Baseball’s trade deadline passed with few big deals being announced, but the Royals still got involved. Earlier, we told you about their acquisition of Justin Maxwell from Houston for minor leaguer Kyle Smith. It was a surprise move, but a low-impact move in the big picture.
What stands out more is what didn’t happen:
The Royals didn’t trade Ervin Santana.
The Royals didn’t trade for a second baseman.
The Royals didn’t trade a big name prospect for a rental.
Going into the deadline, the Royals had two primary areas to improve, with no obvious solution in the organization – second base and right field. Second base was the bigger gap, of course. Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, Elliot Johnson, and Miguel Tejada have not produced from the position and the only other option in the system that might be ready would be Christian Colon*. They were connected to Howie Kendrick, Gordon Beckham, and even Rickie Weeks, but after the deadline passed, none of those options became Royals.
Right field wasn’t as big of a concern with the way David Lough had played since being called up, but I’d be surprised if the Royals saw him as a long-term option, and their acquisition of Maxwell suggests they’re hedging their bet as well. The Royals were said to be scouting Alex Rios at various points this month. There were other mentions of scouting the Padres and the name Kyle Blanks came up in speculation (though there were fewer reports beyond the initial scouting comments). With Jorge Bonifacio only in Double A and probably a year (at least) from any hint of big league action, the Royals don’t have much of an outfield tree from which to pluck a starter. Lough’s doing the job well right now, but the Royals never trusted him during four tours of Omaha where he’d hit, so my hunch is that they’re always going to remain skeptical he can maintain his performance.
The Royals were in a tough spot coming into the deadline. Riding a seven game winning streak and getting above .500 in July for the first time since 2003, they couldn’t really start selling Santana or Greg Holland. While it may have been a prudent way to find players to finish 2013 (where it doesn’t look like the Royals have the right odds to overcome two teams ahead of them in the AL Central or the other teams ahead in the wild card race) and who would have additional years of team control. The Astros traded Bud Norris for two top twenty prospects from the Orioles system. Matt Garza returned two very good prospects in Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards. Surely Santana could have commanded a similar return.
But trading Santana would have been seen as giving up on 2013 and doing so in the middle of a streak with the Royals five games behind the wild card is a tough sell.
At the same time, it’s still a steep uphill climb, and while the Royals are satisfied with Santana finishing the year and netting them a draft pick (assuming they make a qualifying offer and he declines it), in the current climate, it still felt like a good move to try. Target some players who might offer a shot to keep competing in 2013 but who really improve the odds in 2014. An even worse move, though, would have been trading high-profile prospects for players who wouldn’t be much more than rentals or who didn’t offer enough of an upgrade to get the Royals over the hump. The only thing worse than finishing third in 2013 would be finishing third in the division and no longer having Yordano Ventura or Kyle Zimmer in the farm system.
Standing pat is a tough decision, too. The Royals do have assets that could return good value, and not making a move can still have an impact. The Padres sent a middle reliever, a prospect, and a supplemental pick to the Diamondbacks to get Ian Kennedy. While his 2013 numbers aren’t great, his track record is fine enough that a package like what San Diego gave up is a nice price to find out if he can get back on track. Moving from Arizona’s Bank One Ballpark to San Diego’s Petco probably helps him, and I’d assume it could help Kennedy to have moved to Kauffman Stadium. He’s still in his arbitration years, only 28 years old, and has been a slightly above average pitcher with good strikeout and walkrates through his career. For the price of, say, Aaron Crow, the Royals could have lined up a nice option for the middle of their rotation next year. Instead, it’s a missed opportunity. (In this case, though, the move was a bit of a surprise, and who’s to know if the Royals approached them or not.)
The Royals didn’t get better at the deadline (or, if they did, it was marginally so), and to catch Cleveland and Detroit, they had to get better at second base at least. Kendrick, for the right price, would have been a nice acquisition. But the Royals weren’t prepared to offer Zimmer, Ventura, or Danny Duffy to make the deal work (or, I’d assume those would be the three main names brought up in negotiations). That’s a wise move, especially with other options in the second base market.
Just because the deadline has passed doesn’t mean these sorts of deals won’t go through. If the Royals tumble and lose six of their next seven, Santana might get shopped again, and at his remaining 2013 salary (let’s put it around $4.5 million), it may be a claim that most teams won’t try to make. If he clears waivers, the Royals would be free to deal him anywhere they can find a deal. Perhaps even if Santana is claimed, they could still work something out with that team. Likewise, the Royals can always try to claim someone or go after someone who clears waivers. Maybe a negotiation that started earlier this month gets finished off. There are still opportunities to improve, they’re just more complicated scenarios to work out. If the Royals keep winning (and we hope they do), August might be the hot month to buy.