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Which Royals might be available at this year’s trade deadline?

Will J.J. Picollo have a “transactional” approach this July?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s MLB trade window closes on August 1. That’s the trade deadline and for the last place Kansas City Royals, it could prove to be a pivotal day for the future of the franchise. What will the deadline strategy be for General Manager J.J. Picollo? On one hand, the team has a handful of Major League veterans who don’t figure to fit into the future “winning window.” However, they also have somewhat of a log-jam of prospects in the upper minors without a clear direction of how they’ll all fit into the future plans.

In recent years, the Royals have made their share of deadline trades, but most of the major ones came last summer. The 2022 deadline was a slight departure from the typical pedestrian strategy we saw under former General Manager, Dayton Moore. In J.J. Picollo’s first official season as GM, the Royals traded away Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi. They also swapped the 35th pick in the MLB Draft for three prospects from the Braves.

Royals Trade Deadline Deals

Date Royals Receive From Team For
Date Royals Receive From Team For
7/17/2020 Franchy Cordero, Ronald Bolanos SD Tim Hill
7/21/2020 Stephen Woods TB Michael Gigliotti
7/29/2021 Zach Willeman LAD Danny Duffy
7/30/2021 Kasey Kalich ATL Jorge Soler
6/27/2022 Wyatt Mills, William Fleming SEA Carlos Santana
7/11/2022 Drew Waters, CJ Alexander, Andrew Hoffmann ATL 2022 Pick #35
7/16/2022 Jonatan Bernal TOR Foster Griffin
7/28/2022 Beck Way, T.J. Sikkema, Chandler Champlain NYY Andrew Benintendi
08/01/2022 Luke Weaver ARI Emmanuel Rivera
08/02/2022 Samad Taylor, Max Castillo TOR Whit Merrifield

Hopefully, that approach will continue this year. The organization has a lopsided misdirection of talent. The pitching landscape in the major leagues is barren. The starting rotation only features four starting pitchers — two of which don’t figure into next season’s plans. A third is under contract for next season and we’re all hoping that changes by some sort of miracle.

On the other hand, the lineup — both in Kansas City and in Omaha — features a lot of promising talent at varying levels of development. If handled correctly, this year’s deadline should be eventful and dare I say fun for Royals fans. Who should the team look to shop at this year’s deadline?

Aroldis Chapman, RP

Potential Fits: Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks

The most obvious name for the Royals at this year’s deadline is lefty Aroldis Chapman. Rumors have been swirling since early May that teams were interested in the veteran flamethrower. He’s throwing as fast as ever again this season and striking out 14.6 batters per nine. He looked to have taken a step toward decline last season when his velocity suffered and he pitched to a mediocre 4.46 ERA.

Those struggles seem all but behind him this season. The Dodgers attempted to trade for Chapman previously until details of a domestic incident emerged. They’re again a good fit this season, sporting the fifth-highest reliever ERA in the major leagues (4.54). The Rangers (25th) and Diamondbacks (22nd) also rank in the bottom half in terms of reliever ERA this season. At age 35, the Royals aren’t going to acquire a team’s top prospect as the Yankees did in 2016 when they traded him to the Cubs and acquired Gleyber Torres. Still, the return should be notable with the alleged market he already carries.

Potential Trade:

Royals trade Chapman to the Dodgers for LHP Maddux Bruns

Nicky Lopez, SS/2B

Potential Fits: Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros

Nicky Lopez once fit a need for the Royals but no longer fills that need. With such a log jam of middle infielders, it’s hard to find where he fits in with regularity moving forward. He’s currently on a rehab assignment in Triple-A Omaha. Once he returns, he’ll be battling with Michael Massey, Maikel Garcia, Hunter Dozier, and Matt Duffy for playing time on the infield. This team simply has too many infielders (that aren’t all that great). Beyond Kansas City, Nick Loftin and Samad Taylor are also red-hot and ready for a promotion at any time, making Lopez the odd man out for the Royals.

He still holds value, however. He plays excellent defense and can play three infield positions. He doesn’t add anything as far as power, but his on-base ability has returned a bit in 2023 with a .323 on-base percentage and an 11.9% walk rate. He isn’t going to be a regular starter, but a contending team could look to add Lopez for a stretch run to keep their infield fresh and to add solid defense off the bench. The Pirates have Chris Owings on their active roster, which is about all you need to know there. The Braves have a solid infield but not much depth in the major leagues and Houston is down a man until Jose Altuve returns from injury.

With Lopez hitting arbitration next season, it makes sense to trade him now.

Potential Trade:

Royals trade Lopez to the Pirates for RHP Colin Selby

Nick Loftin, 3B

Potential Fits: Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins

Nick Loftin isn’t a member of the Kansas City Royals — yet— and if the front office plays the deadline right, it’s possible he never is. He’s had an up-and-down year thus far in Omaha. Through 37 games, he’s slashed .260/.307/.433 with six home runs and 25 RBI. He’s been extremely good in spurts, however, and at just 24 years old, he still offers a lot of future value for an interested team.

Over the first ten games of the season, he slashed .302/.326/.628. Then, over the rest of April, he had an OPS of just .315. Again in May, he started the month hot slashing .282/.341/.513 over the month’s first ten games. He’s played mostly third base this season but has appeared at shortstop, second base, and in the outfield during his minor league career. He offers a lot of versatility and six years of control for a team acquiring him in a trade.

The Mariners have struggled at times this season offensively and currently rank 29th in the majors with a .227 team average. They have Eugenio Suarez at third base, but once Loftin reaches the Major Leagues, they could DH their veteran third basemen more often, and with Loftin’s versatility, the fit isn’t limited to just third base.

Potential Trade:

Royals send Nick Loftin to Seattle for RHP Emerson Hancock

MJ Melendez, OF

Potential Fits: Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers

MJ Melendez isn’t a name that likely comes to mind as a trade candidate (unless your last name rhymes with Gecko). He’s been a player largely heralded as a piece of the “core” for the Royals moving forward. He led the minor leagues in home runs as a catcher in 2021 with 41. He’s also been good at times in Kansas City and consistently hits the baseball very hard. The issue with Melendez moving forward is the fit. When he was the heir apparent to Salvador Perez as a catcher, the path forward was much easier to see.

Now, he’s transitioned full-time to the outfield. Will his bat play well enough to be valuable there long-term? So far this season, his OPS is just .693. However, since May 3 when the Royals announced he would play exclusively in the outfield, he’s slashing an impressive .293/.354/.431. That begs the question: if Melendez has been so much better at the plate since moving to the outfield full-time, why trade him now?

The answer lies mostly in the competitive window of this roster and the makeup of talent. Melendez is still a young player with years of control remaining. He won’t hit arbitration until 2026. The Royals have a surplus of hitting talent, both in the major leagues and in the farm system, and eventually, they’ll need to trade from that surplus to acquire pitching talent. The Mets are running out Mark Canha as a regular left fielder. They may a lot of sense.

Potential Trade:

Royals trade Melendez to the Mets for RHP Mike Vasil, Wilkin Ramos, and Matt Rudick