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Trevor Rosenthal is drawing trade interest, will the Royals deal him?

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Are the Royals buyers or sellers?

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The 2020 season has already been a strange, unprecedented year, so we should likely prepare for a strange, unprecedented trade deadline. The deadline was pushed back from July 31 to August 30 this year, but with expanded playoffs, a short season, and uncertainty over whether a post-season will actually take place, it is unlikely that teams will be dealing as much as they usually do at the deadline.

If there is some trade activity, Royals reliever Trevor Rosenthal could be a popular target, according to MLB.com writer Mark Feinsand.

Rosenthal was almost certainly signed by the Royals last off-season with two goals in mind - two stabilize the bullpen and to be an asset to potentially trade at the deadline. Despite some unfounded doubts, Rosenthal has been fantastic this year with a 1.59 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 11 13 innings. His fastball, long his calling card, has been the fourth-fastest heater among all relievers this year. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports also points out he has been pounding the strike zone like never before.

His rate of pitches in the strike zone tells a story:

2016: 57.5 percent

2017: 54.9 percent

2018: did not pitch (Tommy John surgery)

2019: 48.4 percent

2020: 56.7 percent

Rosenthal also has a very low salary that will be attractive to cost conscious clubs. Feinsand writes the Reds, Rockies, and Athletics could all be suitors for Rosenthal’s services. Jon Morosi of MLB Network adds that the Marlins have looked at Royals relievers, including Rosenthal, as potential trade targets.

But will the Royals be sellers at the deadline? As of Monday, the Royals were 11-17 and in last place, but just three games out of a playoff spot. Jeffrey Flanagan wrote last week that the Royals will use this last week of play leading up to the deadline to determine how they approach their strategy on trades. But Dayton Moore seems to want to give his team a chance to compete, saying that he “wouldn’t hesitate to add to this team....This team is talented enough to be one of eight teams representing the American League in the playoffs.”

Flanagan also added that the Royals may not move Rosenthal because of a desire to keep him in Kansas City beyond 2020.

There is also the possibility that the Royals will entertain the notion of signing Rosenthal long-term. It has been a discussion the Royals have had internally because Rosenthal is just 30 years old, grew up here, has been dominant on the mound and has become a huge fan of how the team operates.

The Royals have done this before, signing Jeff Francoeur and Horacio Ramirez to contract extensions before they reached free agency. However if the Royals really want to keep Rosenthal, there is nothing stopping them from trading him and re-signing him this winter. Considering his injury past, Rosenthal will likely want to cash in this winter after a strong showing, so it seems unlikely he would forgo the possibility of hitting the open market. On the other hand, if he gets hurt again in September, he risks losing a chance to get some security. Either way, if Rosenthal “loves the way the Royals operate”, a competitive offer this off-season should be just as good as a contract extension offer now.

What would Rosenthal return? Not exactly a top prospect. No one is quite certain how this trade market will play out, with one general manager telling Baseball America, “I have no idea how to handicap any of this.” As Moore asserts, it is likely that the only teams that add pieces will be teams with a surplus of prospects.

But if we assume some sort of normal trade value, Rosenthal would probably bring back a pair of non-elite, mid-level prospects. In other words, probably about the same value or perhaps a bit more than Jake Diekman brought back last summer when the Royals shipped him to Oakland for outfielder Dairon Blanco and pitcher Ismael Aquino. If you get back a top ten prospect in someone’s system, consider that a win.

That won’t accelerate the timetable or anything, but having two more minor leaguers with potential makes more sense to a long-term success of this franchise than having Rosenthal pitch in Kansas City in September, even if the Royals are on the periphery of a pennant race.

Dayton Moore has a history of being reluctant to tear down rosters completely, for both good and bad reasons. A non-trade this year is not necessarily evidence that he is unwilling to deal a valuable player like Rosenthal - this will be the most unpredictable trade deadline we’ve seen. But the wise approach would be to move Rosenthal for what you can get, and hopefully the Royals are able to make a deal that fits the long-term strategy.