Top 5 Royals Trade Candidates
In my last article, I discussed my top free agent targets based on various criteria. I also acknowledged the free agent market is very weird and shallow this season, which only makes things harder for the Royals. This could necessitate some creativity from the front office, swapping talent with other teams to strengthen the roster. …This will also be difficult for the Royals because they don’t have a lot of talent, and whatever they do have they need to win games. So in this list I’m going to be less picky with my targets and look at what could be realistically acquired without sacrificing major core pieces… unless absolutely necessary. I’m also only looking at pitchers. While the Royals had a pretty terrible offense in 2023, I think they have a lot to work with in terms of youthful upside and am not so comfortable messing with that right now. The pitching, meanwhile, was a colossal disaster that needs a total overhaul before spring starts, even if it means digging around other teams’ junk heaps.
Ryan Feltner — Colorado Rockies
Royals trade: Edward Olivares
The Rockies might be the most questionable organization in baseball. I frankly have no idea what they’re going to do moving forward. They should rebuild, but their owner likes to think they can compete at any given moment and spends a little money to do so (they had a payroll of nearly $140M last year, which is more than the D-backs, so.) and it’s just a big, confusing mess. Will the Rockies trade away young, controllable pitching talent when their homegrown “ace” Kyle Freeland is trending down along with… everyone else? I don’t know. That’s why this is a fantasy trade.
The other thing to wonder is, what will even happen when you take a pitcher out of Colorado? It’s a well-known commodity that pitchers, uh, don’t pitch very well when they’re a few thousand feet above sea level. As expected, Feltner is a negative WAR pitcher with a 5.82 ERA in 43.1 innings, especially thanks to 28 walks in that time. Worth noting that his innings log for 2023 is extremely short due to a skull fracture suffered from a line drive to the head. Yikes!
That being said, Feltner does have some positive traits that may be worth checking out. His FIP and expected ERA are both more than a run lower than his actual ERA despite his high walks and hits allowed; this is thanks to a remarkably low average exit velocity that limited hitters to just two home runs against him last season. Remember, this is a Rockies pitcher we’re talking about. And for an atmosphere that inhibits pitch movement, Feltner’s own pitches grade out… okay. Below average, perhaps, but not terrible. I like that he gets a decent amount of called strikes and whiffs, despite his high walk rate, and that his fastball averages 94.8.
Maybe I’m putting too much stock into both KC’s new coaches and the potential improvements of leaving Coors, but I’m also saying this with the opinion that he’s a buy-low candidate. If he could be acquired for some excess goods that the Royals shouldn’t have on the Opening Day roster as is, he could be a bounceback starter candidate, or at the very least some rotational depth.
Patrick Sandoval — Los Angeles Angels
Royals trade: Alec Marsh + Tyler Gentry
This is another organization that I think is a living question mark going into this winter. The Angels, by all metrics, should rebuild, including a trade of Sandoval, but they’re also spending too much money and have spammed too many fast-rising draft picks to start a five-year rebuild now. Also, just between you and me, I would prefer to have Reid Detmers, but he’s younger, has an extra year of control, and his peripherals are noticeably better. I think he costs too much for the Royals to acquire in a trade right now.
Sandoval, perhaps, should cost nearly as much given that he’s been the better pitcher throughout his career, but his 2023 season should suggest otherwise: his strikeout rate dropped while his walk rate (which was already not very good) rose. His ERA and FIP were more than a run higher than they were in his excellent 2022 season. Even if a rebound is imminent, he hasn’t pitched more than 150 innings in a season, ever.
What I like about Sandoval, despite everything, is his ability to limit damage. Of all pitchers with 140+ innings pitched, he has the third best HR/9, only surrendering 12 bombs in 144 innings. Needless to say, he doesn’t get hit very hard. Among the same pitchers, he’s also in the top 20 for highest groundball rate, which emphasizes the Royals’ defense. For as bad as the Royals are, they boasted one of the best defenses in the game, collectively recording 28 outs above average. That’s third in all of baseball! The Angels, meanwhile, were the polar opposite, netting -20 outs above average, 27th in baseball.
This is also speculation, but Sandoval’s command seemed to falter specifically in the second half of the season, and he was ultimately shut down in the final week due to oblique tightness. The Angels have a pretty poor history with injuries, especially with how injured the team was last year, which makes me wonder if he pitched through a nagging injury down the stretch. There’s no way to tell for sure, but the good news is that Sandoval hasn’t had any major health concerns over his career. I like Sandoval’s health despite his limited workload and I can see his command tightening up again. If the Angels can be satisfied with a couple borderline-MLB ready players, I’d be eager to take Sandoval as a bounce-back candidate still in his early arbitration years.
