The Royals have had a busy week of transactions in an attempt to upgrade a roster that lost 106 games this season. They signed veteran starters Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha, and relievers Chris Stratton and Will Smith, and added to the offense by signing outfielder Hunter Renfroe.
General Manager J.J. Picollo has been aggressive in upgrading a pitching staff that finished with the third-worst ERA in baseball by using free agency. But he could have gone the trade route, according to an article by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. According to his report, the Royals had discussions with the Marlins about their young starters, specifically left-hander Jesús Luzardo.
Once the Royals knew they could sign free-agent outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who on Friday agreed to a two-year, $13 million deal, they were faced with a difficult choice in their pursuit of another starting pitcher. They could trade first baseman/DH Vinnie Pasquantino to the Marlins for left-hander Jesús Luzardo, a deal sources said was discussed at the winter meetings. Or they could sign right-hander Michael Wacha, a second-tier free agent who was in some demand.
Luzardo is a 26-year-old coming off a breakthrough 4.1 rWAR season with three years of club control remaining. Over the last two seasons he has a 3.48 ERA and the 12th-best strikeout rate in baseball. Pasquantino has been the best Royals hitter over the last two seasons, by wRC+ with a line of .272/.355/.444, and they have him under club control for the next five seasons.
The logic of a trade is that Pasquantino is coming off a labrum injury and his value is tied up solely in his bat. It is easier and cheaper to find a free agent bat than an arm, and landing a pitcher like Luzardo could give you a legit #1 pitcher and/or a very valuable trade chip should the Royals fall short of contending.
On the other hand, the Royals are not exactly flush with hitters, and trading Pasquantino would leave a sizeable hole. He has not only shown terrific power, but some of the best plate discipline demonstrated by a Royals hitter in decades. Pasquantino also seems to fill a valuable leadership role among the young players that might be irreplaceable.
Ultimately, the Royals thought it would be better to sign Wacha to a two-year, $32 million deal and keep “Pasquatch” in the fold. We will see if that was the right move, but it is heartening to see the Royals explore every opportunity to improve the team, and even consider a trade that might hurt.