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Ranking the Royals’ deadline deals

Number four might surprise you!

Cole Ragans #55 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the first inning against the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on August 02, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Cole Ragans #55 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the first inning against the New York Mets at Kauffman Stadium on August 02, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The trade deadline has come and gone, the Royals did some deals. Though, for a few heartstopping minutes, it seemed like they wouldn’t do nearly enough. Like a lot of Royals fans, I was glued to social media looking for breaking news announcements of the Royals being dealt. For a team that has spent most of the season on an inevitable course to history as the worst roster the Royals have ever put together, they still had some interesting pieces.

Some people will tell you that it’s impossible to truly evaluate the kind of seller’s trades the Royals made until years after the fact. But I’m not here to tell you if Roni Cabrera is going to be any good or if Devin can really be the Mann. What can be evaluated immediately is the process.

First, of note are the players the Royals did not trade. Nicky Lopez was the youngest player traded at age 28, so the Royals appear to still be counting on the controllable players to morph into some sort of workable core for a playoff team. The biggest rumors swirling were around Salvador Perez, Carlos Hernández, and Brady Singer. How to grade these lack of deals is a bit difficult.

It’s possible that some or all of them are traded in the off-season. At this point I don’t think it’s possible for Salvy to gain or lose value, everyone knows what he does and does not bring to a team. Even if he has a bit of a down year that’s easy to explain away so the delay doesn’t hurt him. Delaying on Hernández is a risky play, but potentially one with merit. The Royals have gotten in trouble in the past for not dealing their relievers early enough and its fair to wonder if he should have been dealt. However, with the relievers they did trade Carlos now appears to be in line for higher-leverage innings and perhaps even the closer’s role. If the Royals use him that way and he continues to succeed, he could be worth even more this off-season. If they continue to hold on to him after that, I’ll start to get some flashbacks, though.

Brady Singer’s case is perhaps the most interesting. He looked like a stud all last year, then worse than ever early this year. But over the past month, or since June 27 to be exact, he’s been phenomenal. He’s pitched eight innings twice, stopped giving up home runs, and struck batters out four times as often as he has walked them. He also has a 3.00 ERA and a 3.01 FIP. He’s even getting groundballs at a ridiculous 56.4% clip. Some, including myself, argued that it was time to cut bait on the cantankerous right-hander. However, if he can pitch this well for the rest of the year the Royals could look very smart for hanging on to him, whether they then turn around and trade him for a huge payoff this off-season or get into extension talks to keep in KC long-term.

That long road leads to this short thought: if we’re grading on the process, we’ll have to see how that process plays out. If they try to emphasize Hernández’s late-inning value before flipping him and Salvy in the off-season, cool. If they hang on to all three of those guys, we’ll be right back to wondering if the Royals can ever know what it means to be as transactional as the Rays.

Now for ranking the trades they did make.

A salary dump from a low-salary roster stinks

Nicky Lopez is a punching bag for some fans but he’s beloved by others. I am on record as stating that he’s a big-league player, he’s just not the starter as the Royals have tried to use him. He’s also probably not worth what the Royals were paying him this year. That said, if the team didn’t want to pay it, they should’ve declined to offer him arbitration.

The process of trading him isn’t flawed, but dumping him only for salary relief - receiving only Taylor Hearn, who had been available freely the week before, seems like a misstep. Plenty of other weak-hitting, defensive-minded utility players were traded at the deadline and brought back more for their teams. This strikes me as a move that was made in desperation to clear roster space. That is a weird concept because the Royals’ willingness to take the talks of other deals right up to the deadline two days later speaks to a much more confident process.

One could argue that the other players were enough more valuable that the likelihood of getting a deal done was higher and therefore there was less risk waiting for the last minute. However, the only risk of not trading Lopez when they did in the way they did was that they might not be able to clear his salary off of the books. Which makes it seem as if that was the greater priority for them than receiving the best value for him.

This appears to be just another bit of evidence that the Royals ownership group is just as if not more tight-fisted than David Glass ever was. Demanding a new stadium at the same time you cut a guy who, prior to his trade, had always been described a positive clubhouse influence and always done anything the team asked of him strikes me as poor play, indeed.

Maybe something for definitely nothing

Tucker Davidson came to the Royals from the Angels for cash considerations. As I intimated above, I don’t see cash as valuable in terms of team building. I really don’t care, as a fan, how much the team spends. I only care if they win.

So, yeah, Davidson has struggled in parts of four major league seasons, now. But he’s also had some really nice stats in the minors leagues. He’s mostly worked as a starter prior to this year but the Royals have had some success in converting mediocre starters into top-notch bullpen arms in the past. Maybe they can do it again!

