Valuing the trade chips: Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals are in the midst of steep decline that began with their 2015 World Series victory. They spent the next two seasons hovering around .500 before plummeting to the bottom of the AL Central in 2018. They Royals have a few very talented (and valuable) players, but the team sits behind even the rebuilding Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox in the standings.
Their most significant trade chips are as follows (values in $Ms):
The first name that teams will ask about is versatile speedster Whit Merrifield (48.5). The late bloomer signed an incredibly team-friendly contract extension last offseason. He will be paid just $16.25 million over the next four years, with a $10.5 million team option for the fifth. This gives Merrifield, a solid hitter, baserunner, and defender, significant value.
Few contenders have a need at Merrifield’s primary position of second base, but given his versatility, any team could make room for him somewhere in the lineup. While unlikely, if the Royals decide to sell high on the 30-year-old, they could receive a haul. For example, a fair return from the division rival Cleveland Indians could include third baseman Nolan Jones (23.3), outfielder George Valera (21.3) and shortstop Aaron Bracho (4.2).
Similarly, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (39.8) will be coveted by teams, but his youth, upside and team control make it even less likely the Royals will move him. He would have a similar market to that of Merrifield, although non-contenders would have interest as well due to his age.
Billy Hamilton (4.0) will be an intriguing option as a fourth outfielder and/or pinch runner. A former top prospect, Hamilton has always shown elite speed and outfield defense, but has never figured it out at the plate. He comes with a second year of team control, but after being non-tendered by Cincinnati last offseason, it remains to be seen whether an acquiring team would hang onto him for a second season. A team like the Tampa Bay Rays could acquire Hamilton in exchange for a prospect like second baseman Tyler Frank (3.8).
The Royals could move another fast, controllable outfielder – albeit one with much less value – in Terrance Gore (1.9). A contender will certainly be able to make room on the roster for the pinch-running specialist. In a very limited sample, Gore is even hitting well for the first time in his career. However, the majority of Gore’s trade value comes from his four additional years of team control. Expect a return for Gore to be near (or even below) the low estimate of his value, as last season he was sent to the Cubs for nothing more than cash considerations.
Lefty Jake Diekman (2.5) will likely be in high demand. After a rough 2018, the flamethrower has rebounded with some of the best command of his career. Every bullpen could use another solid lefty — especially one as affordable as Diekman, who will make just $1.5 million the rest of the way and has a mutual option for 2020. However, mutual options are rarely exercised on both ends, and Diekman would likely be nothing more than a rental, lowering his value below the 2.5 mark listed. For example, the Oakland Athletics could possibly acquire Diekman in exchange for a prospect like Jordan Diaz (2.2).
Next, the Royals could move a pair of veteran rentals in catcher Martin Maldonado (6.3) and first baseman Lucas Duda (0.4). Maldonado is by far the more valuable of the two. He is a superb defensive backstop, but has never been an above-average hitter. He would be a backup catcher for most contenders. Duda, usually a plus power bat, has struggled over the last two seasons. As he continues to age poorly, the only role he fills is that of a bench bat or minor league depth.
Finally, a pair of rental righties in Homer Bailey (-1.8) and Wily Peralta (0.4) could return a lottery ticket or two. Both veterans have shown flashes, but haven’t been able to sustain even average performance. A contender might see either as an upgrade at the back end of their roster, but wouldn’t give up much of anything to acquire them.
The Royals would love to move lefty Danny Duffy (-11.3) and/or righty Ian Kennedy (-28.6), but both contracts are well underwater. Both have pitched fairly well in 2019, and Kennedy may interest some now that he’s shown effectiveness as a reliever, but Kansas City will need to eat a significant portion of their contracts to unload either.
The Royals have an interesting farm system, but it is a long way from being one of the game’s best. A Merrifield trade could kick-start the rebuild and put the team in a very good position long-term. However, even if they choose not to move him, Kansas City has some pieces to move and should add a handful of interesting prospects this summer.