clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Royals have a trade partner across the state

The Royals and Cardinals could be trade partners this month.

MLB: Game One-Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are 34-53, the fourth-worst record in baseball, and looking toward the future. This week the organization made a trade that utterly fascinates me, dealing the #35 pick in the draft (a compensatory pick that can only be traded once) and its $2.2 million slot value to the Atlanta Braves for three minor leaguers - outfielder Drew Waters, pitcher Andrew Hoffmann, and third baseman C.J. Alexander.

Meanwhile, to the east, the St. Louis Cardinals, in their first season under new manager Oliver Marmol, stand at 48-42, two games back of the first-place Brewers and 3.5 games back of the Padres for the second and final Wild Card spot.

The Cardinals are in this thing and look to add players for a stretch run.

The Royals are not in this thing and are rightfully already looking toward the future, playing several rookies and dealing a veteran - Carlos Santana in a deal with the Mariners - whose time with the franchise had already stretched beyond its breaking point.

These two Missouri teams could help each other. The Cardinals don’t have a lot of holes on the roster, but what areas of need they have could be fixed with a deal with the Royals. Plus, the Cardinals have a lot of solid prospects, including some guys currently on the Major League roster, that could help the Royals down the line and better suits Kansas City’s timeline to compete.

Four paragraphs on the Cardinals roster, so skip ahead if you want.

The Birds have an awesome infield. Paul Goldschmidt is at first and could very well win the MVP this season. Across the diamond is another MVP candidate, Nolan Arenado, in his second year with the team after they fleeced the Rockies for him. Nolan Gorman, taken one pick after Brady Singer in the 2018 draft, is at second base. At short is Tommy Edman, who won a Gold Glove at second base last year.

Catcher is a weak point as Yadier Molina is injured and Andrew Knizner and Austin Romine haven’t done much in his absence. The outfield has been a strength in the past, but their mashing left fielder, Tyler O’Neill, hasn’t been himself this year and is currently on the IL. Center fielder Harrison Bader is also on the IL. The only regular outfielder not on the IL is Dylan Carlson, who’s moved over to center and is performing quite well.

At DH, the Cardinals have used young thumper Juan Yepez and Albert Pujols, who’s retiring after the season and probably should have done so already. The team also has Lars Nootbaar (dope name) and Corey Dickerson in the outfield with Edmundo Sosa and the brilliant rookie Brendan Donovan to fill in everywhere else.

Pitching has been...well, maybe not a problem, but definitely not a strength. At the top of the rotation, Miles Mikolas and the ageless Adam Wainwright have been getting it down. Ace Jack Flaherty has missed most of the season and is back on the IL, out until at least August. Dakota Hudson has been fine while free-agent signing Steven Matz is also out with an injury. Young guys like Matthew Liberatore and Andre Pallante have filled in pretty well but the rotation isn’t even close to Milwaukee’s level.

The Royals have at least half-a-dozen players that could help the Cardinals the rest of this season—and some of those six even beyond that. The first, and I think least likely, is catcher (1) Cam Gallagher. Cam’s not a starter in the Majors but he is quite serviceable and the Royals have arbitration rights on him for the next two seasons. Plus, Knizner is the catcher of the future for the Cardinals, and they’ve also got another young backstop, Ivan Herrera, on the 40-man.

In the outfield, (2) Andrew Benintendi would certainly help. Right now, his .780 OPS would rank third on the Cardinals for players with 300+ at-bats, behind Goldschmidt and Arenado. His OBP (.384) would rank second, behind only Goldschmidt. While O’Neill looks on the verge of getting back to St. Louis, the Cardinals could use Benintendi in center in case of emergency, or as DH against right-handed pitchers: he’s slashing .333/.401/.428 against righties compared to .261/.299/.497 for Yepez and (avert your eyes, Albert fans) .161/.284/.259 for Pujols.

Then there’s the recently sidelined* center fielder (3) Michael A. Taylor, who’s under contract for next season at what’s looking like a steal at $4.5 million. Taylor’s having a very fine season, perhaps the best in his career. The Gold Glover’s presence would allow St. Louis to move Carlson back to right and Bader to the bench as a fourth outfielder.

*This injury is perhaps the most Royals thing ever. Or maybe it’s the most Matheny thing ever? The Royaliest Matheniest Thing Ever? Whatever it is, it’s dumb.

