It's trade deadline season again!
For those of us who send our fingers scattering over a keyboard to create content about baseball, this is a familiar time of year, as it also is for those keen on baseball and who often read said words. But some of you just clicked on this article accidentally, or maybe your great aunt posted this on Facebook with some vaguely racist comment and you were just curious. Maybe you like watching the Kansas City Royals but don't quite get the weird ins and outs of baseball season.
Don't fear, peoples of the world. This is a primer full of all the questions you wanted to ask your coworkers about but didn't because you didn't want to seem stupid. Well, not all of them. I can't help you with the copy machine, but I can help you with what trade deadline stuff.
So, when is the trade deadline?
This year, it is August 1. It is a soft deadline, as deals can still be made after the deadline due to intricacies regarding roster rules and the waiver system. For instance, the 2014 Royals acquired Josh Willingham after the trade deadline. But most deals, and certainly the big ones, happen before the deadline. To trade a player after August 1 requires that player to clear waivers, meaning every team gets a chance to claim him, and good players typically don't clear waivers.
Why don't they just trade Alex Smith already? You can't win a championship without a good quarterback!
Wrong team, brovelone cheese.
Oh. Sorry. So why is the trade deadline a big deal?
As they say, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Teams do their best to build a contender in the offseason, but sometimes things happen. Injuries, underperformance, overperformance, and other teams' records can impact a team both positively and negatively. As such, teams looking towards the playoffs often look to add key players to shore up a weakness or add a strength. Some of these teams, like the 2015 Royals, are almost locks to get to the playoffs, and are looking for players to put them over the top. Other teams, like the 2015 Astros, are looking for players to get them to the playoffs.
For every buyer, there must be a seller. Teams looking to sell are out of the playoff race and are interested on cashing in on valuable stock. Usually, these teams look to acquire minor leaguers or cost-controlled assets that will be valuable to them when they need to win down the line. There's no reason to have a nice grand piano when your house is falling apart.
But why don't teams do this earlier in the season and get their targeted player for longer?
The simple answer is that humans are awful and procrastinate to no end. We all know Christmas is December 25. We know it will be December 25 next year, too, and the year after that. It doesn't stop anybody from shopping on December 23 in St. Joseph on their way to family in Omaha.
The longer answer is that baseball is a long season, and overreacting based on early events is a good way to lose your job. If you're making a big decision, you want to have the best data available, which means waiting until you have to make the decision one way or the other. Plus, there's no need to pay for what you don't need, and sometimes you don't know how an injury or the like could affect your team immediately.
I just don't understand why you would willingly trade away a good player. That just seems stupid.
Look, I was hoping to avoid this, but repeat after me: it takes talent to get talent. Go ahead.
It takes talent to get talent.
Good. When I was a kid, I had a friend who would trade Legos with me. He was, like, nine, and he swindled me out of some good pieces because I was a stupid six year-old who didn't know any better.
Front offices are not like that. They are all varying levels of brilliant, and so they do not to blatantly terrible trades just because. The Royals are not going to get Mike Trout for Chris Young and Yordano Ventura. That's not how it works. It takes talent to get talent, because otherwise it wouldn't be a fair trade, and executives in charge of multi-million dollar franchises are reasonably incentivized to make fair trades.
So are the Royals buyers or sellers?
Bingo! You've asked the question of the day and get the afternoon prize. Barbara, let's get it over here quick.
As for the answer...
The Royals could be buyers or sellers. You can make the case that they could be realistic buyers--They're hanging around .500 and are a half dozen games or so away from both Wild Card slots. They're getting Lorenzo Cain back soon, Alex Gordon won't likely be as bad as he has been going forward, and they've already made an upgrade at second base by going with Whit Merrifield over the burned out Omar Infante.
At the same time, the Royals are hanging around .500 with a run differential significantly in the red with one of the American League's worst starting rotations and worst offenses. Their core will be gone after next year, and they have an underwhelming farm system.
General Manager Dayton Moore has gone total sell mode (2006), total buy mode (2015), minor buy mode (2014), and minor sell mode (2011). He could do all kinds of things, including nothing, and it's not even clear whether the Royals should buy or sell. Moore is preparing either way, and is apparently looking into selling or buying depending on how the club does over the next week.
If the Royals sell, who would go?
If the Royals do sell, it probably won't be very interesting. As I said before, Kansas City still has its core for 2017, and will have Mike Moustakas back as well. So it's doubtful the Royals really lean into the sell mode thing.
Most likely, we'll see the departures of any and/or all of Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez, and Luke Hochevar. All of these players are free agents at the end of this year, and a switch-hitting bat, starting pitcher, and bullpen arm are the types of things that contending teams always need. They could get maybe a top 100 prospect and a handful of lottery tickets out of the three of them.
Now, the Royals could trade off other assets and get a bigger return. Wade Davis and Lorenzo Cain would be the two main ones, as Davis still has a case for best reliever of all time and Cain is a two-way player who can play all three outfield positions. Both players are also under control for next year. The Royals seem to have little problem getting arms for their bullpen, and they could go with defense-first outfielders to fill Cain's spot. Again--say it with me, folks--it takes talent to get talent, and dangling one of the core members on the team as leverage to get a better return is just the nature of the free market.
Well that's just depressing. What if the Royals buy?
The Royals' starting staff has the 13th worst ERA in the American League, the fewest innings pitched, and has allowed the most home runs despite playing half their games in Kauffman Stadium. The Royals' offense ranks 15th in the AL in walk rate, 15th in isolated slugging percentage, and are 14th in runs per game. There are 15 teams in the American League.
Considering these flaws, the Royals could look at a bunch of options. The Royals don't have the prospects to make a trade for a top-notch guy, and aren't willing to take on salary to accommodate that, but there are plenty of rentals to plug the leak for a bit. On the pitching side, the Royals have been linked to Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, Ervin Santana, and Jeremy Hellikcson. On the hitting side, the Royals have been mostly linked to outfielders, such as Josh Reddick, Nick Markakis, and Carlos Beltran.
When will we know for sure?
By the end of this homestand, it seems. There hasn't been all that much movement yet, so if there starts to be some falling dominoes then the Royals may be forced to make a move earlier. The market for relievers seems to be heating up with Aroldis Chapman in high demand, so the Royals may use that to set the market for Wade Davis if they are willing to move him. The starting pitching market looks awful, so Edinson Volquez may get more interest than usual. Either way, we'll know what direction the Royals are headed towards for sure by 3 p.m. CT on August 1.