Memorial Day weekend usually marks the unofficial beginning of the pennant race, and potential contenders will begin looking to upgrade their clubs. At 17-33, the Royals are clearly out of it, and according to FanRag reporter Jon Heyman, they are “quietly” letting teams know they will soon be open for business.
“One person who’s spoken to Royals people suggests they could be “open to anything,” which means it won’t be just older veterans and players on the last year of their deals who will be considered for trade – though the Royals do have a lot of those.”
Dayton Moore wasn’t publicly willing to suggest the team was looking to move veterans, simply saying they were “open-minded” about deals. Let’s take a look at the assets on the club, in order of who is most likely to be dealt.
The old Kelvin Herrera of “HDH” fame appears to be back, dominating hitters with a 0.96 ERA and 17 strikeouts to no walks in 18 2⁄3 innings of work. Relievers are in high demand, so despite having just a few months left on his contract, the Royals could get teams in a bidding war over Herrera’s services.
How much could the Royals get? The Yankees dealt two months of Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in a massive deal that netted them four players including uber-prospect Gleyber Torres back in July of 2016. The Pirates dealt Mark Melancon, who was an elite reliever at that time, during that same week to the Nationals for a young Major League reliever named Felipe Vasquez (a.k.a Felipe Rivero) and a hard-throwing lottery ticket named Taylor Hearn.
Kelvin Herrera’s return would probably be in the middle of those two. You’d be lucky to get a Top 100 prospect, but perhaps a top five prospect in someone’s system plus a couple of intriguing “lottery ticket”-type prospects could be a nice return for a team starved for prospects like the Royals. The Angels could be suitors with closer Kenyan Middleton out for the year, the Cardinals could be interested with Greg Holland struggling badly, the Astros have already been linked to Herrera, and the Nationals are always looking for bullpen help. But really, any contender could use another reliever, and the Rockies, Indians, Twins in particular have had some bullpen issues.
It was a surprise when Moustakas re-signed with the Royals, but he has picked up right where he left off, getting off to a torrid start this year, hitting .282/.332/.503 with 10 home runs. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that the Braves could be interested in acquiring Moose, especially now that they have released Jose Bautista. Miguel Andujar has held his own for the Yankees, but his strikeout-to-walk rate is awful and the Bronx Bombers could seek an upgrade. The Cardinals and Mets could also become potential suitors. The problem for Moustakas is that Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Adrian Beltre could all become available, flooding the market.
The market has also moved away from rentals like J.D. Martinez, who fetched a light haul last July despite 16 home runs and a 1.016 OPS. If the Royals can find a suitor who needs a third baseman, his low salary could make him more attractive than other players on the market. At best the Royals could fetch a fringy Top 100 prospect and a couple of “lottery tickets”, but they may have to settle for a solid, but non-elite “B”-grade prospect as a headliner. Either way, the Royals will be motivated to move him for something, as they can not make Moustakas another Qualifying Offer to get draft pick compensation, under the terms of the new labor deal.
Jay has been parts of six post-season teams, and he may still have value as a fourth-outfielder type. Teams know pretty much what he is a - high on-base percentage guy with virtually no power that is capable of handling all three outfield spots, although the Royals have seemed reluctant to put him in centerfield.
Jay has a low base salary and is a pretty known commodity, so he seems like a decent bet to get dealt. It probably won’t be for much more than a warm body in the minors, but every little bit helps.
The Royals took a flyer in Duda hoping he’d produce enough to help them be competitive, or at the very least, good enough to flip at the trade deadline. Duda has been a streaky hitter this year, and finds himself on the disabled list right now with plantar fasciitis and a batting line of .256/.317/.398 in 37 games.
Those numbers probably aren’t good enough to get a team interested in him, even with his low base salary of $3.5 million. If he can improve his hitting once he gets back on the field, he could be enticing to teams as a bat bench. But don’t expect much of a haul - last year Duda put up pretty solid numbers with a 30-home run season and the Rays were able to acquire him for a non-prospect minor league reliever. That is probably the best the Royals can hope for this July.
