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Trading Places: 2023 Edition
The Royals are bad, but they've got some pieces other teams might want.
Looking ahead two weeks can be a fool’s errand in the game of baseball, so looking ahead two months can only be classified as idiotic. But there’s one thing I can guarantee and it’s that the Royals will be making trades that subtract from the big league roster in the hopes of adding multiple players to their farm system (and maybe some to their big league roster). They’re a bad team and bad teams trade players. Yes, they do have a history of hanging on to guys too long and yes, they do have a history of convincing themselves that they’re closer than they are, but I think we saw last season that even with Dayton Moore still looking over the shoulder of JJ Picollo, they made moves.
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To refresh your memory, they traded Carlos Santana at the end of June. Two weeks later, they traded a compensatory pick for Drew Waters, Andrew Hoffmann and CJ Alexander. They traded Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees 16 days after that and then Whit Merrifield, Cam Gallagher and Emmanuel Rivera on August 2, the day of the deadline. That’s five players from their 26-man roster moved, and while it’s easy to say that they’ll trade the pending free agents, they traded three guys who didn’t have to go. You can argue that JJ Picollo isn’t transacational enough, but he showed a willingness to wheel and deal that we haven’t seen in Kansas City for awhile.
Let’s break this down by players who have a possibility to get traded and who are free agents after this year, after 2024 and beyond that for some trade talk about where we might see some movement.
2023 Free Agents
Jackie Bradley Jr.
2024 Free Agents
2025 and Beyond Free Agents
I think to really evaluate the trade market, it’s important to take a look at who the buyers will likely be. There are currently 18 teams at or above .500 and another four sub-.500 teams currently within five games of the top of their division. I don’t think all 22 are traditional buyers, but this is absolutely a seller’s market. It’s why I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if teams who see their season as championship or bust might decide that playing for a sixth seed might not be worth it when they can get a pretty penny for their best players. Do the Red Sox sell? The Blue Jays? The Giants? I don’t know, but if they are buyers rather than sellers, it leaves a few teams.
The Royals are obviously one of them, and they’re joined by the White Sox, A’s, Nationals, Cubs and Rockies and maybe the Cardinals. The issue with a lot of these sellers is that they’re in the position they’re in because they don’t have a lot to trade. The A’s can offer guys like Brent Rooker who has fallen off massively and Ryan Noda who has an unworkable strikeout rate along with a handful of arms but they don’t have much. The Nationals have Jeimer Candelario, Trevor Williams and a couple relievers. The Cubs have Yan Gomes, maybe Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly, Adbert Alzolay and Mark Leiter Jr., so they’ve got some pieces. The Rockies have Elias Diaz, Charlie Blackmon and a few relievers.
If the White Sox and Cardinals enter the seller’s game, they can change the market because they have big-time talent. I think the White Sox might sell off some parts, but I’d be pretty surprised if the Cardinals end up doing that. They’re obviously both in mediocre divisions but the Cardinals are in a better spot to make a run at this point. So that leaves the Royals. I don’t think they have a lot better to move than some of the other teams, but I think their bullpen options are a bit above most of what else is out there. That’s where I think they’ll trade mostly from.
So who needs bullpen help? The better question is who doesn’t. Among contenders, the Yankees, Astros, Mariners, Orioles, Twins, Angels, Pirates (they’re technically contenders) and Blue Jays all rank in the top 10 in the game in bullpen ERA. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need another impact arm. The Astros, for example, have one lefty in their bullpen at the moment. You think they’d say no to Chapman because they have a good bullpen ERA? Of course not. The point is that there isn’t any team with eight top-tier relievers and if they can shorten a game a little bit more, they’ll try to do it.
Let’s break the Royals groups down into the odds that they’ll be traded and a few of the best fits.
95+ Percent Chance
I would say the only team Chapman doesn’t fit on is the Yankees just because they aren’t going to go down that road again. He’s averaging 99.4 MPH with his fastball and has been mostly back to form. I don’t think he fits on a team looking for a closer to take over without looking back, but I do think he’ll get save chances on a new team. Again, he fits on absolutely every single contender. I think the best bets, though, are the Dodgers, Rangers, Rays, Mets or Braves. There are a lot of good prospects on those five teams.
I think they could ask for Nick Frasso from the Dodgers, but I don’t think they get him for Chapman. Maybe with a sweetener attached, but I wonder if they could get Emmet Sheehan. Maybe it ends up with Landon Knack being the guy. I’m not sure who they’d target with the Rangers. They feel like a team that would be hard to find a middle ground with. My opinion is they should target someone like Sebastian Walcott and the Rangers may do it given what their current goals are, but the Royals like guys a little closer. That’s disappointing. Regardless, I would hesitate to think the Royals are going to get a top-10 prospect for Chapman, but bidding wars change everything, so you never know.
