It may be a quiet off-season for the Royals, who may be helpless in watching the core of their team depart via free agency, and paralyzed by indecision at which direction to take the franchise. The team could probably use a roster shakeup, particularly if they do embark on a rebuild, but how many valuable assets do they have?
I ranked their trade assets last year about this time, but this year you will find far less for Dayton Moore to haggle with. Let’s take a look at the 40-man roster and determine who has the most trade value. Keep in mind, many of these guys will definitely not be traded, this is just assessing what their value would be IF the Royals traded them.
37. Alex Gordon - Gordo has been useless at the plate the last two seasons now, hitting just .214/.302/.346 in that time. His defense is still good enough to keep him above replacement level, but he will 34 in February, and we should expect his defense to decline. He is also owed $40 million over the next two years with a $4 million buyout in 2020. Gordon is essentially immovable at this point, unless the Royals offered along a very nice player to go along with him.
36. Brandon Moss - Alex Gordon still provides some value with his glove and arm, but Brandon Moss may be the most worthless player on the entire roster. He did rebound a bit with the bat in the second half, but not by much and at age 34, it appears his career is coming to a close. He is owed “just” $8.25 million over the rest of his deal, but with his bat being so poor last year, it is hard to see how any team would want him at this point.
35. Ian Kennedy - I am old enough to remember when some felt Ian Kennedy might opt out of the deal that owes him $49 million over the next three seasons. Kennedy struggled much of the year, but he can still give you 30 or so starts and be around a 1 WAR pitcher. The Royals would have to eat a substantial amount of money to move him, but starting pitching is always needed, and teams may still want Kennedy at a reduced price.
32-34. Sam Gaviglio, Tim Hill, Andres Machado - These are all replacement-level type players that could be moved for the familiar “cash considerations”, likely enough to buy you a pack of gum.
30-31. Brian Flynn and Billy Burns - Both players will be out of options in 2018 and could be on waivers by next April.
29. Drew Butera - Signing a backup replacement-level catcher to much more than the league minimum probably isn’t a good idea. The Royals gave Drew Butera $3.8 million guaranteed over two years. Lee Judge may say there are teams that think Butera could be a starter, but I am very skeptical and doubt teams would even trade anything for him to be their backup at that salary.
28. Mike Morin - The Royals avoided arbitration with Morin last week and he has had some useful seasons. He is fairly fungible though, as he was claimed off waivers by the Royals last summer.
24-27. Kevin McCarthy, Eric Stout, Cam Gallagher, Ramon Torres- These guys are all about replacement level too, but with a hint of upside. Not that they’d be great, but you can see them sticking in a big league uniform for a bit. Probably won’t fetch much, but they’re useful roster fillers.
23. Meibrys Viloria - Viloria was a bit of an odd addition to the 40-man roster as he is an A ball catcher. He was great in 2016, but struggled last year.
22. Kyle Zimmer - I guess it all depends on how big of a frown you make when you look at his medicals. No one doubts his upside, but seriously, it is ridiculous how many injuries he has had, and he’s probably a candidate to be designated for assignment soon if the team loses complete faith that he’ll ever be healthy.
21. Paulo Orlando - Orlando hit .302 in 2016, but it was a pretty empty average with a big second-half slide. He was hurt much of last year, but didn’t hit all that well when he played, and he’s 32 now. Paulo was a nice story, but I wouldn’t expect him to be in the Major Leagues much longer.
20. Ryan Buchter - Buchter was the throw-in for the Padres trade last summer, and that’s what he is, a perfectly fungible left-handed reliever. He has been solid, but there are a lot of guys like him in the big leagues, and if the Royals dealt him they probably won’t net much more than a high-risk A ball pitcher or two.
19. Bubba Starling - Starling is forever “turning the corner”, but he did show some improvement after a horrific start in AAA last year before getting hurt. That may be enough to get him a look in spring training as a potential Major League outfielder, where his defense is already good enough to play. Starling is 25, so still fairly young, but not that young, and it is probably sink or swim time for him.
18. Samir Duenez - Duenez gets good reviews from scouts, but he plays first base and doesn’t have the kind of power you typically like from a first baseman. He did improve in that department last year and he’s just 21 so teams could have interest, it is just typically hard to move first basemen since they are so positionally limited.
16-17. Eric Skoglund and Miguel Almonte- Both are borderline top 10 prospects in the system at this point, although John Sickels ranks them as “B-” and “C+” grade prospects, respectively. Skoglund had a great MLB debut but stunk in his subsequent outings with the Royals. Almonte has suffered with bouts of poor command. Skoglund is 25, Almonte is 24, so this is probably put up or shut up time for both. They still have some upside, but you’re probably not getting more than a fringy AA/AAA player or maybe a lottery ticket arm for them.
15. Brandon Maurer - Maurer struggled mightily in 2017 and was a candidate to be non-tendered, although the Royals ultimately decided to retain his services. He was the worst reliever in baseball last year, by ERA, but his FIP was considerably better and he did convert 22 of 25 saves. He could resurrect his value quite a bit next year and skyrocket up this list.
14. Cheslor Cuthbert - Cuthbert is out of options, so a team that acquires him would likely have to consider him a starter at the MLB level. He’s 25 now and held his own in 2016, although injuries and a lack of playing time hurt his numbers last year. Cuthbert is probably a below-average third baseman who has some upside to be better, and is cheap, which will appeal to a few teams and might fetch a marginal AAA pitcher.
13. Hunter Dozier - I have Dozier slightly ahead of Cuthbert even though he is actually older and with less Major League experience. I think he might appeal to teams a bit more because of his positional flexibility - he can play some outfield - and he still has options remaining. He excelled in 2016, but injuries robbed him off his 2017 season.
