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Trevor Cahill deal makes all sorts of sense for the Royals

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Breaking down the Royals’ big deadline deal

MLB: San Diego Padres at Philadelphia Phillies
Come hither, Trevy baby.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As was reported yesterday by Jeff Passan and Robert Murray at FanRag Sports, the Royals and Padres agreed to a deal sending Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and 18-year-old second-base prospect Esteury Ruiz to San Diego for starting pitcher Trevor Cahill, and relievers Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter. Per Jeffrey Flanagan, the Royals will also be sending money to San Diego in the deal:

Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune differs slightly with Jeffrey Flanagan, reporting:

Wood was the highest paid player in the deal, as he gets paid $4M this season, $6.5M next year, and has a mutual option for $8M with a $1.5M buyout in for 2019. There are also incentives in the southpaw’s deal that could have netted him an extra $1M, though it would be hard to imagine a scenario in Kansas City in which he would have earned that bonus, and there seems to be little chance that Kansas City would pick up that part of the bill should he reach them for the Padres. Wood is owed somewhere in neighborhood of $1.5M for the remainder of this year and $6.5M next year (not counting the buyout).

As for the option, MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell had this scoop:

The figures are close enough through the reporters’ slightly asynchronous tweets that it would seem like the Royals will be footing the bill for whatever Wood is owed less the cost of filling that spot with a league-minimum player—roughly that $7.2M Flanagan mentions—plus the near-certain half of the buyout of the mutual option.

In addition to the $1-$1.5M that the Royals will pay Wood to pitch anywhere but Kansas City this season, the Royals will be taking on the contracts of three players making more than league minimum. Their contracts and duration of club control are as follows:

  • Trevor Cahill - $1.75M in 2017, free agent after this season
  • Brandon Maurer - $1.9M in 2017, his first season of arbitration, two-plus years of club control, eligible for free agency after the 2019 season
  • Ryan Buchter - $544,700, will be eligible for arbitration after the 2018 season, free agent after the 2021 season

So the Royals will be picking up roughly 40% of the tab on Cahill and Maurer and pretty much all of what Wood is owed. Adding Buchter will be a salary wash with Strahm, who will get paid while on the mend. In total, the Royals will be adding roughly $1M in payroll to the rolls this year once accounting for the difference in pay between league-minimum and what Cahill and Maurer are making.

Leaving the ledger for the Royals will be lefty Matt Strahm, the second-year southpaw who will be missing the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair his torn patellar tendon on Friday, July 7. This was the second major injury in Strahm’s professional career after he missed nearly 23 months from September 5, 2012 until July 22, 2014 just after getting drafted. Though Strahm will miss the rest of this season, he should have recovered from this surgery with plenty of time to have put this injury behind him and ready for Opening Day.

Strahm enjoyed a wildly successful rookie campaign in 2016 but experienced a significantly bumpier ride in 2017. The biggest question mark regarding the North Dakotan was whether his changeup would develop enough to give him a solid third pitch, allowing him to get righties out. Without a consistent, viable third pitch, Strahm’s future is most likely in the pen, and the Royals’ track record with developing pitchers is hardly sterling.

Also leaving the organization will be second-base prospect Esteury Ruiz, who has been drawing raves during his hot stretch of 21 games in the Arizona Rookie League. The 18-year-old is slashing .419/.440/.779 through 91 PA with a .520 wOBA and .200 wRC+, a season after slashing .313/.378/.512 in 244 PA with a .430 wOBA and 158 wRC+ in the Dominican Summer League. Sure, he’s been beneficiary of a .516 BABIP this year and a .354 mark last year, so there’s a heaping dose of inflation in those numbers, but the fact remains that he hasn’t done anything but hit. Listed at 6’0”, 150 pounds, he’s young, tall-ish, and rail thin. Of course, he’s already been moved off short at 18, so a future in which Ruiz might have to switch to another position further down the defensive spectrum isn’t out of the question.

Additionally, he’s is only in the Arizona Rookie League. He’s really far off. Like at least four if things go exceptionally well. He’s so far off that he’s basically at least a year of repeating what he’s done so far away sniffing prospect lists.

That’s a lot of time spent on what the Royals have given up in the deal and the financials. What are the Royals getting back though?

The key to the deal for this year is Trevor Cahill. Cahill is fresh off the disabled list missing the last half of May and all of June with shoulder discomfort. Shoulder injuries are obviously terrifying, and Cahill’s four starts since returning have been a bit of a mixed bag.

