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Royals trade Jose Cuas to the Cubs for outfielder Nelson Velázquez

The funky right-hander heads to the other central division

Los Angeles Dodgers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

The Royals have continued their trade deadline selloff with right-handed reliever Jose Cuas headed to the northside of Chicago in exchange for outfielder Nelson Velázquez.

Cuas, 29, has been a roughly replacement-level relief pitcher this season. The converted infielder sports a 4.54 ERA and 4.45 FIP in 41.2 inning pitched. He’s shown solid swing-and-miss stuff with a 27.1% strikeout rate this season. However, that’s also come with a hefty 10.9% walk rate and he’s struggled to keep the ball in the yard, allowing six homers this season after surrendering just two last year. Cuas has allowed quite a bit of hard contact and hasn’t been able to keep the ball on the ground like he did in 2022. Given the ability he’s shown this season to spin his fastball and miss bats, perhaps the Cubs see a guy that is just a couple adjustments away from being a high-leverage reliever.

Velázquez, 24, has spent most of 2023 in Triple-A, where he has produced a line of .253/.333/.469 in 74 games. While solid on its face, that translates to a 95 wRC+ in the high offense environment that is Triple-A baseball. He spent about half the season in the majors last year and hit .205/.286/.373. In a brief cameo in the majors to begin 2023, Velázquez hit .241/.313/.621 in 13 games. He put up some good numbers in the lower levels of the minors, culminating in a 2021 Arizona Fall League performance that won him MVP honors on the circuit.

Velázquez has always run high strikeout rates and hasn’t been able to hit enough to compensate for that since being promoted to Triple-A in 2022. There’s real power here as he’s consistently posted isolated slugging marks above .200 throughout his minor league career. He’s a capable defensive outfielder that’s gotten plenty of innings in center field, but he likely profiles best defensively in right field. There’s a ton of volatility in this profile, but Velázquez has 25+ homer upside.

Already on the 40-man roster, Velázquez will report to Triple-A Omaha. This is now the third major league trade this season the Royals have made following the deals for Aroldis Chapman and Nicky Lopez, with more likely on the way. A corresponding move to take Cuas’s place on the active roster has not yet been announced.