Weekend in Review: The Deadline Approaches, a Weekend Barely Salvaged and What's Up Next
The Royals could have won three of four games against the Yankees, and yet barely came away with one.
I’ve already written about Thursday’s game and that was obviously a 1-0 loss, but what struck me about this whole series against the Yankees is the Royals were obviously the worse team but they played them pretty well. I know it’s easy to look at that series and think that I’ve been huffing glue or something, but think about it. They were tied into the ninth on Thursday, had a lead in the eighth on Friday and ended up with a thrilling comeback win on Sunday. I know, I know. Again with the moral victories. I think there’s a line between finding positives in the negative and being satisfied with a loss because this or that happened. And I think when you look at this particular roster with a minimum of four rookies in the starting lineup in very game of the series, there are absolutely positives to be found.
This actually has me thinking about how we should be viewing the season at this point. The word “should” is probably even the wrong word there because there’s no way anyone “should” fan, but there is a lot of concern over wins changing the mindset of making changes with this organization. As much as I think they have to move on from Dayton Moore, Mike Matheny and Cal Eldred (to start), I’m honestly not sure if I, personally, can get on board with rooting for losses. It makes for a nice silver lining knowing that a loss can have a positive impact on the future, but I don’t think they’re going to win enough games for it to change anything that was likely to happen anyway. I’ve mentioned their difficult schedule before and I feel like they’re facing an uphill battle. So my suggestion, and you can take it or leave it, is to let yourself enjoy the successes.
This Weekend in Review is probably going to be a bit less game-heavy and more deadline heavy because what matters for this organization right now is a lot less what’s happening on the field (though yesterday was fun) and more about the conversations between JJ Picollo and other GMs.
Deadline Day is Near
It’s risky to write about the trade deadline on the internet because this edition of the newsletter isn’t going anywhere and people could easily be reading this after any number of players I discuss below have been traded. But all I can know is what I know when this thing published in the morning. I want to take a look at every player still on the team who has a chance to get traded and their market as we close in on the deadline tomorrow afternoon. I’ll go alphabetically.
Scott Barlow - He had a bad series against the Yankees, though his defense did him no favors on Friday night. He’s still been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last two seasons and is still highly in demand if the Royals are willing to pull the trigger on moving a reliever who is under team control through 2024. Show me a team in contention and I’ll show you a team who could use Barlow. I’m not going to go through the list of teams who are interested since it’s any buyer.
The return on relievers is a little bit weird at times. For example, Craig Kimbrel last year brought back Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer. Royals fans would likely be disappointed with that type of return on Barlow. Richard Rodriguez brought back Bryse Wilson and Ricky DeVito. I think that might be underwhelming too. Barlow is both better than Rodriguez was and cheaper than Kimbrel, so maybe you’re looking at something like a bottom of the top-10 prospect, something in the 22-25 range and a throw-in? I might be overselling a bit, but I think the return could be fun.
Taylor Clarke - Clarke has been fantastic for the Royals for most of the season. A brutal stretch has made his numbers look more fine than good, but it feels like he’s pitching quite well lately and like it’s sustainable. I don’t get the sense that the Royals are looking to move him even though they should be with him posting a 1.31 ERA since June 15 in 20.2 innings with 20 strikeouts and four walks allowed in that time. He’s also allowed just 10 hits. That’s not just good, that’s dominant.
The teams interested would likely be everybody, but the return won’t be near what Barlow’s should be. That might be a reason to hang on to him, let him close games between now and next year’s deadline and then deal, but if there’s an offer out there that is interesting, they should absolutely pull the trigger and remember how they got Clarke on the free agent market last season. Good teams consider guys like Clarke fungible assets and if they can get a top-20 prospect for him, they have to jump on it.
Hunter Dozier - The Dozier trade market isn’t exactly robust, but he isn’t without some value. He’s an above-average bat who doesn’t profile well defensively anywhere but can play all four corners. He fits on a team that needs some platoon help. Who does that include? The Brewers have struggled with lefties and have Rowdy Tellez getting the majority of at bats at first base. That could work. The Padres could give up on Luke Voit being that guy as he’s struggled against lefties. The Red Sox still make sense if they’re buying, but I don’t know if that’s the case at all. I’m not sure what the value is here because guys like this don’t get traded a lot. The money really isn’t prohibitive on the end of this deal, but I think you’re getting organizational depth for him and the whole point of moving him is just to open up playing time for someone else more than anything.
