It's never too early to start thinking about options for improving the team. Though front offices have been focusing mostly on the draft and improving the team with internal options, there is someone somewhere on the team who is thinking about external options. The trade deadline is coming up in a month and a half, and that's the "main" deadline for improving the team externally. Let's start broadly.
As of right now, four of the five teams in the AL East have a winning record. The Red Sox are likely out and *might* be looking to sell. In the AL Central, the Indians and White Sox have losing records. The Indians almost certainly won't sell; the White Sox might. The Twins probably won't sell given their hot start, but they probably should look to sell. The Mariners and Athletics have losing records in the AL West, but the Mariners won't sell while Cano is still in the early years of his contract. The Athletics could have a fire sale, or they could double-down. Who knows.
Over in the National League, the Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Reds, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Rockies all have losing records, but several of those teams are hanging around .500. The teams hanging around probably won't sell if they're still hanging around come July.
Definite sellers: Phillies, Brewers.
Possible sellers: White Sox, Red Sox, Marlins, Reds, Rockies.
That puts everyone else in the pool of possible buyers. I think you can make credible cases to disagree with what I've laid out, but the point is that the pieces available on the market will be limited. With the second Wild Card and random variation, many or all of those teams hanging around .500 might decide to stand pat or buy in order to go after that spot. That's not many sellers, and that's a lot of potential buyers. This trade deadline season is shaping up to be a sellers' market.
With that in mind, prices for players will be high. I'm sure many of us will examine potential trade targets and packages in the coming weeks, so today let's narrow our focus only a little bit more from the broad picture.
What are the Royals' needs? If you were to look only at All Star Game voting, you would think that the Royals wouldn't need anyone. We know differently. I'll try to pick out where the Royals could use some improvement while taking into consideration the in-house options.
After multiple seasons of relatively good health, things are different this year. Yordano Ventura has been removed from games multiple times for different ailments, Jason Vargas is on the DL again, and Danny Duffy is yet to return from injury (though apparently close to finishing rehab). In addition, only Chris Young, who was a pretty late addition to the team, and Edinson Volquez have either lived up to or exceeded expectations. Jeremy Guthrie and Ventura are not performing as well as they need to. This is a rotation with holes.
The Royals rank about in the middle in terms of overall pitching fWAR, but that's the bullpen talking. The Royals' starters, which includes all innings from starting pitchers regardless of whether the pitcher has pitched in the bullpen this year, rank 25th in fWAR. Their 4.23/4.19/4.50 ERA/FIP/xFIP suggests that the true talent level of this staff is fairly low. Despite the defense and ballpark, the rotation's performance is just not up to snuff.
Remaining internal options include Brandon Finnegan, Joe Blanton, and a slew of AAA guys who probably shouldn't be starting for a team with World Series aspirations. Kris Medlen is still rehabbing, but he can't be expected to be a major contributor to the rotation this year. There is the chance that Ventura improves going forward, Guthrie improves going forward, Duffy comes back healthy and effective, and Young and Volquez continue to defy expectations. That's a lot of ifs, right? Significant improvement to the rotation will have to come from external sources.
Omar Infante's struggles have been well-documented. Here is Matt LaMar talking about Infante. Here is Josh Duggan talking about Infante. Here is Shaun Newkirk talking about Infante. I'm sorry if I missed you if you wrote about Infante. I think everyone has.
It's pretty simple. Infante has been the worst qualified offensive player in baseball so far. Defensive numbers like him, so he doesn't have the worst fWAR, but he's clearly not right this year.
The internal option is Christian Colon. Shaun's article was about replacing Infante with Colon. Colon has been a better player since 2014 in a fraction of the time. However, it is just a fraction of time. We don't really know how well Colon can perform offensively, and there are always those rumblings saying he can't handle second base very well defensively. However, Colon's current 82 wRC+, if he were to sustain it, would be a vast improvement over Infante's 42 wRC+. Projections have Colon somewhere around 80-85 wRC+ for the rest of the season, but Infante is also projected to improve.
The reality is that the Royals have a currently terrible option and a possibly not great option. Wouldn't it be great to have at least a mediocre option?
This is probably the area that needs the least from external options. Alex Rios hasn't been good since coming back from injury, but the Royals have a viable replacement option in a Jarrod Dyson/Rios platoon. Heck, maybe even a Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon would be acceptable. Either way, getting Dyson playing time against RHP would be a very solid improvement given his defense and baserunning with competent offense.
I don't really think there's much opportunity to find something better out there, but it stands that the position needs to be improved. I have little basis for this other than gut feeling and poor performances, but I think Rios got rushed back. If he's still feeling any pain in his pinky, I don't think his capacity to hit is major-league ready.
Starting pitcher. Second base. Right field. Agree? Disagree? Thoughts on internal options? We'll examine external options in the coming weeks.