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Royals get flawed players with intriguing upside in exchange for Tim Hill

These are the kind of deals rebuilding teams should make.

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Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Baseball was on hiatus for so long we forgot what it was like to have real-life baseball news. The Royals made the first significant trade since the sport resumed, sending left-handed reliever Tim Hill to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Franchy Cordero and right-handed pitcher Ronald Bolaños. While a trade with A.J. Preller and the Padres may give you bad flashbacks to the Trevor Cahill deal, this deal actually looks like a great opportunity for the Royals to add some much needed upside to their farm system.

First let’s look at what the Royals gave up in Tim Hill. Hill was a 32nd-round pick who overcame colon cancer and months of chemotherapy to return to baseball and become a solid left-handed reliever for the Royals in 2018. He endeared himself to the organization and Dayton Moore in particular, who “hated making this deal” due to his attachment to Hill.

From 2018 to 2019, only nine relievers in baseball with at least 50 games had a lower OPS against than the .524 mark given up by Tim Hill, most of them elite closers like Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader, and Brad Hand.

Hill has four years of club control before he can be a free agent, but is already 30 years old. The staying power for left-handed specialists does not seem to be particularly long. Their usefulness is a bit more uncertain this year as well, due to a rule change that requires pitchers to face a minimum of three hitters before being pulled, although Hill has fared well enough against right-handers that he may be seen as especially valuable.

Hill had drawn some trade interest before, with the Yankees reportedly interested in him last fall and the A’s interested as well, with infielder Sheldon Neuse discussed as a potential return. What can a team get for a solid lefty specialist with years of club control?

In December of 2018, the Angels traded Jose Alvarez to the Phillies after a strong 1.6 WAR, 2.71 ERA season. In exchange, they got back 31-year old right-hander Luis Garcia, a fireballer who could throw 100 mph but had struggled with command his entire career and had a 4.12 ERA in six seasons with the Phillies.

Also that month, the Rangers traded Alex Claudio to the Brewers for a competitive balance pick in the draft. Claudio was a groundball pitcher who had been a 2.9 WAR pitcher in 2017, but slumped a bit in 2018 with a 4.48 ERA, but a 3.42 FIP. The Rangers received the 41st pick in teh 2019 draft, which they used on Baylor outfielder Davis Wendzel, who ranks as their 11th-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Just last summer, the Royals sent Jake Diekman to the Oakland Athletics for pitcher Ismael Aquino and outfielder Dairon Blanco, neither of which make MLB Pipeline’s Royals list of top 30 prospects. Also that month, the Rays sent Adam Kolarek to the Dodgers for outfielder Niko Hulsizer. Hulsizer was a 22-year old in Class A ball who smacked 21 home runs in 96 games, but is not ranked as a Top 30 prospect in a deep Rays farm system.

Hill may well be more valuable than any of those players, although ZIPS only projects him to have a 4.09 ERA and 0.1 WAR. The Royals had some depth in left-handed relievers with Randy Rosario, Gabe Speier, Richard Lovelady, and Daniel Tillo all Major League-ready or close to it, so Hill became expendable.

In return, the Royals get outfielder Franchy Cordero and pitcher Ronald Bolaños from the Padres. Both players have gotten their feet wet with a bit of Major League action in San Diego, and should be ready to contribute soon, most likely at some point this season.

Bolaños was signed for $2 million out of Cuba in 2016. He struggled in the low minors, but seemed to improve last year in the tough pitching environment of the Californa League with a 2.85 ERA and over a strikeout-per-inning, then increased his strikeout rate upon a promotion to Double-A, before earning a cup of coffee with the Padres. He was ranked as the #13 prospect in the system (considered one of the best farm systems in baseball) before the season by Baseball America, who wrote:

Bolaños is a power-armed righthander with a heavy fastball that sits 94-96 mph, but he has tremendous feel to manipulate the baseball. He’ll throttle his fastball anywhere from 89-98 mph and add cut, sink or rise to it, keeping hitters wildly off-balance and unsure what they’ll see pitch-to- pitch. Bolaños fastball operates like multiple different pitches, but he also has an above-average, high-spin curveball in the mid-70s he lands for strikes and an average mid-80s slider with an above-average spin rate. Bolaños has a lot of moving parts to his delivery and has yet to fully harness his lively stuff, resulting in fringe-average control.

So he’s basically a live arm with some control issues. He had some elbow soreness this spring that kept him out of exhibition games and will begin this season working out at the alternate site. Dayton Moore told reporters “We felt he can be a starter or power arm out of the bullpen in the future. All the reports on him were consistent. Analytics liked him as well.”

Cordero may be the more intriguing player just because he is such a feast-or-famine player. The Dominican outfielder is a toolsy, athletic hitter who has 70-grade raw power and speed according to Fangraphs. In 2017, he hit .326/.369/.603 with 17 home runs in 93 games, and was ranked the #17 prospect in the Padres farm system by Fangraphs. Jeff Sullivan even wrote that Cordero might be the most interesting player on the Padres.

Franchy Cordero: a young center fielder with tremendous speed, A-grade strength, and a developing tendency to hit the ball in the air or on a line. Given a full season, right now, Cordero might strike out 200 times, but his approach could also take a step forward, and the suite of skills establishes a fairly high floor. When you can homer and play center field, you don’t need to do much else to be good. I don’t know why it feels like Cordero has mostly been ignored to this point, but of everybody in the Padres’ system at this writing, there’s no other player I’m more amped to watch.

He missed five months in 2018 with a forearm injury, then a bone spur in his right elbow. He missed even more time in 2019 with an elbow injury, then injured his quad while rehabbing, ending his season. Now 25 years old, he was in the mix for an outfield spot with the Padres, potentially platooning from the left-side with Wil Myers, but he may have gotten caught in a numbers game there.

Cordero’s biggest weakness is his plate discipline, which could be a huge issue at the big league level. It is not something that many players with that issue figure out at this age, and a walk rate of 6.8 percent in the minors will usually translate to player whose on-base percentage will hover around .300 at the big league level, limiting his value. But if he can make enough contact to use that prodigious power, his speed and defense could make him a very valuable player - if he can finally stay healthy.

A few years ago, the Royals had another solid left-handed reliever with several controllable years left named Scott Alexander. They attached the contract of Joakim Soria with him and shipped him to the Dodgers in a three-team trade that netted low-ceiling minor leaguers Erick Mejia (utility player) and Trevor Oaks (no longer with the organization).

This week, the Royals traded away a solid contributor that was not really part of the future and walked away with two flawed, but very intriguing players. Both Bolaños and Cordero have major issues with the strike zone, but if those issues can be mitigated, the upside could be quite appealing. Make no mistake, there is a decent chance that one or both players could wash out of the big leagues in just a few years. But the upside potential is too great to pass up for what the Royals had to give up. This is exactly the kind of trade a rebuilding team should make.


How do you grade the Franchy Cordero/Ronald Bolaños trade?

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  • 41%
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