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Royals betray the plan, stand still at deadline

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Kansas City Royals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

You don’t typically know me for quick reactionary pieces, typically it is long drawn out number filled slogs, but sometimes you feel propelled to speak out...

The deadline has came and went, and the Royals did nothing. Sure, they made some smaller trades the weeks leading up, sending Homer Bailey to Oakland, Martin Maldonado to the Cubs, and Jake Diekman to Oakland as well. Yet they let their most valuable assets untouched. As the clock struck 3pm central time, Whit Merrifield, Ian Kennedy, and Danny Duffy remained on the roster.

Now I suppose you can somewhat forgive them for not trading away Merrifield. Even though his value will never be higher (the same was said last trade deadline and it was still true; players value declines as they get closer to free agency and a year older), he’s good enough that you can see him still being good next year and retaining some of his value and he isn’t that much closer to free agency where an half season represents a large amount of time (it’s only ~10% of the remainder of his contract).

What is unacceptable is that Ian Kennedy wasn’t traded, and to some extent Danny Duffy. Josh Herzenberg of FanGraphs wrote that Ian Kennedy is an asset:

Kennedy’s resurgence as a quality major league contributor presents a potential valuable addition for a contending team, one that was highly unlikely just a few months ago... Kennedy’s early returns in his new role are intriguing and could serve as a positive example of the game’s overall continued shift toward specialization and optimization of skillsets. A team looking for bullpen help could find it in Kansas City, a place where they were unlikely to be looking a few months ago.

I wrote about how much the Royals would have to pay to move such an asset a few weeks ago:

The breakeven point for Kennedy is somewhere around the Royals paying 55% of the money remaining, roughly $13.5M. Anything below that amount works out to the team acquiring Kennedy receiving negative value. Teams shouldn’t by rule not accept negative value, they should just either expect to pay nothing for it (somewhat like a player to be named later) or receiving an offsetting positive value player in return.

That asset and that uneaten contract still remains on the proverbial books. And shortly after the trade deadline, after it was made sure the piece didn’t need any tweaks or names removed, Alec Lewis of The Athletic let us know why...

(Kennedy’s) 95 mph heater was attractive to teams. His contract, though, was not. The Royals control Kennedy until the end of the 2020 season. He is owed the remainder of this year’s $16.5 million and next year’s $16.5 million.... Could the Royals have paid down at least a portion of Kennedy’s contract? Sure, they could have, which would have worked as a de facto paying for prospects. The organization, however, sees value in a pitcher who has experienced so many circumstances on a mound.

The piece continue on about Danny Duffy as well, speaking about “mentorship” as Ned Yost says and how both veterans are clubhouse leaders who joke with teammates and play music; their leadership and tenure being worth the money being paid (I’ll note this is not a dig on Lewis, he is just covering the Royals thoughts).

The Royals are paying Alex Gordon $24M. They are paying Danny Duffy $45.5M. Salvador Perez is making $29.6M, Whit Merrifield $15.25M, and even Billy Hamilton $5.25M. Why does “leadership” cost $120M? Why does leadership cost double the Tampa Bay Rays entire payroll this year? Why aren’t any other teams spending $50M+ a year for leadership like the Royals?

This trade deadline had several relievers traded: Joe Harvey, Sam Dyson, Shane Greene, CJ Edwards, Adam Kolarek, Tony Cingrani, Joe Biagini, Nick Anderson, Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elías, Hunter Strickland, David Phelps, Ray Black, Nate Jones, Jake Faria, Chris Martin. There was no shortage of appetite for relievers, but the most comparable player was Mark Melancon.

Stats via FanGraphs

Kennedy has been better than Mark Melancon, and it’s not even particularly close. Melancon is owed ~$21M between the rest of this year and next, whereas Kennedy is owed ~$25M in the same length of time. Melancon ended up switching hands, going to the Braves in return for a decent prospect in Tristan Beck (a first round name that fell to the 4th round for the Braves in 2018 due to a back injury) and veteran reliever Dan Winkler. Beck was ranked the Braves 19th best prospect in what is a top 10 farm system, so you could imagine him being a bit higher if he was added to the weaker Royals system.

The Braves are taking on all of Melancon’s contract (reportedly but subject to change). It’s not hard to envision the Royals offering a much better reliever than Melancon, paying down just a few million, and getting a better return than Beck. Or they pay even more than just a few million and get an even better return.

Of all the relievers traded in the past 24 hours, Ian Kennedy would have been the best by a decent margin. All it would have taken is money and the swallowing of pride to recognize the rebuild and to admit the mistake of a contract.

Maybe the Royals were too full, having already eaten the contracts of Wily Peralta, Chris Owings, Brad Boxberger, and essentially Billy Hamilton.

This is a disservice to the fanbase in the guise of trying to promote a culture. A culture that has brought as many winning seasons since Moore took over as 100-loss seasons, staring down the barrel this season of tipping the scales in the weight of the latter. A culture that would cast aside the necessary duty of working to build a better future product in the misguided hope of trying to placate a fanbase and their own embarrassment in an attempt to field a mediocre product.

Their duty belongs to the fans; not to who plays the music in the locker room or your own pride. The fans deserve every ounce of effort, every hour of time, and especially every zero of every check that is written that leads to building a sustainable winning team, not some drowning frankenstein of a squad built around a core philosophy that has been all but proven not to work.

The money is being spent either way. The team can either spend it on a losing team or spend it on something that could be part of a winning team in the intermediate future. There aren’t any half measures to a rebuild just as there aren’t any half measure to giving the fans what they deserve. This team doesn’t need veteran leadership and it certainly doesn’t need to spend $120M on it. Give me money spent towards the future, not money wasted on the present.