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What the Rays’ deal with Brandon Lowe could mean for the Royals

Brandon Lowe got a deal very similar to Whit Merrifield, and now I’m wondering how that could affect the Royals going forward.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

In case you missed it, the Tampa Bay Rays gave utility man Brandon Lowe a 6-year, $24M contract extension on Tuesday night. The extension should keep Lowe in Tampa Bay through his age-32 season. Lowe, a good prospect who posted a 113 wRC+ in his rookie season in 2018, figures to be a mainstay in the Rays lineup over the next eight seasons. In case you’re unfamiliar with Lowe, check out some research that Patrick Brennan did:

Pretty good. The Lowe contract was a cool story on an otherwise boring Tuesday night, but it really got me thinking, and of course I started to think about ways that it could affect the Royals. Here was the first thing that came to mind:

Nick Solak is awesome. He went to Tampa Bay in the trade that sent Steven Sousa Jr. to Arizona, and he destroyed baseballs at AA last season. In 565 PA at AA last season with Tampa Bay, Solak hit .282/.384/.450/.834 with 19 HR and 21 SB. Good enough for a 140 wRC+. That doesn’t sound like a guy that Tampa Bay would be looking to trade, but the Rays have a ton of infield depth moving through the system. Here’s a look at that depth:

  • Joey Wendle, 2B, 28 years old, 3.7 fWAR in 2018
  • Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF, 24 YO, just signed 6-year extension
  • Willy Adames, SS, 23 YO, former top 100 prospect
  • Matt Duffy, 3B, 28 YO, 2.4 fWAR in 2018
  • Chrisitan Arroyo, 2B, 23 YO, traded for Evan Longoria
  • Vidal Brujan, 2B, 21 YO, top 100 prospect
  • Daniel Robertson, 2B/SS, 24 YO, 2.4 fWAR in 2018
  • Nick Solak, 2B, 24 YO, traded for Steven Sousa Jr.

As you can see, the Rays have a ton of options on the infield for the next five or six seasons. Trading Nick Solak for a piece or two that they’re missing could be something they’re interested in, and I think the Royals should be actively looking to add versatile fielders who can slug the baseball.

One thing we know that Tampa Bay isn’t looking to do is trade for one-year deals. They’re going to be looking for a major league ready player that can help them make a run at the playoffs in 2019 and beyond. That’s why I think Jorge Soler is a decent starting point in a hypothetical trade for Solak.

The Rays currently have a young crop of position players that may push them away from Soler, but I think there’s a couple of things that Soler offers that they could be interested in as well. For one, the power potential. The Rays don’t have a ton of power threats on their roster and adding Soler could give them some power without sacrificing the on-base ability the Rays desire. Soler is probably a full-time DH on a good team and doesn’t really fit the Royals mold of speed and defense, but shouldn’t block any of Tampa Bay’s position players in the outfield.

Trading Soler will probably have to come in July, as the Royals would need him to prove his ability to stay healthy to drive up his value. Outside of Soler, Whit Merrifield is an obvious name that teams will be after, but I don’t see a situation in which Merrifield being traded to Tampa Bay for Solak makes a ton of sense. I’m not entirely sure what the Royals are or aren’t willing to do at this point, so I won’t bother speculating too much, but what I do know is that I want Solak in Kansas City’s system and it might be worth a phone call just to see what the asking price would be.

Outside of what Lowe’s extension could mean in any sort of hypothetical trade scenario, there’s also this I want to talk about:

I’m not 100% bought into the idea that players are gearing up for a work stoppage, but I’m buying in more and more all the time. Regardless of WHY players have begun signing extensions like the ones Whit and Lowe have signed this off-season, it’s important to note that they have. It makes me wonder: who is the next logical candidate for the Royals to lock up to a deal like this?

Jakob Junis

After showing some improved velocity (consistently up to 93 mph this spring) and a newfound confidence in his changeup, Junis has looked really sharp this spring. If he goes out and puts up an ERA in the low-to-mid threes and shows improved command this year, I’d be looking to lock him up for the next six seasons. Junis is currently under control through his age-30 season in 2023, and if I were KC, I’d try to buy out his first year of free agency for some extra cash up front. A five year extension through 2024 with a mutual option for 2025 worth about $40-45M feels about right. Miles Mikolas just signed a four year extension worth $68M in St. Louis, but he also had one of the best seasons by a starter in all of MLB in 2018. Maybe Junis’ deal hovers closer to 5-$50M, but I’ve heard from a source that I trust that Junis is interested in getting some kind of deal done so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get on mid-season if he pitches well.

Brad Keller

If I were Dayton Moore, I wouldn’t wait very long to get Keller locked up. Keller won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2020 season, but I’d try to get something done early. Small markets have to take advantage of opportunities to lock guys up early if it’s presented to them and Keller feels prime for the picking. Keller isn’t a free agent until after the 2023 season, when he’ll be 28 years old. I’d try to get Keller all the way through 2025 if possible. Take a risk. Take a gamble. Bank on Keller being the guy to lead you out of the rebuild and try to have him cheap when he’s the Cy Young winner in 2022. A six year extension worth about $80M could be risky, but it could also pay huge dividends when Keller is the ace of the World Series staff in 24. This would still allow Keller to hit free agency at the age of 30 with $80M in his back pocket.

Adalberto Mondesi

This is the one everyone will talk about. Kansas City’s star SS is also under control through 2023, where he is also set to hit free agency at the age of 28. Taking a gamble on a potential #2 starter like Keller is one thing, but teams like KC are even more inclined to gamble on potential super stars like Mondesi. If Mondesi ever realizes his potential, he’ll easily make over $150M in free agency. If the Royals could lock him up through 2025 with Keller, they would have two of their best players locked up for the next SEVEN seasons. If I was Dayton Moore, and Adalberto Mondesi started flashing his potential on a regular basis to begin 2019, I’d be approaching him with an extension in the range of six years and $120M.

Those are the three guys I’d start trying to extend if I was Dayton Moore. MLB Trade Rumors has an Extension Tracker you can follow, but there are a ton of guys that have been signing extensions this off-season. If the fear of a work stoppage is real, then it could benefit the Royals to begin taking advantage of it by signing extensions this year. Even if players just want to make a reasonable salary for the next couple of years in exchange for a year or two of free agency, I think it could be very beneficial for KC to start taking advantage of the market. Jake Junis is my bet to be their next extension signed, but I wouldn’t stop there.