July 9, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; USA team pitcher Danny Hultzen (21) delivers a pitch in the third inning of the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Hultzen, Mariners, and Trading Roadblocks

A post from ESPN.com writer David Schoenfield today explained, essentially, what every Royals fan already knows. If the Royals can find a way to pitch better, they have a chance of winning. He does a good job of explaining the details to a mass audience though, and he also proposes a trade possibility that not too many have explored yet: Mariners pitching prospect Danny Hultzen.

Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft after spending three years at the University of Virginia. He is often thought of as a very polished pitcher who, if not for a poor stretch in AAA, may have made his MLB debut in 2012 at the tail end of his first professional season. Some compare him to Cliff Lee, though it’s not clear that Hultzen has ace-level stuff at this point.

During his first professional season, Hultzen had a Jekyl and Hyde type performance. In AA, he pitched like a person deserving of the second overall pick. In 13 starts he went 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA, 79 strikeouts, 32 walks, 38 hits, and just two homeruns allowed in 75.1 innings. Simply put, he was incredible … for 13 starts in AA. In AAA, the wheels came off, and though the statistics point to how the wheels came off, why they came off is unknown to me. Lauded for his command, Hultzen started walking everyone under the sun. In 12 starts in AAA, he walked 43 hitters in 48.2 innings. His ERA was 5.92, though that wasn’t helped by a .351 BABIP. His FIP was a more respectable 4.29, but still not something a team wants to see from a potential ace.

Personally, I think the stint in AAA was a fluke. Hultzen’s FIP and his crazy high walk rate make me think he will rebound in 2013. Maybe he won’t put up the insane numbers he did in AA, but that’s bound to be the case as he faces tougher competition. I also think he’ll be ready for the big leagues very early in 2013, maybe May or June. And honestly, he’ll be ready to crack a terrible rotation like the Royals’ to start the season.

With all that in mind, the question becomes should the Royals attempt to trade for Hultzen? Schoenfield seems to think so, as do others. The offsetting weaknesses and strengths of the Mariners and Royals seems to make them natural trading partners. I must say that I’d love to have Hultzen pitching for the Royals in 2013. The sticking point? The price.

Schoenfield and others forward the name Billy Butler as the price for Hultzen. That is, of course, ridiculous. Hultzen hasn’t thrown a major league pitch, and Billy Butler is an All Star and maybe one of the 10-15 best hitters in the league. That means the Mariners would either need to throw in more or be willing to take less. They could throw in Erasmo Ramirez or Taijuan Walker, but I doubt they’d be willing to give up two high-end pitching prospects. Another possibility is James Paxton, a lesser prospect who still has some potential.

Really, the value swap of prospects is the roadblock to a trade between the Mariners and Royals. Butler is too valuable to trade for Hultzen or any of their pitching prospects straight up. But the Royals don’t really have any other hitters who are major league ready who they can live without (except maybe one). They could trade Wil Myers for Hutzlen, essentially straight up, but then the Royals are left with this gaping hole in right field (this hole has a name, Jeff Francoeur). Alex Gordon is too valuable. Eric Hosmer has too much potential.

The one hitter who might satisfy this imbalance is Mike Moustakas. It hurts me to say it because I love Moose, but he’s just good enough to be valuable to the Mariners and just not good enough to force them to give up two major prospects. The Royals would struggle to find a replacement, but Irving Falu or Tony Abreu or both might be able to fill that gap. If all else fails, they could try to sign a serviceable third baseman and hope that the pitching upgrade makes up for the loss of Moustakas.

Really, there aren’t any great answers. The Royals need pitching and in order to get it, they have to weaken their offense (in a trade scenario anyway). Hultzen is a good target for them, and the Mariners are a good trading partner. But there are as many impediments as there are reasons to get a deal done.

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  • http://twitter.com/kcroyalsfanatic William T Sobolewski

    I thought I read somewhere that they had Myers playing some 3rd at Omaha. Only reason I remember is because it was one of those “why would they do that?” moments

    • jimfetterolf

      Supposedly Myers did quite well at 3rd, seemed a natural for the position.

