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Starting pitchers the Royals should target in a trade

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Is there a starting pitcher tree?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

So we're pretty sure the Royals need starting pitching help. They are 15 games above .500 and in a decent enough shape with a 5.5 game lead over the 2nd place Twins (pending any outcomes from Monday). Per Fangraphs they are the odds on favorites by far to win the AL Central with 65% odds. The Tigers are the next closest at 18.9%. Not only that, but they are projected to have the best record in all the American League by season's end too with 87 wins. They also have the highest chance of course of making the playoffs in any capacity with 77% odds.

So what's the fly in the ointment (what a weird saying)? The rotation, obviously. This is of course no great mystery and the Royals rotation wasn't a strong group to enter the season anyways, but they've gotten some good performances despite that. Edinson Volquez has been better so far this year than all of last year during his ERA resurgence. Chris Young continues to defy age and DIPS theory.

How about this:

What is that? That's the Royals 12 WAR leaders per Baseball Reference (uses runs allowed rather than FIP). Maybe better exemplified as:

Out of their 12 best player (per WAR), only two are starting pitchers. One of them wasn't even really supposed to be in the rotation and didn't start his first game until May (Chris Young) and the one behind him was the bigger signing of the offseason (Volquez).

Projection wise, the rotation doesn't really look any better going forward. The Royals batters are projected to be 3.5 times better than the rotation (per Fangraphs depth charts projections), and the rotation makes up just 19% of their total projected WAR, last in all of baseball.

Only the Rockies project to get fewer wins from their rotation the rest of the season. In fact, depth charts projects that two current free agents would be better options than most or all of the Royals current rotation.

Royals WAR
Jeremy Guthrie 0.3
Edinson Volquez 0.6
Chris Young 0.3
Danny Duffy 0.7
Joe Blanton 0.6
Yohan Pino 0.1
Kris Medlen 0.3
Jason Vargas 0.3
Yordano Ventura 0.4
Total 3.6
Free Agents WAR
Jhoulys Chacin 0.8
Paul Maholm 0.6
Total 1.4

Want a visual look?

I mean...the Royals don't have to upgrade the rotation, but there's a ton of room for improvement. Furthermore it's not like the marginal difference from an upgrade will be small. For instance, sure the Nationals could upgrade their rotation, but they've got a strong projection as is, and the improvement from #1 to even more #1 isn't as big as the improvement from #29 to #20.

So, who could/should the Royals look at?

For now, we're not going to worry about finding spots for these targets. Drop Joe Blanton, drop Jeremy Guthrie, drop Chris Young, don't let Yohan Pino start again. There are numerous options here.

Clay Buchholz - Red Sox

No pitcher in baseball has a bigger difference between their ERA and FIP than Clay. He's actually posting one of the best season he's ever had by FIP. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and he's in the top 20 pitchers by whiff and contact rate. Meanwhile the Red Sox have one of the poorer defenses in baseball this year.

The Red Sox are currently in last place and by all accounts are out of the playoff picture.

On the contract side of things, Buchholz is under team control theoretically until after the 2017 season as his current contract holds two club options for $13 and $13.5 million.

Colby Lewis - Rangers

Lewis isn't quite the sexy option the fans love their team to acquire at the trade deadline, but he projects to be better than basically everyone in the Royals rotation going forward. His FIP is more than half a run better than his ERA.

He's only under contract for the remainder of this season, and he's 35 years old. You wouldn't imagine the Rangers asking for too much in return, though they aren't that far from first in their division so they may elect to hold onto Lewis.

Bartolo Colon - Mets

Colon is similar to Lewis where he's an older man who's more command than pure stuff. This year though Colon is on pace to put up his best walk/strikeout rate in years despite being 42. Like Lewis, Colon will be a free agent this winter (which by all accounts is fine for any club given his age).

Colon has been in the trade rumors for some time this year as the Mets weren't necessarily expected to be in the thick of it for the NL East title, and they also have one of the better crops of pitching prospects.

Jose Quintana - White Sox

It's time for the White Sox to start selling things off. I even argued they should have done it last year. They are in last place in a division that is arguably the most meh division in baseball and don't have a strong farm system on the cusp.

As far as Quintana goes, he's quietly been one of the best pitchers in baseball the past year and a half as he's been worth 6.5 wins dating back to the start of last season.

