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Finding trade partners and returns for the Royals assets

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MLB: Winter Meetings Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While it still remains to be seen if the Royals will go full rebuild mode (a decision that reportedly hangs onto the condition of Eric Hosmer’s free agency), the Kansas City front office is at least mulling it over. It’s the winter meetings currently, so it’s entirely possible a decision either way could arrive in the next few days. Perhaps the Royals get an offer too good to pass and in accepting it they are de-facto rebuilding.

In that vein, let’s try to come up with potential teams and possible returns for the Royals assets while we wait for the coin to land (though Max and I disagree on a few players trade values, you can find a relative ranking here). I’m going to try to democratize the love a bit, and spread out the players to different teams, even though several teams could suit many players.

Danny Duffy

Contract: 4/$60M

Age: 29

2017 fWAR: 3.4

2018 Projected fWAR: 2.1

Either Duffy or Perez below have the most trade value of any Royals player, but I think I’d give the nod to Perez. Either way, Duffy can pass for a team's #2 starter on most days, while on others he’s more like a #3. Either way, interest for his services should be abundant, even if his contract isn’t necessarily a great deal.

As you can see, Duffy is going to get a lot more expensive. This upcoming season, his salary will almost triple, going from $5M to $14M. For the next two years it might not be an issue, and you can certainly take the over on the WAR projection, but 29 year olds don’t typically get better unless they are Cliff Lee. Duffy has been worth ~2.5 wins over 180 innings his past few years, but he’s also never actually reached 180 innings in any season of his career. It’s almost a certainty that Duffy will need to spend some time on the DL this season unfortunately, but when he’s on the mound he’s a good pitcher.

Duffy carries a bit more name value than surplus value, so teams might pay a slight premium in excess of surplus value to acquire him.

Trade Partner: LA Angels

After landing Shohei Ohtani, the Angels look like true potential Wild Card contenders that if things break right for them (and wrong for the Astros) they could make a run at the division, although unlikely. Adding Duffy wouldn’t put them over the top, but it would keep them from relying on the services of J.C. Ramirez and Nick Tropeano over the course of the season. As an added Bonus, Duffy gets to return to his home state of California and play just a hundred miles from his hometown.

The Return: OF Brandon Marsh, RHP Chris Rodriguez, and SS Nonie Williams

The valuations are a bit wonky here, as I said that any team would likely be willing to pay a bit excess in surplus value for a name like Duffy.

Marsh is worth ~$20M (based on his assigned future value) on his own, so already we are above what Duffy is worth but he’s not a top 100 prospect and just finished a season in rookie ball, so he’s years away. We can discount that surplus value slightly, even if that’s baked in a bit with his FV. He’s a Royals player through-and-through. He was is an athletic, speed and power hitter, who was also a 2-sport athlete as a quarterback in high school.

Rodriguez has good stuff and decent velocity mixed with good results, but the delivery is a bit funky. While it isn’t detracting from location at the moment, it’s still a concern for some.

Nonie Williams got some buzz in 2016 that the Royals might draft him as a local kid. He was homeschooled out of Kansas City, Kansas (and played baseball out of Turner High School). He’s similar to Marten Gasparini in that he’s a young SS (Gasparini is now an outfielder technically) who is quick and a good fielder with some power, but there are issues surrounding is his tool.

I think Rany will be disappointed here. Quintana was quietly one of the best pitchers in baseball, and as friendly as you may think Duffy’s deal is (it isn’t really), Quintana’s was twice as better.

2013: 3.5 WAR

2014: 5.1 WAR

2015: 4.7

2016: 4.7

2017: 3.9 (1.9 with the White Sox before being traded).

Money owed to Quintana: 3.5/$32.8M

This is roughly Quintana’s value before he was traded

He was a not-old front line starter, locked up for cheap for several years. In other words, an extremely valuable asset. Duffy’s past four years on the other hand:

2013: 0.5

2014: 1.9

2015: 1.1

2016: 2.7

2017: 3.4

Duffy’s best season of his career is basically Jose Quintana’s worse, and Quintana did it twice, the other times being worth ~50% more. Did I mention he’s cheaper too? Also we should mention Quintana has reached the golden 200 inning mark four times in his career, and only missed it this year because he was traded, the Cubs locked a playoff spot with some time left, and Joe Maddon likes to be aggressive with his bullpen. Quintana has made 32 starts for five straight years. Did I mention he’s half the price of Duffy too?

Now I said I could understand not buying the projected numbers on Duffy, and I think I’d take the over on 2018, but you can also see why he’s projected for ~2 wins given his injury history. So I’ve made three different scenarios for Duffy as he enters the final four years of his contract.