Cam Gallagher - I’ve believed Gallagher would get moved for years and he’s still in Kansas City, so who knows? But he’s a very good defender and a good backup is always in need by a few teams. The Rays, specifically, are without their starter for the rest of the season and the guy who was starting is now also out. Gallagher comes cheap and that fits what the Rays are looking for pretty well. Martin Maldonado is a more decorated player and he was traded twice in 2019. The first time was for Mike Montgomery and the second time was for Tony Kemp. He was also traded in 2018 for Patrick Sandoval. I don’t think the return is the same because of the reputation, but I wonder if maybe someone like John Doxakis, a control lefty at the bottom of the Rays top 30 could be had. That might be a touch too rich, but you never know.
Zack Greinke - I don’t get the impression the Royals are actively shopping Greinke, but I do know that they’re taking calls on him. I also know that if he gets moved, the odds are pretty good that he’d come back to Kansas City as a free agent again if the Royals want it, so it seems like it would be wise to take a decent offer for the veteran righty. Like with relievers, just about every team can use a starter even if it’s not someone you’re likely counting on to make a postseason start. I could see worlds where the Rays, Twins, Cardinals, Brewers, Braves and maybe the Phillies could use him. Most or all of them might be hunting bigger game, but if it gets to 4:57pm and they’re left without a dance partner, you never know. Looking at a couple of veterans who were moved last year, both to the Cardinals, the return isn’t likely to be much, but the Nationals did get Lane Thomas for Jon Lester and Thomas has shown a little here and there.
Brad Keller - Everything about Greinke applies to Keller and then some because I think Keller has value to a playoff series beyond what Greinke likely does. For one thing, I think the right team can almost instantly get more out of Keller with his fastball and slider combination. Even if you don’t have him starting a game in that series, he’s a weapon out of the bullpen, which makes him useful for pretty much any contending team. He’s not Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas or even Tyler Mahle among starters with another year of control after this one, but he’s a starter who has been above-average by ERA since the start of 2019 and generally gives six innings. There’s use there.
The question is what he brings back. The Angels got Janson Junk, who shut down the Royals the other day, for Andrew Heaney who was having a far worse year last year than Keller. Tanner Roark was traded in 2019 for a pretty athletic outfielder. There just aren’t many players like Keller moved at the deadline. It’s usually guys who are useful but not terribly valuable or guys who are terribly valuable. My gut on a Keller deal is that it would take two prospects in a team’s top-30 with one of them in the top-15. I’m not sure if that would get the Royals to bite, but I think that’s the return.
Whit Merrifield - I still think Merrifield goes even though it’s been pretty quiet on the rumor mill about him. While his overall numbers are rough, he’s been much better lately and there’s still some positional versatility with him. He’s a solid second baseman and can handle a corner spot in the outfield. I think you can probably get by with him in center for a game or two if you absolutely need it too. The Royals should have traded him years ago, but that’s water under the bridge at this point. His value is significantly lower obviously, but that doesn’t mean he can’t bring something back, especially if he’s paired with someone like Barlow.
The Mariners, White Sox, Braves, Padres, Phillies, Red Sox and Cardinals (look at Tommy Edman’s numbers since May) could all use Merrifield. I think he would have brought back some serious value a couple of years ago, but now you’re looking at either a young big leaguer with no spot on a big league roster right now or a lower-level prospect or two for Merrifield. If I’m the Royals, I target a young hitter to work with that development staff.
Michael A. Taylor - The time is now to trade Taylor with him having a career season and doing it with both the best walk rate and best strikeout rate of his career. He’s hitting .278/.348/.394, which with his defense makes him a legitimately hugely valuable player. His defense hasn’t rated nearly as well as last season, but any team with defensive issues should be in on him, especially knowing he can be a useful offensive piece at the bottom of a lineup.
The Phillies, Rays, Braves, Brewers, Astros, Dodgers, Padres and Cardinals could all benefit from what Taylor has to offer. He’s signed to a very reasonable $4.5 million next season. Even if his offense regresses next season, his defense is good enough for a team that doesn’t really have budgetary issues that he can still be useful. And actually, it’s not even just teams without real budgets because of how little it actually is. Adam Duvall got the Marlins a big-time post-hype catching prospect in Alex Jackson. Ramon Laureano and Rafael Ortega are really the only other center fielders on the trade market, so there will be a team or four left without a chair when the music stops.
