The Royals have already made a pair of trades this month, and more could be coming according to MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan. Flanagan reports there has been interest around left-handed reliever Jake Diekman, who could become a free agent at the end of the season.
The Dodgers, who have a scout here at Kauffman Stadium, and the Nationals are known to be interested. Scouts from the Braves and the Phillies were on hand to watch Diekman power out of a jam against the White Sox on Monday night in a 5-2 win. Other teams that could get in the derby include the Rangers (a nice reunion, perhaps), Rays and Pirates.
Ken Rosenthal also reports the Nationals have interest in Diekman and many other teams could be interested in adding the hard-throwing lefty to their pen. Diekman is owed about $1 million the remainder of this season with a $500,000 buyout on a $5.75 million mutual option for 2020, which would make him attractive for even cost-conscious clubs.
What could Diekman fetch in a trade? He has struggled since the start of June, giving up 14 runs in 15 2/3 innings since then with an opponent’s hitting line of .288/.400/.585. But he has continued to miss bats, striking out 24 hitters over that time.
Despite a higher ERA, teams may be just as inclined to trade for him this summer as they were last summer when the Rangers sent him to the Diamondbacks for pitcher Wei-Chieh Huang and a player to be named later that turned out to be pitcher Joshua Javier. Diekman’s strikeout rate and swinging strike rate have improved significantly compared to when he was traded last year, with his walk rate identical, and his OPS against is nearly the same as well. In that deal, the Rangers got a 24-year old reliever in Huang, graded a 40-FV player, and a 17-year old flyer in Javier.
With that in mind, let’s propose a few players the Royals could try to target in a trade for Jake Diekman.
Dodgers pitcher Josh Sborz is 25-year old right-hander in Triple-A who may not wow you with his 4.93 ERA but his 43 strikeouts in 34 2⁄3 innings with just seven walks should get some attention. He features a mid-90s fastball, with a “spin-efficient” breaking ball that has depth and movement. Sborz is already on the 40-man roster and pitched one inning for the Dodgers this season, so moving him would open a 40-man roster spot for Diekman.
Jordan Sheffield of the Dodgers is a former first-round pick and the brother of Mariners prospect Justus Sheffield. The 24-year old battled a bicep strain in 2018, but came back this year and was promoted mid-season to Double-A. In 38 2⁄3 innings pitching out of relief across High-A and Double-A, Sheffield has 58 strikeouts and 30 walks with a 2.56 ERA. The right-hander throws a mid-90s fastball with a slider and a “circle change that shows tons of nasty movement.” Baseball America ranks Sheffield as the #16 prospect in the organization, while MLB Pipeline does not rank him in their top 30.
James Bourque recorded two outs for the Nationals this year, after beginning the year in Double-A this year. He excelled in the Eastern League, posting a 1.33 ERA, but has given up a lot of runs in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (but what pitcher hasn’t?) with an ERA of 5.91 in 21 1⁄3 innings of relief. He has continued to rack up strikeouts after his promotion, however, and has 62 whiffs in 41 2⁄3 innings overall. MLB Pipeline ranks him #17 in the organization, calling him a “big and physical right-hander” with an upper-90s fastball. However he has struggled with walks quite a bit, is already 26 years old, and has undergone Tommy John surgery in the past.
Phillies lefty Kyle Dohy opened eyes by striking out 111 hitters in 67 1⁄3 innings across three levels in 2018, but has regressed this year with a 7.65 ERA in Triple-A and 37 walks in 37 2⁄3 innings. He has continued to strike hitters out with 80 whiffs in just 48 2⁄3 innings and MLB Pipeline ranks the 22-year old #22 in the organization with his “aggressive, up-tempo and funky delivery.” Fangraphs ranks him #23 with a mid-90s fastball and a slider and change up that both flash above-average at times.
Right-hander Connor Brogdon also pitches in the Phillies’ system and has done well in the pen with a 2.75 ERA in 55 2⁄3 innings of relief across three levels this year. He stands at 6’6’’ and has 76 strikeouts and just 17 walks, but his numbers declined at Triple-A, although in just 12 innings.
Josh Graham went unselected in the Rule 5 draft last year, but could be attractive as a trade piece. The Braves prospect has a 97 mph fastball and a 70-grade changeup that could make him a good late inning reliever. The right-hander has a 3.94 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 29 2⁄3 innings in Double-A this year, but is 25-years old and may not be able to find opportunities in the Braves bullpen.