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What it might cost for the Royals to trade for an "ace"

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Anyone got a spare Wil Myers they can trade?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals could be in the market for an "ace" pitcher this summer, with the way the starting pitching has gone. Granted, the word "ace" may be too heavy, but without getting too much into the fluff, let's just dive in. The Royals are in first place as I'm writing this. Maybe by tomorrow they won't be, but worse case is they are a half game out of first come tomorrow. Either way, they are in contention for more than just a wild card spot, but possibly a division title.

When you start the season off winning 17 of your first 27 you set yourself up with a nice base line to work from. That baseline works in many ways though. The may continue to play at a similar pace and finish the year with 95+ wins even despite a little regression. On the other hand, the team could collapse and never seen first place again. The most likely scenario for the Royals (in my opinion) is that they've pocketed themselves 17 wins, a decent buffer above .500, and will play more towards .500 the rest of the year. Of course it depends on how Detroit plays, more specifically how the Royals against Detroit, but the Royals should likely find themselves within the title race come September with a pretty good shot at one of the Wild Card spots.

One impediment to that goal is the starting rotation, or it has been the starting rotation. While it's not the worst in baseball, it's more of a middling collection than a source of pride.

ERA- 104
FIP- 107
xFIP- 106

So they are roughly 4-7% worse than league average in the respective metrics.

How about the other AL Central teams?

Takeaways:

The Royals are bunched in the middle with everything meaning that the earned run estimators are all in agreement with their performance.

The Tigers FIP is much better than their xFIP/ERA. Their pitchers are likely better than they have been so far.

The Indians are seemingly much better than their earned runs may suggest, and were projected to be a much better staff.

The White Sox might see their ERA drop more in line with their FIP/XFIP

The Twins might see their ERA go up slightly

Now sorted by earned run estimators and their corresponding wins above replacement.

The Tigers fare better than any other AL central rival by both fWAR and RA9-WAR (given that they have the best FIP and ERA). Meanwhile the Indians are liked by fWAR but hated by RA9-WAR, being barely better than the White Sox.

The key take away from the Royals side though is that they are liked a bit by both win metrics, but aren't stellar in either per say.

Overall (don't worry about the colors, okay)

So the Royals are in the middle of the pack-ish, but both Detroit and the Indians are some measure ahead. Also ahead of them are the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Mariners, and Astros. All teams that could be in the AL wild card race.

Going forward it stands to reason that unless the Royals are expecting a step forward from their rotation, pitching may keep them back from winning their division and possibly the wild card.

The projections (Fangraphs Depth Charts) see Ventura, Duffy, and Volquez being near league average pitchers, but none of them are projected to continue their current pace. Meanwhile Guthrie, who I thought should be replaced soon, projects to be replacement level.

So what can they do? Or maybe more specifically, who can they trade for? The pitcher market won't likely heat up for another month or more until we're closer to the trade deadline (July 31st), but there have been names speculated that are good fits to part from their team.

Cole Hamels

Hamels has been speculated to be traded for what seems like two years at least and many clubs have been rumored to have "interest" in him. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has been an enigma for what he wants in return for Hamels. Some time back Amaro insisted, reportedly, on paying basically none of Hamels salary and receiving multiple top prospects back (which everybody immediately noted was insane).

The contract:

Year Age Salary
2015 31 $    23,500,000.00
2016 32 $    23,500,000.00
2017 33 $    23,500,000.00
2018 34 $    23,500,000.00
2019 35 $    20,000,000.00
5 years $  114,000,000.00

* 2019 features a $20M club option, $24M vesting, $6M buyout

So Hamels is kind of expensive to say the least. It's a good deal less than what Jon Lester just signed for but it's a good deal more than what James Shields got. It would be double the Royals highest contract of all time.

The past:

Year fWAR
2011 4.9
2012 4.6
2013 4.5
2014 4.2
2015 -0.1
Total 18.1

Hamels has been one of the better pitchers in baseball consistently the past few years, but is off to a rough start so far in 2015.

The future?:

Year Age fWAR Salary $/WAR Value Surplus
2015 31 2.8 $    23,500,000.00 $    8,400,000.00 $     23,520,000.00 $               20,000.00
2016 32 2.55 $    23,500,000.00 $    8,820,000.00 $     22,491,000.00 $       (1,009,000.00)
2017 33 2.3 $    23,500,000.00 $    9,261,000.00 $     21,300,300.00 $       (2,199,700.00)
2018 34 2.05 $    23,500,000.00 $    9,724,000.00 $     19,934,200.00 $       (3,565,800.00)
2019 35 1.8 $    20,000,000.00 $  10,210,000.00 $     18,378,000.00 $       (1,622,000.00)
Total 11.5 $  114,000,000.00 $  105,623,500.00 $       (8,376,500.00)

Perhaps I graced Hamels with a slower decline than normal (0.25 decline rather than 0.50) given that he isn't that old and has been a pretty dang good pitcher as recently as 7 months ago. Meanwhile I used his 2015 projected RoS fWAR rather than his 2015 projected fWAR (which was 3.5).

That's a negative net return (assuming the option gets picked up or vests)... Meanwhile, Hamels projection has gone from 3.5 fWAR to 2.8ish in a matter of two months since the projections were released.

The cost:

Surely Amaro has come down from his lofty return expectations, but Hamels is still a good pitcher, albeit expensive. Obviously however much the Phillies chip in money-wise increases their return. There's basically zero chance that the Phillies eat all the contract or eat none of it.

