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A Hawk’s eye view of the Royals’ trade deadline

Flying up high it’s easy to see the process even above the results

Whit Merrifield celebrates hitting a home run in his final game as a Royal
Whit Merrifield celebrates hitting a home run in his final game as a Royal
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The trade deadline has come and gone. The Royals did a few deals. People have talked about how it was the most deals they’d done in a while and how it proves they’re becoming more transactional. But that seems a bit deceptive. Let’s talk about why.

The Royals only did two major “deadline” deals

The Royals traded Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi at the deadline. Those were guys that had to go for two very different reasons but had to go nonetheless. In case you missed it, Benintendi was on an expiring deal. That’s the kind of guy the Royals trade all the time. Whit Merrifield had to go because, like it or not, he had made it clear that, despite being kept for his veteran leadership, he was not fully committed to the Royals’ mission. Had they kept him, it would have spelled the end of the Royals’ clubhouse culture, which has long valued teamwork and chasing every single win.

Still, those deals don’t seem amazing You can find stats or scouts to back up any opinion you want on a minor leaguer so I tend to look at ages and levels for a quick shorthand of how a prospect is doing. The Royals got three A-Ball pitchers for Benintendi, but they’re all pretty old for that level. I get that there were injuries and the pandemic, but the older a player is compared to his level, the less you can trust his good stats, and the harder it is to imagine him becoming more than a replacement-level player at the big league level.

The Benintendi deal does nothing so much as remind me of when the team dealt Kelvin Herrera near the height of his powers and with a ton of interest in him. They got back three prospects that weren’t particularly highly rated and none of them are still with the Royals even four years later.

At least for Merrifield, they got a couple of guys whose ages look good for their levels. Setting aside the fact that they hung on to him too long - which we’ll get into more later - the return for this deal seems to involve a pair of high-floor, low-ceiling guys who are near major league ready. Maybe that was the best they could get, but it’s worth wondering if they could have gotten someone with a higher ceiling if they had been willing to seek players who were further from the big leagues.

The Royals did two other fairly big deals

When the Royals traded Carlos Santana and their competitive balance pick, those were fairly big news. But they were not truly deadline deals, and so it doesn’t necessarily make sense to lump them in there. That is really too bad because those are probably the two best deals the Royals made this year. Santana could have (and maybe should have) been cut a month earlier and returned nothing. The fact that the Royals got a replacement-level reliever and a lottery ticket for him is kind of amazing. They also couldn’t have asked for anything more from trading their draft pick. The most you can ask from a competitive balance pick like that is a toolsy outfielder who finds some success in AAA and gives you hope he can become a major league piece. That’s exactly what they’ve gotten from Drew Waters, plus they have two other guys who might turn out to be something, too.

The rest of the trades are meaningless

Every other deal they did involved players or money that weren’t going to impact the team for players who are unlikely to impact the team. How can you rate Emmanuel Rivera for Luke Weaver or Cam Gallagher for Brent Rooker? It’s just a swap of AAAA guys and hoping lightning strikes with a change of scenery.

The trades they didn’t do are frustrating and completely normal

The Royals almost certainly had offers for Michael A. Taylor, Scott Barlow, Brad Keller, Hunter Dozier, and Josh Staumont. None of them were traded. This is where you can see the Royals truly continuing the pattern they long ago established under Dayton Moore: If a guy doesn’t have to be traded and has any meaning to the big league team, he’s not going anywhere.

The Royals looked at Michael A. Taylor’s awful offensive season last year and decided to sign up for two more years of that. It was a bad choice at the time. But! They got extremely lucky. Taylor has continued to be quite good defensively in center field but is having something very close to a career year at the plate. This was the Royals’ opportunity to take a dumb move that somehow worked out in their favor and get something good for him. The Cardinals traded Harrison Bader to the Yankees for Jordan Montgomery. Yes, Bader is younger and has a better track record of offensive success. But Bader also has been worse defensively than Taylor this year and was hurt at the time of the deal. If they were willing to deal Montgomery for Bader one would think Taylor would be pretty close to bringing him back, too. Montgomery is 29 and only has one more year of control left, but I like the Royals chances of getting something good for him next season more than their chances of getting something good for Taylor next year. Meanwhile, he could have bolstered a pitching staff that desperately needs innings eaten as the starters rarely get too deep and the bullpen struggles with consistency.

J.J. Picollo may be the new General Manager, but in the end this trade deadline starkly resembled previous deadlines under Dayton Moore. The Royals’ failure to do more than the bare minimum at the trade deadline has struck again. The Royals’ insistence on chasing quantity over quality has struck again. The Royals’ desire for near-major league-ready talent has struck again.

In baseball, three strikes, and you’re out.

Let’s just hope John Sherman remembers what sport his team plays.