The rumor mill is starting to heat up in anticipation of the July 31 trade deadline. Last year the Royals made two bold moves, picking up Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, two trades that proved to be vital in winning a championship. This year the Royals could be buyers, but likely lack the trade chips they used last year to land the big impact players they acquired last year.
There have been a few rumors - whispers, really - of players the Royals may be interested in. Let's try to make sense of the word on the street.
The 31-year old left-handed hitting outfielder is having a fine season for San Diego, hitting .296/.345/.407, and he comes with a skillset that would play well in Kauffman Stadium. Jay puts the ball in play with a 6.8% career walk rate and 16.3% strikeout rate. He has little power, but can run a little bit and plays adequate outfield defense. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that Padres outfielder Jon Jay should draw interest from clubs, speculating that the Royals could be a team interested in him.
Another popular trade target is Padres center fielder Jon Jay, who entered Friday hitting .292 with an NL-leading 22 doubles. Don’t be surprised if the Red Sox, Royals, and Blue Jays take an interest in him.
It is unclear of Cafardo knows the Royals are looking for an outfielder, or he is simply speculating they need one because Alex Gordon was out for awhile, and he has never heard of Paulo Orlando. With Gordon having returned, the Royals look set in left- and center-field, and Orlando will likely continue playing right-field as long as his batting average is well north of .300. Jarrod Dyson and Brett Eibner make for some good depth, so it is hard to see how Jay would exactly fit. Perhaps the Royals are just doing their due diligence in case Gordon or Cain goes down with injury, or in case Orlando suffers a second-half swoon as he did last year.
Cafardo repeats the rumor this week saying that the Royals are "in on every left-handed hitter." That could reflect frustration with Kendrys Morales, who had a .568 OPS this year as a left-handed hitter going into yesterday's game. While many fans will point to starting pitching being the most pressing concern, the offense has underachieved as well, and the Royals have scored the third-fewest runs in the American League this year.
Melvin Upton, Jr.
Jon Heyman reports that the Royals are indeed looking for outfield help, and in addition for repeating the Jon Jay speculation, adds another name from San Diego - outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr.
The Royals are looking for outfield help. Jon Jay and Melvin Upton Jr. could be possibilities.
Although Upton has revived his career a bit, hitting .261/.312/.424 with 11 HR 36 RBI, he makes far less sense than Jay. He is owed about $8 million the remainder of this season, plus $16.45 million next year, a financial obligation the Royals can almost certainly not afford to take on. The Padres could eat some of that money, but they would require the Royals to give up a better prospect to do so, which the Royals can also not afford to do.
Upton is a player that strikes out a ton - over 25%. He has also been benched a few times for failing to hustle, causing spats with teammates. He is a very talented player who can hit for power, run a bit, and play solid defense. But his contract and his clubhouse issues make him very unlikely to end up in Kansas City.
Cafardo reported this week the Royals are looking at Valencia, who played 36 games with the Royals in 2014. Valencia is having a career year in Oakland, hitting .327/.377/.541 with 11 HR 30 RBI, and could fill in at third base, to fill in for the injured Mike Moustakas, as well as the outfield or designated hitter. Valencia is owed $3 million for the entire season, making him affordable for the Royals, and he is under club control through 2017.
It would not require a great haul to land Valencia, due to his inconsistent track record, although Valencia has been a solid hitter for two seasons in a row. He was let go by the Blue Jays last summer, although there are rumors Valencia has been a clubhouse irritation for some clubs. That is possibly why the Royals traded him in 2014 for pitcher Liam Hendriks and catcher Erik Kratz, although perhaps they feel they can absorb his personality with their clubhouse now. While Cheslor Cuthbert has filled in very well at third base for the Royals, Valencia could be a "Ben Zobrist-type" to fill in all over the field, as need be. However with his clubhouse background and his poor defense, it seems unlikely the Royals would want a second tour with him.
I threw a little something out on Twitter the other day about the Royals having interest in Sean Doolittle from the A’s, so I wanted to expand on that a bit. I’m really not sure how deep the interest is, but multiple people who would know some things have mentioned the connection to me.
Doolittle was the closer that allowed the game-tying rally in the ninth inning of the 2014 Wild Card Game. He has been an otherwise solid reliever, when healthy, which he was not for much of 2015. Doolittle missed all but the last month of the season last year with a small tear in his rotator cuff. This year, he has been healthier with a 2.93 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings to 2.3 walks-per-nine innings.
Signs point to the Athletics having a farm sale this summer, so it would not be surprising to see Doolittle made available. It may seem odd that the Royals, who lead the Major Leagues in bullpen ERA, would consider trading for a reliever. But consider that the Royals currently do not have a proven left-handed reliever in their bullpen, using Scott Alexander and Brian Flynn in limited action. The Royals have also had some inconsistency from Joakim Soria, and the Royals may want to hedge their bets, remembering how they lost All-Star closer Greg Holland to injury near the end of last year. With a thin minor league system, the Royals may figure they have a better chance acquiring a shutdown reliever than a starting pitcher of any impact.
The Royals badly need starting pitching, but likely won't be able to make the splash they did last year in landing Johnny Cueto. The starting pitchers that might be available as "rentals" before hitting free agency are a rather underwhelming group of pitchers. If would make more sense for the Royals to pursue a young pitcher who would be under club control for a few seasons. However, most good pitchers under that category will require a good haul of prospects, which the Royals lack.
DaveO at Clubhouse Conversation mentioned that Reds pitcher Dan Straily is a name he has heard from Royals contacts.
Dan Straily is the guy I keep hearing whispers about from within the organization when it comes to pitching. Have heard nothing of 3B, tho.— Clubhouse Convo (@royalsclubhouse) June 24, 2016
Straily makes sense as the kind of starting pitcher the Royals might pursue - fairly young (27), having a decent season (3.83 ERA/4.34 FIP), but with enough red flags that he won't require a bounty to acquire. Straily began with the Athletics and was a 1.8 WAR pitcher in 2013, according to Fangraphs, with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts. But he has bounced around since then due to command issues, going from the Cubs to the Astros to the Reds. His walk numbers are a bit high - 3.73 per-nine-innings for his career, but he can miss bats. With starting pitching being such a great need, any upgrade would be most welcome, so finding an undervalued asset with some upside that can fill in the rotation may be the best play.