The trade deadline is over, with the Royals making waves with their acquisitions of Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. We gathered our package of writers together to offer to other clubs, but in the end held onto them for this roundtable discussion.
What do you like most about the Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist deals? What is your biggest reservation about them?
Josh Duggan: The only starting pitcher on the block I might have preferred to Johnny Cueto was David Price, and expecting an intradivisional deal to be struck for Price was wishful thinking. Ben Zobrist is precisely the bat that filled the Royals' holes. While dealing prospects may hurt in the future, the Royals' window is one that's likely closing soon.
Whining about the likes of Sean Manaea and Brandon Finnegan--or worse, one of the other lesser prospects moved in the trades--when the return was Cueto and Zobrist is absurd. Preciously holding onto every last prospect who has even shred of a chance at making a 25-man roster sometime in the future is something many Royals fans have been conditioned to believe is the key to building a contender, but that ignores where the Royals are on the win curve. When a team is this close to a shot at a World Series victory, to do anything less than push every last chip into the center and see how the cards fall would have been a mistake, especially when that team has glaring holes like the Royals do.
Kevin Ruprecht: I like that the Royals identified their two biggest needs and then went out and got two of the best players to satisfy those needs. I don't really have reservations about them. Manaea and Finnegan could turn into good players, but at this point I'm willing to make the tradeoff.
Joshua Ward: I like that they vastly improve the team for the next three months. I like that I get to see two players that I have admired for a really long time play in a Kansas City uniform. I like that it was Johnny Cueto, a wiggling ball of personality. I like that it was Ben Zobrist, who was the perfect player for Dayton Moore to target and acquire. I suppose I have a pair of reservations. The first being Sean Manaea, who was by most accounts going to be major-league ready within the next calendar year, was the Royals top-rated pitcher (or prospect, depending on whose rankings you read), and felt a bit excessive to acquire Zobrist at the time.
The second reservation is playoff tickets. No, it was how they were going to utilize Ben Zobrist in the field. So far, I'm not a fan. But it's a quibble. When Gordon is back, if they continue insisting on playing Infante, then it is an issue.
Max Rieper: I love the deals. I think if you have a team in this position you have to maximize their probabilities of success in the post-season, and the Royals had some pretty glaring holes that Dayton addressed with these moves. I thought the Reds package had three decent, but low-ceiling prospects I was comfortable giving up. I was less thrilled about giving up Sean Manaea in the Oakland deal as I love his upside, but he also has some major red flags in his resume. At the very least, the Royals got back two excellent players in return, and you have to give up talent to get talent.
Is is possible Sean Manaea becomes an All-Star pitcher and the Royals flop in the first round of the playoffs? Sure. But this was a gamble worth taking.
Matthew LaMar: Overall, I'm ecstatic about them. That the KANSAS CITY ROYALS went out and got the most coveted pitcher on the market as well as the most coveted hitter on the market has been astounding. I thought the trade for Cueto was a steal, as Kansas City wasn't interested in utilizing John Lamb or Brandon Finnegan effectively themselves, but they were still able to maximize their value. The Zobrist deal was possibly an overpay, as I really like Sean Manaea. But the Royals have a clean path to the ALDS and no real juggernauts exist in the American League. This might be the best chance the Royals get in decades for returning to the World Series, so to see Dayton Moore go for it has been exciting.
Shaun Newkirk: Everyone should be familiar with my reservations about these trades, mainly Sean Manaea. Many people balked at trading Mondesi for Cueto or Zobrist, but Manaea was my Mondesi as I ranked him our #1 prospect. What has he done since?
13 IP 16K 2BB 4 ER
Also would have rather seen Cody Reed stay too. What has he done?
15 IP 18K 4BB 1 ER
I would rather have gone after a duo of good pitchers rather than Cueto while getting similar value (through removing Guthrie/Young from the rotation) and giving up less. I'm actually okay with the Cueto trade to be honest (though again would have liked to keep Reed) in regards to what we gave up, but my qualms about Zobrist having a smaller impact still remain, especially since the Royals are utilizing him incorrectly so far. I would have rather the Royals gone after Tyson Ross or someone with longer than 3 months of control too.
What I like is simple though: two pretty dang good players.
Did the trades last week change your opinion of Dayton Moore at all? Has this season?
Matthew LaMar: I think it must, if only to add a page to his playbook in the 'deadline deal' section-we now know he is unafraid to make a move. However, utilization of Zobrist in particular may backfire on him if he doesn't replace Infante after Alex Gordon's glorious return. Moore has his flaws, but bad general managers don't usually luck their way into this kind of success.
Max Rieper: Last week didn't really change my opinion, I suspected he would be aggressive at the deadline, and all the rumors had him shopping in the "good player" aisle, not the "Marlon Byrd/Dillon Gee" clearance aisle. The season has changed my opinion of him quite a bit. I'm willing to give him much more of the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it comes to homegrown players. He still overpays for mediocre free agents, but at least Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales have been useful. His prowess at assembling a bullpen can not be matched, ask any Tigers fan how hard that can be.