Even with his struggles this season, Danny Duffy is a pretty valuable trade piece should the Royals decide to move him. There were rumors the Royals had talks with the Astros, Brewers, Cubs, and Phillies about him last winter, although no indications the Royals were doing much more than listening. Duffy is signed through 2021, so the Royals are under no pressure to move him, and may even consider him part of the future.
If the Royals do trade Duffy, he will have to establish a few more starts like the one he had on Thursday against the Rangers. With more teams “bullpenning”, having starters pitching in shorter outings, Duffy actually makes a fairly intriguing option as a long reliever for a contender. The issue may be his $14-15 million per-year salary, much more than most teams want to pay for a guy to go just 2-3 innings. The Braves, Mets, Brewers, Rockies, and Phillies could all become potential suitors. The market for Duffy seems a bit unclear right now, and if he is dealt, it may be more likely to happen in the winter.
Like Duda, Hammel has struggled a bit to start the year, his last year under contract with the Royals. A solid start his last time out lowered his ERA to 5.70, although he has been the victim of some bad luck with a FIP of 4.42. Still, those aren’t numbers that are going to entice any teams, particularly with Hammel’s low strikeout rate.
If Hammel performs well over the next two months, a cheap team with few prospects they are willing to trade could be desperate enough to be interested in Hammel if their rotation has been decimated by injuries. But it is hard to see the Royals getting much for him. Consider in 2014, when Hammel was having a career year, he was basically a throw-in to the A’s in a deal headlined by Jeff Samardzija. In 2016, he was left off the post-season roster by the Cubs. He is not a pitcher that gives contending teams much comfort, and it seems unlikely he’ll get traded, even if the Royals are motivated to move his salary.
Merrifield got off to a slow start but has been on a tear lately, with an overall line of .286/.358/.418 in 48 games. Merrifield is under club control through 2022, so there is no rush to trade him, and the Royals may even feel like he is part of the foundation to build around. However, he is not young - he’ll turn 30 next January - and the team may want to sell high on him while he is still a productive player.
How much the Royals can get for him depends on how much teams believe in his performance. He now has 274 Major League games under his belt with a career line of .286/.330/.433, a solid 102 wRC+, with great baserunning and defense. He has enjoyed a high BABIP of .326 and his 5.8% walk rate is one of the lowest rates among players with 1,000 plate appearances or more since 2016.
However he is cheap with many years of club control and teams LOVE club control right now. He could be a fit for many teams with his positional versatility, which is perhaps a more valued asset now than it has been in the past. The Brewers, Indians, Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Nationals could all be in the market for a second baseman who can fill in all over the field, but how willing are the Royals to trade him?
You can debate whether the Royals should trade him, but the fact is the Royals are almost certainly not going to trade Salvador Perez. Perez will likely serve as the bridge between the last championship era and what they hope will be the next championship era. Signed through 2021, Salvy also probably has more value to the Royals than he does to other teams. The Royals value his bat, his defense, and his intangibles, more than other clubs do. More analytics-based clubs could frown upon his framing metrics and his low on-base percentage.
The trade market for catchers is difficult to peg, and you’d have to find a contender that not only needs a catcher this year, but long-term. Plus Salvy isn’t exactly cheap anymore, which could scare off many cost-conscious clubs. In any case, Salvy is staying put.
Others: Ian Kennedy and Alex Gordon have performed a bit better than last year, but are still far from justifying their enormous contracts, making them pretty unmovable. Jorge Soler has finally begun hitting and could be an attractive trade piece, but teams may not believe in his performance and it seems more likely the Royals will want to keep him for the future. It seems unlikely teams would be too interested in Alcides Escobar consider how he has hit, but the Dodgers do need a shortstop to replace Corey Seager. Perhaps Adalberto Mondesi has fallen out of favor with the organization - could he be dealt for another promising young player to fill other needs? Burch Smith may draw interest from teams intrigued by his swing-and-miss stuff who feel they can harness his command, as he has several years left of club control that will be attractive on the market.