J.J. Picollo had admitted this off-season that the team is looking toward 2024 and beyond to build a contender. He backed that up with a pair of trades last month to open up playing time for young players, sending infielder Adalberto Mondesi to Boston and outfielder Michael A. Taylor to Minnesota. With the signing of Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, could the Royals be looking to move Scott Barlow as well? The general manager told reporters upon the Chapman signing that “Scott Barlow is our closer,” but if the Royals are looking toward the future, then moving Barlow for younger pieces would make a lot of sense.
Scott Barlow has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last four seasons, with a 3.07 ERA, 324 FIP and 10.8 strikeouts-per-nine innings over that time. He has two years of club control and a very reasonable salary of $5.3 million this year. But what teams are looking for is what he will be, not what he has been. His ZIPS projection is still pretty healthy with a 3.59 ERA as the team’s best pitcher. But he is also 30 years old and had one of the largest declines in velocity last year. Baseball Trade Value puts him at $10.4M in surplus value, behind about 30 right-handed relievers, but the fourth-most among right-handed relievers with two years of control left (behind Jonathan Loaisiga, Seranthony Dominguez, and Clay Holmes).
What does the reliever market look like? We have seen a few high-profile relievers traded in the past year and those deals can give us a good sense of the return for Barlow.
August 1, 2022 - Brewers trade Josh Hader to the Padres for Taylor Rogers, Dinelson Lamet, Robert Gasser and Esteury Ruiz
This trade was a high-risk gamble for the Padres, who sought to upgrade from their All-Star closer Rogers, who had great peripherals but a poor ERA. Hader was a four-time All-Star but had been shaky in 2021 and early 2022, and would post a 7.31 ERA for the Padres. The move cost the Padres two promising prospects in Gasser and Ruiz (Lamet would be released soon after the trade and was only included to even out the money). Gasser was ranked #8 in the Padres farm system at the time by MLB Pipeline, and is now ranked #10 in the Brewers system. Ruiz was ranked #28 in the Padres system at the time, but his value has skyrocketed and he has since been traded to the Athletics where he ranks #6 and has been mentioned by a few outlets as a borderline top 100 prospect. MLB Trade Value had Hader at $12.0M in surplus value at the time of the trade, with a year and two months under control, so this isn’t too far away from Barlow’s value, although the inclusion of Rogers as a return complicates evaluation since the Royals won’t be asking for proven veterans in return (or shouldn’t, at least).
August 1, 2022 - Cubs trade Scott Effross to the Yankees for Hayden Wesneski
Effross was still in his rookie season when the Cubs shipped him to the Yankees for Wesneski, the #7 prospect in the Yankees’ farm system at the time. This is a tough comp for Barlow since Effross hardly has any track record. However, because he has so many controllable years left, and because he was so good in his rookie campaign (2.66 ERA with 10.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings with the Cubs), MLB Trade Value had him at $9.3M surplus value at the time of the trade, not far from where they have Barlow now. The Cubs got just one prospect in return, but he’s a good one - an MLB-ready starter who posted a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings with the Cubs after the trade at age 25.
August 2, 2022 - Orioles trade Jorge López to the Twins for Juan Nunez, Cade Povich, Juan Rojas, and Yennier Cano
López went from failed Royals pitcher to an All-Star with the Orioles after they claimed him off waivers. He had a 1.68 ERA with 19 saves in 44 appearances with them once they moved him to the bullpen last year, but rather than hang onto him for a post-season push, they sold high on him in exchange for four Twins prospects. López doesn’t have nearly the track record that Barlow had, and he’s only under club control for two more years. Baseball Trade Value had his surplus value at $5.6 at the time, and of the prospects received, only Povich (#14) ranks in the top 30 of the deep Orioles farm system by MLB Pipeline.
January 7, 2023 - Tigers trade Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens to the Phillies for Nick Maton, Donny Sands and Matt Vierling
Soto may have two All-Star appearances, but his high walk rates are a ticking time bomb that put him much less valuable than Barlow. MLB Trade Values put his surplus value at $2.1M at the time of the trade, barely more than Clemens, a 26-year-old infielder who had an OPS+ of 45 last year. The return was pretty underwhelming - Vierling has some intriguing speed, Maton looks like a utility infielder, and Sands was ranked #21 in the Phillies system - but Soto didn’t have a ton of value to begin with.
So where does that leave Barlow’s trade value? I think you can definitely get a prospect that is top ten in a good farm system, with another top 30 prospect, and then maybe a lottery ticket-type (18-year-old kid in the Dominican Summer League, or maybe even a flyer on a Major Leaguer who is not playing well). Many Blue Jays fans have been calling for a Barlow trade, so what about a package like this?
Scott Barlow to the Blue Jays for Yosver Zulueta, Irv Carter, and Fernando Perez
Zulueta seems to be what the Royals are looking for - a close-to-MLB-ready pitcher with upside as a 25-year-old with a high-90s fastball and a good arsenal. He had Tommy John surgery, but worked his way back last year and should be in the big leagues at some point this year, although perhaps as a reliever. Irv Carter features a 96 mph fastball and is just 20-years-old with some upside. Perez had 48 strikeouts and just 5 walks in 43 2/3 innings in the Dominican Summer League last year. You could also try to swap out Cavan Biggio in the deal - he hasn’t been good the last two years, but he’s still young and had a terrific bat in his first two, and could provide some positional versatility.
There are certainly other teams that could be interested in Barlow - what kind of deal do you think the Royals could get for him? Should they move him, or wait until this summer when they are fewer bidders, but more urgency?