The Kansas City Royals are bad at baseball, which is not a good quality for a baseball team. And, as Joe Posnanski summed up, teams as bad as the Royals must make every single decision with an eye to the future. From free-agent signings to office supplies, each decision made must consider the long-term outlook. The Royals have done, well, the complete opposite under Dayton Moore. And it’s time to stop. The fans don’t really care about wins and losses at the major league level; no—show us commitment to a system, savvy roster construction and reasoned decisionmaking. The trades that follow aren’t necessarily meant to be undertaken as a series; the roster turnover would be unbelievable. Rather, consider the ideas below examples of the sort of approach the Royals should take organizationally.
I don’t promise this will be a recurring series that hits every organization in any sort of order, but this is the kind of thing that gets my mind spinning.
Call this the change-of-scenery special. Gordon and Young are both the can’t-miss prospects who have, well, missed. Still, each has shown signs of life. Jettisoning Gordon would be a merciful move by Moore, who, plainly, just doesn’t get it. His plan to turn Gordon—who might hit well for a third baseman—into a left fielder is shocking in its ineptitude. The organization’s attitude toward Gordon has been to destroy him for what he is not (Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, or David Wright) instead of recognizing the value in what he might yet be (think Casey Blake). I still have confidence that Gordon, if given a fair shot, could be a very good major leaguer for the next decade. The Twins, a stable organization getting absolutely nothing from its third basemen, wouldn’t ask Gordon to be a star. Just a piece.
As for Young, there is still potential there. It’s easy to forget he’s still just 24, and he’s hitting the ball hard this season (.446 SLG). It’s not unreasonable to think he could have several seasons in the .275/.340/.460 range. Not terribly great, of course, but there’s always the chance he regains the form that made him one of the more hyped prep prospects in the last decade. Like Gordon, he probably needs a change of scenery. What’s more, despite Jason Kubel‘s slow start, the Twins’ best lineup probably features Kubel in left, freeing up the DH spot for Jim Thome and the occasional Joe Mauer rest day.
The secondary pieces of the deal reflect the current states of each organization. The Twins badly need another outfielder who can man center. As things stand, Delmon Young would likely attempt to murder the position should Denard Span go down. Seeing as how Young’s not a good left fielder, a contending team like the Twins need to be prepared to survive Span’s absence. Maier fits that bill. Given their fairly stable bullpen (and Ron Gardenhire‘s love affair with veterans), Slama is probably expendable in a deal for Gordon. The 26-year-old is dealing in his first full season at the AAA level—he’s allowed just 20 baserunners in 26.2 innings and has struck out 31. He could be a piece of the Royals’ pen for several years.
Well, aside from the whole intra-division-trading taboo, the biggest hindrance here is that Moore is actually serious about turning Gordon into a left fielder. The thinking goes that, with Mike Moustakas toying with Texas League pitching (.400/.481/.809—and he’s 21), the Royals don’t have a long-term need at third. Two problems: first, we’re still not entirely sure Moustakas can stay at third. Second, it was only a few short years ago Alex Gordon put together a darn fine Double-A campaign himself. Point is: these aren’t sure things. And the Royals really needed to give Gordon a fair shake. Since they’ve burned that bridge, they might as well take a flyer on Young and add an exciting young arm.
Because the Dodgers badly need better talent in the outfield and the Royals could use organizational depth at shortstop. One of the sadder parts about following a bad team is that its best players are regarded as stars, even if they really don’t fit the bill. This is David DeJesus in a nutshell—he’s a fine player. He’s sitting at .272/.353/.432 this season, which is pretty much what you can expect out of him every single year. A guy perfectly suited to be a piece on a good team, he’s utterly miscast as a cornerstone player. He’s also something of an anachronism, in that he doesn’t throw well enough to play right, run well enough to play center or hit well enough to play left. Still, he can move interchangeably among the three spots without embarrassing himself (or his manager).
