The Royals are facing the Rays this week, the defending American League champions. Last off-season, Dayton Moore remarked on the nature of their franchise, contrasting them with his own team.
“They do an excellent job of developing and maintaining pitching,” Moore said. “They’re very transactional. They’re more transactional than we are. I’ve been criticized for that many times, that we stay for players a little too long. Sometimes it works out great. Sometimes it doesn’t. We’re one of the least transactional organizations in baseball.”
Moore seemed to indicate a potential change in this regard when he said, “I think as we go forward, I have to be more open-minded to being more transactional.”
It was an interesting admission and may have given a preview to the trade he would eventually execute for Andrew Benintendi. The deal saw the Royals flip Franchy Cordero, Khalil Lee, and two players to be named later for a player coming off a terrible, injury-filled 2020 season. It was a risky trade, but one that looks like an outstanding return considering Codero has struggled (.502 OPS), Lee doesn’t look ready (1-15 10K), and Benintendi is getting on base at a near 36% clip. We haven’t seen the final pieces of this deal yet, but the Royals for 2021 gave up some controllable years on a couple of iffy players and have come out +0.8 fWAR ahead on the exchange through Sunday.
Another benefit of this deal for the Royals was something I’ve written about many times on my Patreon page Royals Academy, the trade freed up a spot on their 40 man roster ahead of the 2021 off-season crunch. The Royals chose a couple of high school draftees in the ‘17 draft a year before the ‘18 college heavy crew, and all of these players will be eligible for the 2021 offseason Rule 5 draft. They have already added Kyle Isbel, Brady Singer, Daniel Tillo, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch from those two drafts to the 40-man roster. That leaves Nick Pratto, M.J. Melendez, Jonathan Bowlan, Jon Heasley, and Jackson Kowar to add this offseason. That’s before you get to the possibility of adding Bobby Witt Jr. or any other player that breaks through the wall.
Pending Free Agents
Michael A. Taylor
Facing a roster crunch in the offseason with some players who will and won’t be ready and a team on the fringes of competing for a Wild Card this season may make it the right time to get transactional. Where are the holes? Most team has plenty of holes, but if the Royals are looking for a short-term fix to help this team now without breaking the prospect bank, the bullpen might be the best place for that move. What moves workout for that kind of fix? We know prospect values have never been higher, which means a prospect deal could produce a return to get this team closer to contention this season.
What players would make the most sense to trade if the Royals were going to make this type of move? Most would consider dealing for the deep group of pitching prospects that the Royals have built. After all, they have quite a few on the 40-man and others to add, which doesn’t even mention that they still have Asa Lacy and a rising Alec Marsh behind the current group. That makes plenty of sense and could make for a good supplement, but another group may make more sense.
This past offseason, Salvador Perez signed a new contract that guaranteed he would be in Kansas City through at least 2025. With his lack of on-base skills, his value is best behind the dish, and while his size may not allow him to stay back there 150 games per season like his younger years, he should still be catching 100 times per season if his body will allow.
Along with Sal, the Royals have a capable backup in Cam Gallagher. His offensive numbers this season aren’t great, but the life of a backup catcher offensively can be up and down as they don’t get regular playing time or at-bats. This season may be down, 2020 was up, and 2019 is likely the typical season. His value is his defense which is above average and probably better than Sal’s though he doesn’t often get the credit. Like Sal, he’s under control through 2025.
The Royals added Sebastian Rivero to the 40 man roster this offseason. His name had come up for years in a similar way to Sal’s when he was younger, earning praise for his defensive skill, game calling, and rapport that he builds with the pitchers he works with. Like Sal, he’s a late bloomer at the plate but has added strength and is starting to show some power at the dish. The catching depth doesn’t end there, though, with M.J. Melendez and his prodigious power and cannon for an arm. The 2019 season was a disaster for the Wilmington crew, and Melendez was in that group, striking out at a 39% clip while carrying an unsustainable 24.7% swinging-strike rate. Its early M.J. has lowered both rates significantly with a 16.4% strikeout rate and a 10.7% swinging strike percentage. Given MJ’s career walk rate and ISO rates, he will do plenty of damage at the plate if he makes contact.
One can see the depth the Royals have at the position and the fact that Sal isn’t going anywhere. So the move would be to find a team who thinks Sebastian or MJ can be their catcher of the future and find a piece or two that fits well for the Royals. It’s not without precedent either, as the Indians made a similar deal with the Padres back in 2018 when they acquired Francisco Mejia for Adam Cimber and Brad Hand. Dealing from a position of strength, the front office would need to find a team that isn’t in contention that would be willing to negotiate.
Potential trade: M.J. Melendez and Angel Zerpa for Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez
One that may work would be the Pirates with closer Richard Rodriguez. The 31-year-old reliever has been on a three-year burner with dominant stuff and results while being controlled through 2024. Relievers don’t offer a ton of return in most markets, and a last-place team like the Pirates shouldn’t have much need for a dominant closer.
Rodriguez filling the closer role next to Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, and Jake Brentz would make the Royals bullpen that much deeper and position them well this year to make a playoff push. It’s a deal built for a playoff push and gives the Royals room to make other moves from a deep pitching crop. This move opens up a roster spot and helps supplement a relief corps that’s been shaky recently. Would the Pirates want more? They may for a closer that is increasing his value daily but they probably won’t get a lot more than a controllable starter and a catching prospect that’s stock is rising and isn’t far from the majors. Let’s get transactional, GMDM.