Even with their recent hot streak, the Royals are far, far back in the standings, so it is natural for everyone to assume they will be sellers for the July 31 trade deadline. And for the most part, they will be, looking to deal short-term veterans like reliever Jake Diekman and outfielder Billy Hamilton as they already did with pitcher Homer Bailey and catcher Martín Maldonado.
But don’t entirely rule out the possibility the Royals could also be buyers, looking to add pieces to the Major League roster. After all, they have already added to the Major League roster this month, adding pitcher Mike Montgomery in their deal for Maldonado. The Royals also added a Major League piece last summer acquiring outfielder Brian Goodwin (since released) and there were rumors they were interested in Mariners first baseman Ryon Healy.
Being buyers for the long-term makes a bit of sense too. The Royals have likely bottomed out in 2018-2019 which could mean it is time to build the roster back up. With the pitchers from the 2018 draft class excelling and moving through the system quickly, and with young players like Adalberto Mondesi and Hunter Dozier performing so well, the Royals may want to begin supplementing those bright spots with more talent.
Now we’re not talking about the Royals acquiring some superstar rental that will be a free agent in two months. If the Royals do acquire a piece, it will be a player with at least two, preferrably three or more years of club control remaining. Teams don’t like to give up those kind of players, and the Royals are not likely going to want to give up any of their top prospects to acquire such a player, so the players that will be available will be players who have struggled recently, and either (a) are going to be out of option years soon, causing roster difficulties for a team trying to contend; (b) have fallen out of favor with the organization in some way.
Here are a few potential pieces the Royals could look to acquire this month.
Mike Foltynewicz, Braves
Foltynewicz had a lot of success last year with a 2.85 ERA and 3.37 FIP in 183 innings, but that season is beginning to look like the outlier. He had some okay seasons before that, but has really struggled this year with a 6.37 ERA and a 6.15 FIP, with a significant decline in his strikeout rate. He began the year on the injured list and made just 11 starts before being optioned to the minors this year. Foltynewicz should have a higher asking price than most on this list due to his success last year, but the Braves have a lot of arms they could put in their rotation next year, so the 27-year old right-hander could be pretty expendable. The Royals could give him a shot in the rotation and would have him under club control through 2021.
Nick Pivetta, Phillies
Like Foltynewicz, Pivetta took a step forward last year with a 4.77 ERA and 3.80 FIP in 164 innings that gave hope that he was about to turn the corner. He has developed terrific breaking stuff with an outstanding spin rate that allowed him to strike out 10.32 per-nine innings last year. But like Foltynewicz, he has regressed badly this year with a 5.42 ERA, 5.46 FIP and a big time drop in swinging strikes and strikeout rate. The Phillies have demoted him to the bullpen, and perhaps he will have some success there, but if they are making a big push for contention, they may not have time to let him figure things out and could make him available to the Royals either as a rotation piece or as a bullpen option.
Robbie Erlin, Padres
Erlin profiles a bit like Montgomery, a lefty swingman who gets a fair amount of groundballs. The 28-year old has a 4.98 ERA in 38 career starts, with a 3.39 ERA in 58 relief appearances. He gets a fair amount of whiffs and is throwing a bit harder post-Tommy John surgery, sitting in the low-90s, but he really excels at throwing strikes, walking just 1.74 per-nine-innings in his career. Erlin only has one more year until he hits free agency after the 2020 season, so he’s not really a long-term piece, but he is out of options next year and the Padres may have other arms they want to look at. The Royals could give him a shot in their pitching staff to see if they can flip him for assets next summer.
Carl Edwards, Jr., Cubs
The Royals have already taken one struggling pitcher off the Cubs’ hands, why not another? Edwards was great in Chicago from 2016-2018, with a 3.03 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts-per-nine innings. But he has struggled quite a bit this year with a 5.87 ERA in 15 1⁄3 innings. The 27-year old right hander has missed time with a shoulder injury and was recently demoted to the minors. This is his last option year, but he remains under club control through 2022, so he could be a great reclamation project to serve as a late inning reliever for the Royals if he becomes available.
Others: Carson Fulmer, White Sox; Vince Velasquez, Phillies; Wandy Peralta, Reds; Taylor Wililams, Brewers
Nomar Mazara, Rangers
The Royals have a very fluid outfield situation for next year, with questions on whether Alex Gordon will return, and uncertainty whether Bubba Starling, Brett Phillips, and/or Jorge Bonifacio can stick in the big leagues. The Royals could add a stable big league bat to the outfield by acquiring Mazara, who has fallen out of favor in the Rangers organization. There is a lot of interest in the 24-year old who is hitting .255/.307/.438 with 14 home runs in 91 games this year. He does struggle against left-handers and if the asking price is too high, he may be overvalued at this point. He is already making $3.3 million through arbitration and is under club control through 2021.
Willie Calhoun, Rangers
If Mazara is the one that stays, Calhoun could be the one that goes. The Rangers have a bit of a logjam in their outfield (although less so now with Joey Gallo out with a hamate injury) and the 24-year old Calhoun has struggled to see big league action. Once ranked as a top prospect, Calhoun has been critical of the organization after being demoted twice this year. The left-fielder has shown good pop in the minors, once hitting 31 home runs in a season, and has held his own in 26 big league games this year, batting .277/.313/.489.
Mallex Smith, Mariners
Smith seems like a player made for the Royals, swiping 67 base over the last two seasons. Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto makes everyone available at all times, so Smith could find himself on the move again, having already played in four organizations by age 26. The left-handed hitter has struggled this year, batting just .236/.304/.363, and he isn’t quite the ballhawk the Royals prefer in center. He is eligible for arbitration this year, but wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until after 2022.
Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have a glut of outfielders they will need to sort through, and Pompey was a casualty of that logjam this week when he was designated for assignment. The 26-year old was once a Top 100 prospect, but was underwhelming in an extended look in the big leagues in 2015, and has struggled and battled injury since then. He brings good speed and defense and solid on-base skills and is capable of playing centerfield. The price tag will be very cheap and the Royals could have another young outfielder to add to their mix. If Pompey doesn’t fit, the Jays could also find speedy centerfielder Jonathan Davis expendable, or the power-hitting (but defensively challenged) Teoscar Hernandez.
Others: Travis Jankowski, Padres; Tyler White, Astros; Ian Happ, Cubs