The KC Royals were April’s baseball surprise, the team that emerged from baseball’s doldrums to lead the American League Central Division through much of the month and into early May.
But now, in the midst of an unsightly six consecutive losses, with an even uglier 11-game losing streak still a recurring nightmare, and the major league trade deadline just six weeks away, the Royals look more and more like sellers with each passing day and loss. The baseball rumor mill will soon be afire with suggestions the club should move Whit Merrifield, Michal A. Taylor, Andrew Benintendi, and, if he’s healthy, Danny Duffy.
Look for Kansas City to remain steadfast in their annual resistance to trading Merrifield, and a Duffy deal is unlikely. Benintendi is proving too valuable for the Royals to shop, especially considering he’s under team control through 2022. Taylor’s one-year contract makes him a probable trade target.
And then there’s Carlos Santana, the KC Royals’ new first baseman certain to attract some trade deadline interest. General Manager Dayton Moore may listen to overtures about Santana, but he shouldn’t seriously consider them.
Like Benintendi, his importance to this team is too great.
Santana has been everything to the Royals they wanted and expected of him when he signed a two-season deal to join them in December. He’s hit for power (11 home runs, second only to Salvador Perez’s 17), driven in runs (39, also second to Perez) and gets on base—his .365 OBP leads KC’s regulars and is 25 points better than Benintendi’s second-place .340. And he’s playing good defense.
Santana is the solution to the first base problem Eric Hosmer’s departure created, and Kansas City hadn’t been able to solve. The Royals certainly don’t need another hole at first if they want to entertain any hope of keeping their dim postseason hopes alive.
The KC Royals don’t yet have a suitable replacement for Carlos Santana.
Assuming Kansas City hasn’t abandoned its playoff aspirations (the club trails first place Chicago by 12.5 games in the AL Central and stands nine games back in the Wild Card standings), trading Santana will create a first base gap the franchise doesn’t need and couldn’t adequately fill.
Hunter Dozier’s season-long slump strongly suggests he’s not the player to replace a traded Santana. Yes, he performed well at first base last September after Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom proved they weren’t ready for the position—he played all but three of his games that month at first base and slashed .320/.387/.707—but he’s slashing .152/.226/.337 this season. The Royals can’t afford to substitute Dozier for Santana.
O’Hearn’s current Triple-A binge renews some hope he might recapture the form he displayed during his 2018 rookie big league season when he hit 12 homers and batted .262 with a .353 OBP. He’s slashing .393/.448/.984 with 11 home runs and 24 RBIs in 15 games at Omaha this month. But his continuing battles with major league pitching make him an unlikely replacement for Santana.
And Nick Pratto, who’s revitalized his hitting and career at Double-A Northwest Arkansas this season, probably isn’t ready for The Show despite his 11 homers, 26 RBIs and .306 average with the Naturals. That the Royals haven’t promoted him to Triple-A yet suggests they’re not quite ready for him to move up (or don’t want to displace Ryan McBroom). Making the jump to the majors is a move that needs to wait for next season.
So it is that the Royals can’t lose Santana and still maintain even a slim chance of playing in October. Some good clubs may need first base help, but Kansas City shouldn’t put Santana on the market until and unless the club decides the playoffs are a pipe dream. Even then, General Manager Dayton Moore and principal owner John Sherman need to decide if they want to part with the first baseman now when he can be valuable to the 2022 club, a team that should start, and stay, in contention.
The KC Royals are probably destined to be sellers next month. But they need to keep Carlos Santana.