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The trade deadline looms: Who’s next?

Peralta is the latest off the roster. More churn is coming.

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

As a major league veteran, some have the role of informing their teammates when the job has been lacking. The veteran carries a certain amount of respect. And with that respect comes responsibility. The veteran is expected to be a leader.

However, not all veterans can lead. Especially veterans who can’t seem to get anyone out. And it’s a really bad look when said veteran lights up a young catcher because he can’t get on the same page with regards to signs. While failing to get anyone out.

As such, the Wily Peralta era came to a merciful end over the weekend in Cleveland. The Royals, naturally, downplayed the timing. It was all about the performance rather than the bizarre exchange between Peralta and Viloria. Indeed, Peralta’s Royals career comes to a close with a 4.82 ERA with a 7.1 SO/9 and 5.1 BB/9. That includes a 5.80 ERA this year and a declining strikeout rate of 5.4 SO/9.

Yet no one who saw (or heard) the broadcast is completely buying that performance alone had everything to do with the DFA.

It’s another jettisoning of a veteran free agent acquisition, following the departures of Chris Owings and Brad Boxberger. Following their releases, the Royals owe Owings roughly $2 million and Boxberger is due around $1 million. Now add Peralta’s remaining $900,000 to the veteran funeral pyre. And don’t forget his $1 million buyout for next year’s mutual option.

Again, big picture. The $5 million the Royals are playing veterans not to play for them is a drop in the bucket for any major league team’s payroll. But when you realize these players were all expected to contribute in some way…well, that’s three whiffs on the free agent market.

“You got a veteran guy who keeps struggling so it doesn’t make any sense [to keep him]. Go with the younger guys and keep moving forward,” Yost told Jeffrey Flanagan of following the release of Peralta. That makes all the sense in the world. Reading that quote, one tends to shift a forlorn gaze to the Royals’ roster and settles on one Lucas Duda.

The jettisoning of Peralta opens up a spot for Josh Staumont and maybe, just maybe, positions the Royals to use an opener.

Here’s what I wrote about Staumont in the 2017 edition of the Baseball Prospectus Annual:

“His triple-digit fastball comes in so hot it has fried an egg. His hammer curve has caused the tectonic plates to shift. His command is so suspect, it was picked up on charges of petty theft, but was later thrown out of court for insufficient evidence. He once struck out a hitter just by looking at him. He’s Josh Staumont, the most interesting pitcher in the Royals’ system.”

Almost three years removed and there’s no way I would refer to him as “the most interesting pitcher in the Royals’ system” yet his presence on the roster at this point is intriguing. He’s been used as an opener for Triple-A Omaha 12 times this year. The results, as you can imagine with Staumont, have been inconsistent. But with Jorge Lopez avoiding the TTO penalty and doing well in a relief role, it seems like a natural pairing. They could also use Staumont in tandem with Glenn Sparkman, the pitcher whose spot he would presumably take in the rotation should he open.

At any rate, Staumont brings a type edge of your seat uncertainty sure to excite those among us looking for baseball thrills. He owns a 13.0 SO/9 but couples that with a 6.5 BB/9. Even if the Royals don’t use him in the opening role (which seems likely in the short-term), he’ll find a spot in the bullpen. His appearances will be Must-See Baseball. At least for now.

The new July 31 hard trade deadline has sparked an urgency among both buyers and sellers, yet the market eight days out seems a bit stagnant. This will certainly shift over the next week, but at One Royal Way, it seems as though there may be just one trade left to make.

Not to give too much away from the Royals Review Radio podcast, I joined Max Rieper and Shawn Newkirk where we gave our guesstimates on the chance that various Royals would be dealt in the next week. The consensus lock to have a new uniform falls to Jake Diekman. The lefty has been erratic at times, but still sports a 13.3 SO/9 and would seemingly be a quality add to a bullpen of a contender. In fact, it would be a massive surprise if he makes it through the next week as a Royal.

As for the other potential trade candidates on the current roster, it just doesn’t feel like the markets are developing as the club had hoped. The Royals tipped their hand in center by calling up Bubba Starling and sending Billy Hamilton to the bench—not that that particular hand needed tipping in the first place. The speed and defense from Hamilton is a plus, but it just doesn’t feel like contenders are looking to fill that particular need. He’s probably more a DFA candidate or a cash considerations trade candidate.

There’s also the aforementioned Duda. It’s increasingly difficult to justify his spot on the roster, but after being dealt for cash considerations last year, what exactly is his market now? I’ll go ahead and answer that for you: It doesn’t exist.

The Jorge Soler market exists, but it’s not as robust as you may think. As a DH, his potential landing spots are cut in half and there just isn’t a massive demand for a right-handed power bat. And Alex Gordon still isn’t going anywhere.

Of course the Royals could pull off a blockbuster if they find a suitable partner for Whit Merrifield. The return would have to be massive and deservedly so. But with Merrifield under contract and the Royals holding an option on the 2023 season, it actually makes less sense to trade him now. And it all has to do with what’s happening in the minor leagues.

With a rebuilding club, the focus is always about the timetable. Decide when contention is a possibility and adjust accordingly. Internally, a target is set based on current state of the minor league system, the future projections of the draft and evolution of the major league roster. The Royals, for as much as they like to talk about being competitive at this moment, when being realistic have been focusing on the 2022 season.

What if the timetable shifts forward?

That could be what’s happening at the moment with the development of the minor league arms in particular. A year ago the club drafted Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Jonathan Bowlan inside the first 58 picks of the draft. This year, they have all thrived at various stops along the organizational ladder. While they say There’s No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect (TNSTAAP), to have all five still very much in the prospect pipeline at this point is extremely promising. There are still no guarantees going forward, but with the arms in the minor leagues and the young bats emerging in the majors, the Royals could just be accelerating the timeline.

And even if there’s a slight chance of this happening, it would probably behoove the Royals to hold on to Merrifield at this point. He’s building value so they’re not conceivably losing anything by holding on to him at this point. The interest will still be there this winter. And presumably the next trade deadline. And so on. Basically, there's no rush to deal Merrifield. He’s key to the current team and could potentially be a key to the next contender. Based on everything that’s happening, you can’t fault the Royals for slow-playing potential trades here.