He’s kind of a poor man’s Chapman. He has a shiny ERA, but he walks way too many hitters. He’s been weirdly blown up by lefties who he’s dominated throughout his career. No team is acquiring him for the long-term, so they’ll have to be confident that’s a small sample blip. I’d guess it is, but you never know. Garrett isn’t bringing back much on his own, though he could be a nice second piece in a deal. And every team fits him, just like Chapman.
70-95 Percent Chance
There was a lot of talk that the Royals made a mistake by not trading Barlow last year. I think, all things equal, yeah, they did make a mistake. But we don’t know the offers and when I saw what Jorge Lopez brought back, I’m fine with them not trading him if that was the offer. Now, Yannier Cano was in that deal, so maybe I’m the idiot, but we can only go by what we knew at the time of the deal. But with one year of team control less this go-round, maybe the offers don’t get better but the urgency to move him does. I don’t think they’re trading him just to trade him, but it may not be as big of a push.
The fits, again, are everyone. But the Rangers are the best fit here. They’re getting by with Will Smith at the end of games and he’s been good, but their best relievers are lefties. I think a guy like Barlow could fit really nicely for them in the back of their bullpen. I’d also say the Dodgers are a fit. It’s just so hard to narrow this down because Barlow has shown he can close and he has shown he can work in a setup role. You don’t see all closers able to make that shift, so Barlow is someone an acquiring team won’t have to worry about.
He’s under team control through 2025 and is having his second straight solid season out of the bullpen for the Royals. His control isn’t quite as good as it was last season, but he’s a nice middle relief arm to help to lengthen a bullpen. I hate to sound like a broken record, but every team is a fit. I don’t think the Royals are going to necessarily be super quick to trade Clarke, but I think the market is going to be so hot for relievers that they’re more likely than not to move him.
50-70 Percent Chance
This is fully dependent on him coming back healthy, but with him entering free agency after the season, he might be someone the Royals trade for literally any offer. The only reason he’s not in the 95+ category here is that he may or may not even come back and if he does, a DFA isn’t out of the question. But teams are always on the hunt for innings from the rotation that they don’t have to pay much for in terms of prospects or money. Who takes a chance? Maybe Baltimore or San Francisco? If you’re wondering about the return, the odds are that if they get anyone back for him, the last time you hear his name will be when the trade is announced. But hey, maybe this is the spot where they target a flyer who becomes a stud.
The opener role that the Royals used Staumont in the other day could be what helps him take off. Or maybe it doesn’t and he’s a middle reliever who shows flashes of being a closer. Either way, all the pitching caveats apply for him and most teams would be interested him. I think the Astros and the way they work with pitchers like Staumont could be the most interesting, but the Rays are able to work wonders with guys who struggle to throw strikes. Maybe they’re a fit. I’d be intrigued by someone like Marcus Johnson from Tampa for him.
25-50 Percent Chance
Michael Massey has made Lopez expendable, though I don’t think the Royals have to trade nor do they want to. While Massey is also a lefty bat, Lopez fits as a nice platoon for Garcia against a tough righty, allows guys like Massey and Bobby Witt Jr. to get a half-day at DH and gives a quality plate appearance. You’ll see the Braves come up for Garcia below, but maybe they’re a fit as well as they don’t really have much in the way of infield depth on the big league roster. But the fit for Lopez may not even exist yet. I’d say an injury could open up an opportunity just about anywhere. Lopez also has two more years of control, so he’s not a rental and can help a contender with a deep lineup or a team looking for some depth that works as a bench player.
I might be a little high on how likely it is that Olivares is moved, but I don’t think he's a long-term fit with the club. He’s a tweener. His bat shows flashes of being good enough to fit, but then he’ll go through down stretches like he has recently. He certainly isn’t good enough defensively, though a smaller park could limit his issues. The Rangers don’t need more offense, but they’ve struggled a bit in left field, so maybe they work. The Mets could work, though they kind of have the veteran version of Olivares in Tommy Pham. I think the Brewers would make a lot of sense, though. They’ve had their struggles in the outfield. I don’t know what he brings back, but maybe someone like Jace Avina. I think that may take more than Olivares in that deal, but I could see it. You’re not looking at an impact prospect for him, of course, but I think there’s value.
10-25 Percent Chance
If they can trade him, they absolutely will and he’s had a nice start to the season. They won’t get much back, but the White Sox, Blue Jays and Angels could be a fit.
