The Royals may be hovering around .500, but they are still just a few games back of a playoff spot, and with Dayton Moore’s firm belief in this team, it seems much more likely they will be buyers rather than sellers at the trade deadline. One are of clear concern for the Royals is starting pitching, with Nate Karns and Matt Strahm now lost for the year. Adding to the problems have been inconsistency from Jason Hammel and regression in the last few starts from Jason Vargas.
According to USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale, the Royals are “very aggressive” on a number of starting pitchers, including A’s pitcher Sonny Gray and Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn. Gray is considered one of the top pitchers on the trade market with Oakland finally committed to a full rebuild. The 27-year old right-hander has a 3.72 ERA and 3.46 FIP this year with 79 strikeouts in 84 2⁄3 innings pitched. He is owed just over a million dollars the rest of the season and is under club control through 2019, so it would likely take a big haul to land Gray.
By contrast, the compensation for Lance Lynn should be much less, considering he is a two-month “rental” eligible for free agency this winter, and he missed the entire 2016 season after Tommy John surgery. The 30-year old right-hander has bounced back quite well with a 3.40 ERA although a 5.01 FIP with 96 strikeouts in 108 2⁄3 innings, but a high walk rate of 3.1 per-nine-innings. Lynn is a flyball pitcher with one of the highest home run rates in baseball. He was an All-Star in 2012, and was a 2.8 WAR pitcher or better, according to Fangraphs, in the four seasons leading up to his Tommy John surgery.
The Royals have also reportedly been scouting Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran, according to beat writer David O’Brien. The 26-year old Colombian-born right-hander has struggled this year with a 4.79 ERA and 5.48 FIP with a sharp decline in strikeout rate down to 6.5 per-nine innings and the highest-walk rate of his career. He is also a flyball pitcher who has struggled with the long ball this year. However he was an All-Star last year, when he posted a 3.21 ERA, and he has been a 2.5+ WAR pitcher in three of the last four seasons, according to Fangraphs. Teheran is signed to a long-term deal that will pay him $19 million over the next two seasons with a $12 million club option for 2020. Neither the Braves nor the Cardinals are quite committed to being sellers at the deadline however, and may seek to add Major League pieces.
Ideally, the Royals would like to add a pitcher who can not only help with their pennant push this year, but can help them field a competitive team over the next few seasons as they seek to “reload.” However, years of control have become a very sought-after commodity, and the asking price will be higher, possibly higher than the Royals can even afford. The Royals have said they would have to be “really blown away” to trade top prospect Raul Mondesi, but a trade for a pitcher like Sonny Gray would have to start with the young shortstop and likely include many other young players. Perhaps the Royals are just doing their due diligence, but the trade deadline could be very interesting if the Royals get creative in trying to land a starting pitcher.