There is also something to be said about roster assemblage, which we have criticized him for in the past. But this year's team really seems to fit well together, something that can't be said for the disappointing San Diego Padres or even the Cleveland Indians.
Josh Duggan: It would be hard to argue that I was not among the most vocal in wanting a change in the front office. Winning is quite the panacea for such displeasure. There are still many decisions this front office makes that baffle, irritate, or infuriate me; but if the Royals win a World Series their way, it would be asinine of me to whine about the ideological differences between how I would have done it versus how Moore and Company got the job done.
Kevin Ruprecht: The Royals continued near-dominance over the AL has me thinking if there are any gaps in public sabermetrics that team analysts have identified and figured out how to exploit. We have a pretty large sample size of the Royals being very good despite public underlying metrics suggesting they shouldn't be very good. My gut says no, but again the sample size is large. As far as Dayton Moore goes...nah.
Joshua Ward: What was my opinion of Dayton Moore beforehand? Right, that he is a decent evaluator of major league talent, he knows how to build a farm system, but doesn't necessarily know how to convert that talent into consistent production at the highest level, he's overly-loyal with his guys (Though this is a Yost issue, perhaps more so than a Moore issue, but they seem pretty simpatico), and he has a hard time letting sunk costs dive into the abyss, constantly attempting to salvage what little remains, to the detriment of the team.
Kendrys Morales worked out (so far). Chris Young worked out. Alex Rios didn't (but mitigating circumblahblahs). Ryan Madson has been great. Drew Butera/Erik Kratz has not. Omar Infante still has a bad deal for two more years, as does Jason Vargas. We'll see what happens with Guthrie, though I'm pretty confident he won't be around. Maybe they'll find a decent backup catcher so they can actually give Perez consistent time off. Brayan Pena is a free agent this winter... So, no, not really. Maybe a modest improvement. This winter will tell me a lot more about him than the last year has, because he's going to have to figure out how to make it work when he's brushing up against a limited payroll before he dips his toes into free agency. I'm interested to see what he does with Gordon, Holland, Infante, and Davis.
Shaun Newkirk: I'm not sure what it has done in my opinion of Moore to be honest. I don't think he's a very good GM and he has his flaws (mainly free agency) but it's hard to argue with a winning product, however there is an argument with how long it's taken.
Dayton is the sixth longest tenured GM in baseball and really he's higher than that when you remove stallwarts who aren't going to leave until they retire or die in Billy Beane and Brian Sabean and yet last season (and likely this year) represent the only bright spot(s) of his tenure.
We saw the team get into it with another club last weekend. Will this have repercussions for the Royals?
Josh Duggan: Probably not. At this point, I don't know that the benches have cleared for the Royals any more than they have for other teams. Their incidents were front-loaded and happened to involve teams and players who they faced in their run through last postseason. The media wants to push their dumb, unwittingly racially tinged narrative. They will continue to do so because it is easy and lazy. This is the way rivalries are born, and good teams have rivalries. Shocking as it is to type, the Royals are a good team. Just as the Royals of yore had the Yankees, Angels, etc., these Royals will likely have heated series with teams who are shooting for the same rarefied air.
Matthew LaMar: No.
Joshua Ward: Probably not. But maybe. Definitely will or will not. Not much came out of the Oakland series rematch in June, nothing really came of the White Sox series after the All-Star break, and there really isn't even a history with Toronto in the past...twenty-five years? Though, if they do meet again, it will be in the postseason, which is a whole other thing I suppose. It's all kind of silly to me. The only repercussions I can really see is what has been passed around this past week, this reinforcement of the narrative that the Royals are somehow the bad guys because they've had one fight and the benches have cleared three other times. It takes a frail mind and a fragile disposition to presume that is some sort of pattern of behavior when it takes two hands to count the number of teams who have been involved in that many dust-ups this season.
Kevin Ruprecht: No. Media is blowing it up because people will click on it.
Max Rieper: I'm sure it will get mentioned a lot if the Royals face the Jays in October, but these kind of things tend to fizzle out.
Shaun Newkirk: No comment except for that baseball players are stupid and why would you ever intentionally hit somebody.
How do you see the rotation shaking out the rest of the season?
Joshua Ward: Cueto Ventura Volquez Duffy Hopes and Prayers
Josh Duggan: Ned Yost and the club continue to leave me scratching my head on this front. And in right field. And at second base. And in their inability to get Jarrod Dyson into the lineup. If I had any idea where the rotation was going to stand at the end of the season past Cueto and Edinson Volquez being in there (presuming health), a large sum of money would have been wagered on that notion while I was in Vegas last week.
