Kansas City Royals Chasing Multiple Trade Upgrades
Kansas City Royals rumors indicate they are pursing Cincinnati Reds starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, along with Oakland A’s utility man Ben Zobrist according to Fox Sports reporter Jon Morsi:
All three targets make a lot of sense for the KC Royals. The Kansas City Royals sit atop the American League Central with the A.L.’s best record at 40-27. Despite their 3.5 game lead over the Twins, and 5.5 lead over the Tigers, the KC Royals have definite weaknesses that could use upgrades before the July 31 trade deadline.
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The Kansas City Royals need rotation help. With three starting pitchers on the disabled list (Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, and Jason Vargas), the Royals have been making do with guys they acquired as rotation depth. While Chris Young and Joe Blanton have both been terrific as fill-ins, the KC Royals only rank 21st in major-league baseball in rotation ERA at 4.37.
With the Reds currently four games under .500 at 32-36, they are on the edge of falling out of the National League playoff picture. They sit 12.5 games behind the high-flying Cardinals in the N.L. Central, and remain 6.0 games behind the second wild card spot. Another bad month will put them in clear sell mode.
Both Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake are eligible for free-agency at the end of 2016. Cueto is the real prize. He’s a true ace (2.98 ERA with a 8.5 K/9) that could carry the Kansas City Royals through the playoffs. Mike Leake is more of a number three starter.
Leake, however, is a pitch-to-contact hurler that would probably play much better in the big outfield of Kauffman Stadium with the KC Royals exceptional defense behind him. Mike Leake currently has a 4.01 ERA for the Reds (4% below a league-average starter with an ERA+ of 96). Yet, he plays in a bandbox in Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark and has already given up 13 home runs this season.
Kauffman Stadium, and the Kansas City Royals defense, could do the same thing for him that it has for current KC Royals starters Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, and Chris Young.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s Ben Zobrist is a spare part that could fill in for both Alex Rios in right field and Omar Infante at second base. With Rios slashing .227/.255/.289 and Infante at .230/.237/.311, an upgrade is welcome. Zobrist is the rare utility player that can play every position, except catcher, with above-average defense.
After a slow start to the season, Zobrist has come alive at the plate. He’s slashed .318/.388/.591 over the last 14 days, pulling his triple slash up to .243/.325/.434 for the year (OPS+ 110, 10% better than a league-average hitter).
The problem is that Zobrist’s versatility makes him a good fit for pretty much every playoff contender. Add in that Oakland GM Billy Beane isn’t ready to throw in the towel quite yet despite his team’s 31-41 record, and Zobrist will be a hard get for the Kansas City Royals.
I don’t expect a deal anytime soon. The Reds are only four games under .500 with more than a month to go to the trade deadline. Remember, the KC Royals were 47-50 at the 2014 trade deadline before starting a 42-23 second half run that won them the A.L.’s top Wild Card.
Billy Beane thinks his A’s are still in contention since they’ve vastly under-performed relative to their talent. Oakland has a +35 run differential, only slightly worse than A.L. West leader Houston (+38). The A’s sit 10 games behind the Astros mostly due to a 6-18 record in 1-run games.
If the A’s can catch some luck in close games in the upcoming weeks, they might turn from deadline sellers into buyers.
Given the Reds and A’s situations, the Kansas City Royals inquires appear to be more about setting the groundwork for possible future deals rather than signaling an immanent move.
Next: Kansas City Royals Trade Targets: Ben Zobrist