In terms of value given up for value received, this should probably be rated the highest. However, I’m not even sure if this should qualify as a “deadline deal.” Also, he’s old enough and with little enough remaining control that the best outcome is the Royals “fix” him and then flip him for younger prospects, so I’m putting this deal down here, instead.

Better late than never

The Royals have a long, storied history of hanging on to their closers on bad teams that don’t need them long past their due dates. Scott Barlow is an exception to this only in that they didn’t wait quite as much too long as they have other closers.

It’s honestly pretty impressive they were able to get another team’s top-10 prospect for him, but then they also got a throw-in guy, Jesus Rios, with some projectables. Sure, Henry Williams doesn’t have good stats but what he does have is a pedigree and an excuse: he’s recovering from Tommy John surgery and rebuilding his strength. There were some implications from some on Twitter when the details were announced that despite being a third-round pick, Williams might actually have been a first-round talent who simply fell due to injury. Even better, Williams is a 21-year-old pitcher which means the Royals didn’t only look for MLB-readiness in determining the return for Barlow.

An afterthought pays dividends

Ryan Yarbrough’s signing would have been the one I disliked the most if not for the player featured in a later entry, and I was dead wrong. I complained at the time that the Royals said they needed guys to eat innings and that Yarbrough simply wasn’t that guy - I was right about that, but wrong because I failed to take into account that his was actually just another of the rebound signings I claimed to wish the team would make instead of forking out eight digits to Jordan Lyles.

The Yarbrough bet paid off, even despite taking a very scary line drive injury, Yarbrough was very effective in the Royals rotation after some missteps in relief. In the end he netted the team a nearly-ready batter in Devin Mann and a much younger position player in Derlin Figueroa.

Mann is older than I might otherwise have preferred, but he can play some first base and with Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto both out with injuries, the Royals didn’t have anyone to man that spot. I’m honestly a bit surprised he isn’t already up. On top of that, unlike other MLB-ready guys the Royals have focused on in the past, Mann isn’t a retread. He was Los Angeles’ number 29 prospect and he has yet to make his major league debut. Plus the 19-year-old Figueroa offers some future upside as a guy who has shown both power and a patient eye while playing in rookie leagues.

Something from nothing part deux

If you had told me a week ago that Jose Cuas would no longer be on the roster I would have assumed it was because the Royals had given up on him. Instead, they dealt him to the Cubs for another retread outfielder. Nelson Velázquez. Despite that retreat label, Velázquez looks potentially as promising as another outfielder the Royals once acquired for a reliever in a deal with the Cubs. The primary differences appear to be that Velázquez is younger than Jorge Soler and Cuas is less valuable to the Royals than Wade Davis was.

Listen, Velázquez might turn out to be nothing. Or he might have as up-and-down a career as Soler had for Kansas City. But acquiring Soler wasn’t a bad move for the Royals. The frustrating part was that they gave up their closer to do so while they were allegedly still trying to compete. They avoided the overpay this time and, in fact, might have underpaid.

A swap of left-handed flamethrowers

It’s no secret that I hated the signing of a certain infamous left-handed fireballer during this off-season. However, as much as I disliked him, I like this trade quite a lot. Cole Ragans is another one of those retreads that Dayton Moore loved to target. But where the old Royals would go out and get someone like Jorge López and then appeared to just put him on the mound and tell him to be better, the new version went out and got Cole Ragans and has already worked to help him improve.

Whenever you can get rid of a problematic personality and acquire a left-hander who can hit 99 on the gun while starting with a nasty changeup and a desire to learn and improve, you do that deal. You do it yesterday. Or you maybe even do it well ahead of the trade deadline, because you’re not going to get a better offer.

Oh yeah, the Royals also got another projectable teenager in that deal, Roni Cabrera. Maybe he won’t turn into anything but after two starts, Ragans is already looking like the real deal.

Overall, I like this trade deadline. They traded everyone absolutely had to be dealt, and there’s a reasonable argument for everyone who remained (minus Matt Duffy, who should probably get cut.) The Nicky Lopez deal stands out for how atrocious it was, but that’s more about process than results and the process with all of the other deals appeared to follow good processes so it remains a weird outlier in an otherwise good set of trades.

If I had to give the trade deadline a letter grade, I think I’d go with a B. Maybe I should give it a B+ because the Royals haven’t lost a game since the deadline passed. If they keep this up they could get back into contest for the AL Central! They’re only...21 games back of the first-place Twins (who are 56-54, eesh.) Well, at least we’ll have a very interesting off-season wondering whether Singer, Salvy, or Hernández will get dealt.