KC Royals need to pass on Blake Snell and Sonny Gray

(Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo by Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports) /

Starting pitchers like Blake Snell and Sonny Gray are nice to think about, but the KC Royals shouldn’t trade for either hurler.

Thanksgiving Week is typically short on baseball news, but Monday and Tuesday turned out to be interesting exceptions to the general rule that little happens close to the first major offseason holiday. Although the KC Royals didn’t make any of the news, they may have interest in some of it.

Atlanta’s signing of top-tier free agent Charlie Morton, reported Tuesday, topped the early-week developments. Morton, a mainstay of Tampa Bay’s starting rotation the last two seasons, signed for $15 million but will be eligible for free agency again after next season. Although Kansas City needs a veteran starter, nothing seriously linked Morton to the Royals before the Braves signed him.

Following closely on the heels of Atlanta’s news were reports that Blake Snell and Sonny Gray might be on the trade block. A Monday report from mlb.com’s Mark Feinsand strongly suggested the Rays are willing to deal Blake Snell, another prime starter, and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal suggested (subscription required) that the Reds are taking a similar position concerning starter Sonny Gray.

Snell won a Cy Young in 2018 with a 21-5, 1.89 ERA for the Rays and is 42-30 in five seasons. He strikes out a lot of hitters and has decent control. Gray is 75-63 in eight years, 16-11 in two Cincinnati campaigns, and is a two-time All-Star with experience pitching in both leagues.

Snell or Gray would superbly supplement any team’s rotation. But for different reasons, neither makes much business sense for the KC Royals.

Snell, to put it mildly, will be too expensive for penny-conscious Kansas City. He has three years left on a five-year, $50 million deal; assuming the Rays don’t agree to pay any portion of that contract, Snell will cost $10.5 million next season, $12.5 million in 2022 and $16 million in 2023. Without considering players they’d have to give up to get Snell, the money alone—$39 million—probably puts a swap out of the Royals’ reach, especially given the expensive extension they’re certain to provide Salvador Perez and arbitration-related costs soon to come due.

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That equation could change, of course, if Tampa agreed to eat a substantial part of the left-hander’s contract, but the Rays’ personnel demands would likely increase proportionally. Kansas City shouldn’t be quick to give up the kind of players the Rays would require in trade.

Gray’s contract, on the other hand, is one the Royals could absorb without excessively stressing their financial posture. He’s owed $20 million—$10 million for each of the next two seasons—on the three-year, $30-million contract that started in 2020. (There’s also a $23 million team option for 2023). Two seasons at $10 million apiece is affordable even for the Royals.

But the price in personnel would probably be too steep, especially if the Reds can’t convince ace starter Trevor Bauer to return—Gray’s departure alone will create a rotation hole Cincinnati has no choice but to fill. So, the Reds probably won’t give up pitching without getting pitching in return, and their likeliest focus would be on one or more of the KC Royals’ premium young pitching prospects; mortgaging the future when a World Series appearance depends on it is one thing, but doing it without a Series in realistic sight is quite another.

As far as Snell and Gray are concerned, the Royals should stick to searching the free agent market for a reliable, cost-effective seasoned starting pitcher to spice up their rotation until their entire cadre of hot mound prospects is ready. Snell is too expensive cash-wise and personnel-wise and Gray, while financially affordable, will cost too much in talent. A free agent will only cost some money, and possibly a draft pick. Kansas City can tolerate that.

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Blake Snell or Sonny Gray could help the KC Royals. But the cost would be too much.