Past calendar year:

Name Team WAR
Jordan Zimmermann Nationals 5
Carlos Carrasco Indians 4.7
Jose Quintana White Sox 4.5
Sonny Gray Athletics 4.5
Jon Lester - - - 4.4
Chris Archer Rays 4.4
Clay Buchholz Red Sox 4.3
Madison Bumgarner Giants 4.1
Cole Hamels Phillies 4.1

2014-2015

Name Team WAR
Jon Lester - - - 7
Zack Greinke Dodgers 6.9
Chris Archer Rays 6.5
Jose Quintana White Sox 6.5
Johnny Cueto Reds 6.5
Madison Bumgarner Giants 6.4
Phil Hughes Twins 6.3
Jacob deGrom Mets 6.3
Dallas Keuchel Astros 6.3
Sonny Gray Athletics 6.1
Jeff Samardzija - - - 5.9
Cole Hamels Phillies 5.9

Quintana is riding a bit off how superb he was in 2014 from the numbers above, but this year he's been worth 1.5 wins so far and projects to be worth another 1.5 for the rest of the year. He's still in some decent company so far this year too:

Name Team WAR
Jeff Samardzija White Sox 1.7
John Lackey Cardinals 1.7
Felix Hernandez Mariners 1.7
Cole Hamels Phillies 1.7
Jose Quintana White Sox 1.5
Scott Kazmir Athletics 1.5
Gio Gonzalez Nationals 1.5

Projection wise for the rest of the season he's in decent company too

Name Team WAR
Masahiro Tanaka Yankees 1.7
Michael Wacha Cardinals 1.7
Jeff Samardzija White Sox 1.7
Alex Wood Braves 1.5
Anibal Sanchez Tigers 1.5
John Lackey Cardinals 1.5
Jose Quintana White Sox 1.5
Gio Gonzalez Nationals 1.4
Lance Lynn Cardinals 1.4
A.J. Burnett Pirates 1.4
Andrew Cashner Padres 1.4
Jason Hammel Cubs 1.4

Let's play the double blind game too.

Name K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Player A 7.29 1.66 4.56 3.66 3.84 1.7
Player B 7.33 2.51 3.95 3.58 3.85 1.5

Player A has been one of the more speculated trade candidates since last year. Player B hasn't.

Player A was actually traded in 2014..twice! Player B wasn't.

Figured it out yet? How about this, Player A and Player B are team mates.

Player A's first name starts with a "J." Player B's first name starts with a "J" too.

Okay, Player A is Jeff Samardzija. Player B is Jose Quintana.

Projected for the rest of the year?

Name K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Jose Quintana 7.41 2.54 3.68 1.5
Jeff Samardzija 8.26 2.24 3.71 1.7

So here's a player who projects to be the same as Jeff Samardzija but without the sticker price of the name. Now, Quintana obviously has longer team control than Shark (who's a free agent in a few months) so you'd have to cough up a bit more for Quintana.

The White Sox made the smart move of locking Quintana too. Quintana is owed $20.85 million over the next three years with a pair of team options for $10.5 and $11.5 million for '19/20. Jose is theoretically locked up from his age 26 to 31 seasons.

I could write an entire article about how quietly nice Quintana is (I kinda just did here), and the Royals/White Sox would have to get over that whole inter-division trade embargo nonsense, but getting Quintana would be excellent.

Wade Miley - Red Sox

The Red Sox literally just acquired Miley six months ago, but the disaster that is the 2015 Red Sox leaves most guys on the table for trade pieces.

Miley's strikeout rate down 1.75 per-nine-innings, but his plate discipline numbers are mainly similar to his previous seasons across the board. He's projected for a full win the rest of the season.

Currently the Red Sox control Miley for the next two years at affordable rates of $6 and $8.8 million with a team option of $12 million for 2018 which covers his age 28-31 seasons.

Alex Wood - Braves

Wood is more of a dream candidate than a realistic one perhaps. The Braves had focused recently it seems on stockpiling arms as almost all their trades recently have been for pitchers.

Wood is young, good, and controllable but he's also on a woeful Braves teams that is selling off assets and don't necessarily project to be good for the next several years.

Wood isn't arb eligible until after next season and won't be free agent eligible until 2020.

His teammate Julio Teheran is the more known name, but Wood is the same age, projects to be better, and will likely be cheaper over similar control lengths (Julio signed a 6 year,$32 million deal in 2014).

Mat Latos - Marlins

When I first thought about Latos I was initially underwhelmed. I was thinking about his decling strikeout rate, drop off in velocity, and his increasing walk rate. However, this year Latos has been as good as his "prime" years in Cincy/San Diego. While his ERA looks scary (5.49) his FIP (3.61) is close to his career average (3.42) and better than the 3-win season he posted at age 24 (3.85). In fact by xFIP, he's not that far off this year (3.86) from his near 5-win season in 2013 (3.56).

His velocity is also trending up a bit.

Latos will be just a rental as he's finally due for free agency next winter and it seems like he's been pitching forever (he debuted at 21) and has over 1000 innings under his belt.

Miami has their ace Jose Fernandez returning soon, but they are 11.5 games behind the Nationals.

Mike Fiers - Brewers

Fiers is the final candidate here. He's on the black hole that is the Brewers, but is one of the better projected players on that club that needs to have a fire sale soon. He's not eligible for free agency until the 2020 winter.

The summary of this article: Don't try to go sexy, Royals. Trade for valuable assets. Don't pay above sticker price because of name. Sexy is nice, and sexy is usually pretty good, but it doesn't always mean it's the best choice considering what you have to give up and spend to acquire it.

The world needs VW Passats.

Clayton Kershaw - Dodgers

Wait what?...no.