Josh Staumont - I’m concerned about this being a sell-low situation on Staumont, who hasn’t been especially good lately. He’s gotten into five games since coming off the IL and has given up three runs on four hits with five walks in 4.2 innings. Going back to the start of June, he’s walked 12 and struck out eight in 12 innings. In some ways, I wonder if they should just trade him if they get a decent offer, but in other ways, I think they should hold off given that Staumont isn’t a free agent until after the 2025 season. In a lot of ways, his market is consistent with Barlow’s, but the return should be less. I’d probably hold for now, but you never know what kind of offer can come in for a desperate team.
Friday - Yankees 11, Royals 5
After not scoring for three full games, the Royals started this one by also not scoring for the first four innings. Gerrit Cole got two quick outs against them when Maikel Garcia singled to center, which was followed by a single by Nicky Lopez. MJ Melendez hit a grounder to first that he beat out, but it had to be challenged because the umpire made a call live that was obviously bad, but replay saved the day for once, which led to Merrifield doing what the Royals needed to bust that scoreless streak.
When a team is struggling to get runs in like the Royals were at the time, hitters start to press. And then that leads to really relying on something almost lucky to get a run home. You know, something like a bloop hit at 80.3 MPH to score a couple of runs. That’s when the floodgates can open, and it helped that Salvador Perez was back in this one.
That wasn’t a bloop. That was an absolute missile. He hit a 100 MPH fastball at the top of the zone that far to dead center to help the Royals finally get on the board in a big way and take the lead.
Unfortunately, that was it for the Royals offensively. But before I get to the misadventure that was the ninth inning, I want to give some praise to Kris Bubic for his outing. He ended up going six innings and gave up three runs with six strikeouts and two walks allowed to a very, very good lineup that has had no problems with lefties. Sure, he made a mistake to Anthony Rizzo in the first and then Aaron Judge in the third, but a lot of people have made mistakes to those two.
Bubic’s fastball was about as good as I’ve seen it, even though it wasn’t coming in at the velocity I like to see. He had seven whiffs on it in 20 swings. The key was that he wasn’t missing in the middle very much with it.
That might be the best fastball chart of the year for him. But honestly, it was more than just fastballs. He left a legitimate hole in the middle of the zone. Yankees hitters are very good, but even good hitters can be pitched if you can avoid the middle of the plate.
And Bubic was in line for the win after his well-pitched six innings, but the eighth inning proved to be a disaster. It started off so promising too with Barlow striking out Judge on a combination of curves and sliders, but as soon as Rizzo hit a 43.5 MPH roller to third for an infield single, I knew disaster was about to strike. Next up was Gleyber Torres who hit a clean single to center. And then on the first pitch to Josh Donaldson, Barlow got his grounder. I don’t know that it would have been a double play, but I don't know that it wouldn’t have been. In the end, it didn’t matter because Garcia booted it.
So with the bases loaded and one out, Andrew Benintendi hit a grounder to the right side. Nick Pratto ranged way too far to his right and got to the ball, but had he just let Merrifield take it, they would have gotten the out at first. To compound the issue, Barlow was both slow to get off the mound to cover and slipped. So no out was recorded there either. It’s important, I think, to note that Barlow struck out Judge, got the Donaldson grounder and then the Benintendi grounder. The defense absolutely let him down because that should have been the inning with nothing crossing the plate.
Instead, it was 5-4 with the bases loaded and Barlow didn’t pick up his team at al. This is the part that’s his fault, but he walked Aaron Hicks, gave up a single to Isiah Kiner-Falefa to give up the lead and then gave up another run on a groundout. Jackson Kowar came in and gave up a walk, then a grand slam to Judge, a walk to Rizzo and a ground rule double to Torres before getting Donaldson to end the inning. The Royals gave up eight runs that inning, but if the defense had done its job, they would have held the lead to the ninth. Instead, they went quietly and lost their fourth in a row.
Saturday - Yankees 8, Royals 2
There is very little to say about this game. Jonathan Heasley gave up two in the first in an inning that could have been way worse. Then he gave up two in the second on a home run by Judge that would have only gone out in Yankee Stadium. The Royals picked up single runs in the third and fourth but Heasley gave up two more runs in the fourth that were aided by two more errors by the Royals and that was pretty much that. I’d say the only bright spot of the game was Wyatt Mills looking good in 1.2 innings. Oh, and I guess Merrifield getting his 1,000th hit was cool enough, but would have been cooler without the whole not caring that much about playing for the Royals thing.