12. Jason Hammel - Hammel works slowly, is terrible at holding runners, and struggles to get through five innings. He was also a 2 WAR pitcher, according to Fangraphs, and his 4.37 FIP was right around league-average. In short, he’s a perfectly cromulent pitcher making $9 million next year with a $2 million buyout in 2019. If he can continue being a guy that managers feel comfortable throwing out there every five days, the Royals could probably move him, although it would be for a very nominal prospect.
11. Nate Karns - I think Karns is a touch ahead of Hammel mostly because he is still quite cheap. He has never pitched as many as 150 innings in a Major League season, and while he shows flashes of being very good, he has a career ERA of 4.37 with a 4.36 FIP. He can miss some bats and could end up in the pen, but he’ll need to stay healthy to improve his trade value.
10. Jorge Soler - Last year I wrote, that Wade Davis was worth “at least one Top 100 prospect, another top ten prospect in an organization, and probably a lottery ticket prospect.” The Royals got Jorge Soler for him. Either I misread the market, or Dayton Moore misread the market, or perhaps the Royals felt Jorge Soler was worth that much since he was MLB-ready. In any case, the former top ten prospect has seen his value plummet after an injury-filled season that saw him struggle mightily in big league action.
Soler is young, but not that young - he turns 26 in February - and he’s not that cheap, making $4 million per year the next few years, with the option to opt into the arbitration system. He can resurrect his value a lot this year, but as of right now, most teams will likely see him as a guy who hasn’t come close to reaching his potential through three Major League seasons.
9. Joakim Soria - Soria has become persona non grata in Kansas City, but he was tenth among all relievers in FIP and 23rd in WAR, according to Fangraphs. With relievers being so coveted on the market, there is likely a team out there willing to give up a useful prospect to land him, even if Soria is still owed $10 million.
8. Kelvin Herrera - Kelvin struggled in the second half last year, but has enough upside that teams could be interested. The return at this point isn’t likely to be great, since Herrera is expensive and there are questions about his performance. Most likely the Royals will allow him to resurrect his value next summer and try to flip him at the deadline for a top ten prospect or two in someone’s system.
7. Jorge Bonifacio - Jorge was a pleasant surprise last year, showing some pop with 17 home runs in his rookie campaign. He struggles on defense and strikes out a lot, but he is just 24 and could be a solid cheap outfielder for several years. His numbers are nearly identical to Soler’s career numbers, but Bonifacio is cheaper and a year younger, with less injury risk. Power is cheap on the trade market now, but teams always want cheap productive players, and the Royals could probably net a decent B/B- prospect in return for Bonifacio if they wanted to move him.
6. Jakob Junis - Jake looked like a solid back-of-the-rotation guy, which is quite valuable if he is cheap. The Royals badly need starting pitching, so don’t expect them to move him, but if they did, they could probably get a solid B prospect for him at this point.
5. Scott Alexander - A year ago I wrote that Alexander was “waiver wire fodder” and now he’s one of the most valuable players on the team. No reliever induced more groundballs than the left-handed Alexander. He’s cheap, he’s left-handed, with several years left of club control, and he would receive quite a bit of interest if the Royals were willing to deal him, with the Royals likely getting two top ten prospects in someone’s system for him, although not likely anyone elite.
4. Whit Merrifield - Whit now has produced 4.8 fWAR in 228 Major League games with a league-average bat, good speed, and good defense for a second baseman, so it is getting close to the point where we can shed the “fluke” label on him. Still, teams may view a 28-year old (29 in January) with a low walk rate rather skeptically. I think with several controllable years left, Merrifield would still be valuable enough with his legs and defense to warrant a “B” type prospect with a “lottery ticket”-type prospect. That may not be enough for the Royals to consider dealing him, but if they decide on a full rebuild, it may make sense to “sell high” and get what they can.
3. Raúl Mondesí - Mondesí has struggled mightily in 209 Major League plate appearances, hitting just .181/.226/.271, but he is the closest thing the Royals have to a Top 100 prospect. His elite speed and power for a middle infielder will still entice teams, and his impressive season in AAA Omaha this year should re-assure many that he still has high potential. Mondesí is still just 22 years old, so the Royals could still get a good prospect for him - perhaps another former Top 100 prospect whose bloom is less rosy now.
2. Danny Duffy - The Royals just inked Duffy to a five-year deal less than a year ago. The fact he has four more controllable years could be a plus, but it is also a risk. A team would be obligated to pay out $60 million for a pitcher that has never made as many as 30 starts in a season. The upside is obvious however, and Duffy is 28 and in the prime of his career. Pitching is always coveted, and if a team wants Duffy, they’ll probably have to part with two of the best prospects in their system as well as another piece.
1. Salvador Perez - It wasn’t that long ago that Salvy was considered one of the more valuable trade pieces in all of baseball. He has since increased his power with a career-high 27 home runs, but his new contract makes him not quite the bargain he once was. Salvy will make $7.5 million next year before his salary jumps into eight figures in 2019 and beyond. He appeared in his fewest games since 2012 and there is concern the grind of catching will wear him down and cause him to move to first base where he would be far less valuable.
Even then, a team acquiring Salvy would be getting one of the best defensive catchers in the game with tremendous power in the prime of his career at a very reasonable contract. The Brewers received two Top 100 prospects for two years of catcher Jonathan Lucroy - Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz - plus a decent third piece in Ryan Cordell. Lucroy was a better offensive player than Salvy, but it would not be unreasonable for the Royals to expect a Top 100 prospect and two other decent prospects for their All-Star backstop. If the Royals are serious about a rebuild, trading Salvy would be painful, but perhaps necessary.
Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Who would you be looking to move?