Well it seems apparent that barring a complete collapse over the next four weeks, the Royals will at the very least be in a position to delude themselves into thinking they are in a pennant race if not actually competing for a pennant. Dayton Moore has indicated that the Glass family will give him the resources he needs to pursue a trade this summer to be competitive. However with payroll already exceeding the budget, and with David Glass earning his wealth not by throwing money away and going over budget, its probably safe to say the Royals will not be taking on Matt Kemp or Alexis Rios, or any other large contracts.
But they almost certainly will be in the marketplace for a player that can help them win ballgames now, and will at least reportedly be able to spend a little to do it. So let's take a look at a few of their possible options. There seem to be two glaring holes that can best help the Royals upgrade their team - third base and right field.
Third base is a bit complicated in that the club does have Mike Moustakas, who is still young and with potential, and Danny Valencia, who is out of options once he returns from his wrist injury. Moustakas could be sent to Omaha again, although we've seen the club reluctant to keep him down there for very long. If they are wiling to go in a different direction at third base, here are a few options that might be available:
Hey, remember him? The Royals let Emilio go back in February, rather than pay his $3.5 million salary. Emilio got off to a hot start, causing Royals fans to curse Dayton Moore, but he's gone back to being kinda lousy since then and is only hitting .207 since mid-May. Overall he's hitting .266/.311/.344 with 13 steals and 0.7 rWAR. He can serve as a useful utility man, filling in at third, spelling Omar Infante at second, and helping out in the outfield, and it probably would not require much to re-acquire him.
Holy Veteran Leadership, Batman! Chavez has seven post-seasons of experience from his days with the Athletics and Yankees to draw from should the Royals be looking for a clubhouse leader for the pennant stretch. Chavez is a part-time player now, but is capable of playing third base, although probably not on a regular basis. In 81 plate appearances this year, Chavez is hitting .246/.346/.449 with 3 HR, and he posted an .810 OPS in part-time action last year. The 36-year old left-hander is a free agent at the end of the year, and is making $3.5 million for the entire season. A platoon of Chavez and Valencia could be productive upgrade at third base, while providing intangibles for sportswriters to weave narratives over.
The Rays season has surprisingly gone into the toilet, which may open up some trade possibilities with them if Dayton is still up for dealing with them after the Wil Myers deal. Rodriguez has been a useful utility player for the Rays for years, but is coming up on his third year of arbitration-eligibility, and will not be super-cheap anymore, with a salary around $2-3 million next year. The right-hander is hitting .216/.267/.485 with 6 HR, so his power could be useful coming off the bench. Rodriguez can hit lefties well, going .251/.349/.408 against them in his career. Like Bonifacio, he can play pretty much everywhere on the field and even has extensive time at shortstop. With the Rays acquiring the younger, cheaper Logan Forsythe, Rodriguez is not really needed for the Rays next year.
Headley is actually an expensive player that would require either David Glass digging very deep into his pockets, or the Royals getting creative with the Padres about splitting salary obligations (competitive balance draft picks for sale?) Headley is owed $10.5 million this year, or about $5.25 million the rest of the year, but is a free agent this fall, so the Royals won't be taking on a long-term deal. Headley has had a 31 home run season, but has struggled this year, hitting .206/.294/.350. Still, he can take a walk, and is due to rebound back to his career line of .265/.347/.411. The switch-hitter is probably a good bet to be offered a Qualifying Offer this fall, so anything the Royals offer will have to be of greater value than what the Padres think they can get from a draft compensatory pick, lessening the likelihood of a deal here.
McGehee had a couple decent years in Milwaukee under Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum before his career stalled out and he headed to Japan for a year. He has returned and has hit well for the Marlins who are currently just a game back. However, if they somehow fade over the next month, look for them to begin selling assets, including the "expensive" $1.1 million-earning McGehee. The right-handed Casey is hitting .309/.363/.389 although with just one home run on the year.