Sunday - Royals 8, Yankees 6
As not fun as Saturday was, yesterday was the opposite. Zack Greinke and Jordan Montgomery matched zeroes for four innings with Montgomery striking out the world. He actually had a ridiculous six strikeouts through four innings. But Greinke was almost as good, allowing just one hit through the first four innings. The offense finally broke through against Montgomery in the fifth with back-to-back walks by Vinnie Pasquantino and Taylor followed by a single to center by Melendez.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one worried about the situation with the bases loaded and nobody out and thinking about how the Royals would screw it up, but Nick Pratto made a nice adjustment from his first at bat. His first time up, Montgomery started him with two sinkers up and in, but on or near the plate. He took one for a ball and one for a strike before Montgomery made him look bad with two curves. He took the same approach in this at bat, but Pratto was up there looking sinker up. He fouled the first one off and then sliced the next one down the line. He dropped it just in front of a diving Benintendi and drove in two.
Then Garcia tried to bunt and failed before he was able to sneak a double down the right field line that scored Melendez and that got Montgomery out of the game. A Merrifield groundout off a very brief Royal, Albert Abreu, scored the fourth run.
But, of course, nothing can be easy. Greinke gave up a leadoff double to Matt Carpenter, which was both the second hit Greinke allowed and the second leadoff double for Carpenter. Then Kyle Higashioka just dropped a single into right to score him and DJ LeMahieu hit a Yankee Stadium home run. The thing that shows how many parks a ball would have been out of indicated that it would have been out of 16 parks, but it was a 97.6 MPH fly ball that traveled 350 feet. While it may have been out of that many parks, coming into yesterday there had been 455 balls. hit between 96 and 99 MPH that traveled between 345 and 355 feet. Just 30 of them were home runs. That kind of batted ball doesn’t often go for a homer.
Of course, we knew the Royals couldn’t hold a 4-3 lead for long. Not in that stadium with their bullpen. Jose Cuas walked Hicks and Judge with a strikeout of LeMahieu in the middle and gave way to Dylan Coleman. Three pitches later, it was 6-4 Yankees. Now, to this point the Royals hadn’t scored a single run against the Yankees this season in the seventh inning or beyond.
But that changed fast. Dozier turned on the first pitch he saw and hit a laser to left.
Dozier was 1 for his last 20 before that, so that home run probably felt pretty good. But to be honest, I didn’t think much of it. I just figured it was a random highlight in another lost game to the Yankees. That is, until the ninth.
Clay Holmes came in sporting a 1.20 ERA. He had struggled a bit on Thursday with two walks in the ninth inning, but he didn’t give up a run. And he’d only given up runs in four appearances this season. But he walked Merrifield after getting Lopez to ground out to start the inning. Then he hit Bobby Witt Jr. on the hand (again, for real?) to put two on and one out for that man again.
This one wasn’t 100 MPH at the top of the zone, but it was 98 MPH down the middle and Perez absolutely mauled that ball. And he knew it too. The Royals would have their lead and Mike Matheny decided to stick with Clarke for the ninth after a nine-pitch eighth. He did give up a single and a walk, but a lineout to Taylor to end the game salvaged one game in this brutal series for the Royals as they can head to Chicago on a high note.
The Week Ahead
The Royals go from playing one team in dark pinstripes to another as they do go to Chicago to take on the White Sox, who are fighting to stay relevant in the AL Central. I suppose they can thank the Twins and Guardians for also being pretty mediocre. But either way, it’s a big series for them against the last place team in the division that they should win some games against. The Royals will get their cracks at three struggling pitchers. Michael Kopech has been a bit of a mess since he left a start early a few weeks ago. Lucas Giolito has struggled for the last couple of months. And Lance Lynn has been a bit of a mess since coming off the IL nine starts ago. And the Royals will counter with probably their three best starters in Brad Keller, Singer and Bubic. So they have a shot.
Then they’ll come home to play the Red Sox for four in a series that may or may not be interesting. The Red Sox are currently in last place in the AL East and the trade deadline has big implications for them. While they’ve said they won’t be trading Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Christian Vazquez could be on the move. They’re also without Trevor Story and Rafael Devers, so it’s not exactly the juggernaut Red Sox they could have been this year.