  • jimfetterolf

    Gordon for Hultzen, Paxton, a AA and a couple of A lottery tickets would work. Gordon is an LF, so not a premier value position. He is also fairly old, in Process years, and relatively high priced. Trading Gordon pays for half of Sanchez, just as an example, but must return a bunch of quality prospects in exchange for his production and friendly contract.

    • Michael Engel

      Also, by the time Gordon’s contract is nearing its end, if he’s still productive, that’s going to be an awfully friendly payroll hit what with the typical inflation each new year of free agency brings plus the new TV money hitting the owners’ piggy banks.

      If they’re gonna trade with Seattle, they HAVE to get at least Hultzen. I’d take a look at Vargas (not thrilled but can be a workhorse) and Blake Beavan, as well. Working with one of our network’s writers at Sodo Mojo on a mock trade negotiation and we’re kind of stuck on that point – the Royals need ready MLB pitching and getting just Vargas and someone unknown (in an MLB sense) isn’t enough for any of our bats.

      • jimfetterolf

        I figure three years of a friendly Gordon has to be worth about twelve “A’s”, figure a Hultzen as a AAAA at the moment Paxton another AAAA, so a AA with ceiling and a couple of A ball players gets us there. No such thing as a pitching prospect, so we need to get back at least five arms for Gordon with the assumption that one may be very good and another at least a major league pitcher.

        ” the Royals need ready MLB pitching”

        I still think we should sign that FA and trade veterans for prospects, but that’s no secret.

      • ThirteenOfTwo

        Mariners fan here with a suggestion. If you want a guy with some major league experience but who isn’t just a Vargas-style workhorse, how about Erasmo Ramirez? He’s penciled into Seattle’s 2013 rotation and I’d be sorry to see him go, but he looks like a #3 with #2 upside. He’s small, but he’s got a 94-95 fastball and a plus-plus changeup and he did very well in 8 starts at the end of last season. He’s also really young.

        I wouldn’t touch a deal involving Ramirez and any of the Big Three to KC if Butler was the main piece coming back, seeing as Butler (while an excellent hitter) is still just a DH. Besides, these Butler-Seattle rumors confuse me; he doesn’t mesh very well with the Mariners’ current roster. What about a package built around Ramirez and Hultzen for Gordon?

        • Michael Engel

          It comes from reports that Seattle “covets” Butler mostly.

          I have more on Butler specifically, but since he’s been an everyday guy (full season starting in 2009) he’s tenth in all of baseball in extra base hits and fifth in all of baseball in base hits. The power is coming as well. “Just” a DH is fine when you’re one of the best of the last four years.

          I think the general idea is that the Royals aren’t looking to just gather pieces. They’d rather get one impact arm rather than a couple of suspect ones if they’re going to trade a bat. Tampa’s a much better fit as a trade partner because any of their young pitcher could lead a staff and have more MLB experience than those that Seattle offers. I’d personally rather have Moore, Hellickson and possibly Cobb over Hultzen, Walker or Paxton.

          I think it’s pretty unlikely the two teams match up.

          • ThirteenOfTwo

            Yeah, but what’s the source on those reports? The original Rosenthal article reported that word came from a “rival executive”… but that makes very little sense to me. Seattle’s front office is notoriously tight-lipped. Unless that rumor is coming from Moore himself I wouldn’t lend it any credence. I do think there’s something to the rumors that KC is interested in Paxton, since that was a reporter reporting that he’d seen a lot of scouts tracking one pitcher. But I think the Butler thing might just be a fabricated counter-rumor.

            “Just” a DH is fine, you’re right. Don’t mean to take anything away from Butler. (Though, seeing as almost all aging curves I’ve seen call 25 the power peak, I don’t buy the idea that his power is still coming on.) But realistically, no matter how good of a hitter he is, you’re talking 4 WAR per year IF he improves significantly, and you’ve only got that for three years. A team like Seattle, that isn’t in “win now” mode, isn’t going to deal MLB top ten pitching prospects for that. A team like Tampa Bay, that doesn’t have any money, isn’t going to deal Matt Moore for that. You can probably get Hellickson (though do you really want to trust his BABIP magic?) or Cobb. Or Ramirez, for that matter.