Clarke Schmidt — New York Yankees
Royals trade: Kyle Isbel + Angel Zerpa
Personally, I like it when starters actually pitch the bulk of the game. So I kinda hate this guy. Clarke Schmidt pitched six-plus innings exactly four times in 2023. He never saw the 8th inning. That said, he still threw 32 starts. Just being reliable to pitch every fifth day is something you don’t see very often anymore. I mean, we signed Jordan Lyles for chrissakes.
Here’s what I do like besides the starts count: his 3.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Is that outstanding? No, but it’s solid. He’s also just about average at getting hit hard (or not) despite a home run rate nearing 1.5 per 9, which would likely go down with a change of home stadiums. Beyond that, there isn’t much to pull apart with Schmidt. He’s about as mid as a starter could be, but remember that the Royals let Mike Mayers pitch for six games. The main question is whether or not the Yankees would actually consider trading Schmidt; he’s certainly not good for them, but they’re not exactly overflowing with arms right now. He was the only pitcher without a name rhyming with Carrot to pitch over 150 innings for the Bronx. If the asking price was a legit prospect or regular, I’d hang up, but if he could be bought with excess goods, it’s a noticeable improvement over Jordan Lyles.
Graham Ashcraft — Cincinnati Reds
Royals trade: Brady Singer + Devin Mann
Ashcraft has a very good two-pitch combo in his cutter plus slider, and there’s a sinker that. exists. But the numbers themselves haven’t demonstrated how good the pitches actually are; he’s walked more than 3 batters per 9 while striking out fewer than 7. This has led to a mediocre 4.76 ERA in about 145 innings; he suffered a stress reaction in his big right toe and missed the last month of the season. Fortunately, he’ll be good to go come spring.
More fortunately, Ashcraft has quite a bit of upside if he can command his pitches just a bit better. Like I said, his two good pitches are GOOD; they’re both thrown hard and his slider breaks a ridiculous amount. He could be a Brady Singer-type of pitcher that lives off of mostly two good pitches and then a third “get me over” pitch.
Speaking of Brady Singer, there were rumors of the Reds wanting to acquire Singer this summer, and I’d like to believe this is still on the table. I’m not opposed to it, but the Royals can’t afford to deal Singer unless they get back a rotational arm of their own. There is no in-house replacement for Singer, both in upside and the (potential) innings thrown. Honestly, I don’t think a straight-up Singer/Ashcraft swap is in the cards; it might take more than that and it might not be worth it for a young pitcher that has yet to break out. But, with Singer not panning out and already down three years of service time, Ashcraft could be the reset button this organization needs.
Jesus Luzardo — Miami Marlins
Royals trade: Freddy Fermin + Maikel Garcia + Gavin Cross
Okay, I get it, I’ve been demanding better pitching and then listed four “ehhhhhhhhh” targets based on how low-cost they could be. …But good pitching doesn’t grow on trees, folks. It’s expensive, so if the Royals want a good pitcher, it’s going to cost them a lot and we really don’t have that much. I think this is the absolute most the Royals can afford to trade away; Freddy Fermin is a good catcher, but the Royals are going to stick with Salvy no matter what; unless the Royals trade Salvy instead, but that’s going to require eating most of the salary. Maikel Garcia is a terrific shortstop, but he’s blocked by BWJ and doesn’t have an optimal bat for third base. Gavin Cross is having a disappointing pro career, but the talent is still there and it’s still early.
It wouldn’t be for nothing, though. Jesus Luzardo is just one of 30 pitchers who threw more than 170 innings and are also not Jordan Lyles, and of those 30 he was 15th in ERA and 14th in FIP. His 3.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio is exceptional thanks to a 96+ MPH fastball that he locates well, plus a slider that actually got hit to an unlucky degree this year, not that he’s due for some crazy positive regression or anything. All the while he has three years of team control left.
Luzardo probably isn’t winning a Cy Young or anything, but he immediately becomes the best pitcher in the Royals organization by a significant margin with the exception of Cole Ragans, but even then no one knows how well Ragans will hold up over a full season. Luzardo provides quality and volume, pitching six innings or more in 17 of his 32 starts, and only failing to complete the five innings seven times; two of them being back-to-back starts, weirdly enough.
Miami is a contending team that won’t accept anything less than quality additions to their Major League roster, but their trade of Pablo Lopez last winter showed they’re not above swapping some of their glorious pitching talent to bolster their lineup. They need a shortstop (or a third baseman if they move Jazz back) and a catcher; the Royals have extras at both positions. Even after trading Luzardo and missing Alcantara through 2024, they still have three exceptional starters in Eury Perez, Braxton Garrett and Edward Cabrera, which makes me think this trade could be doable.
Like my free agents list, there are lots of risks to any of these trades. It’s never fun trading away a player, seeing them play better for another team, then watching who you got back flounder away. It’s happened to the Royals too many times to count. But with things going poorly as they are, rolling the dice some more may be their best move. Who knows? They got Cole Ragans and Nelson Velazquez for Aroldis Chapman and Jose Cuas last summer, after all.
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