Most of the words coming out of Royals front office types have really downplayed the prospect of splashing a bunch cash in free agency this winter. That does not mean that there won’t be any big moves however, and to that end I have started poking around various depth charts and prospect lists to see if there are any trade targets that might make sense for KC. I am following a few parameters. In general, I am looking for starting pitchers, third base or shortstop, outfield, and possibly catcher. All the targets are for building the major league team, not looking to add depth to the farm system, so they need to be in the majors or very close. Also, I am trying to be realistic about how aggressive the team should be, meaning no Sandy Alcantara or something else that would be ludicrously expensive to get done. There are other types of trades that the actual Royals should be thinking about and possibly pursuing, but I am not interested in the bullpen building or deepening the farm system in this exercise.
Starting with the National League East is not an accident. In some ways I feel like the Marlins and Royals, as currently constructed, are kind of made for each other. The Royals have almost exclusively young bats, and a lot of them. The Marlins have almost exclusively young starting pitchers, and a lot of them. On top of that, a lot of people (myself included) have said maybe they will trade one of the young bats for pitching, with MJ Melendez seeming to be the most often cited possibility due to positional questions. No one, that I have seen at least, has said what a trade like that might look like.
Here is one idea, Pablo Lopez of Miami. For a bunch of reasons, I think the Marlins would be willing to trade him, and he has a solid starter who seems to be improving. He has two years left until free agency, and that means he will be in the more expensive part of his arbitration years, though he should remain affordable. The Marlins seem open to trading arms because they have so many but might prefer to trade Trevor Rogers who is controllable longer. I would prefer Lopez as Rogers did not have a good 2022 and does not have a track record like Lopez, but maybe the new pitching coach, whoever that turns out to be, can make something of Rogers instead. I’m not picky. Lopez is a low walk with moderate strikeouts sort who has put up sub-4 ERAs with peripherals to match for the past three seasons. He will be 27 in March, and projections so far have him matching last year’s 2.8 WAR. I would probably not trade Melendez for him straight up because of the number of years MJ is controllable, but as the main piece coming back I would be fine with it. A Singer, Lopez, and Greinke (assuming they bring him back) front three would be a vast improvement over the early season rotation last year.
For the rest of these guys I am going to just give you why they might be interesting, but not who I would trade for them. The Mets have several players that I would at least kick the tires on:
Carlos Carrasco: This one depends on what the Mets do in free agency. If they re-sign Jacob deGrom or someone else to fill that spot, then Carrasco seems like someone they could deal without it hurting their rotation too much. He will be 36 and in the last year of his contract at a cost of $14 million, so sort of like bringing Greinke in last year. Carrasco chalked up 152 innings at a 3.97 ERA last season, and his FIP/xFIP agree he could easily have been better than that. There is a chance that they really still see him as their number two guy, so if you can’t pry him away I would move on to…
Joey Lucchesi: Joey only threw 38 and a third innings last season after coming back from Tommy John, but they were innings that I find compelling. His strikeout and walk rates were the best of his career, which makes me think he can return to a 4ish ERA and 2 WAR type pitcher with the possibility of maybe even a bit more. He is controllable for 2023 and 2024, but not as established or dependable as Carrassco, so the price might be better.
Brett Baty: This might be more expensive than I would be willing to go, but right now they have Eduardo Escobar at third with Baty waiting in the wings. He did not have a great debut in 2022, but it was also only 42 plate appearances and his minor league numbers at AA and AAA were very good for a 22-year-old. This would be a bold move too, basically committing to Witt Jr. at short. Still, I would be interested in what the Mets wanted, and I think he would fit well with the young talent the Royals have already assembled. Right now he is the 52nd-ranked prospect in baseball per Fangraphs, so it would require at least one of the young bats the Royals like, and probably more. Prospect for prospect deals can be hard to get done, but worth talking about at the very least.
On to the Braves, I think they have one player in particular that might make sense.
Jared Shuster: This is a more of a 2024 play, which might fit with the Royals time frame expectations anyway. He has not made his major league debut yet, but heading into his age 24 season, Shuster could be the type of player that could add some more competition for those back end of the rotation spots. He is not a high-end prospect, but he was very good at AA last season, and then struggled when moved up to AAA where is strikeout rate plummeted from 10.52 to 7.21. Depending on what the Royals think caused that, he could have a lower price now and still be a good trade candidate. Atlanta is not lacking for starting pitching at the big league level, which might also help, though their farm system is depleted of starter prospects near the majors, so it depends on how much depth they are comfortable with.
There are another three or four other players in the NL East that looked like they might make sense, but there started to be too many questions that I could not answer sufficiently to make the pitch without more information. If you can find five decent-looking options in each division, that would be 30 to pursue, so that seems reasonable as a stopping point. Especially since you can realistically only get a few of them done anyway. Those are my best ideas for trade targets in the NL East, and I will try to run through the other divisions over the next few weeks hoping that none of the good ones are moved before I get there.