The Red Sox have the second-worst record in the league which is hard to believe. Even if they claw their way back into relevance, its hard to see how Middlebrooks fits into their plans. After a terrific 121 OPS+ rookie season in 2012, Middlebrooks regressed badly last year and is hitting just .197/.305/.324 and has been out with a broken finger for the last month. With Xander Boegarts moving to third base, Stephen Drew at shortstop with Deven Marrero behind him, Middlebrooks may be the odd man out. Still, Middlebrooks is just 26 years old, and has hit 29 home runs per 162 games in the big leagues. A change of scenery may be just what he needs. The Red Sox may want to make a move to send Middlebrooks away to clear room for their 2015 team, while improving their team long-term. On the other hand, with his low on-base percentage, it is not clear that Middlebrooks is that different from Mike Moustakas aside from where they stand in the batters box.
Luis Valbuena, Chicago Cubs
Although Mike Olt (MIKE OLT!) is struggling at third for the Cubs, he's the long-term answer while Valbuena is just a stop-gap. Valbeuna is a left-handed hitter with a low average, but good plate discipline and decent pop. He is hitting .284/.382/.460 for the Cubs in 204 plate appearances, although he has never put up a 100 OPS+ season as a big leaguer. The Venezuelan actually hits lefties slightly better than righties in his career, so a platoon situation may not be ideal, but at the very least Valbuena can be a useful utility player who can play all over the infield, and provide more pop than say Pedro Ciriaco.
Nori Aoki just hasn't panned out like we thought he would and Jarrod Dyson would probably be exposed as an every-day player. The Royals may want to look for an upgrade at the corners, and if they don't look at internal options like Justin Maxwell, they may want to explore some of these trade options:
Chris Denorfia, San Diego Padres
Denorfia is a cheap right-handed hitting outfielder who has put up a 100 OPS+ or better in each of the last four seasons as a part-timer. He is hitting just .256/.307/.354 this year and will earn just $2.25 million this year before becoming a free agent this fall. Denofria is a nice bench bat who can do everything well, but nothing great, with a career line of .278/.338/.404. With his cheap price tag, and the fact it would not take an elite prospect to land him, Denofria makes sense for the Royals, although he would not be a huge upgrade.
The Phillies have made the right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder available, and the Kansas City native may be a good fit for a return home. The former Rockhurst high school grad and son of a former Royals first baseman is hitting .257/.350/.557 with 5 HR in 80 plate appearances this year, and is a career .247/.307/.438 hitter. The 30-year old can mash lefties, hitting .276/.329/.537 for his career. He is only in his first year of arbitration, so he's not very expensive and will be under team control through 2017. He profiles similarly to Justin Maxwell, but has delivered better results in a small sample size this year.
Justin Ruggiano, Chicago Cubs
The 30-year old Ruggiano is strictly a bench player, but he can be an effective one, hitting .253/.320/.433 in his career. The right-hander can hit lefties well (.256/.327/.506 in his career) and is capable of playing all three outfield positions. Ruggiano earns just $2 million this year and is under team control through 2017. He probably does not play into the Cubs long-term plans, but has been effective for them this year hitting .268/.381/.437. The trade return for Ruggiano would surely be small as he is a role player with not much of a future in Chicago.
Seth Smith, San Diego Padres
Smith has been a terrific player for the Padres since being acquired from Oakland this past winter. The left-hander has hit .287/.397/.505 and his 32 walks would lead the Royals. Smith has a career line of .267/.347/.460 with Colorado, Oakland, and San Diego and earns $4.5 milion this year - not cheap, but workable for the Royals. He is a severe liability against lefties with a split of .852 OPS against righties, .588 against lefties, so he may not be a good fit for the Royals already lefty-heavy outfield. Still, he is under club control through 2015 and could fill the gap for next year as well. Smith was acquired for an effective MLB reliever, so the asking price could be a close-to-MLB ready prospect, although not an elite one.
Willingham is in the last year of a three-year contract, and if the Twins fall too far out of the division race, they could look to deal him. He is making $7 million this year, but the Twins might be persuaded to eat some of that if the Royals could throw in something nice (like, say, that competitive balance draft pick). Willingham has always showed plus power, and even at age 35 he has churned out a nice season at .293/.444/.537 with 5 HR in 108 plate appearances. Willingham is a liability defensively, and hasn't played more than a handful of games in right-field in his career, so either Alex Gordon would have to move, or Willingham would have to try and wing it.
The trade dealine could very well be a quiet one with so many teams still in it, and unwilling to punt on the year. The Royals may have to be creative, or set the sights low if they want to make a deal to improve their club for a September run.