The Royals appeared to be well on their way to their first win of the season on Saturday night, after Ian Kennedy and Justin Grimm were able to hold the White Sox offense to just one run through seven innings. The Royals appeared to be headed for their first win of the season, that is, until Brandon Maurer entered the game.
I was in attendance for the game Saturday and, despite the less-than-stellar weather, stuck around for most of the game. Then the top of the 8th rolled around and I said to my buddy that I was with, “As much as I’d love to stick around and watch Brandon Maurer blow this lead, I’d love a warm couch even more.” We got up to leave and, well, you probably saw what happened to Maurer.
It probably seems obvious more than anything. “Of course Brandon Maurer blew the lead. Doesn't take a genius to know that trouble is coming.” This seems to be the sentiment surrounding Brandon Maurer in Kansas City, and, rightfully so. Maurer has been downright awful in his brief stint in the Royals bullpen, posting an ERA of 8.20 last season in KC, and already blowing a late lead in 2018. The question most fans surely have is, “Why on earth does Ned Yost continue to run him out there?”
Brandon Maurer, while being arguably the most frustrating player on the Royals roster, simultaneously has the potential to be one of the most valuable. Brandon Maurer is a 27-year old late-inning reliever with electric stuff. His fastball sits in the mid-90’s and his slider is unhittable when he locates it. He’s an imposing figure on the mound, and has the makeup of an elite closer. Yet, as Brandon Maurer trotted out to the mound on Saturday night, plenty of Royals fans like myself started heading for the gates.
The Kansas City Royals desperately need Brandon Maurer to be an effective reliever. Much like they need Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy to be effective. The Royals don’t have the financial investment in Maurer that they have in Gordon and Kennedy, but the capital investment is still very real. If you remember, the Royals traded LHP Matt Strahm and a budding young prospect named Esteury Ruiz to acquire Maurer, Ryan Buchter, and Trevor Cahill last summer. Buchter has since been moved to Oakland for a minor league pitcher named Heath Fillmyer, but I'm sure that doesn’t make you feel any better about the trade.
Ned Yost is going to give Brandon Maurer every opportunity possible to help get the Royals a return on their investment. You may already be laughing, I get it, but there is still a market around Major League Baseball for elite closers, and Brandon Maurer isn’t necessarily that far away. Think about this: the Royals effectively flipped Joakim Soria and his contract with about $10,000,000 left on it for a 23-year old SS in Erick Mejia who slashed .289/.357/.413 with 25 stolen bases last season at AA. Mejia appears to be heading back to AA to start the year, but you could very well see him in the big leagues before September.
The point of the Mejia trade is this: if 33-year old Joakim Soria and his contract can net you Erick Mejia, what could 27-year old Brandon Maurer and his $2.95M contract plus one year of control net you? In 2015, Maurer posted an ERA of 3.00, a 3.31 FIP, a 3.85 xFIP, 6.88 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, and had a GB% of 47.7%. Let’s compare this to a reliever who was traded to Boston last summer. In 2017, Addison Reed posted an ERA of 2.84, a FIP of 3.67, and an xFIP of 3.85, with a K/9 of 9.0, BB/9 of 1.78, and GB% of 40.8%. Addison Reed was a little better than Maurer in 2015, but he also became a free agent at the end of the year, where Maurer still has one year of control remaining on his contract.
In return for Addison Reed, the New York Mets received three minor league pitchers that all project as Major League relievers. One of those relievers, Jamie Callahan, actually made his MLB debut after the trade last season. The Mets didn’t get a king’s ransom in return for Reed by any means, but the Royals aren’t in a position to be greedy when it comes to adding talented minor league arms either. Brandon Maurer has the stuff, he’s got the ability to net a return bigger even than that of Addison Reed, if he can work out his control issues.
I’m not telling you that you should expect Brandon Maurer to be an elite closer that nets the Royals a top 100 prospect. It’s completely possible that he does, because, again, he’s got elite stuff, but don’t hold your breath. What you should do, however, is root for Brandon Maurer every time he takes the mound. The Royals gave up a lot in Matt Strahm and Esteury Ruiz to acquire Maurer, and they need Maurer to help them get something back on their investment. If the Royals are going to be rebuilding anyways, you ought to be rooting for Maurer to be good. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon, so get used to seeing him on the mound.