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Expect to see some big-name Royals traded this summer

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Whether we like it or not, the business of baseball stops for no one.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Duffy did not and does not want to be traded. Duffy, who is very vocal on Twitter, said as much in a tweet flurry a few months ago when offseason trade rumors for the lovable lefty peaked. The tweets were very emotional, and he even deleted one that made it seem like he had been traded.

I don’t have any hard data on this, but Duffy’s emergence as the staff ace combined with his undying love for the people and places of Kansas City probably have thrust him to the top of most people’s ‘favorite active Royal’ list. No self-respecting Kansas City Royals fan wants to see him pitch in a different uniform. Sure, some Royals fans (and the front office) acknowledge that Duffy has greater utility to the Royals as a trade piece, but nobody wants to see him elsewhere.

It is that last sentence that represents a complication. See, there was some intense interest in Duffy over the winter. Duffy is an above average lefty starter under team control for four seasons at a reasonable rate, and Duffy is exactly the type of player that the Royals should be trading if they want a full rebuild.

But the Royals are keeping Duffy. Opening Day looms close, and the offseason is basically over save for a couple of last-minute free agent signings for those final few roster spots.

Duffy is not the only one who stayed. Kansas City still employs the top four players in our offseason trade asset ranking, the others being Salvador Perez, Raul Mondesi, and Whit Merrifield. Heck, Mike Moustakas re-signed on a one-year deal, and as long as he’s clubbing homers he is valuable.

That’s great for fans, but it sets the stage for a wild July trade deadline. While those guys are Royals now, it is extremely likely that at least one, and probably more than one, player on that list will be traded before the July trade deadline.

Royals fans are intimate with the idea of significant trade activity before the deadline. In 2015, the Royals went out and snagged Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto. Both players were excellent and helped secure Kansas City’s first World Series victory in 30 years. And the Royals weren’t the only ones in recent memory to make midseason trades to shore up their club for the postseason. In 2016, the Cleveland Indians acquired Andrew Miller, who laid waste to the entire American League en route to their World Series appearance that year. And in 2017, the Houston Astros acquired Justin Verlander, who propelled them to their first ever World Series win.

Regardless of the state of baseball in the offseason, there are always teams in July that have worn a few holes in their roster, whether through injury or underperformance. It happens. And there are always teams in July that are looking for more juice to put themselves in the best possible position to win big in the postseason. Many times those teams are the same ones.

Yes, there are an awful lot of teams in 2018 that aren’t competing, and there will likely be more players available than usual.

But just because the baseball environment is what it is and just because the Royals didn’t trade their best assets this offseason does not automatically mean that they will keep those same guys this summer. The Royals’ biggest assets still have immense trade value.

  • Moustakas is on a one-year deal. If the Royals are assuredly out of playoff contention, there is no incentive to keep him. There won’t be a lot of left-handed bats with his power on the trade market, and his status as a rental makes him attractive to everybody.
  • Herrera is also only under Kansas City’s control for one year. Herrera has been a very good reliever for his career, and has stayed healthy. Every single bullpen in baseball would benefit tremendously from adding him, and we all know the value that postseason bullpens supply. Again, Herrera is an affordable rental and everyone can use him.
  • Merrifield is the rare player that is making the league minimum, under club control for multiple years, and provides good defense at multiple positions. He won’t ever be Ben Zobrist, but proving his 2017 was not a fluke would go a long way to cement his status as Zobrist-lite, and that is again something that every team could use.
  • Duffy is a good lefty starting pitcher under team control for multiple years at a reasonable rate. If used as a reliever, he is Andrew Miller.

Last year, the Royals entered July at an even 39-39, and on Friday, July 28 they beat the Boston Red Sox to go to 54-47. They could not have known they would not make the playoffs at that point, and convincing themselves and the public that the best course of action would be to sell was an almost impossible proposition.

This year, though, might make the decision a clear one. Varying projection systems consider the 2018 Royals to be one of the worst in the league, and no pundit is giving them a chance, either. If they’re wandering into July at 29-49, it will be significantly easier to make the decision to sell.

The Royals could be good this year. That, of course, would be awesome. It’s just more likely that they aren’t. Such is the life of a rebuilding team.