            Honestly, I think you’re right. Tampa is the better match for Kansas City. One wonders, though, just what exactly Seattle is going to do with all these high-end pitching prospects…

          • Michael Engel

            All good points. Seattle and KC are both stingy in regards to front-office leaks.

            If it were 12 months from now and this was the discussion, I think both teams would be closer to having a deal work out. Ramirez is the only option I think KC would realistically look at with an eye towards him pitching this season. They haven’t been too keen on tossing someone in when they look ready, so even if they got Hultzen, I think without MLB experience, they wouldn’t feel comfortable tossing him on the roster to start the year, Even if he’s ready.

            As for Seattle and what to do with all those prospects…that’s usually a good problem to have – though a cautionary tale. At one point the Royals were the team with all of those high-end prospects (Montgomery, Dwyer, Duffy, Lamb, Odorizzi) and only one MIGHT be on the team in April two years after all five were in BA’s top 100 (though I still believe in Duffy and Lamb).

          • ThirteenOfTwo

            Yeah, well, pitching prospect attrition is why you trade ‘em for hitters. Seattle and New York learned that lesson with Pineda last year.

            Ancillary question, though. Do you think the Royals are gunning for it in 2013 or building for 2014/later? I’ve seen a couple interviews with Dayton where he’s talked about ’14, and the Royals seem too far out of contention to make a run next year unless absolutely everything breaks right (Myers is Trout 2.0, Odorizzi is a big league #2 right off the bat, etc.). I’ve seen the Santana move cited as a win-now gambit, but he doesn’t seem like a win-now kind of pitcher… so are the Royals looking to win now or later?

          • jimfetterolf

            When the Royals win is up to Moose, Hoz, Cain’s health, and Myers’ progress. ’12 was a “win” year until they lost their catcher, center-fielder, two top arms, closer, and second baseman. ’13 depends on health and whether Hoz and Moose just had sophomore slumps or are busts and whether one of Paulino-Duffy-Lamb can get back up to full-speed by the ASB.

        • jimfetterolf

          “What about a package built around Ramirez and Hultzen for Gordon?”

          Throw in a AA and a couple of A lottery ticket pitchers and we have a deal for Gordon, who is cheap and has good value. We might add in a Gio or Clint Robinson for filler. Toss in Paxton and I’ld let you have Greg Holland, also.

          • ThirteenOfTwo

            The only AA arm I’m willing to part with as sweetener is Forrest Snow. He’s switched between starting and relieving; high ceiling, but had a down 2012 after an excellent 2011. The other 2012 AA starters are too good (Walker/Hultzen/Paxton/Maurer are four of my top 6 prospects, and Fernandez is #10 himself.) I’ll throw in two A-level lottery tickets, say Tyler Burgoon and Roenis Elias.

            I’ll take Robinson and a lottery ticket low-minors 3B or OF coming back with Gordon. Upgrade the 3B lottery ticket to Cuthbert and I’ll give you a better prospect than Snow; say Fernandez. Paxton for Holland is a no deal; my bullpen is fine as it is and I don’t want to give up 94+ heat and a power curve from the left side for a reliever, no matter how good the reliever. Sound like a deal?

          • jimfetterolf

            We’re getting closer. Ramirez, Hultzen, Paxton for Gordon and Clint Robinson, gives two bats for a smaller park in exchange for prospects.

          • ThirteenOfTwo

            I’m not moving Paxton and Hultzen in the same deal. Paxton’s my third-best pitching prospect and has a ridiculous ceiling. Robinson is more or less AAA roster filler. I’ll give Ramirez, Hultzen, and Fernandez for those two, plus Burgoon and Elias for either (a pair of low-minors 3B/OF throw-ins) or Cuthbert.

          • jimfetterolf

            I think Ram, Hultz, and Fernandez would work for Gordon and C Rob. Hand shake?

          • ThirteenOfTwo

            Gimme Patrick Leonard coming back and you have a deal.

          • ThirteenOfTwo

            Welp, Royals just DFA’d Robinson. Never mind! Still, been fun discussing with you.