That’s why he’d be a great fit in Los Angeles. Going into the season, the Dodgers had the best offensive outfield on paper of any team in the majors. When Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are all in the lineup, the Dodgers are scary. Problem is, two of the three—Ramirez and Ethier—have had trouble staying on the field. And their replacements haven’t exactly been lighting the world on fire. Garret Anderson no longer belongs on a major league roster, and Reed Johnson is barely playable himself. Xavier Paul has played well, but he has just 25 career games to his name. While I’m not calling for his replacement, acquiring DeJesus would allow the Dodgers to send Anderson and Johnson elsewhere. Given Manny’s general creak- and crankiness, the Dodgers need five playable outfielders. Given that he’s owed just the balance of his $4.6 million contract for 2010, even the cash-strapped Dodgers can likely afford David DeJesus.
It’s hard to say if Moore can justify this trade. Ivan DeJesus, Jr., rated a three-star prospect this winter by Baseball Prospectus, was regarded as the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop of the future as recently as 15 months ago. As a 21-year-old in the Southern League, Ivan put up a promising .324/.419/.423 line. Unfortunately, his progress was derailed by a broken leg he suffered last spring, which cost him the entire 2009 campaign. He’s off to a slow start in Triple-A Albuquerque, but he’s still just 23. Moore might think he can do better than DeJesus, Jr., but it’s important to remember that, at best, the Royals will get two more wins out of David DeJesus this season. The Royals are unlikely to pick up his $6 million option in 2011, so getting a potential regular under team control through the middle of the decade could be a solid return. In any case, neither DeJesus is a good fit with his current organization. The Royals might like another small piece back along with Ivan, and the Dodgers would be wise to consider it.
(Don’t hold me to those names—I don’t know the Phillies’ system perfectly, and it’s the concept I’m interested in.)
The Phillies, in the October context, have just one glaring weakness: the bullpen. While savvy Phils fans might flinch at giving up more young talent for a veteran signed long-term, Soria’s a different story. Just 26, he’s signed to a ludicrously team-friendly contract—he’s owed less than $30 million through 2014, by which time a single season of Ryan Howard will cost about as much. And fans on the coasts might not appreciate how good Soria is; in 205.1 innings, he’s struck out 233 batters, walked just 60, and surrendered 17 home runs. He hasn’t been as sparkling in the earlygoing this year, but he’s only appeared 15 times due to the Royals’ incompetence. The Phillies could pencil him in as their ace reliever and leave him there for five years—on the cheap.
The tough part here is figuring out the return package. Domonic Brown is arguably too much, especially as the Phillies will probably have to replace Jayson Werth after this season. The Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay trades have left the system light on near-ready talent, but there is an abundance of outfielders in the lower levels. Santana has the tools to be a star, and I think the Royals shouldn’t deal Soria unless there is upside in the return package. Bastardo is ready to help at the major league level, and Aumont has the potential to be a dominant reliever. The Phillies also have a few athletic center field prospects, one of which could figure into a deal. As I warned under the deal summary above, don’t take the three I listed as necessarily the best package. What the Royals should look for in return for Soria is a combination of future upside and projectable performance.
Soria, along with Zack Greinke and Billy Butler, is one of the few players on the current major league roster the Royals are particularly committed to contending with in 2012 and beyond. He’s young, cheap and good. Ordinarily, Soria isn’t the kind of guy you’d look to move. However, the reality is he’s worth more to just about any other team in baseball than he is to the Kansas City Royals. He’s an unnecessary luxury on a bad team. If not the Phillies, the Royals should seek another trade partner willing to sacrifice future talent for Soria. He’s not a bad player for the Royals to have around, but he’s a waste of assets as a Royal in 2010 and 2011, at least. The Royals should look to capitalize on just how attractive he would be in a trade this year. Putting him on the market would likely set off a bidding war with an outcome very favorable to the Royals.
There you go: three trades that dispose of a discarded asset (Gordon), get long-term value for a departing regular (DeJesus) and maximize the long-term impact of one of the organization’s top assets (Soria and his contract). These three moves, alone, won’t make the Royals contenders. But, as noted earlier, each of them represents a commitment to the future. Treading water is an unacceptable waste of time, and should be avoided at all costs. Though it’s hard to believe, the Royals do have serious talent in the pipeline. That’s no excuse not to add more.
And I can’t let you leave without throwing in one last bonus fake trade: