With problems in the rotation, one avenue for improvement is the trade market. However, the same story was a story last year. The Royals completed that story with a World Series championship, but they acquired Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto in the process, giving up a fair number of pitching prospects. Here is how some of those players are doing so far.
Traded to the Reds for Cueto, Finnegan has not quite found his footing in Cincy. Like a lot of the Royals rotation this year, Finnegan is having problems with control. In his 64 innings as a starter, all with the Reds, Finnegan has a double-digit walk rate and not the strikeout rate to cancel it out.
Finnegan also has a huge problem with his batted ball distribution. With a ground ball rate of 42.1 percent, he leans slightly fly ball over grounder. That's a definite problem for his home stadium - the Great American Ballpark in Cincy is a bandbox. There really isn't a large enough sample size yet to determine if that is currently hurting him, but the theory is sound.
Overall, his HR/FB of 19.1 percent as a starter shows he just gives up a lot of solid contact. So far, Finnegan reminds me a bit of Danny Duffy without the contact management skills. His ERA and peripherals are all bad -- 4.50 ERA / 5.62 FIP / 4.61 xFIP. Despite the poor performance, he leads the Reds in starts and innings pitched. Finnegan is only 23, so there is still plenty of time for him to figure it out.
Also included in the trade for Cueto, John Lamb has seen a little more success in the majors compared to Finnegan. Lamb has made only two starts this year, but he made 10 starts last year. He has 59.2 innings in the majors so far, all with the Reds.
His strikeout and walk rates are much better than Finnegan's, and that shows in his peripherals -- 4.16 FIP and 3.98 xFIP. However, Lamb's been unlucky to the tune of a .352 BABIP and 5.13 ERA.
At a grounder rate of 35.3 percent, he is much more fly-ball-leaning than Finnegan. Given that his home park is the same as Finnegan's it will be interesting to see if he can continue to suppress homers like he has so far. He got a fair number of popups last year as shown by his 14.3 percent IFFB rate, so maybe there's a chance for him to be a decent contact manager.
Reed was the third and final pitcher included in the Cueto deal. He is yet to see the majors, but like Finnegan he is still quite young (just turned 23). He started in AA with the Reds, throwing 49.2 innings last year with a 2.17 ERA and 2.24 FIP. He struck out nearly 30 percent of batters and severely limited dingers.
Reed's performance last year earned him a promotion to AAA this year, and he has continued right where he left off. He is not striking out 30 percent of batters, but he is walking fewer and still limiting home runs. He has a 1.88 ERA and 2.51 FIP. This is through only 28.2 innings over five starts, so there's still some for variation and talent to suss out what's going on.
Alfredo Simon is the only Reds starter over the age of 30; there is a youth movement going on in Cincy. They've put nine different guys on the hill as they work to determine who is worth keeping in the rotation and who is depth/bullpen fodder. Reed will almost certainly see an opportunity should he continue pitching in AAA at this level of performance.
Manaea went to the Athletics in the Ben Zobrist trade. At age 24, he was a prized prospect in the system and has shown that status in the Athletics minor league system. In AA and AAA across 2015 and 2016, Manaea made 10 starts and threw 60.2 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA and sub-3.00 FIP.
That performance earned him a quick call-up to the majors this year. Manaea has made only three starts and has not performed well in any of them. He's gone a maximum of only five innings while giving up a minimum of four runs. His most recent start, May 10th against Boston, saw him give up eight runs in only 2.2 innings.
Royals fans are relatively familiar with Brooks' MLB body of work. Brooks made four appearances with the Royals and was generally Very Bad. His major league debut, May 3rd of 2014 against Detroit, saw him give up six runs in two innings of relief. Brooks made his first MLB start against the Blue Jays later that month and gave up seven runs and did not complete an inning.
Brooks pieced together a few decent starts with the A's, but he's mostly been bad. The A's ended up trading Brooks to the Cubs for Chris Coghlan, who has also been bad.
He is yet to throw a pitch in 2016; he was placed on the DL on April 4th with a hip contusion. Whenever he does make his debut, it will most likely be with the Cubs' AAA affiliate.
Theoretically, these fellows would have been the front line of reinforcements this year had they been kept. Of course, there is no way of knowing how they would have performed had they stayed with the Royals, but their performance to date does not cause much remorse.