Winter is coming for the Royals, and by that I mean the Winter Meetings are quick on the horizon. Hopefully, for our sake, the offseason ahead for Kansas City finishes better than the final season of Game of Thrones did. The organization made a smaller move this week, signing utilityman Garrett Hampson to a one-year, $2 million contract. With the Winter Meetings coming soon, the potential for much larger transactions hitting the wire is growing. Many of the off-season's biggest trades and signings usually gain traction during those meetings. That was the case for Kansas City back in 2012. On December 9 that year, the Royals acquired James Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays. The blockbuster deal sent Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City in exchange for prospects Jake Odorizzi, Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard.
The trade worked out well, of course. Shields anchored the rotation for three seasons and Davis recorded the clinching out in the 2015 World Series. Now 11 years later, could the Royals and Rays again match up for a big-time trade? According to reports on Friday, the Rays are receiving trade interest for All-Star outfielder Randy Arozarena. The report goes on to mention that it’s unclear whether Tampa Bay will trade the outfielder but opines that the team could look to trim payroll in the coming weeks. Players such as Tyler Glasnow and Manuel Margot have already been heavily mentioned in trade rumors this offseason. They’ll both make more next season than Arozarena, who is projected to make $9 million via arbitration this winter.
The Royals have stated that they’re focused on adding starting pitching and improving their outfield before Spring Training. Arozarena would check one of those two boxes. The better question is whether the Royals have the trade capital needed to acquire a young All-Star like Arozarena. He’s still just 28 years old and is club-controllable through the 2026 season. That combination of talent and years of control is bound to be expensive on the trade market.
A look at what Royals assets could potentially be used to acquire Arozarena
The Rays finished 2023 with a 99-63 record but lost in the Wild Card round to the eventual World Series Champion Rangers. The team has made the playoffs now in five consecutive seasons and doesn’t plan to start a rebuild any time soon. Their roster is still relatively young but getting more expensive. The Rays are notoriously light spenders and known to find ways to trim payroll while remaining competitive. Although Kansas City doesn’t have a ton of strength in the farm system, there are still some creative avenues that the team could look to use in acquiring new talent. To acquire good players, you have to give up good players. For that reason, any trade going to be tough to swallow but could be necessary to get closer to contention.
The first scenario to consider includes
third baseman shortstop Maikel Garcia. The Rays were set at shortstop for nearly a decade until Wander Franco fell under investigation late last season. Beyond Franco, the team has prospects Carson Williams and Osleivis Basabe some time away. Basabe is 23 but struggled in the majors last season. Garcia would represent a clear upgrade over any Major League-ready shortstops Tampa Bay could currently employ on Opening Day. He also represents the best — and most unnecessary — trade asset the Royals currently have.
Bobby Witt Jr. is the shortstop of the future in Kansas City, and Garcia simply doesn’t have enough power to last long-term at third base. At second base, there are plenty of suitable options even without Garcia, meaning he’s somewhat disposable.
In this potential trade, the Rays acquire Garcia and a young, controllable pitcher in exchange for Arozarena. The Royals are clearly getting the best player in this trade, but also giving up two good, young assets at the same time. It would be tough to give up both young players and may seem counter-intuitive to do so for a team like the Royals. The problem is, the team just lost 106 games and doesn’t really have much strength to trade from, anywhere in the organization. In any trade, they’ll likely need to deal quantity in order to acquire quality, as they do here.
Sticking with the “quantity for quality” theme, there are still ways that the Royals could get close to Arozarena’s value without giving up a potential piece of their young core like Garcia. Without Garcia, though, we’re getting further from Arozarena’s value than we were with the Garcia deal, meaning we’re getting further from potential trades that Tampa Bay may actually accept.
The Rays have plenty of question marks in their 2024 starting rotation. Three Rays pitchers underwent surgery recently and will miss some or all of next season. Assuming Tyler Glasnow is traded as rumors seem to indicate, that leaves at least one opening in the rotation with limited options to fill it from the Rays’ minor league system. For that reason, Alec Marsh should interest Tampa Bay. He has a good fastball and full pitch mix, something that the Rays value in their arms. With him, Nick Loftin goes to help fill the need at shortstop and Kyle Isbel rounds out the trade. Again, the Royals are getting the best player in this deal, but giving up young and controllable talent to do so.
The final trade scenario worth considering includes MJ Melendez. Melendez is the fifth most valuable trade asset for the Royals, according to Baseball Trade Values. He really came on in the second half of last season. There’s also a track record of minor league success to go with draft pedigree. In swapping Arozarena for Melendez, the Rays are getting three years younger. They’re also saving notable payroll dollars, as Melendez won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2025. He won’t reach free agency until 2029. That sort of control and upside is valuable if the Rays feel like they can get the most out of Melendez. He alone, won’t be enough however.
Pairing Melendez with Ben Kudrna is pretty substantial value. It’s a tough loss with Kudrna, who ranks as the team’s third-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline. However, there’s really no saying what the shape of the team’s contention window will look like once Kudrna is ready to make his Major League debut. He’s made strong improvements in the minor leagues over the last two seasons. He also creates some of the best swing-and-miss among opposing hitters in the entire minor leagues. Finally, Andrew Hoffmann rounds out this trade to give the Rays an additional arm that could help their MLB roster in 2024. He has a solid pitch mix and really started to come along toward the end of last season.
The offseason is still crawling along, so you’re left with silly trade scenarios that will probably never come to fruition. Still, a deal for Randy Arozarena is something that the Royals have to consider if he’s truly available via trade this winter. It’s not often that a player with his combination of youth, team control, and cheap cost is available. He’d represent a clear upgrade over anyone else in the current outfield mix and could be another building block that the Royals can rely on alongside Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino.