The Royals are on the verge of post-season contention. The team has climbed over .500 and now trail Boston and Baltimore by 6.5 games for the final Wild Card spot. Dayton Moore has publicly stated his confidence that this team can make a run, justifying his lack of movement at the August 1 trade deadline.
The August 1 "trade deadline" is a bit of a misnomer. Technically, teams can still make trades, it is just a bit more difficult. Players can be traded if (a) they clear waivers, giving each team a shot to claim them; or (b) they are claimed by a team, and the Royals trade him to that team. Typically, most players in baseball are placed on "revocable waivers" this time of year, meaning if they are claimed, they can be "pulled back", allowing them to stay on the roster. So if you hear the Royals placed Eric Hosmer on waivers this week, don’t fear they are losing their All-Star first baseman, if he is claimed, the Royals can simply rescind their waiver request.
If a player clears waivers, they can be traded. Joakim Soria cleared waivers this week, meaning he can be traded to any team. If a player is claimed by a team, the original team can either work out a trade with that team in the next two days, or the original team can let the player go to that team, and the new team takes on the contract. The waiver order is the reverse order of the standings, giving the Royals the advantage over their fellow contenders, since the Royals will get to put in a claim before teams with better records.
It is very rare for very good players to be traded in August, more likely teams acquire role players like in 2014 when the Royals acquired Josh Willingham, or in 2015 when they acquired Jonny Gomes. However, the fifth-starter issues for the Royals are well-documented, and the Royals could use an upgrade over Dillon Gee, even with his fine start last night. While Mike Minor and Jason Vargas are rehabbing, there is no guarantee they will be healthy or effective in September. The Royals could try Matt Strahm in the rotation, which would probably mean they need to add some bullpen depth. With that in mind, here are a few players the Royals could be interested in for an August trade.
Ervin Santana, Twins
The Twins supposedly had a high asking price for Santana at the deadline, but with no one biting, they could be more motivated to move him to get a look at some younger pitchers. Santana has been good this year with a 3.43 ERA and 3.79 FIP, but the former Royals pitcher is owed $27 million over the next two seasons, which could allow him to pass through waivers.
The 33-year old Santana has done a good job suppressing home runs this year, something Royals pitchers have struggled with. He is averaging over six innings per start and has been relatively healthy. He has a 1.84 ERA over his last ten starts, so there may be some demand for his services if he clears waivers. The long-term contract may be a more appealing gamble for the Royals in 2017 than bringing back Edinson Volquez.
James Shields, White Sox
Another former Royals pitcher that may be of interest is James Shields. Shields has a massive deal through 2018, but with the Padres picking up a lot of that salary, any new team would only have to pay less than $27 million over the next two seasons, with the White Sox possibly eating even more of that deal. The problem with Shields is that he has been just awful this year. He has a 5.78 ERA between San Diego and Chicago and the fourth-highest home run rate in baseball among qualified starters. He put up a good month of July, but has been particularly putrid in August, giving up 21 runs in three starts.
Shields has been durable and was praised for his leadership in the Royals clubhouse when they made their pennant run in 2014. Perhaps the Royals feel like they can adjust his mechanics to get him back to the success he enjoyed before this season, when he put up a 3.74 ERA in ten seasons. Still, Shields has had a significant velocity drop this season, and with his inconsistencies, he may not upgrade this rotation.
Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies
The Phillies were offering Hellickson at the deadline, but their high demands scared off any suitors. The Iowa native has pitched well in his first year in Philadelphia with a 3.65 ERA and 7.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings. He can be a bit home run-prone, and he had an ERA of 5.00 in his last two years in the American League in 2013-2014. Hellickson has averaged less than six innings per start, so he is not quite an innings-eater.
With Hellickson eligible for free agency following the season, the Phillies may drop their asking price to get some compensation for Hellickson before he leaves. He likely won’t clear waivers with so many teams having interest in him, but the Royals would have priority in waivers and could make a claim to work out a trade.
Jhoulys Chacin, Angels
Chacin was acquired from the Braves earlier this summer, but has been pretty awful with the Angels this year, recently losing his rotation spot. He has a 5.92 ERA overall, but has significantly underperformed his FIP of 4.50. He has struck out 7.0 per nine innings, and has been BABIP-unlucky at .322. He has some command issues, but has flashed a plus slider that he should probably throw more often. He is an impending free agent and would cost the Royals pretty much nothing to acquire, so if they feel they can work with him to improve his results, he might be worth a flyer.
Others: Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco, Jorge de la Rosa
Jim Johnson, Braves
The Royals could use some more bullpen depth with Wade Davis out, particularly if they move Matt Strahm to the rotation. Jim Johnson has resurrected his career in Atlanta with a 3.53 ERA and 10 saves, while striking out nearly a hitter per inning. He could be in some demand, but the Royals could put in a claim for the right-hander and work out a trade. Johnson is an impending free agent and earns $2.5 million this year.
Ryan Madson, Athletics
The former Royals pitcher has been decent in Oakland, with a 3.38 ERA and 7.5 strikeouts-per nine innings, but the A’s would probably like to shed the two years and $15 million remaining on his deal. Madson is 35 and an injury risk, and with the Royals already paying Soria a lot of money, a reunion with Madson seems unlikely.
Blake Wood, Reds
Another reliever the Royals could reunite with is former third-round pick Blake Wood. Wood, who has had injury problems throughout his career, has turned up in Cincinnati, where he has a 3.47 ERA in 57 innings. He has struck out 60 hitters, but has struggled with command, walking 5.1 hitters-per-nine innings. The right-hander has allowed just a .353 slugging percentage to opponents all year, not an easy task pitching in the bandbox of Cincinnati. Wood has some controllable years left, but the Reds may want to sell high on him now.
Blaine Boyer, Brewers
The right-hander has been solid the last three seasons, despite ridiculously low strikeout rates. He has a 50% groundball rate, and has given up just two home runs all year, one of the lowest home run rates in baseball. Boyer came up through the Braves system when Dayton Moore was an executive there so he has some familiarity with him, although it was over a decade ago. The 35-year old should not cost much in money or prospects and is a free agent this winter.
Others: David Hernandez, Eric O'Flaherty, Daniel Hudson