The Royals look to be "regrouping" at the trade deadline, meaning they may trade away some of their players who are free agents at the end of the year, in an attempt to improve their team for 2017. The Royals should want to get some value out of these players before they lose them to free agency for nothing (unless they offer a Qualifying offer of $16.8 million, a risky proposition for a budget-conscious team like the Royals).
One soon-to-be free agent that should attract interest is starting pitcher Edinson Volquez. Volquez has had a down year if you look at ERA, but much of that is skewed by one awful start against Houston. If you take out that outlier, his ERA is 3.79, a bit above league average for a starting pitcher. His strikeout and walk rates and his FIP are just a tick worse than last year, and he has the post-season experience some teams may be interested in.
Other starting pitchers that may be on the block include Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Drew Smyly, Ervin Santana, Rich Hill, Andrew Cashner, and Ivan Nova. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark notes, it is the worst crop of available starting pitchers at the deadline in several years. With a lot of demand and not much supply, that could increase the asking price for Volquez. The Royals are said to want MLB-ready players in return, and will likely seek starting pitchers. Here are some teams that could be in play for Edinson Volquez this week.
Baltimore has the fourth-worst starting pitcher ERA in the American League, an issue that has plagued them the past few seasons. Free agent Yovani Gallardo has been a disaster and they are trying to rid themselves of Ubaldo Jimenez and his 7.38 ERA. Volquez could slot behind Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman to give the Orioles a plausible post-season rotation.
The Orioles have a thin system - they did not land a single player in MLB.com’s Top 100 midseason prospect list. Right-hander Hunter Harvey is probably the top pitching prospect, but he has been plagued with injuries in his short career and is only in low A ball. Could the Orioles part with former first-round pick Dylan Bundy? He has also had injury problems, but is finally healthy and producing in the bullpen for the Orioles. They might have to part with him if they expect a starter like Volquez.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have had a below-average rotation all season, but tried to remedy that a few weeks ago with the acquisition of Drew Pomeranz from San Diego. He joins David Price, Steven Wright, and Rick Porcello in the rotation, but they might benefit from having a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.
Henry Owens was once a top 50 prospect who has had trouble throwing strikes at higher levels, but could compete for a rotation spot next year. 28-year old Joe Kelly has been a disaster this year, but was a 2.6 rWAR pitcher in 2013 with St. Louis. Brian Johnson was once a Top 100 prospect, but has missed time this year to seek treatment for anxiety.
The Tigers are hovering near contention for a playoff spot, so it does not seem certain they will make much of a move at the trade deadline. The back of the rotation has been a mess with Mike Pelfrey being awful, Anibal Sanchez looking washed up, and Matt Boyd looking not quite ready.
The Tigers don’t have much upper-level talent to offer. Daniel Norris is probably a pitcher they want to hold onto, and Matt Boyd has too low of a ceiling to entice the Royals much. Kevin Ziomek could rise quickly once he returns from thoracic outlet syndrome.
The Marlins have been surprise contenders, in line for a Wild Card spot and trailing the Nationals by just 4.5 games for the division lead. The Marlins have been getting by with a rotation of just Wei-Yen Chen, Adam Conley, and Tom Koehler, but could use some more depth to get them to October.
The #Marlins are hopeful to get at least one starter in a trade, but are trying hard for two: one controllable/one rental possible.— Joe Frisaro (@JoeFrisaro) July 29, 2016
The problem for the Marlins is that their system is extremely thin. Perhaps the Royals would be interested in taking a flyer on Justin Nicolino or Jarred Cosart, two former top 100 prospects with some Major League experience who are stuck in their development.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Twelve different pitchers have started a game for the Dodgers this year and with Clayton Kershaw having back issues and Alex Wood out for some time, they could use some veteran depth. Volquez pitched briefly for the Dodgers in 2013 for their stretch run, and could slot in the middle of that rotation.
Jim Duquette writes that the Dodgers should be an option, writing:
Look for the Dodgers to shop elsewhere but circle back to the Royals if they come up empty, offering a righty pitching prospect like Frankie Montas or Walker Buehler -- the team's fourth- and eighth-best prospects, respectively -- as part of a package.
Montas has a broken rib, but could return to compete for a roster spot in 2017, while Buehler is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has yet to throw a professional pitch, making him unlikely as a target. The Dodgers do have a deep system of prospects as well as a few players with MLB experience that could be on the roster now like Micah Johnson. The Royals could target AAA pitchers like Brock Stewart or Trevor Oaks that could be in the rotation soon.
Volquez could return to Pittsburgh, where he enjoyed great success in 2014 under the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage. The Bucs have the fourth-worst starting ERA in the National League and are trying to hang on in the Wild Card race. Ace Gerrit Cole could use some help, and Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, and Jon Niese have all put up miserable numbers.
Righy Chad Kuhl came up for four starts and held his own, so the Pirates may be reluctant to let him go. MLB.com ranked Mitch Keller the #89 prospect in baseball, but the Iowa native is only in A ball. Alen Hanson is a former Top 100 prospect that has fallen off the radar, but could be worth a flyer.
San Francisco Giants
Volquez could reunite with Johnny Cueto in San Francisco to replicate the success they had last October with the Royals. The Giants have some name pitchers in their rotation, but Matt Cain has been a disaster and Jake Peavy has not been much better. Volquez could slot in behind Cueto and Madison Bumgarner. The question is - will there be bad blood between him and Jeff Samardzija?
The Giants don’t have a ton of higher-end talent in their farm system, but a few of their recent first-round picks could interest Kansas City. The Royals were reportedly linked to Phil Bickford before the 2015 draft and could target him now in a trade for Volquez. Tyler Beede has struggled a bit with command but is putting up decent numbers in AA and could be in a MLB rotation before too long.
The Rangers are the ones linked the most to Volquez, sending their front office braintrust to watch his last start in Kansas City. Texas has the third-worst starting rotation ERA in the league and they are missing Colby Lewis and Derek Holland for most of the rest of the year. The Rangers have the seventh-rated farm system according to Baseball America.
The Royals are likely to want someone in return who can compete for a rotation spot in 2017. The Rangers could offer a pitcher with some limited Major League success like Chi Chi Gonzalez, who had a 3.90 ERA in 67 MLB innings last year, or Nick Martinez, who had a 3.96 ERA in 125 MLB innings last year. Luis Ortiz is attractive as a high-upside prospect, but has made just seven starts above A ball and may not be ready by 2017.