gives a professional at bat in Whit Merrifield? Maybe the Royals aren’t trading any of them, but they should at least be considering it. The Angels could still use innings. Brad Keller or Mike Minor would be interesting and I mentioned Minor to the Angels months ago, so selfishly I need it to happen. Again, this is all conjecture, but with the Royals pitching and middle infield depth, there could be a move here to pry away one of their young outfielders knowing they need to win now and not worry as much about later.
We’ve been over this. It’s easy. I’m not spending too much time here. The A’s have three pitchers they are likely willing to deal in Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas. The Royals have pitching depth in their system. They could also look to acquire Ramon Laureano if they are so inclined. This still makes sense.
Again, are all of these perfect fits? No. Could they all work? If you squint, absolutely. I do believe that the Royals will be active in the trade market if they’re to make moves once moves are allowed, so I’ll look at the NL fits tomorrow.
The Star Loses Its Columnist, the Royals Get Their Guy
I wanted to write just a bit about Sam Mellinger and his move from The Kansas City Star to the Royals as their VP of communications to take over for Mike Swanson. There is no way Sam knows this, but he had an impact on me. I remember when Sam took over as the columnist back in 2010. At that time I wasn’t far removed from my dream to become the next great sports columnist. It was a dream I had in high school when I wrote a scathing (I thought at least) column about the KSHSAA and something regarding district playoffs. I don’t even remember the real issue, but I do remember that my column in my high school paper got a response from them, which was pretty cool. I took that dream to college and ultimately gave up on that dream some when I decided I didn’t want to have to climb the ladder that is required to climb when trying to get to that top level at a sports page.
So even though I didn’t know Sam and he didn’t know me, when he worked his way up that ladder, it impacted me more than it probably should have. Sam was a great writer and is a better writer now and to see him make the jump was inspiring to me. His ascent is a big part of what led me back to writing. First, I started to write a little blog called Royals Zone. It wasn’t very good. Then I moved on to Pine Tar Press and then BP Kansas City and then some work at Baseball Prospectus before I started writing at Royals Review and ultimately started this newsletter you’re reading right this very second.
Since I got started on the very outer edge of this industry, I’ve had a chance to interact with Sam a few times and while I don’t know him as well as many others, he’s always been so kind in those interactions. Sam, if you’re reading this, thank you for helping to push me back to writing even though you had no earthly idea who I was at the time. I’m incredibly happy for Sam to reach this dream and hope that it’s everything he wants it to be and more.