The 2022 season has not gone according to plan for the Kansas City Royals.
The Royals signaled its plans to compete by signing starting pitcher Zack Greinke in the offseason and debuting the team’s top prospect, shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., on Opening Day. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the Royals’ general manager, J.J. Picollo*, stated that the Royals were still in it.
*GMJJP doesn’t have the same ring to it as GMDM.
Unfortunately, the Royals are not still in it.
The Royals own the worst record in baseball (17-37) with the worst run-differential (-96).
In a weak American League Central, the Royals find themselves closer to the division leader (13.5 games back) than do teams in other divisions, like the Baltimore Orioles (17 GB), Oakland Athletics (16.5 GB), and Washington Nationals (16.5 GB).
Still, let’s not kid ourselves: the Royals should’ve been on target for playing .500 baseball instead of the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft. But with the season a disaster, the former of those two scenarios is now much more likely.
Yet, the Royals can choose to salvage what it can from this season best forgotten. They can do that by aggressively making trades between now and the August 2nd trade deadline.
In fact, the Royals are even positioned to control the Major League trade deadline due to its collection of players on the last year of their deals or with one or two years left of arbitration.
If a competing team is looking for a solid left-handed bat but doesn’t want to break the bank, well, the Royals have a guy who fits that description.
While he left Sunday’s game and missed last night’s but (1) Andrew Benintendi remains the Royals’ biggest (or, at the very least, its most likely) trade chip as he’s a free agent after the season. The left fielder acquired from Boston before 2021 is having a great season with a career-high in OPS+ (132) as he’s slashing .321/.384/.799. For his career, he’s started 605 games in left but has also played a bit of center, starting 71 games there between 2017-2019.
What about a stellar defensive center fielder?
Enter (2) Michael A. Taylor, the only Royal to reach base in Game One against the Blue Jays. Taylor has another year left on his contract after this one, but it’s for the relatively low cost of $4.5 million. He’s been worth 0.7 WAR this season, his second in Kansas City, and his .697 OPS is actually above the league’s average.
The buying team is more interested in a relief pitcher? Well, the Royals have plenty to deal, including these three prime candidates:
- 31-year-old RHP (3) Arodys Vizcaíno. He hasn’t pitched in a couple of seasons, but he’s getting into the groove, appearing in four games since May 30th, even recording a hold in the 6-0 win against Houston on Saturday.
- 30-year-old LHP (4) Amir Garrett. Currently on the IL, Garrett is making just north of $2 million this season before entering his last year of arbitration. While his ERA (4.61) is high his first season in Kansas City, his FIP (3.43) and WHIP (1.098) are much better.
- 29-year-old RHP (5) Scott Barlow. The team’s closer, such as a role exists, is under club control for another two seasons after this one. That sort of team control, coupled with Barlow’s arsenal, could net the Royals quite the return.
Three candidates to quick-hit: (6) 1B/DH Carlos Santana, (7) 1B/DH Ryan O’Hearn, and back-up catcher (8) Cam Gallagher. Santana’s on an expiring deal, but he’s so awful I don’t see anyone trading much more than a bag of balls for him. Same goes for O’Hearn, except maybe a pitching machine gets thrown in since he’s under control through 2024.
Gallagher is an interesting trade candidate, though. He won’t start anywhere, but he’s as solid of a back-up catcher that you’ll find on the open market. Like O’Hearn, the Royals control his rights through 2024.
And if a team calls looking for a starting pitcher? The Royals have two available, though dealing one could be...unsavory.
First, there’s (9) Brad Keller. Colleague Max Rieper recently took a deeper dive into that scenario. Keller’s making just under $5 million this year and is arbitration-eligible for the final team this offseason. I don’t expect his value to get any higher than it will be right before August 2nd.
Then, of course, there’s (10) Greinke. Surely this is not what Greinke signed up for—a team trying to stay out of not only the division’s cellar but the league’s cellar. After two-and-a-half years in Houston, this has got to be somewhat of a shock.
Zack Greinke has passed Tom Gordon for 9th all-time in Kansas City Royals history for innings pitched tonight.— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) May 19, 2022
9. Zack Greinke: 1150.0 (and counting)
10. Tom Gordon: 1149.2
Side note: we were also here to see it@Royals | #Royals pic.twitter.com/ET8rt4aLnr
Still, I’d only condone trading him if he wants it. Otherwise, that’s a bad look for the Royals. He could certainly help a contender as a back-of-the-rotation arm or even a long-reliever.
If a team is in search of a bat that can play multiple positions, (11) Whit Merrifield is still a Royal for some reason. His trade value has plummeted (-0.3 WAR) but he can still play just about everywhere except for short and catcher. Next season, he’s only in line to make $2.75 million followed by a $500,000 buyout.
There’s also (12) Nicky Lopez, who has three years of control left on his deal. Nicky’s bat has cooled since last year’s awesome performance. Still, he’s an outstanding, young shortstop who could wind up winning a Gold Glove.
Finally, (13) Hunter Dozier could also be had. Dozier has improved his slash line all around from last year and his .735 OPS is 11% higher than the league average. He’s probably overpaid in 2024 but the acquiring team can get out of the deal after that. He would definitely help a team with a short left field.
Overall, that’s a baker’s dozen worth of trade candidates.
Now, the Royals won’t trade them all, or even half of them, but the point is, the Royals can salvage something of this season by winning the trade deadline by selling. There is no way the Royals can run it back with this club in 2023*, not after two disastrous months have shown what this squad truly is.
*Did I just jinx us?
Lastly, don’t expect the Royals to get top-of-the-line prospects from other teams. But expect a decent haul for guys like Benintendi, Keller, Barlow, Lopez, and/or Greinke. And remember that just because a guy isn’t highly ranked at the time of the trade doesn’t mean he won’t explode on to the scene when he makes it.
Prospects are like lottery tickets. The more you have, the better the odds.