All things equal, I think the Royals would still like to extend Singer, but they went to arbitration with him and he’s returned that favor by being absolutely abysmal this year. He’s had better results in a few of his recent starts, but the underlying stuff doesn’t look any different to me than when he’s struggled so much. The Royals are in a bad spot with him, but if he turns things around and shows he won’t sign a deal, he might bring back as much in a deal as anyone traded. Think about it. He’s got three years of control left after this season and he’s pitched to the level of a two as recently as last season.
So when you’re shopping someone like that (again, assuming he turns things around because if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter at all), yes, every team wants him, but not every team can get him. The Orioles need starting pitching. The Mets could use a big arm. The Phillies are actually really interesting because they need someone now and might lose Aaron Nola this winter. The Red Sox would do well with someone who can coax a bunch of grounders. The Dodgers, of all teams, need help in their rotation even though they’re able to graduate a bunch of prospects.
So what are we looking at in a Singer return? I don’t know how good a prospect he brings back, but it’s at least one in the top 50 or 60. I’m going to repeat this again. This is IF he figures it out. Maybe it’s Mick Abel? Gavin Stone has really struggled in the big leagues, but he’d be a target. The Orioles seem to have some infielders, so maybe Jordan Westburg. I’ve talked to a few people in the game and they agree that whoever a good Singer would bring back would likely be the Royals top prospect after the trade, so that range makes sense. With a team like Baltimore, they have such a good system that you can maybe get another top-100 prospect for him as well. Maybe someone like Connor Norby. I’d push for Cade Povich and then someone like Braylin Tavera. If you trade Singer with three years of control left, you have to get a haul.
It’s unlikely that Yarbrough brings more than a lottery ticket, but I do think there are teams who would be interested in his versatility. Sometimes teams acquire innings even if they know they aren’t going to be using that player beyond the regular season. And with Yarbrough, you get a year of control after this as well. I think he’s on the low-end of likelihood getting traded, but it could happen assuming he returns healthy.
5-10 Percent Chance
They probably don’t trade Lopez and Garcia, but I think there’s a chance Garcia is a utility guy in the long run. He’s played well and he’s making a case that he should be an every day player until further notice, but with Witt looking much better at shortstop, there are options they have now. Garcia could be the third baseman, but so could Nick Loftin and Cayden Wallace could be up as soon as late next year. There’s also Samad Taylor, though I don’t think he’s a third baseman. I think if they were to trade Garcia now, it would require a huge haul.
The Braves have a bit of a shortstop issue. I know they signed Orlando Arcia and he’s been very good, but I just don’t fully buy it. The Dodgers have a black hole offensively at shortstop. It’s ironic with Adalberto Mondesi there, but if the Red Sox buy, they might like Garcia. And you never know when an injury will pop up. My gut here is that the Royals will ask for more than a team will give up, but I don’t have the same handle on their asks as I used to when we had figured out exactly what Dayton Moore was going to target.
I don’t think Melendez has performed enough to find himself on the trade block this deadline, but I also think this team doesn’t work the way it’s currently constructed. The Royals have corner outfielders getting closer to the big leagues and Melendez is an outfielder now, through and through. They don’t want to trade him, but I think they know he both isn’t signing an extension and is talented enough to actually bring back something big in return. He has five years of control left after 2023. My guess is he does get traded, but it won’t be until the offseason or maybe even the 2024/2025 winter. He’s still an interesting name to watch, though. And with all that control, he’s not limited to a a contender. I could see something interesting with the Reds and all their pitching.
0-5 Percent Chance
He’s here because I suppose a team might be interested in him for late inning defense. The Marlins and Rangers could be a fit, but the return won’t be much at all.
Greinke doesn’t want to go anywhere and I think the Royals will respect that. If he does get moved, it’ll be to some team looking for that veteran to stabilize things and he maybe doesn’t even get a playoff start. I don’t think it’s happening.
He should probably be in the negative chance category because ain’t nobody taking this on.
I think Salvy has more trade value than I did awhile ago, and part of it is because I believe he can be used as a DH with how good his bat has become. That said, he’s still a catcher long on the wrong side of 30 and teams see that as a huge risk. The Royals would have to pay far too much of his salary to get a move made. I just don’t see it happening, but I also think if they’re blown away, they’ll do something.
There you have it. I think that’s 17 players who could get moved at the deadline. I wouldn’t bet on more than five or six going, but I think we’re going to see Chapman, Garrett, at least one of Barlow, Clarke and Staumont and then a couple more. If I had to guess, I’d say they move one of Lopez and Olivares and then maybe someone a little farther down the possibilities list. They don’t have the upper-tier talent to remake their system at the deadline and there are some moves that just make more sense in the offseason, but they can reshape the roster a fair amount and I think they will.
A quick note for all my faithful commenters. I do try to respond as much as possible, but I’m at my first week at a new job, so odds are that you’ll be talking amongst yourselves on this one, but I’ll do my best to pop in if I can.