Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Royals Shouldn't Be Reluctant to Trade Relievers

In an article by Ken Rosenthal, Dayton Moore indicated that he was in no hurry to trade away any of the team’s pitching.

“We’re trying to keep as much pitching as we can. We’re not motivated to move any of our pitching,” Moore said. “I don’t know if we’re great in one area. But the bullpen was awfully good last year. I’m not in a hurry to break that up, that’s for sure.”

Now, any time a team official says something in the public, you have to take it with a grain of salt. No general manager wants to show his cards in the event he’s in negotiations with any other teams or players, so Moore may not be completely honest in the above quote. But, because the offseason is no fun without speculation, let’s operate under the premise that the Royals don’t trade any other relievers. In my opinion, that would be a very unwise decision.

The Royals’ bullpen is currently comprised of 4 arbitration eligible players (Luke Hochevar, Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, and Tim Collins), 1 player under contract (Wade Davis), and a pair of major league minimum guys (any two of Donnie Joseph, Louis Coleman, Michael Mariot, Francisley Bueno, Everett Teaford, et al). In total, the Royals will pay their bullpen a little less than $19 million. While the average salary comes out to roughly a meager $2.5 million per player, there are a few pitchers making more money who could easily be unloaded. Hochevar and Davis will combine to make about $10 million in 2014. Holland, Crow, and Collins will combine to make another $8 million. Holland is set to be the team’s closer, but at least 3 of those other pitchers will be in more of a middle relief role. Paying millions of dollars for approximately 50 mostly low leverage innings is not an intelligent use of resources, especially when there are several candidates in the minor leagues who could likely fill in those roles adequately.

I’m not suggesting the Royals trade everyone from the bullpen, but they absolutely should be looking at all available avenues to shed some excess salary in an effort to bolster a rotation that still needs help. Because of such a need for a legitimate second starter, what the Royals may receive in exchange for trading some of the relievers isn’t of primary concern. Obviously the team doesn’t want to give them away, and some trades of relievers can net valuable major league players, as evidenced by the trade for Norichika Aoki. But unless a reliever is included as part of a larger deal to acquire a major leaguer, the Royals should be asking for prospects. As we’ve seen with other trades this offseason, the prospects received may not be perfect players, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth trading for. The White Sox just traded their closer, Addison Reed, to Arizona for Matt Davidson, who’s a top 100 prospect. Granted, trades made by Kevin Towers don’t necessarily set the market price, and as we’ve seen in free agency, teams seem more willing to overpay relievers in money, rather than giving up valuable prospects in trade.

The free agent market for relief pitching has been bustling along non-stop. If my calculations are correct, of the deals that have been confirmed, there have been 26 relievers who’ve signed major league contracts. Terms for two of those deals have not been disclosed, but for the remaining 24 deals, they total 37 years, worth $174,375,000 in guaranteed money. That comes out to an average annual value of just over $4.7 million. Perhaps more surprising is that twelve relievers have received at least 2 years on their contracts, and three of them signed 3 year deals.

I understand that teams overvalue closers, so one would think that most of the multi-year deals would be given to guys with that mystical “9th inning mentality.” However, Joe Nathan and Grant Balfour were the only relievers who signed for more than 1 year whom should be expected to close for their new teams.

I bring up that info to tell you why the Royals’ relievers may be a bit more valuable in a trade: there isn’t a single one who is under contract after next season. Hochevar will be a free agent, Davis has a team option, and the rest will still be under team control. Instead of tying themselves down to multi-year contracts with relievers whose production can be very volatile, a team could simply give up a minor prospect or two for a player who can be dumped if he doesn’t perform.

And as I mentioned above, from the Royals’ perspective, the return isn’t all that important. Even though Moore has stated that he’s not being required to make corresponding moves to help offset Omar Infante‘s salary, it would be wise to get rid of the excess money owed to pitchers who can be relatively easily replaced. Finding a way to cut Hochevar’s and Davis’ salaries could give the team the financial flexibility it needs to go after a pitcher like Matt Garza in free agency, or someone like Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy, or Mike Leake in a trade. Perhaps Ervin Santana‘s market collapses, as Rosenthal mentions, and the Royals can get the likable righty to sign a friendly contract.

It probably seems like I’m rambling here, so to sum it all up: this Royals team still needs to do some more work before they should be considered real contenders. They’ve improved the lineup, but the rotation probably isn’t good enough just yet. Going against what Moore says, and trading away some of the incredible bullpen depth this team has, would be very beneficial and may be just the thing the Royals need to make one final splash this winter.

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