Recently the Red Sox have been linked to Hamels and they've turned down (reportedly) sending Blake Swihart/Mookie Betts/Manuel Margot.

The Red Sox have one of the best farm systems in baseball and have plenty to deal from. The Royals have a more middle of the pack farm system that can't necessarily offer a Swihart (who's the best catching prospect in baseball in my opinion) but instead a group of talented prospects.

The Phillies basically need prospects at any and every position so dealing to their needs means just trading the best talent in the farm rather than a specific position.

The Royals would probably need the Phillies to eat 30-40% of the contract just to get the ball rolling. There's just no way the Royals can be on the hook for anything more than probably $60-$70M (~$11M AAV).

$49M + Raul Mondesi + Miguel Almonte + Cheslor Cuthbert

The Royals would part with their first or second best prospect in Mondesi, a mid-rotation possible arm (who I think may end up in the bullpen) and the somewhat enigmatic Cuthbert who should have no problem finding a position on the Phillies major league team in 2016 given their state of affairs (although which position is a mystery).

If the Phillies paid $65M of Hamels deal it would turn the contract into this:

Year Age fWAR Salary $/WAR Value Surplus
2015 31 2.8 $    11,750,000.00 $    8,400,000.00 $     23,520,000.00 $       11,770,000.00
2016 32 2.55 $    11,750,000.00 $    8,820,000.00 $     22,491,000.00 $       10,741,000.00
2017 33 2.3 $    11,750,000.00 $    9,261,000.00 $     21,300,300.00 $         9,550,300.00
2018 34 2.05 $    11,750,000.00 $    9,724,000.00 $     19,934,200.00 $         8,184,200.00
2019 35 1.8 $    10,000,000.00 $  10,210,000.00 $     18,378,000.00 $         8,378,000.00
Total 11.5 $    57,000,000.00 $  105,623,500.00 $       48,623,500.00

That would represent a $56M net positive swing from the original contract (again assuming the option is picked up or vests).

Mondesi and Almonte represent two top 100 prospects going to the Phillies. Maybe you could throw in an arm like Christian Binford, or Glenn Sparkman plus someone like Sam Selman alongside Cuthbert.

Johnny Cueto

Cueto represents a different route for the Royals plans. He's only got roughly five months until he's a free agent and the Royals wouldn't get a comp pick if he signed elsewhere since he's ineligible for a qualified offer if traded.

The contract:

Year Age fWAR Salary $/WAR Value Surplus
2015 29 2.9 $10,000,000 $    8,400,000.00 $     24,360,000.00 $       14,360,000.00

The contract is actually a little less than $10M since we're a month into the season, but rather than estimate I just used the full amount.

The past:

Year Age fWAR
2012 26 4.7
2013 27 0.7
2014 28 4.6
2015 29 2.9

Cueto has been on par with Hamels other than 2013 when he missed a good majority of the year (only pitching 60 innings) but was on pace to be as good as usual.

Cueto has been very good this season as well (0.8 fWAR so far), but of course the Royals don't get out anything out of what he has done, but what he may do going forward (projected at 2.9 fWAR).

Cueto is projected to be almost as good in the remaining 170 innings as James Shields was in 220 innings last year.

The Cost:

Like the Phillies, the Reds need prospects everywhere rather than position specific. The Royals are pretty unlikely to sign Cueto once he hits free agency and it would strictly be a remainder of the season deal. That obviously lowers the return for the Reds than say if Cueto had several years remaining, but Cueto projects to be one of the top 20 or so starting pitchers for the rest of the year, on par with Hamels, Carlos Carrasco, Jordan Zimmerman, and Zack Greinke.

Last year at the deadline the Red Sox traded Jon Lester for Yoenis Cespedes, but Cespedes obviously isn't a prospect. The Cubs and Athletics swapped Jeff Samardzija and others for Addison Russell and others, but Shark had an additional year remaining. Then in the offseason the A's swapped him to the White Sox for Marcus Semien, Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley, and Rangel Ravelo. Semien was not really considered a top prospect and the deal seemed perplexing to those outside of Oakland.

Of course with Cueto, we're talking closer to the trade deadline where prices are higher. Maybe the most similar deal was Zack Greinke traded to the Angels in 2012 for Jean Segura, Ariel Pena, and Johnny Hellweg. Segura was the main piece of the deal and the prior offseason was ranked the 55th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America.

Greinke of course only had a couple months left on his contract before free agency which he then eventually signed a large deal with the Dodgers.

To get Cueto the Royals would likely need to depart with another similar ranked prospect, and the Royals have more prospects in the 50-75ish range than 0-50ish range, so options to choose from would be greater.

Raul Mondesi/Sean Manaea/Kyle Zimmer + Christian Binford + Sam Selman

That's close to the Greinke deal. Mondesi for Segura would be a SS for SS swap, while Binford and Hellweg are back of the rotation pieces. Selman and Pena both are starters turned relievers with command issues, but good velocities.

Manaea and Zimmer could be alternatives, but of course Manaea is currently injured and Zimmer...well...you know Zimmer. Meanwhile selling Zimmer now, rather than later if it were to happen, could be selling him at his lowest point. I'm sure though many readers would be just fine trading away Zimmer ASAP, but likely the Reds would eye Mondesi/Manaea than Zimmer anyways.

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