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Royals reportedly “not inclined” to eat money to trade a player

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What does this mean for Ian Kennedy?

Kansas City Royals v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Ian Kennedy signing was ill-fated, but four years into the deal the Royals have salvaged his value by sending him to the bullpen. In his new role, the 34-year old right-hander has flourished with 19 saves and a 3.40 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings. In a vacuum, he might be one of the more sought-after relievers for the July 31 trade market except for one thing - money. Kennedy is still owed some $6 million this year and $16.5 million next year, much more than any team will be willing to take on despite his value.

The Royals could still deal him, but only if they are willing to agree to pay some of that contract or “eat” the money in order to trade him. Our Shaun Newkirk found that the Royals would probably have to take on about half of the remaining contract to make a deal viable. But according to a report from Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic, it does not appear that scenario is in the cards.

Rival clubs are expressing interest in Royals left-hander Danny Duffy and closer Ian Kennedy, but only if Kansas City pays down their respective contracts. The Royals are not inclined to make that type of deal, according to major-league sources.

Duffy could also make an interesting trade asset if the Royals were to shop him around, but he is owed around $7 million this year, and $30.5 million over the next two seasons. Rosenthal speculates the Reds, who were on hand at Duffy’s last start in Atlanta, could be interested in the 30-year old left-hander. Duffy has a 4.32 ERA and 4.59 FIP in 16 starts this year, but struck out 11 hitters in six innings in his start against the Braves this week.

Rosenthal reports that the Royals value Kennedy and Duffy and seem inclined to hang onto them until younger arms are ready.

The Royals are not under financial pressure to move them and value them as place-holders until their younger pitchers develop, sources say.

This doesn’t quite make sense. If there is no financial pressure to move them, then there should also be no financial pressure to keep them and avoid eating their contract. Accordingly, the club should make the decision that makes the most sense baseball-wise, and keeping a short-term player like Kennedy to win games in 2019 and 2020 seems to make little sense in the long-term.

The Royals will have to pay the $22 million or so he is owed no matter what. Why not use that money to acquire a long-term prospect or two (and save yourself millions as well?) Dan Szymborski at Fangraphs suggests the Royals could deal Kennedy for Braves pitching prospect Kyle Muller, ranked as the #6 prospect in the Braves organization, a left-hander throwing 98 mph in Double-A. Doesn’t a player like that fit in the long-term much better than Kennedy?

Reports this time of year should be viewed in the context that teams frequently leak news to meet an agenda. For example, Jon Morosi’s report that the Royals are unikely to trade Whit Merrifield could very well be just a way for the Royals to get teams to improve their offers. “Act now! This deal is available for a limited time!” Similarly, Rosenthal’s report could stem from the Royals wanting to eat as little money as possible, with hopes this report could get teams to take on more to make a deal happen.

Certainly Dayton Moore wants to eat money to make the best baseball moves - it’s easy to spend some one else’s money! But the Glass family has shown some reluctance in the past to take on money for the best long-term interest. Consider, for example, the Royals compromised the trade value of young lefty-reliever Scott Alexander by including him in a three-way trade with Joakim Soria in order to get rid of $9 million owed to Soria. Had the Royals simply dealt Alexander by himself (or kept him as a long-term asset) they might have been able to get more value than Trevor Oaks and Erick Mejia. Alex Claudio, a very similar left-handed groundball pitcher with many controllable years, was dealt last winter for a competitive balance draft pick, the 41st pick in last June’s draft. That is an opportunity to draft another potential Jackson Kowar.

If the Royals want to hold onto Danny Duffy as a bridge for the younger pitchers, then sure, that makes some sense. But if they really want to do what is best in the long-term, trading Ian Kennedy should be of great importance. How willing the Royals are wiling to eat money on any contract will tell us a lot about how committed ownership is to a rebuild.