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A quiet trade deadline puts more pressure on the Royals to contend next year

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They believe in themselves.

General manager Dayton Moore of the Kansas City Royals watches batting practice prior to a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium on August 30, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. Owner David Glass has agreed to to sell the team to a group led by Kansas City business man John Sherman for an estimated $1 billion. Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The trade deadline has come and gone, with the Royals making two significant trades, sending pitcher Danny Duffy to the Dodgers for a player to be named later, and outfielder Jorge Soler to Braves for 23-year old A-ball pitcher Kasey Kalich. The moves made sense, as both were free agents at the end of the year, and could presumably return to Kansas City. With Duffy injured and Soler awful this year, the return was not expected to be great, so these trades will likely be quickly forgotten.

What was more notable were the players they didn’t trade. The Royals are way back in the standings, trying to build a young team that can contend in the future and they still have on the roster:

  • 32-year old Whit Merrifield
  • 35-year old Carlos Santana
  • 33-year old Mike Minor

All three are under contract for next year, and Dayton Moore made clear he was unwilling to move any of them unless he was “overwhelmed” with an offer.

That offer never came although there were reports of interest in Merrifield from the Mariners, interest in Santana from the Red Sox, and a fairly robust starting pitching market that could have possibly included Minor. It is quite possible the offers were underwhelming. The Red Sox ended up going for a rental player in Kyle Schwarber, acquiring him for a 20-year low-A ball pitcher. Mariners General Manager Jerry DiPoto said he was “unwilling to meet the prices” of the players they were targeting, saying he would not trade “top prospects for a short-term gain.”

Moore also seemed open to trading his veteran players this off-season.

“The most important time, if you’re going to maximize a deal and you want to get back major-league talent, the time to do that usually is in the offseason,” Moore said. “Now, there’s more players available. Free agency kind of floods the market at time, but free agency can be very expensive at times.”

But this doesn’t actually make sense, does it? There are actually more players available in the offseason. Dayton Moore actually said himself last week that contenders typically aren’t willing to deal Major League pieces at the deadline, because they’re trying to win games and maintain clubhouse chemistry (ask Mariners players how they liked trading away their closer while they were trying to contend). So the only players that are available are from teams that are selling, like the Royals. Plus there are free agents, which yes, can be expensive, but they are available (and less expensive than they used to be thanks to more teams sitting on the sidelines). If you need a first baseman this winter, why trade for Carlos Santana when you can sign Freddie Freman, Anthony Rizzo, Brandon Belt, C.J. Cron, or Jonathan Schoop? Or you could probably trade for a younger player like Luke Voit by then, or the Twins could move Miguel Sano.

I get that Dayton Moore is playing a game of poker here and wants to extract the largest bet he can get from another player without revealing his hand. But he’s trying to bluff with a pretty weak hand. He has already waited too long to get top value for Merrifield at this point, as the All-Star has begun to decline. There was interest in Santana this summer, are we confident he’ll still have value to teams this off-season? Or next summer at age 36?

The Royals have the fourth-oldest lineup in all of baseball, and the fact they did very little to get younger puts even more pressure to truly contend next year. There doesn’t seem to be much point in having this many 30+ year olds on a team in its fourth consecutive losing season, on pace to lose 92 games. What role does Santana have on next year’s team with Nick Pratto pretty close to MLB-ready at first base, and Salvador Perez needing time at DH to rest his knees? Is Whit Merrifield even really necessary on this roster with Nicky Lopez playing so well and at least deserving of a longer look at second base?

But Dayton Moore sees a point.

“It’s important to transition young players to the major leagues,” Moore said. “You’re more successful doing that when you have guys like Carlos Santana and Whit Merrifield and Mikey Minor a part of your major-league team, veteran guys who have won and can help stabilize a lot of things, can hit behind or in front of young hitters, help balance out the lineup, take the ball and give you innings in Mikey Minor’s case.”

Sure, having a veteran or two can help, but this is team full of older men. There are only three regulars under the age of 28 - Andrew Benintendi, Nicky Lopez, and Ryan O’Hearn. Adalberto Mondesi has the most at-bats out of anyone age 25 or younger. The bullpen has gotten 100 innings out of three 35+ year olds.

The Royals are having a disappointing season and did pretty much nothing at the deadline to improve their lot for the future. This is because they believe. Dayton Moore told reporters, “I believe in our team.” Mike Matheny said, “we believe it’s just the tip of the iceberg of us taking those steps forward.”

They believe they are on the right track. They believe the farm system will get them where they want to be. They believe that a healthy Adalberto Mondesi and a resurgent Hunter Dozier and a promoted Bobby Witt, Jr. and Nick Pratto will be enough to improve the 13th-ranked offense in the American League. They believe that the pitching prospects will be enough to improve the 13th-ranked pitching staff in the American League.

Maybe Dayton Moore will be right and it all comes together next year. But the belief has to turn into results. And by sticking with these older players, the pressure is on to win next year.