The poor aging, which starts at a half-win lower baseline than his actual 2018 projection, sees him being worth -$33.5M in surplus value. Complete dead weight, similar to Ian Kennedy. That’s an unlikely scenario, but moreso because I don’t see those last two years as he being basically useless.

The medium aging, which starts at a half-win higher baseline than his actual 2018 projection, sees him being basically break even. That’s spot on with his actual projections, and while I did say I’d take the over on his actual 2.1 projection for next season, I think this scenario is pretty close.

The above aging, which starts at a win-and-a-half higher baseline than his actual 2018 projection, sees him being worth almost $40M in surplus value. That’s good enough to get you a 55 FV hitter (roughly a #30-70 ranked prospect) and a throw in, or 55 FV pitcher (#30-70) and a 50 FV (#70-100) hitter. I’d probably take the under on this scenario.

Realistically if you asked me, I’d say something along the lines of

I think the Royals could land themselves something like a 50 FV (#70-100) hitter and a 45 to fringe 50 FV pitcher (maybe a guy who is 50/50 on being a reliever or starter) based off that. In reality though, Duffy will get a premium for name brand, so I think a mid-list hitter and a backend pitcher would do it.

Salvador Perez

Contract: 4/$43M

Age: 28

2017 fWAR: 2.1

2018 Projected fWAR: 3.0

I think I’ll take the under on the 3-win projection, if only because Perez hasn’t been worth three wins since 2014 when he was 24 years old. That feels like 100,000 innings ago for Perez, who is simply overworked as a catcher. Despite being injured last year, he finished 3rd in the American League in innings caught. He is who he is as a hitter, oblivious to walks, partial to swinging at everything, but making good contact and he even as some newfound power. He remains a good defender behind the plate (excluding pitch framing).

Perez’s value looked even better before they willingly doubled his salary (but also picked up two extra years of control), but even still he should provide a decent amount of surplus value. Like I said, I’ll take the under on nine wins over the next three years, but it’s not an unreasonable projection.

Trade Partner: Boston Red Sox

Dave Dombrowski never met a prospect he liked, so it’s entirely reasonable that at any given second a prospect could go to the movies as Red Sox and leave the theater playing for another organization.

Right now, the Red Sox project to have the 24th best catching group in the majors, rolling out Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon. Neither one project to be anywhere near the hitter that Perez is, and are slightly worse defenders likely too. This wouldn’t be a massive upgrade for the Red Sox, but it would do enough to move the needle a couple wins perhaps. For a team at Boston’s point on the marginal win curve, two wins is huge and tough to come by.

The Return: 3B Michael Chavis, RHP Tanner Houck, OF Cole Brannen

With Rafael Devers at the likely long term incumbent at third base for the major league club, Chavis isn’t exactly fodder, but it’s tough at the moment to see his future. They would have to be willing to move him to either second when Pedroia retires or first base if they don’t sign someone else. Chavis spent some time in AA this year and hit well (114 wRC+ as a 21-year old. He played SS in high school but has moved to the hot corner where he’s...okay. Moving him to first base would likely waste his arm, but a move to second isn’t impossible. He’s a back-end top 100 prospect certainly.

Houck is another “local” guy as he played for Mizzou before being drafted in the first round this year. He has some premium stuff (fastball that hits 98 MPH and a sweepy slider), but his low 34 delivery that is almost sidearmed leaves him vulnerable to large platoon splits (though thankfully he’s on the good side of the platoon), increasing his chance to be a reliever.

Brannen isn’t a throw in, but more so a cherry on the top. He’s a bit in the Donnie Dewees mold where he’s a 50 hitter with 40ish power, but the key to his game is well above average speed and defense in centerfield.

Whit Merrifield

Contract: 5/$10.8M (estimated)

Age: 29

2017 fWAR: 3.1

2018 Projected fWAR: 1.6

If there is one player the Royals absolutely must move this offseason it’s Whit Merrifield. There isn’t another player on the roster whose value is both at its highest while also being possible (excluding injuries) to be substantially less in a few months. Merrifield is divisive among Royals fans, where he’s either Ben Zobrist to some or Ryan Roberts to others. I’m more in the latter camp, but either way, he should be traded.

Those contract numbers are estimates, based on FanGraphs assumptions, but they are roughly reasonable assumptions. Merrifield’s game isn’t one that is likely to be awarded heavily in arbitration, and maybe you can take the over on salary the last two years. In any case, Merrifield is something like a league average player the next two years and then begins the decline period. He’s cheap and decent, with years of control. That’s a good asset to have and to sell high on when you are rebuilding.

Trade Partner: Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers project to have the worst second base position in the majors this year with Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard sharing time, being worth half a win in total. While he’d get the majority share at 2B, he could spell Ryan Braun a bit in the outfield too as he’s seen some injuries recently. Most importantly, Merrifield is controlled long enough that the Brewers don’t have to make him a short term option. Last year they were surprisingly competitive, but their “glory years” aren’t quite here yet, but possibly soon.

