The 2020 Trade Deadline of this weird, COVID-shortened MLB season has finally passed much to the chagrin of Baseball Twitter junkies across the nation. For the Royals, despite trading Brett Phillips to the Rays and Trevor Rosenthal to the Padres earlier last week and over the weekend, respectively, general manager Dayton Moore stayed relatively quiet on Monday. The Royals made no moves on baseball’s final day to make a trade for the 2020 season, and it will be an interesting September for a club that currently sits in last place in the AL Central, their playoff hopes close to nil at this point.
So, what did Royals fans learn from the past week and weekend which included a flurry of trades, mostly from the San Diego Padres, who acquired Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger in a massive deal? What can Royals fans take away going forward as the Blue and White begin their final month of play this season?
Here are three takeaways Royals fans should have after Monday’s big, transaction-filled day, which is almost like a “Christmas-Hanukkah in Summer” hybrid for baseball fans everywhere.
1. The market for Greg Holland never materialized (or didn’t sway Moore)
Holland is having a bounce back season in Kansas City, as he is posting a 3.00 ERA in 18 innings of work with the Royals this year. After all, Holland flamed out as the closer of the Arizona Diamondbacks last year, and didn’t do much better with the St. Louis Cardinals the year before. The Royals picked him up before Spring Training with the idea that he could perhaps bounce back in a familiar environment in addition to serving as a mentor to younger pitchers in the Royals bullpen such as Josh Staumont and Kyle Zimmer. So far, much to the satisfaction of Royals fans, Holland has accomplished both those goals.
That being said, Holland is seen as a long-term option in the Royals bullpen, and there was considerable thought in Royals fans circles that he would be traded at the deadline, much like fellow veteran closer Rosenthal. However, while Holland’s ERA is nice, he’s only posting a 3.46 FIP and his 8.50 K/9 isn’t impressive by any measure. And thus, though Holland was generating some noise on Sunday and Monday, it seemed like other teams didn’t produce anything to Moore’s liking, and instead, he chose to keep Holland in the Royals bullpen for the remainder of the season.
As expected, this deal is polarizing with Royals fans. Some believe that any return would have been worth it for the Royals, especially since it is unlikely that Holland will be re-signed next year. However, Ian Kennedy was injured over the weekend, and it isn’t out of the realm to think that Moore wasn’t willing to just accept anything for Holland with the bullpen now a bit thinner without Rosenthal and Kennedy. After all, while Staumont has been a revelation this year, he has a spotty history with command and control prior to this year, and not just in the Majors, but in the Minors as well. Furthermore, while Zimmer and Jesse Hahn look primed for bigger roles in the bullpen, they also have an extensive injury history, and the Royals have been treating both of them with kid gloves this year, even if it has come at the expense of utilizing less effective options out of the pen.
Thus, while Holland does give this bullpen some insurance over the next month of play, it will be worth following for Royals to see if this “lack of a move” will hurt the Royals in the long run. Granted, the Royals at this time do need Holland in the 8th and 9th innings, especially considering the options outside of Staumont and Barlow are a bit shaky or unproven (though Zimmer and Hahn, despite their injury history, have looked good). That being said, it is intriguing to think about what kind of options Moore had at his disposal, and if he’ll regret passing on those teams’ offers by the end of September, even if they were underwhelming at the end of August.
2. Whit and Soler are part of the Royals future…for now
While it wasn’t likely that Whit Merrifield or Jorge Soler would be traded on Monday, it didn’t seem impossible either. Merrifield is suddenly becoming one of the more respected players in the league, and he has one of the most team-friendly contracts out there as well. As for Soler, while he hasn’t been as impressive as his record-breaking 2019, he is still posting a 126 wRC+in 143 plate appearances, and he may have the most raw power out of any hitters in the American League. With a universal DH in play for this year, and perhaps the future, it was possible that Soler could generate more in return than previous years, especially since NL teams could use his services this season.
That being said, despite the possibility, neither Merrifield or Soler’s names were even mentioned in any capacity on Monday. Thus, it seems like for now, both Whit and Soler are part of the Royals’ future for at least next season. That being said, will they be part of the Royals’ plans in 2022 and beyond?
It seems like Whit has a better shot to be a long-term option in KC than Soler. Whit has become the voice of the Royals this season, even when it comes to social issues. As evidenced in the Tweet below, he made an “unofficial statement” on behalf of the club last week in regard to the NBA and MLB players and teams not playing in protest to racial inequality and police brutality in this country.
