The KC Royals and Oakland wrapped up 2023 as two of the poorest performers of the season. While Kansas City is several years into a rebuild, Oakland is likely to be hunting for new players this off-season. One thing the Royals have is plenty of young affordable assets who don’t necessarily fit their ballpark. And the A's have a couple of pitchers the Royals could find a spot for.
Is starting pitcher JP Sears the grizzled innings-eater the Royals need?
An intriguing starting pitching option is JP Sears, who is coming off his first full season with the Athletics. Sears, 27, started 32 games and worked an impressive 172.1 innings. After an abysmal 2023, the Royals are in desperate need of pitchers who could eat some innings; Sears has the potential to be the type of breakout pitcher we recently pointed the Royals need. Why is that?
According to Brooks Baseball, Sears relies heavily on his four-seam fastball and changeup, and also throws a dramatic sweeper. Sears' weakest pitch is his fastball, which is thrown up in the zone and results in a high flyball rate (52.5%). Sears' groundball percentage (29.1%) suggests he under-utilizes his sweeper and change-up. If Sears were to focus more on his breaking and off-speed pitches, using his fastball as an out-pitch, he could be a terrific contact pitcher.
Sears started playing with a cutter and sinker this season, so he may be thinking the very same thing. The Royals have had some difficulty finding pitchers who buy in to throwing for contact. A sinker would be a more effective ground ball pitch than the four-seamer and would have great appeal for Kansas City.
Some Royals fans may be discouraged by Sears' 4.54 ERA, which is definitely high. But he's done a terrific job limiting home runs and walks, two of the three true outcomes many teams focus on achieving. Sears also produced a solid 1.2265 WHIP by going deep into games and limiting batted balls in play. He was also strong with baserunners, stranding 77.3% this season. This suggests Sears is mentally strong and could be the retro-type veteran the Royals could rely on to eat innings.
The Royals could bulk up their outfield by bringing back Esteury Ruiz
Esteury Ruiz was signed by the Royals as an international free agent in 2015, but in 2017 found himself part of a trade that sent Matt Strahm, Travis Wood, and Ruiz to San Diego for Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, and Trevor Cahill. It was one of the worst trades in Royals history. At the time, Ruiz was a 16-year-old tack-on to finalize the deal, and Ruiz later found himself parts of trades to Milwaukee and Oakland. He stuck in Oakland where he broke into the majors in 2022 and earned the starting centerfield spot for Opening Day 2023.
Ruiz, now 24, looks every bit a Royal. His plate approach resembles that of former Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar. He's an aggressive hitter who avoids walks and swings for contact. He's light-hitting at .254/.309 /.345 but has good bat control to all fields. He's the kind of speedster who, like Jarrod Dyson, could thrive with Kauffman Stadiums' power alleys. And he broke Kenny Lofton's 33-year-old American League rookie stolen base record with 67 this season.
Like Dyson, Ruiz has the potential to be an incredible outfielder. His minor league fielding percentage and range are fantastic and present a player who could be a career centerfielder for KC. His 2023 numbers reflect a young rookie who wasn't quite comfortable with a starting role. Another off-season could really shape him into the type of starting outfielder Kansas City treasures.
What do the KC Royals have to entice Oakland?
Almost from the beginning, the Royals labeled 2023 as an evaluation season. The results? A number of former top prospects have failed to fit into the team's future plans. First baseman Nick Pratto, catcher-outfielder MJ Melendez, outfielder Nelson Velázquez, and outfielder Gavin Cross all appear burdened by the same problematic statistic: they strike out too often. For a Royals team that wins by attacking the baseball and moving the line, these strikeout-heavy players don't really have a place in the future.
The good news is that Oakland has long been a proponent of the three true outcomes: home run, walk, or strike out. Any or all of these four players could be welcome additions for the Athletics. The only question: what would it take to bring Ruiz and Sears to Kansas City?