The Return: OF Corey Ray, RHP Freddy Peralta

I was torn a bit on this one. On one hand, Merrifield has enough value that you could get a 55 FV prospect, a mid-list top 100 guy. On the other hand...I don’t see anyone trading away a top 30-60 prospect for Whit Merrifield. So instead, I settled on a 50 FV hitter and 45 FV pitcher (that’s ~$33M in surplus value) and even then that felt a little rich.

Ray was one of the best prospects in the 2016 draft, some teams even having him #1 on their board (he went 5th overall). Ray entered 2017 as a top 100 prospect despite a meniscus tear in his pro debut, but struggled to live up to the hype I suppose. He struggled upon assignment to a tough Carolina League (91 wRC+) and wasn’t any better in the Arizona Fall League. While the tools remain great (60 power, 70 run, 50 fielding, 45 arm) the hit tool remained an issue (31% K% and 17.9% SwStrk%). Now at 22 and with only ~800 pro plate appearances to his name, he’s behind the coin a bit, particularly for a highly drafted college guy.

Peralta has loosely been compared to Tim Lincecum in certain aspects (smaller stature, gaudy strikeout numbers, looser command, a body length sized stride), and that’s somewhat apt as he like Lincecum has been questioned as whether he’s a starter or reliever. With his delivery, he should be death to right handed hitters (they don’t see the ball until it’s about to cross the plate - even with his average velocity).

An alternative piece I think would be interesting would be a swap of Whit Merrifield for Brett Phillips too.

Jake Junis

Contract: 6/$12M (estimated)

Age: 25

2017 fWAR: 0.9

2018 Projected fWAR: 1.4

Junis was a nice farm system surprise (unless you’ve been following my annual rankings where I had him as both a breakout prospect and the 8th best prospect in the system - but I mean who is counting). Junis is, I don’t know, he’s Junis. He is everything you think he is. Good enough pitchability to overcome the underwhelming stuff, easy enough delivery to take the mound every fifth day, and good enough results that he should be able to pitch in the majors for several years if the home run ball doesn’t continue to sting him. He’s Dillon Gee, Joe Saunders, and Derek Holland incarnate.

Woah. Okay. So that surprised me too. Junis might be the most valuable asset the Royals have, and it’s unexpected to say the least. He’s like Whit Merrifield but younger and with an additional year of control. A mix of average, cheap, and controlled. Those are all good things in tandem.

Trade Partner: Minnesota Twins

My God is Junis the ultimate Twins pitcher, at least over the past decade. Since 2005, the Twins pitchers have had a K% of 15.9%, last in the majors over that span. Junis is a little better (19% in his debut season), but it generally fits the bill of the Twins pitching philosophy. While they aren’t likely to compete with the Indians, they were surprise candidates last year to make the playoffs and return the same roster with potential for improvements from players. The offense looks formidable but the starters need help, and while Junis wouldn’t be a revelation (just more of the same for the Twins), he’d keep them from ever having to use Phil Hughes again.

The Return: OF Akil Baddoo, RHP Blayne Enlow, 2B/3B Travis Blankenhorn

Technically by the book, Junis would return a 65 FV prospect, a top 10 guy like Gleyber Torres...that ain’t happening.

I liked Baddoo more than Khalil Lee, a similar type of player, in the 2016 draft (the Royals wouldn’t have had a shot at Baddoo when they picked Lee but could have taken him instead of AJ Puckett). I even wrote him up as a potential pick for the Royals in a draft primer. Like Lee, there is some work to be done with the bat but he bleeds tools, and I think his power might be underrated. I’d love to swap the upside of Baddoo for the floor of Junis.

Enlow was a dude I was hoping the Royals would take this past June, and he also fits nicely as a secondary piece. His ceiling is probably a Jake Junis type pitcher, average to slightly better stuff across the board, but he could add on size and velocity to raise the ceiling.

Blankenhorn fits the Royals classic infielder approach as he’s a “gamer” who can play a few different positions, though none of them extremely well. He’s pretty well built for a high school guy, and has hit well across different levels of the low minors, but needs more polish and approach at the plate.

Kelvin Herrera

Contract: 1/$8.3M (estimated)

Age: 28

2017 fWAR: 0.1

2018 Projected fWAR: 0.9

The difference between 2016 Herrera and 2017 Herrera was stark, and so was his trade value. I wasn’t even 100% convinced the Royals should tender Herrera (if only to try to negotiate a cheaper salary), but they did (he’ll be arbitration eligible for a final time). It’s really impossible to pin an exact value on any player, but Herrera might be the toughest of the group. His only one year of control limits his return for the Royals, a trading team might be intrigued by who he was from 2014-2016, and I suppose he’s not expensive (though he’s certainly not cheap).