The fact that Whit is making this statement and not Salvy or Gordo shows that Whit is the de-facto leader of this Royals squad and should be even more so after this year. And considering how much stock Moore puts into team development and character, it’s hard to imagine Moore wanting to part ways with Whit. In Moore’s eyes, Whit is the epitome of what he wants in a Royal: great character, consistent on the field, vocal with his teammates, and a guy who gets the most out of his talent. Thus, it’s hard to picture Whit leaving Kansas City, especially since he is only costing less than $10 million over the next two years.
As for Soler, while he has one more year of club control, it is still hard to predict what Moore will do with the Cuban slugger. At the beginning of the year, it was plausible that Moore would sign Soler to perhaps a 3-4 year extension in order to keep his power in KC. However, while Soler has continued to be the Royals’ best power hitter, his strikeout issues have been concerning (his strikeout rate has increased to almost 34 percent), and it seems unlikely that he’ll produce a 48-homer season again in KC like he did in 2019. Add that with limited positional flexibility, and it seems less likely envision Soler as a long-term option in Kansas City.
While it is likely that while Moore may sign Soler to a one-year extension at the conclusion of this year, it would not be surprising to see Moore perhaps shop Soler by next year’s Trade Deadline. He may have more value to another team as a one-year rental in 2021 than long-term in KC. Furthermore, if the universal DH does become a permanent thing in baseball (we will see how those talks progress this Winter), then Soler may have more value on the trade market as well and Moore may cash in on the Royals DH by next July.
3. The Royals added positional depth to their system…which means the writing is on the wall for Starling
The “Bubba Brigade” (i.e. Royals fans in southern Johnson County) breathed a sigh of relief after Phillips was traded to the Rays. After all, without Phillips, Starling took over the backup outfield spot, as well as the pinch runner role. However, things took a turn for those Bubba fans after the Rosenthal trade to San Diego. The Royals received outfielder Edward Olivares, a 2019 Texas League All-Star who made the Padres’ active roster this year and saw some playing time on a competitive Padres team as a toolsy 24-year-old outfielder who offered speed and defense at the very least.
And with that acquisition, Starling’s future with the Royals just became even murkier.
In addition to Olivares, the Royals also have Nick Heath and Franchy Cordero on the 40-man, even though Cordero is currently shelved for the rest of the season due to injury. While it is possible that Gordo may retire after this year, he may try to advocated for one more season in KC, especially since he was deprived of doing a “farewell tour” in front of fans at the K in 2020. Lastly, the Royals will most likely need to add Khalil Lee and perhaps even Seuly Matias to the 40-man roster this off-season in order to protect both of them from the Rule 5 Draft.
And thus, it seems unlikely that Starling will last much longer in Kansas City. At 28-years-old, Starling isn’t a prospect anymore, and the Royals are now chock-full of toolsy outfielders in the upper levels of the Minors who not only offer the same skill set as Starling, but are a lot younger and have a lot more club control than Starling. Starling is also out of options, which means the Royals will have to DFA him to send him to the Alternate Site. At his age and point in development, it doesn’t seem fair to keep him up in Kansas City, especially when guys like Heath, Lee, Olivares, or perhaps even Kyle Isbel, are younger and could have more impact in the future on this Royals team.
The Royals haven’t made any moves with Starling just yet. And it’s possible they won’t unless they are for sure out of the race for a playoff spot. Though the Royals chances are slim, they still have a shot, even if it is at “Lloyd Christmas” levels at this point in the season. That being said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Starling released once the Royals are officially eliminated from the playoffs at some point in September.
When that transaction happens, Royals fans will be champing at the bit in terms of debating his replacement on the active roster. Will Olivares get a full shot in the Royals outfield? Will Lee get to show that his strikeout issues are behind him? Will Heath show that he is capable of a full-time, regular role and not just be used as a one-tool weapon? Or will Isbel make good on his promising camp and get a short-shot to see what he can do in preparation for Spring Training of 2021?
It sucks that those questions and debates of excitement have to come at the expense of a local guy like Starling, who has worked his butt off to resurrect his career somewhat and finally debut with the Royals in 2019 (which seemed unthinkable in 2018).
But then again…baseball is an unfair game sometimes…
And Royals baseball, unfortunately, can be especially unfair and crushing…for both players and fans alike.