It is almost September and the Royals’ season is winding down. There’s little left for Royals fans to see as the team is well out of the division race and even if players have a sudden hot streak at this point it will be hard to overcome what came for the entire season before. There might be a few big league debuts left to see, but even then we won’t learn much except a bit about who the Royals are highest on entering next season. Naturally, Royals fans (and writers) have already turned to pondering the off-season activities of the team.
There are three big off-season questions on everyone’s mind: Will the Royals trade Salvador Perez? What will they do with Brady Singer? And What will they do with Bobby Witt Jr.?
I expect Salvador Perez to be traded, but where he might go and what return he might net the team will be a discussion for another time. There are already a pair of excellent articles detailing what the Royals should do with Witt and Singer, indicating the Royals should keep the one and trade the other. When it seems like both of them are really turning into something special, a lot of people wonder why they should be treated so differently. So let’s talk about how, even in their similarities, they’re very different.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, difference between the two is the number of controllable years left. Brady Singer will be a free agent in 2027 while Witt wouldn’t reach free agency until 2028. More importantly, Brady Singer is already arbitration-eligible and has been through the process once while Witt won’t be eligible until after next season.
Sure, this means Bobby is more likely to be around for good teams, but the real take away here is that Brady Singer is rapidly losing trade value while Witt is just coming into his. If they were going to trade Bobby Witt Jr. instead of extending him, they still wouldn’t want to deal him, yet. It is too likely that his value is still going to increase as he continues to make big-league life look easy.
Both players offer very different value propositions. The fact of the matter is that Bobby Witt Jr. means a lot more to the Royals lineup than Brady Singer does to the rotation. Singer can only help the team win once every five days and the rotation is something of a disaster right now, outside of him and Cole Ragans. Witt, on the other hand, contributes almost every day in one of the premiere spots of the lineup, anchoring what appears to be a young core forming around him.
If you trade Singer, you simply need to fill one more spot in the rotation. If you trade Witt, you have to completely rebuild how your lineup functions. There’s no telling how all the pieces would fit together - or fail to do so - without him there. Beyond that, Witt is more valuable in the lineup than as a trade piece while the opposite is probably true of Singer.
Brady Singer is an exceptionally valuable trade chip right now. The comp I keep wanting to make is with 2010 Zack Greinke which netted the Royals four future, quality MLB players. A starting shortstop, an MVP-caliber center fielder, a reliever, and a better-than-average starting pitcher. Now while Singer’s numbers compare favorably to Greinke’s 2010 season, he obviously doesn’t have anything like Greinke’s 2009 under his belt. So it might be stretching to think the Royals could get that haul for him. But two or three legitimate prospects is well within the realm of possibility.
The thing about Brady Singer is that while he has been quite a reasonably good starter for most of the past two seasons, his value could be expected to be reasonably replaced. He topped out at 2.9 fWAR last season. That’s good, but not astonishingly so. Bobby Witt Jr., on the other hand, was worth 2.3 fWAR in a disappointing rookie campaign but has been worth 5.1 fWAR already this season and it would not at all be surprising to see him top 6.0 before the season ends, given his current torrid pace. Replacing that value with a prospect or even a batch of prospects would be much more difficult.
The most important factor is that once a player reaches a certain level of value, it’s increasingly more difficult to get anything close to his value back in a trade. Teams simply only have so many prospects who are worth acquiring. Look at Juan Soto, for example. The Nationals got six players for him. Of those, only three are particularly noteworthy: James Wood, CJ Abrams, and Mackenzie Gore. If you were trading a Brady Singer under similar circumstances you could probably get at least two of those guys plus one or two of the lottery tickets. If you’re trading a Bobby Witt Jr, the Soto deal is about the best you could hope for. Considering their disparate values, you get a lot more bang for your buck by trading Singer.
Dayton Moore used to often be quoted as saying, “Pitching is the currency of baseball.” And, in that, at least, I think he was right. Where he failed was in his choice to seek out opportunities to acquire pitching rather than to trade it away more often. When he traded Greinke, he got a lot of good prospects back because pitchers are so valuable. Had he traded some of his relievers before their expiration dates, he likewise could have received handsome hauls.
People often talk about how the Royals should be more transactional like the Rays, but one thing that never seems to be discussed is how easily the Rays will move on from a pitcher as compared to a position player. They’ve repeatedly dealt aces away before their contracts ended - Blake Snell and Chris Archer, to name two. Position players, such as Evan Longoria and Wander Franco (disregarding his legal trouble, which the Rays were unaware of when they signed him) - instead get long extensions.
If the Royals want to be more like the Rays they need to lock in the core players, such as Witt, they want to build around. They also need to recognize the often shorter shelf-life that all but the very best pitchers have and deal guys like Singer while they are at peak value. This is especially true if they can continue to make savvy deals to acquire pitchers that other teams undervalue, as when the Rays got Tyler Glasnow for Archer or when the Royals got Ragans.