Such things need to be dictated by performance. That Jeremy Guthrie is still pitching while Chris Young has been relegated to the pen shows that performance apparently does not matter as much as it should--though there is a defensible argument for moving Young to the pen if it's for preservation/health-related reasons, something [that to my knowledge] no one has indicated was the rationale for the move. In the right park, Young is their third-best starting pitcher. At Kauffman or other non-bandboxes, the rotation should be Cueto, Volquez, Young, and then either Duffy or Ventura, though the latter two are still almost entirely frustrating. And Guthrie is still pitching.
Kevin Ruprecht: Cueto, Volquez, Ventura, Duffy, Warm Body
Matthew LaMar: What I hope: Cueto, Volquez, Duffy, Ventura, anybody but Jeremy Guthrie What will happen: Cueto Volquez, Duffy, Ventura, Guthrie Oh well.
Max Rieper: Guthrie will probably hang around all season, but I predict he will get left off the post-season roster. He'll still be in the clubhouse to provide his sage wisdom and emit valuable clubhouse presence, but they will not let him pitch in games. I don't see Kris Medlen getting any starts this year and Chris Young will probably stay in the bullpen until there's an injury to a starter.
Shaun Newkirk: Cueto, Volquez, Ventura, Duffy, He Who Shall Not Be Named.
What team poses the greatest threat to the Royals at this point?
Matthew LaMar: I think the Yankees, Astros, and Blue Jays are bad matchups for KC. All have power and play in stadiums that amplify that power. Home field advantage will be a big deal.
Kevin Ruprecht: The Astro-Jays. The home-run hitting team with better pitching that also made trades at the deadline.
Max Rieper: I'm not on the Blue Jays hype-wagon, I think they still have glaring concerns in their starting rotation, and their bullpen is still a bit suspect. They have been a terrible road team that cannot hit away from the comfort of Rogers Centre. The Yankees and Astros both have played poorly away from home as well, with sharp declines in power away from their home short porches. But the Astros have the pitching to at least keep it close with the Royals, and guys like Jose Altuve and George Springer (when he returns from injury) can hit anywhere.
Joshua Ward: Themselves, I guess. At this point, the Royals are fighting for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, as the Twins made the smart decision to stand pat on their roster, and Detroit sold off their best pieces for hope. Kansas City is three games up on New York and two up on Houston, both of whom play a style of baseball tailor-made for their home parks.
Shaun Newkirk: Themselves. They still need to win baseball games. The Royals have one of the easiest projected schedules for the rest of the season.
Josh Duggan: Given their monstrous offense and the acquisitions of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, it would be hard to deny that the biggest threat to the Royals in the American League is the Blue Jays. The Yankees have holes and are relying upon the continued health of a handful of very injury-prone players; the Astros' run production is feast-or-famine and has not fared particularly well on the road; the Angels' rotation is dodgy, and their offense consists of three players and then a bunch of finger-crossing;
The rest of the contenders are just not as worrisome. The Jays had the best offense in baseball by a wide margin before they traded for Tulowitzki. If they get homefield advantage in a series, it is hard not to see that offense score more than their pitching and defense allows. They absolutely crush at home but are much closer to league average on the road. The Royals should be hoping that they not only have the AL's best record, but that the Jays win the AL East and have to face the other division winner while the Wild Card winner comes to the K.
What pitfalls do the Royals need to avoid the rest of the way to clinch a playoff spot?
Kevin Ruprecht: Giving the most amount of playing time to the worst players.
Matthew LaMar: I'm not really sure that there is a realistic situation in which they don't win the AL Central, which is weird to say. Key injuries would be a killer, but that is true for every single playoff-hopeful team in the history of baseball.
Max Rieper: The offense has been much better than last year, and they really need to avoid regressing to last year's numbers to avoid a collapse. They have done a good job avoiding a major offensive slump, and with the depth in their lineup now, I think they have hedged their bets against everyone going into a month-long funk.
Joshua Ward: Injury. The equal tragedy of mice and men is the uncertainty of time and the hands that move it, and I don't think there isn't a single Royals fan who isn't overly concerned with Alcides Escobar's ankles, Lorenzo Cain's knees, or Salvador Perez's complete lack of production in the past month, which is possibly due to being overworked the past two-plus years.
Josh Duggan: Other than spewing a bunch of tired sports cliches, it would seem that all the Royals need to do to make the playoffs is avoid complete implosion or injury to multiple key contributors. It's hard to imagine them blowing a 9.5 game lead in the division on the Twins, who have been pretty bad since their hot May, or at 10.5 game lead on the Tigers, who just sold off David Price and Yoenis Cespedes. Whether they maintain the league's best record is another matter entirely, but that was not the questions. The playoffs seem as much a certainty as they can with 55 games left in the season.
Shaun Newkirk: Whatever Ned Yost did with his final stretch with the Brewers. Most importantly though, stop letting Jeremy Guthrie pitch for them.