For at least the moment, KC Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. is The Man in Kansas City. The second-year big leaguer beat Minnesota Friday night with a 4-for-5, six-RBI performance capped by a stunning 10th-inning grand slam. Witt and his bat produced most of the Royals' runs in their 8-5 series-opening win.
Witt's slam instantly displaced anything and everything as the singular most exciting play of the Royals' otherwise dud of a season. Expect nothing this team does the rest of the way to equal it.
And his heroics took reliever Scott Barlow off the hook. Barlowm manager Matt Quatraro's unsurprising choice to pitch the ninth inning, failed to guard his club's 4-2 lead—instead, he hit a batter, walked another, and gave up two hits, including a two-out double to Jorge Polanco that tied the game, helped force extra innings when the Royals couldn't score in the bottom half of the frame, and loomed large when the Twins took the lead with a run in the 10th.
Unfortunately, Barlow's Friday evening failure is just part of a disturbing pattern for the closer widely considered to be Kansas City's most valuable trade piece.
But with the MLB trade deadline just 72 hours away—all deals must be completed by 5 p.m. CDT Tuesday—asking whether Barlow's continuing struggles render him damaged trade goods is more than reasonable.
KC Royals closer Scott Barlow hasn't been himself for a long time
Barlow's best stretch of the season was a 10-game scoreless streak, but that ended May 17, and that he's fighting something has been obvious much of the season. After Friday's troubles, he's 2-4 with 12 saves (only 15 save opportunities have come his way, which isn't shocking considering the Royals have won only 30 times in 105 games), and his 5.50 ERA is far too high for any reliever, much less a closer like Barlow. And that ERA hasn't been below 3.52 since the third of his 37 appearances.
Compounding Barlow's problems is his horrible July. He's 0-0 with a 10.13 ERA and counts only three strikeouts among the 46 batters who've faced him; since the All-Star Break, he's given up eight earned runs in 4.2 innings (15.43 ERA) and walked 20% of the hitters he's faced.
So is Barlow, who we previously encouraged the Royals to trade, still movable? It was at this time last year, after the Yankees twice treated him especially badly in New York, that we answered that same question in the negative, but he entered that weekend series with a sub-2.00 ERA and a much better season record.
This trade period is different. Barlow simply isn't closing like he did last season (24 saves, 2.18 ERA) or the season before that (16 saves, 2.42 ERA). Contenders needing closers, or even set-up men, want and need better than what Barlow currently offers.
Don't be surprised, then, if Kansas City doesn't move him. He probably isn't as appealing to other teams as he was earlier this year and, even if other clubs do pursue him, the Royals might not be satisfied with the return they offer.
There isn't much time left before the deadline. We shall see.