Closer (4) Scott Barlow would be a welcome addition to the Cardinals bullpen, a unit that doesn’t have a clear cut closer. Right now, Giovanny Gallegos leads the teams in saves with 9 while Helsley has 7. Helsley, an All-Star this season, sports a 0.73 ERA and a 1.51 FIP, but this is his first year in that role. Barlow would offer a more seasoned option to close out games. Even if acquired and not used in the closer role, Barlow’s 1.008 WHIP, 7.4% walk rate, and 44.4% groundball rate certainly play.

Both (5) Zack Greinke and (6) Brad Keller would improve the Cardinals starting rotation. As mentioned, outside of Mikolas and Wainwright, the Cardinals have struggled to get much out of their starters. Outside of a dud in Houston, Greinke’s pitched very well since coming back from the IL on June 24, throwing 17 innings over three starters while yielding just two earned runs on ten hits and two walks while fanning 12.

The durable Keller would rank second on the Cardinals in games started, third in innings pitched, and third in ERA, FIP, strikeouts, and walks for pitchers with at least 90 innings. Plus, he’s under club control for one more season.

For the Royals, then, the question becomes: Who ya got? And the Cardinals have plenty of talented players from the ages of 22 through 25 and a couple of younger guys who might be available.

First, I’ll note that the Cardinals’ top prospect is third baseman Jordan Walker, whom the Royals passed on drafting in 2020 in favor of...Asa Lacy. To be fair to the Royals, 19 other teams also passed on Walker. Still, the dude’s raking—and all but untouchable.

The oldest of the Cardinals’ young bunch is also probably untouchable: 25-year-old Brendan Donovan. He’s proven to be an incredibly versatile player in St. Louis, playing at least seven games at every position except catcher and center fielder. He’s getting on base at a nearly 40% clip while his OPS+ is 29% above league average.

Another two players are on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster: left-handed pitcher Zack Thompson and the aforementioned first baseman/corner outfielder/DH Juan Yepez. Thompson, 24, appeared in 10 games for St. Louis earlier this year, starting one of them, and he pitched well, allowing only six earned runs in 20 innings while striking out 14. The 2019 first-round draft pick is the team’s No. 7 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.

Earlier, I touched on how Yepez hasn’t fared as well as Benintendi against right-handers but he’s still done well, slugging nearly .500 against them. For the season, he’s got a .763 OPS to go with 11 home runs, 10 doubles, 23 runs scored, and 27 RBI. But how many first baseman/corner outfielder/DH types do the Royals need?

Two other outfield prospects are intriguing options, the first being the team’s No. 8 prospect, 23-year-old Alec Burleson. The Memphis Redbirds right fielder is absolutely torching AAA right now: he’s slashing .338/.380/.557 with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs.

The other is further away from the Bigs as he’s still in A-Ball: 22-year-old Jhon Torres. According to MLB Pipeline, he’s got plus power and a plus arm. His stats are underwhelming so he’s more projectable right now than the guys already listed. He’s another corner outfielder.

St. Louis has a really interesting right-handed pitching prospect in Tink Hence, who’s only 19. MLB Pipelines lists his arsenal including four pitches, including a plus fastball and plus curveball, while noting that he used his slider more in high school. This kid’s dominating Palm Beach right now, striking out 40 in 23 innings while walking only eight batters.

Then there’s 24-year-old lefty Connor Thomas, the organization’s No. 16 prospect. In Memphis this season, Thomas has pitched a hair over 71 innings over 12 starts and three relief appearances, striking out 66 against 13 walks. The former fifth-round pick has upside control with a plus changeup and a plus slider.

The Cardinals and Royals should be talking. Each team’s needs and timelines work rather well for a trade to happen. The Royals have several pieces to help a team win now while the Cardinals have a solid group of youngsters that the Royals could use as early as 2023.

The Royals hit on their most recent trade with Atlanta, and hopefully that’s a sign of things to come—Kansas City’s front office will aggressively try landing highly-touted prospects, regardless of whether it’s the other team’s No. 1 prospect.

While Jordan Walker (probably) won’t be joining Northwest Arkansas in August, it doesn’t hurt to start there and work down toward a package including Burleson, Hence, and Thomas.