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All quiet on the trade front

Where to we go from here?

MLB: ALCS-Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The only blockbuster in Kansas City on Wednesday afternoon was the matinee of the Lion King at the AMC. There were no trade deadline deals for the Royals. All of the action was had well before the end of the month.

While it feels a missed opportunity, it does take two to tango. And while in the buildup to the deadline it seemed as though the only winner would be inertia, some general managers decided they had better act now or regret later.

The Royals are in a strange space on the Contend-Tank continuum. Their most tradable assets include a pair of pitchers where they would have to pay down a hefty chunk of their contract (Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy). Or the consistent hitter they reportedly asked for the moon and all the prospects for in return, rending any deal impossible to complete (Whit Merrifield). There is also the 10-5 veteran who wasn’t interested in waiving his no-trade rights (Alex Gordon). And don’t forget the right-handed DH whose salary is about to take a leap forward in arbitration and who has finally found the health to stay in the lineup (Jorge Soler).

The trades that would have made the most sense for a rebuilding team like the Royals, were apparently never seriously considered. It makes sense to attempt to spin a couple of these players into prospect gold. But that’s not the Royals’ modus operandi, especially when it comes to paying down a large portion of salary. And this trade deadline is a missed opportunity to further expedite The Process 2.0.

Then, of course, there is the speed. There is always the speed in Kansas City. Never mind the rest of the league is focused on hitting dingers. The Royals are like the Duke brothers, buying frozen orange juice futures. It’s feels like a good plan, but you can’t forget the rest of the market is reacting at the same time… And they’re going in a different direction.

So now what? With the waiver trade period off the table this season, the Royals can still decide to DFA Billy Hamilton. He will surely clear waivers—he already wears the uniform of the only team that would value him at the $1.7 million remaining on his contract—and then can hit the open market. That would enable Hamilton to latch on to a contender in a pinch running/defensive replacement fourth outfielder role.

Or—and this isn’t as crazy as it may initially sound—the Royals can hold on to him for the remainder of the season and deploy him in the vacated Terrance Gore role for the season’s final two months. Never mind that they don’t need Hamilton. The track record over all these years suggest they would still want Hamilton and will find a spot for him as long as he’s on the roster.

This is still the Royals. Filling out the end of the roster was always going to be difficult.

Had the Royals jettisoned Hamilton, that would have created an opening on the 25-man roster. In the woulda, coulda, shoulda division, it’s time to check in on Brett Phillips in Omaha. After his scorching June where he hit .292/.420/.597, he cooled off a bit in July. For the month, the outfielder hit .268/.398/.563. Seriously. The only real difference between June and July is the strikeout crept back into his game. He whiffed 23 times in July compared to 13 in June.

Had a trade of Hamilton actually gone down, with Bubba Starling up and Hunter Dozier taking reps in right, there’s still a bit of a logjam in the outfield. It’s good for the Royals and Dozier that he can be versatile with the glove. To me, the player the Royals could move to a bench role would be Cheslor Cuthbert. Cuthbert has done OK since his recall, with a 97 wRC+, but it sure feels like the optimal defensive alignment over the final two months of the season would look something like this:

Gallagher/Viloria - C

O’Hearn - 1B

Merrifield - 2B

Mondesi - SS

Dozier - 3B

Gordon - LF

Starling - CF

Phillips - RF

Soler - DH

With a 35 percent hard hit rate, Cuthbert is having his best offensive season since he subbed for Mike Moustakas in 2016. That’s certainly positive, but I’m just not sure he’s a part of The Process 2.0.

The above also marginalizes Nicky Lopez who hasn’t shown the plate discipline he was advertised to possess and has been underwhelming in his first go-round in the majors. He can fill in for days Gordon isn’t in the lineup (which should probably increase in frequency as the season comes to its conclusion). Lopez is still in the picture, but will have to wait until next season for another run at full-time duty.

That’s about as young as the Royals can go with the lineup. Alas, lack of trade deadline movement means the next time we see Phillips will probably be after September 2, the last day on the Storm Chasers schedule.

The inaction on Deadline Day comes on the heels of a disastrous homestand for the Royals. One win out of seven games is difficult to take even for a team on pace for triple digits in the loss column. It’s understandable for the Royals to struggle against the Indians, who finished the month of July with an 18-6 record. But the Blue Jays?

The Royals were actually ahead of Toronto in win percentage when these two teams opened their series on Monday. You couldn’t tell from the results. Outscored 20-6 over the three games, all the Royals’ flaws were on full display… A terrible bullpen. Inconsistent hitting. Lack of starting pitching depth. A defense that isn’t as good as one may argue. The fast start to open the second half wasn’t fooling anyone, but to crash so fast and with such force and so soon was a little unsettling.

It was a slog of a series, lacking any excitement or entertainment. Too bad no Blue Jays pitchers chucked a baseball into the fountains.