The “Hot Stove” season is always a fun one, as it can generate all kinds of wacky discussion. That was on prime display on Twitter, as Jim Bowden of the Athletic threw out a possible Whit Merrifield trade scenario with the Yankees that wasn’t exactly “warmly received” by Royals fans:
I get Royals Farm Report’s outrage here. Yes, the Royals are sellers, but a deal in which Andujar looks like the “centerpiece” seems like a “low-ball” offer, and one that I’m not sure even Dayton Moore would get behind. That being said, I am not going to touch on Whit, as I have already done so recently on this blog. Instead, I am going to look at four other players on this Royals roster who I project will be gone in one way or the other by the July 30th Trade Deadline.
Ervin Santana, RHP
Santana was a “low-risk” signing who was acquired by the Royals on a Minor League deal shortly before Spring Training. For the most part, Santana hasn’t been “bad” by any means. He had a great May in which he posted a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 IP. However, the 38-year-old veteran has seen his numbers inflate each month, as he posted a 5.74 ERA in 15.2 IP in June and a 15.43 ERA in 4.2 IP in July. He’s mostly gotten hurt by the long ball, as he has given up five home runs in June and July in comparison to just one in May (and two in April). Santana doesn’t possess real “swing and miss” stuff, as he is only posting a K rate of 18 percent. Thus, the increase in home runs allowed is a concerning sign that Santana may indeed be at the end of his career not just with the Royals, but Major League Baseball in general. His xERA at 6.31 ranks in the bottom four percent of the league, according to Baseball Savant, and thus, I am not sure how much Santana is benefiting the Royals right now in the bullpen.
The Royals may need Santana now as a “long relief” option, which makes sense considering the Royals injury issues in the rotation with Danny Duffy and Brady Singer. However, after a solid recent start in Omaha, it seems likely that Jackson Kowar will be back in Kansas City. In addition, the Royals have also seen the return of Daniel Tillo and Foster Griffin from injury, and they could be options in September, should they be ready and fully healthy.
Santana hasn’t pitched for the Royals since July 10th, and even though Carlos Hernandez was knocked out early in the game yesterday, Mike Matheny opted to go with a “bullpen by committee” route rather than Santana, their long-reliever. Thus, I think the writing is on the wall for Santana in Kansas City, and I could see him designated for assignment in the coming week to clear some room on the Royals’ active (and consequently 40-man) roster.
Hanser Alberto, INF
Alberto has been a fun Royals player off the bench this season. That was fully evident in Saturday’s win, as he came up with a key triple that essentially “won” the game for the Royals in the late innings:
Alberto isn’t doing “bad” by any means, as he is posting a 90 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR in 68 games, according to Fangraphs. However, he feels like superfluous asset on a last-place Royals team. That is even further confirmed by Nicky Lopez’s resurgence at the plate in 2021. There was some thought before the season started that Nicky and Alberto could perhaps platoon at second base (and this was prior to the Adalberto Mondesi injuries). However, when one looks at their numbers against left-handed pitching, Alberto hasn’t really been all that much better than Lopez at the plate in 2021.
When it comes to teams vying for a playoff spot, there is a need for as many weapons off the bench as possible, as well as guys who can come in, and positively effect a clubhouse. Alberto checks the mark on both of those boxes, as he could be a valuable lefty-masher on the infield end, and he will also bring an energy that will be most welcome in any contending locker room. While it would be sad to lose Alebrto’s energy in the Royals locker room, it is unlikely that he will be a part of this team in 2022 and beyond, and thus, Moore would benefit from trading Alberto by the deadline, rather than simply just letting him walk in free agency.
Michael A. Taylor and Jorge Soler, OF/DH
I combined these two together because I think they would offer similar benefits to interested playoff teams. They probably are not “everyday” players by any means. However, as fourth outfielders or platoon bats? Teams could do a lot worse than both Taylor and Soler. Furthermore, Taylor and Soler have playoff experience that could also give them some intangible value on the trade market as well.
Taylor hasn’t been “awesome” as the Royals’ everyday center fielder. But then again, the expectations weren’t all that high either. Taylor only signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal this offseason, and he was mostly signed for his defensive ability. So far this year, he is posting an 80 wRC+ and 0.8 fWAR in 87 games and 315 plate appearances, according to Fangraphs, which isn’t bad considering what the Royals paid for him. Compare that to Jackie Bradley, Jr., who was looked at as a Royals target this off-season, and ended up signing a two-year $24 million deal with the Brewers this offseason. He is posting a 50 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR in 89 games and 319 plate appearances, according to Fangraphs. Safe to say, the Royals made the right call on that one.
Taylor wouldn’t be coveted by teams looking for an everyday outfielder. That being said, Taylor has demonstrated some playoff heroics in the past, which mostly came in 2017 in the ALDS, as evidenced by the highlights below:
Thus, for a team looking for a bat off the bench, or an outfielder who can come in, and be a valuable defensive sub, Taylor fits the bill nicely. And while that may not net a tremendous package in return, it should net something, especially for playoff teams flush with talent in their farm system (like the Rays or Padres).
As for Soler, he’s not providing any kind of defensive value to potential deadline buyers, and that is evident by his -1.5 fWAR, which is mostly hampered by his awful play defensively in right field this year, according to Fangraphs. However, he still ranks in the top 10 percent of the league in average exit velocity and hard hit rate, and he ranks in the 82nd percentile in barrel rate. Thus, while he may not be the “star” DH that he was back in 2019, for a cheap price (maybe a really low level prospect), I think Soler could be valued by a contending team that would be searching for pop off the bench.
Furthermore, Soler has been hampered by playing half his games at Kauffman Stadium, which is one of the hardest parks in baseball for home run hitters. Take a look at Soler’s “expected home runs” by park, according to Baseball Savant, and how many more home runs he would have hit, had he played in more “hitter-friendly” ballparks.
As one can see from the chart above, Kauffman definitely suppresses Soler’s home run power, and though he may not necessarily deserve everyday at-bats from a contender, he certainly can be a platoon or bench bat who can add some punch to any lineup, which is especially important during the stretch run of the season. Furthermore, it is possible that being in a playoff atmosphere could rejuvenate Soler, who has been through a rut in what is likely his last year in Kansas City. Soler contributed during the Cubs during their playoff runs from 2014-2016, which also included this big home run against the Cardinals back in the NLDS in 2015:
Again, much like Taylor, the return probably wouldn’t be much, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Royals have to eat some of Soler’s money ($8.05 million this year) in order to make any kind of trade happen. But, despite his meager stat line, I think a team takes a waiver on Soler’s potential, which should clear a spot in the outfield for either Kyle Isbel and/or Edward Olivares in the next week or two.
Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP