A pair of interesting and seemingly contradictory trade rumors started circulating Wednesday night. The first one said that the Royals were finally willing to listen to offers for starting pitcher Ervin Santana, but had no intention of just giving him away. The second one stated that Dayton Moore and Co. were interested in acquiring Chicago White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, who seems likely to move before the trade deadline.
At a quick glance, these two rumors don't appear compatible. Trading for Rios would indicate that the Royals are "buyers," while shipping Santana out of town is the sign of a "seller." Taken together, the pair of rumors suggests Moore is focused on winning in 2014 instead of this season, and likely has the job security to see it through.
For the sake of the article, we have to assume that the Royals are legitimately interested in trading Santana and acquiring Rios. It's possible that these rumors have little merit, but it's all we really have to go on.
As we've discussed previously, Santana has pitched well above most expectations this year, but is a free agent after the season, and is unlikely to re-sign with the Royals. Given the lack of pitching depth on the market, Kansas City should be able to move the veteran starter for more than the draft pick they would receive from tendering Santana a contract.
Rios, however, is under contract through 2014 with a club option for 2015. The outfielder's deal is not cheap, as he is due $12.5 million in 2014 with a $14 million club option if traded. Rios is not a rental player, making his situation different from Santana's.
Trading away Santana for players who can help next season and acquiring Rios does seem unlikely, but is in the realm of possibility. That would keep the Royals out of a clean "buying" or "selling" category; they could start their own "2014 or bust category."
While I do like the idea of trading Santana, I'm not enamored with Rios. The outfielder has been worth 2.0 fWAR this year after compiling 4.2 fWAR in 2012. Rios, however, will be 33 years old at the start of the 2014 season, and his baserunning and defensive value should start to erode as he ages. The right-handed hitter also draws a below-average number of walks, which means his offensive value is extremely dependent on his BABIP. Rios was worth -1.1 fWAR in 2011 when he posted a .237 BABIP.
Given the price of Rios' contract, I would prefer the Royals look elsewhere to upgrade rightfield. That said, Rios would likely improve the team's outfield over the David Lough/Jarrod Dyson pair, and could help the team pick up an extra win next season.
Even if Rios isn't a great trade target, I do approve of the "plan" Moore seems to be following; playing for next season. Taking 2 of 3 from the Detroit Tigers and 3 of 4 from the Baltimore Orioles was enjoyable to watch, but this team still has very little chance of catching fire and reaching the post-season.
It would take a minor miracle for Kansas City to leap the two remaining teams in the AL Central or collect enough wins to snag a Wild Card spot, and I don't want my general manager playing for miracles. Moore's possible willingness to trade Santana while still on the lookout for 2014 improvements suggests that Moore is willing to face reality, and start planning for the next campaign.
To be clear, I'm completely in the Fire Dayton Moore war party, and don't think he should be given the opportunity to continue running this team. I don't have the power to relieve Moore of his duties, and nothing out of One Royal Way has done anything to dissuade me from thinking Moore will still be in power next year (with Jason Kendall as his manager).
Since Moore's job appears safe for at least one more winter, I want him to buck my personal expectations and put a winner on the field. 2014 is likely the last season James Shields will pitch for the Royals, so Kansas City absolutely needs to reach the playoffs. Moore seems to have the job security to see this plan through, and is starting to act accordingly.
Moore has a good opportunity before the July 31 trade deadline to improve this team for next year, when they absolutely must compete. Given the team's current situation, playing for 2014 is the right decision, but Moore still needs to deliver on the plan.