Looking at his 2017 on the whole is probably prudent. Worth 1.3 fWAR and 0.9 rWAR through 11 starts, his mix of pitches has changed rather dramatically this season. His curveball has been fantastic, as it’s the sixth-most valuable curve of pitchers with at least 50 IP per wCB/C. He’s been going to the curve more than any pitch other than his sinker.

Here is how he ranks amongst pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched:

  • 18.3 K-BB%, 28th
  • 27.5 K%, 24th
  • 3.40 FIP, 25th
  • 3.35 xFIP, 17th
  • 3.62 SIERA, 26th
  • 56.8 GB%, 12th

His K-BB% ranks him just behind Yu Darvish, Rich Hill, and Zach Godley and just ahead of Dallas Keuchel. His FIP ranks him just behind Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, Michael Fulmer, and Sonny Gray and ahead of Aaron Nola, Chase Anderson, Michael Wacha, Chris Rusin, and Danny Duffy.

Yes, by FIP, he would be the best Royals starting pitcher.

Sure, the shoulder injury is scary, but Cahill stacks up very favorably to Sonny Gray in rate stats, and he’s not all that is coming back in the deal.

Maurer has been San Diego’s closer this year and half of last year. Despite sporting an 18.5 K-BB% (better than Cahill’s) thanks to his decent K rates and very low walk rates, Brandon Maurer’s 5.72 ERA this year is 2.49 points worse than his 3.23 FIP. While his .315 BABIP suggests regression to the mean should be in the making, his dismal 54.3 LOB% has been the key to his undoing. Always something with which he has struggled, pitching from the stretch has not gone well.

Brandon Maurer splits

Maurer with: K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA FIP xFIP
Maurer with: K% BB% AVG OBP SLG wOBA FIP xFIP
Bases empty (Career) 22.7 5.0 .222 .267 .348 .271 3.10 3.51
Bases empty (2017) 26.9 3.2 .191 .226 .236 .206 1.54 2.90
Runners on (Career) 16.2 9.1 .317 .387 .512 .382 4.92 4.87
Runners on (2017 18.8 7.3 .344 .391 .619 .415 5.77 4.84

Remember bad Luke Hochevar? There’s probably an element of that at work with Brandon Maurer.

Maurer’s repertoire features a hard fourseamer, a slider, and a change in that order of usage. A hard-throwing righty, the 27-year-old’s fastball averages 97.2 MPH. Here’s to hoping he can exorcise his men-on demons.

As for Ryan Buchter, the 30-year-old southpaw took his lumps in the minors for a long time, finally breaking in as a rookie last year. Buchter throws a ridiculous amount of fastballs, leaning on his fourseamer about 83% of the time. Mixing in (extremely infrequently) a curve, cutter, and slider, Buchter somehow strikes out a bunch of dudes. His 29.2 K% and 11.03 K/9 are sterling. HIs 18.0 K-BB% matches up well with the other two pitchers obtained in the deal.

He’s sporting a 3.05 ERA, though there is a lot of evidence that his ERA has been a product of good luck. For starters, his .239 BABIP is low. It’s actually higher than it was last year (.227 in 2016). Maybe he possesses a skill (his spin rate on his fourseamer is high) that allows him to sustain a low BABIP, but he definitely has not crossed a statistical threshold to be able to believe this is true. He has also managed an 86.0 LOB% which is screaming for regression to the mean.

Those two factors have kept his ERA down while his 4.56 FIP, 4.42 xFIP, and 3.67 SIERA suggest he hasn’t pitched nearly that well. Still, Buchter has a 2.90 ERA through 102.1 IP, so perhaps that is his true-talent level, and while he has a platoon split (.253 wOBA vs. LHH, .278 wOBA vs. RHH), it’s not extreme, and he doesn’t need to be utilized in a way so as to keep him away from righties.

So Dayton Moore went and got himself two shiny new relievers with report cards on the opposite end of the performing to expectations spectrum and a starting pitcher who, if healthy, might be better than anyone they have in house and at the very least is an upgrade over the man he’s replacing in the deal. If paying Travis Wood to not pitch for the Royals was an added cost to a package centered around Strahm and a lottery ticket, it’s still hard to argue that this doesn’t help enough in the short term where the marginal value of the win for Kansas City is a lot more valuable to make the deal a smart one, at least at the time of its execution.