Projection systems like him for a decent bounce back, if only because half of it is regression, so an acquiring team could be buying him cheap. The Royals could also wait until the deadline, hope he is better, and flip him then when relievers receive a premium. I’d probably trade him now, as even though the return won’t be as high as it was last offseason, if he struggles again in 2018 he’d be a midseason DFA candidate for a team.

Trading Partner: LA Dodgers

The Dodgers bullpen isn’t extremely top heavy, but Kenley Jansen makes up slightly more than 50% of the projected WAR for the group. The next best projected Dodgers reliever is Ross Strippling (though it’s worth noting the Dodgers like to use their starters as relievers at times too). If Herrera performs up to his projection, he’d be a formidable 8th/9th duo for the NL champions.

The Return: SS/2B Gavin Lux, 1B/3B Edwin Rios

Initially I thought Jordan Sheffield would be the “headliner” but I think the Dodgers might balk at that, even if he’s ultimately a reliever. Sheffield seems like he could be as good as Herrera from the pen, so they might just keep him instead.

Lux is the type of prospect I love: an underrated second baseman. Unfortunately he let me down and moved to SS but I can live with it. He’s an average or better defender at short, and makes contact at the plate coupled with a good approach. His size is projectable and he’ll likely add some power. He looks more like a fringe average regular buoyed by his glove at the moment, but if he adds size he could change that easily.

Rios is a throw in here, as the Dodgers have little room for him on their major league roster, and he’s a bit of a AAAA type potentially. The power is real, and the approach at the plate is okay, but he’ll swing through hittable pitches at times and has a longer swing. He also is roughly without a defensive home, where the bat might not be good enough for first base and his feet/glove might not be good enough anywhere else. He’s hit well everywhere and has avoided an extreme level of strikeouts (career 23.8% K% in the minors), but questions remain.

Scott Alexander

Contract: 5/$7.5M (estimated)

Age: 28

2017 fWAR: 1.1

2018 Projected fWAR: 0.6

It always surprises me that Scott Alexander is just a few weeks younger than me as he’s been in the Royals system during the time I was in college. He put up one of the best groundball seasons of all time for a reliever and got compared to Zach Britton often (which isn’t quite a good fit). I think the Royals could shop him a bit as a Britton-lite, but he also posted below average strikeout and walk rates for a reliever, so the groundballs only get him so far.

Trade Partner: Houston Astros

The Astros actually project to have the second best bullpen next year, but there is one glaring flaw: it’s made up of almost entirely right handers. Seven of the top eight projected relievers in the group are right handed (Tony Sipp being the exclusion and his time in Houston doesn’t seem to be long). It may surprise you that last year the Astros had the second worst lefty-on-lefty wOBA in the majors (.331) and since 2016 the worst (.360). In 2016, they put together one of the worst lefty-on-lefty seasons of all time (.400 wOBA).

If Sipp repeats his woeful 2017 next year, he’s not long for the Astros bullpen, which would leave them without any decent left handed reliever.

Trade Return: 3B Colin Moran, OF Jason Martin, RHP Riley Ferrell

In return for Alexander, the Royals get a couple change of scenery/blocked players, and a premium velocity AA reliever with some command issues. I don’t know, that sounds about right, maybe a smidge high and you can only pick one of Moran/Martin.

Moran is absolutely blocked everywhere for the Astros. Alex Bregman is the incumbent at 3B, and even if he weren’t then Carlos Correa could be too. At the cold corner there is Yulieski Gurriel, Marwin Gonzalez, AJ Reed, and Tyler White.

From a tools perspective, Moran is a known commodity really. He was one of the highest regarded draft prospects in 2013 (the Astros almost took him 1.1 but still ended up with him a year later), and looked like a lock to be a good hitter in the majors. We’ve seen that exact type of player fail to live up to the pre-draft standards before (Christian Colon, Dustin Ackley, Matt LaPorta). To his credit, Moran actually hit well at basically every level, but there was just no power to be found and he’s not a good enough defender to make up for it.

Martin was extremely young his draft year, and has hit impressively well everywhere so far, reaching AA. He’s an above average runner and there’s some raw power in the bat, but he’s defensively a tweener profile and looks like he could be just an okay to below hitter.

Ferrell has had decent results as a minor league reliever, and while he isn’t Josh Staumont, his control wanes often. There is good raw stuff, and premier velocity, but he’s also a minor league reliever whose control wanes often, so.

Again, it remains to be seen what the Royals are going to do, and there is no way they burn the entire roster to the ground in one offseason, but 3,000 words later here we are.