We’re a few days from July and not too far off from the trade deadline. After today’s win, we are presently 3.5 games out of first and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card spot. That being said, the Tigers have their weaknesses and the rest of the division is starting to show themselves as the non-contenders most everyone predicted. This may be the best chance the Royals have to win the division since 2003. Granted, the Royals are far from perfect. They had first place for approximately 71 hours earlier this month. Since then, they’ve faded badly. The main culprit of the fade has been the season long elephant in the room that everyone can see but doesn’t want to discuss (I’m looking at Yost and his lineup doesn’t make a difference stance)…the offense.
Given the amount of below average performances we’ve seen this year from everyone not named Gordon, Escobar, Cain, Perez, and Dyson, it’s really a small miracle that the Royals are even this close this far into the season. What was supposed to be the core power hitters have produced the following results: -0.1 oWAR from Moose (he of the .176 BA), -.03 oWAR from a groundball hitting DH, and -1.0 oWAR from our lost looking 1B. Combined, these three players have hit a total of 14 HR. Let that sink in. 3 guys who have all hit at least 19 HR in a season at the ML level have combined for 14 through 81 games. We’re at the midpoint of the season. Moose was demoted for several days until his Valencia got hurt. Butler has all but assured himself to be a free agent at the end of the season. Hosmer on the other hand…has yet to be benched or platooned. I’m pretty sure that counts as being Yosted on the highest degree based on watching a large portion of the 693 games Yost has managed for the Royals.
So with that out of my system, it’s time to look at where the Royals can improve realistically. We’ve all read that Moore will get the green light if he requests it to add payroll. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen (if you’re still holding onto that whole optimism thing). If you look at the upper minors, the cavalry is at least 2-3 years away at this point. There’s the chance you could catch lightning in a bottle with a guy like Matt Fields. He looks like he could be a useful versus left-handed pitchers. The problem with him is that he’s striking out at a high rate (32.4%) and is pretty bad away from Werner Park (.226/.307/.383). If you look out on the waiver wires, there are a decent amount of aging veterans that could help in small spurts, but won’t get us to the playoffs or help beyond this season. That brings us to looking at turning prospects into useful major league players. I’m not talking about turning Kyle Smith into Justin Maxwell. That move had its merits last season, but as you’ve seen this year, we’ve been left with a .150/.222/.175 line this year, while the Astros have an interesting piece that’s sitting in AA right now with good control of his pitches.
So now that I’ve covered where we’re at, what went wrong, and what can be done, let’s get down to specifics. I think our #1 priority should be RF. The platoon of Dyson and Aoki will not lead us to the playoffs for the first time since I was born. The other reason for this being priority #1 is that we have no one in the high minors that can realistically come in and compete for the starting lineup next season. The name that I’ve seen the most thrown out has been Alex Rios. The Rangers are going to need a hell of a second half to have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. Given how they’ve played, I can easily seem them looking to move Rios’ contract and let one of their young guys come in to compete next season or make their usual splash and bring someone in. If you look at Rios’ numbers, he’s having a good season and on the surface, looks like he could be a decent pickup. He reminds me a little of our pickup of George Kottaras. Good numbers, but something just isn’t right. If you look at his time in Toronto, that didn’t end well. I’ve read multiple reports that his motivation is questionable at best. He’s 33 and if not properly motivated, I can see him being out of the league in a few years easily. The other part of the equation is the remaining salary. He’s got roughly $6.25M remaining this season and $13.5M (with $1M buyout) next year. Nothing too crazy, but his salary will increase to $14M next season with a $2M buyout if traded. It’s worth noting that he also has a limited no trade clause that does include Kansas City.
Next on the mentioned list is Seth Smith. After starting his career in Colorado and getting moved to Oakland for a couple of years, Smith is back in the NL West and having a good year in San Diego. He’s only making $4.5M this year, so it would be a reasonable pickup for the production he’s put forth so far. He’s used to playing in a bigger stadium and has some experience in the NL. My knocks on him is that he can’t hit lefties (.190/.393/.333) and hasn’t hit well away from PetCo (.217/.354/.348). Couple that and his two years in Oakland (.246/.331/.406) and you’re really hoping he can maintain in a switch back to the AL. I’m sure we could do worse, but the price would have to be right to make this gamble.
Now here’s my no way in hell/go big or go home division of names. First on my list is Nick Markakis. He’s the Baltimore version of Alex Gordon. The difference is he’s higher paid ($15M this year and $17.5M next year) and has been the more stable of the two players during his career. Baltimore is still in the hunt for a playoff spot, so I think the chances of the Royals being able to pry him away without giving up a ton in return. Markakis has a limited no trade clause to 8 teams. It’s hard to say if the Royals are on that list or not since it hasn’t been made public. The next on my list is Jay Bruce. He’s got a very friendly contract ($5M remaining this year, $12M in 2015, $12.5M in 2016, and $13M in 2017 with $1M buyout) and has been an All Star as recently as 2012. Bruce would bring instant power to a lineup in desperate need of it and could help this team get over the hump. Much like Markakis, he’s a homegrown player and will be difficult to pry free from Cincinnati. The kicker is that Bruce is 27. With his contract and his abilities, this would make a good time to see what it would take. He had his meniscus repaired in early May. As such, he’s having a down year so far. He’s been heating back up this month (.323/.369/.581) and would give the Royals a major boost in the arm. Is it worth someone like Ventura and others? That’s hard to say and is definitely worth considering. If you want talent, you have to give up talent.
So there are 4 guys who could potentially finish the season playing RF for the Royals. A couple realistic options and a couple of armchair GM type moves. I know there are several guys who are in AA or AAA who the Royals could look into that would be an improvement over our current options. I’m just not that familiar with the AA and AAA teams outside of the Royals minors. Hopefully this has all made sense and I look forward to your feedback. If you like it, then that means I’ve managed to drop over 1300 words in a coherent write up. If you don’t, feel free to let me know why.