There are still a few days until the July trade deadline, and with the Royals all-in as buyers, they may not be done improving the team. They could still use more pitching depth, and while the offense is rolling now, they could always use more bats, particularly at left field and designated hitter.
But what tradeable assets do the Royals have left in the system? You can’t draft cap space or draft picks, this ain’t the NBA! The Royals’ farm system is notoriously thin right now. However that did not stop them making a six-player trade with the Padres. Can Dayton Moore pull off another trade this week? Here’s who he might have to deal off to make it happen.
The Off-Limits Core
The Royals are buyers now, so it makes little sense for them to deal off any of the core they are counting on. The Royals not only need their talent, but it would send a poor message to the clubhouse. So don’t look for Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas, or Alcides Escobar to be dealt, even if they are impending free agents. That goes double for Salvador Perez, Danny Duffy, Jorge Bonifacio, Whit Merrifield, Drew Butera, and Kelvin Herrera. Ian Kennedy has been a solid rotation member this year, and even Jason Hammel has begun to turn things around lately. Important bullpen pieces like Mike Minor, Joakim Soria, Scott Alexander, and Peter Moylan are here to stay, and it seems unlikely they would trade the trio of Padres pitchers - Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter - they just acquired.
Give Dayton Moore a lot of credit for being able to deal off Travis Wood in the trade with San Diego, but he had to eat a substantial portion of Wood’s remaining salary to make it happen. That breaks with Royals tradition, as they typically have not been willing to eat money in deals. While it is one thing to pay the Padres $8 million to take on Travis Wood, it is another to ask a team to take on the contract of Alex Gordon or even Brandon Moss. Gordon has been awful for almost two calendar years and is still owed almost $50 million. Moss has been a bit better lately, and while his contract isn’t nearly as onerous, he is pretty one-dimensional as a power guy off the bench. Don’t expect either of these guys to be dealt.
The Elite Prospect
The biggest trade chip that could be dealt this July is still Raúl Mondesí. He has looked completely overmatched in 198 MLB plate appearances, but he just turned 22 and has been destroying AAA. He no longer has “prospect” status, but he was a Top 30 prospect in baseball as recently as last year, and still shows the elite speed, defense, and plus power to make him very attractive to other teams. Any deal for a good young pitcher under club control past this year - Sonny Gray, Julio Teheran - would almost certainly have to involve Mondesí. The Royals would like to keep him to start at shortstop if Escobar departs this winter, but if they think they can keep Escobar, perhaps Mondesí becomes the trade piece to land the pitcher they covet?
The Fallen Prospect
Jorge Soler was a top 20 prospect as recently as 2015, but has been underwhelming in his first 240 Major League games, including a disappointing line of .154/.245/.275 with the Royals this season. Still, it was just a few months ago that was able to net one year of an elite reliever in Wade Davis, so it is not likely his stock has fallen that far after 29 bad games with the Royals. I wouldn’t expect him to net any top pitchers, but he could be a headliner for a decent player or a secondary piece for a blockbuster trade if the Royals could swing it.
The Young Players
Ramon Torres and Cheslor Cuthbert aren’t indispensable parts of the core, but also don’t have high enough upsides that they will net much in a trade. Torres has cooled off after a hot start and Cuthbert has struggled in limited playing time after a decent 2016 season. Pitchers Jake Junis and Eric Skoglund also have some value as low-ceiling pitchers with some MLB experience. These players are probably worth more to the Royals than to another club, but if there is a team that is impressed they could make a nice secondary piece.
The Solid Prospects with Upside
The players most likely to get dealt are good prospects in the system who aren’t elite. The Royals don’t have any Top 100 prospects according to virtually every prospect list, but they still have some attractive assets other teams will want. Outfielder Khalil Lee may have the most upside in the Royals system, and the future is bright for outfielder Seuly Matias and catcher Chase Vallot as well. Teams frequently favor pitchers in trades, and the Royals could offer Miguel Almonte, Foster Griffin or Scott Blewett, all of whom are having terrific seasons. The team could trade 2017 draft picks like Nick Pratto and M.J. Melendez as “players to be named later” to be dealt this winter, when they become eligible to be traded. A package involving one or two of these players would net a decent trade target.
The Second-Tier Prospects
There are secondary pieces the Royals could offer that perhaps have a lower ceiling, but a higher floor as a close-to-MLB ready, polished product that can help fill out a roster. Shortstop Nicky Lopez has had an outstanding season and may find himself blocked by Mondesí and Torres in the Royals organization. First basemen Ryan O’Hearn or Samir Duenez could replace Hosmer some day, but one could be dealt. Richard Lovelady has skyrocketed through the system as a promising lefty reliever and could be in the Majors this fall. Catcher Nick Dini, outfielder Donnie Dewees, and pitcher A.J. Puckett could also make nice secondary pieces in a trade.
The Lottery Tickets
These are the players in A ball or lower who show some promise but are a million miles away from the big leagues, much like Esteury Ruiz, who was dealt this week to the Padres. Infielders Gabriel Cancel, Emmanuel Rivera and Dennicher Carrasco, and outfielder Anderson Miller have had nice seasons. Infielders Ricky Aracena, Jeison Guzman, and outfielder Marten Gasparini have tools, but teams seem to generally prefer high upside pitchers. Gerson Garabito, Jace Vinces, Janser Lara, Garrett Davila, Grant Gavin, or Cristian Castillo could fit that bill, and serve as the third piece in a major trade.
The Prospects with Red Flags
Then there are the rolls of the dice. No one doubts the talents of Kyle Zimmer, but will a team gamble on him staying healthy? Josh Staumont can hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but will a team bet they can teach him to throw strikes? Hunter Dozier had an outstanding 2016 season, but is damaged good, had a terrible 2015, and is nearly 26. Bubba Starling was turning his season around until he got hurt, does a potential trading partner still see his first-round pedigree? It could be a good opportunity for a team to get a high-upside talent for a low price, and some teams may be willing to take the risk.