Well, that is it for Nicky Lopez's time with the KC Royals. He was not a piece the Royals had to move and one that the Royals will not be better without. On the surface level, this seems like a very terrible trade.
KC Royals fans are not happy about the Nicky Lopez trade.
The Royals sent Lopez to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for relief pitcher Taylor Hearn on Sunday. The team announced the move mere hours after Lopez started at first base for the club. That marked the fifth different position Lopez started a game for the Royals in 2023 alone, speaking to his defensive versatility and manager Matt Quatraro's trust in the 28-year-old veteran.
This trade was immediately frustrating. After all, Lopez was a clubhouse leader who became more vocal in the 2022 season. He built a ton of goodwill amongst the Royals fanbase, whether it be his off-field antics with younger players, his charity work, or his smooth defense. But, all that clouded my eyes as to where Lopez fit into the 2023 Royals.
Lopez is great definitely, but his offense has gotten even worse in 2023. His 2021 looked like an outlier after regressing in 2022, but his 2023 shows further regression. Lopez's 72 wRC+ shows a bat nearly 30% below league average, but even that was skewed from a hot first two months of the season. Let's look at his performance since the All-Star break. After all, what has he done lately? According to his 0 wRC+, nothing. In eight games, he has a .360 OPS when the league average is .732. That is far from serviceable.
Lopez's worth comes from his defensive versatility. After all, he is a positive glove where ever he plays. That is what the Braves wanted ahead of the upcoming postseason push. What the Braves gave back to the Royals for that is what causes frustration. Hearn, who is with his third organization in a week, is far from a building block for the Royals. In five MLB games this season, he has a 14.73 ERA and 2.318 WHIP, all that worth -.4 WAR. That is not an arm the Royals can add to the bullpen and expect to win. The Royals sent Hearn to Triple-A Omaha upon acquiring him, so Hearn will have to prove his mettle in Werner Park.
This is a hard trade to find a clear positive in. Lopez at least brought some worth to the Royals, while Heran hasn't done that anywhere this season. This trade looks like one the Braves won from an on-field perspective. The Royals might hope they can fix Hearn who posted a 4.51 ERA and 4.72 FIP across the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He had a great four-seam fastball in that span and the Royals have seemingly fixed pitchers fitting that profile in 2023. Look at Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Hernández and how they bounced back this season.
Could the Royals do the same with Hearn and cultivate the talent that made him a fifth-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft? They better hope so, or else this trade will look even worse by the season's end.