MLB Trade Deadline: Why the Royals Should Not Go All-In on a Starting Pitcher
For anyone who's played Texas Hold 'em, there comes a time in every game when you get a hand you're sure is unbeatable. You think you know what everybody else is holding, you think the odds are in your favor, and after spending the entire game checking, folding and winning and losing small pots, you decide this is the hand you're going all-in on.
And so you push all your chips into the middle of the table. You wait to see if anyone is going to call. And when they do, your eyes light up because you assume you've just landed a sucker. So you flip your cards over, arms folded, and lean back in your chair with a smug smile on your face because you know you just ate somebody's lunch.
And then you see their straight flush beat your quad aces. Crestfallen, you pick your pride up off the ground, say goodnight, and go cry in your car.
If you're a Major League Baseball general manager, you don't want to cry in your car, even though it's most likely a very, very nice one. Most general managers are reluctant to go all-in, even if they're almost positive they've got a winning hand. Going all-in is risky. It's a move that, if it doesn't go their way, could mean their job.
And while Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore doesn't find himself in a predicament quite that extreme, he is faced with a tough decision as the July 31 MLB Trade Deadline approaches. Do I go all-in and trade for a desperately needed top-tier starting pitcher? Or do I play it safe, risk little, and go get a mid-to-lower tier arm?
Most of the time, I favor aggression. After all, championship windows open rarely, especially for a small market team like Kansas City. You never know what can happen next year, so when the opportunity is there, it's best to seize it. But right now, it makes more sense for K.C. not to be aggressive.
Coming into Wednesday, the Royals had the best record in the American League, 20 games over .500, at 56-36. The defending AL champs, who came so close to winning the World Series last year, have a 6 1/2 game lead in the AL Central, with a run differential of plus-66, which is second best in the league.
Kansas City is tied for sixth in our own MLB Power Rankings, with a 94.6% chance of making the playoffs, second best behind only the St. Louis Cardinals. They have an 87.4% chance of winning the division, and a 9.5% chance of winning it all, trailing the Dodgers, Cardinals and Angels.
In other words, what they're doing right now is working. They are going to make the playoffs, so investing a ton of capital probably isn't going to alter those odds very much.
However, the Royals have to do something. Despite having a decent offense and what is perhaps the best bullpen and defense in baseball, their rotation is in tatters and needs some reinforcements (AL rank in parenthesis).
|Royals||4.1 (15)||4.32 (13)||4.21 (T-11)||.263 (T-10)||1.35 (13)|
The biggest problem has been their supposed ace Yordano Ventura, who was sent down to Triple-A this week after going 4-7 with a 5.19 ERA in 14 starts. However, some of his peripherals point to a potential bounce-back at some point this year for Ventura. His strikeout rate and walk rate are close to what they were last year, but his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is up from .288 to .321. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.69 indicates he's pitched a bit better than his official statistics are showing.
However, some of that increased BABIP is the result of Ventura giving up more hard-hit balls this year. In 2015, his hard-hit ball percentage is 33.3%. Last year it was 25.1%. And he's inducing weaker contact far less frequently this season, just 10.5% of the time. Last year, batters made "weak" contact against him 20.2% of the time. Club officials point to emotional outbursts earlier in the year and an inability to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate as main reasons for his regression.
When that's what your "ace" is giving you, your rotation likely has problems. However, Ventura only spent one day in Triple-A, recalled after the team revealed Jason Vargas could be lost for the season to an elbow injury. In nine starts Vargas was 5-2 with a 3.98 ERA and 4.22 FIP.
Edinson Volquez has the best fWAR on the team (1.3), and has had a decent first season with the Royals. In 19 starts he's 8-5 with a 3.28 ERA and a 3.74 FIP. He doesn't strike out a lot of guys (6.65 per nine innings), but has been getting the job done. Danny Duffy has a 4.24 ERA in 13 starts but is striking out a batter fewer per nine than last year and has seen his BABIP normalize from the ultra-low .239 last year to a slightly above league average .309.
So what do the Royals do? They are 20 games over .500 and all but assured of a playoff birth. Being from a small market, their $112 million payroll has already stretched the budget almost as far as it can go, so adding Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, as reasonably priced as he is for an ace, is more than Kansas City can support.
They are rumored to be investigating the rental market, like Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto or Detroit's David Price, should he become available. And while Cueto (if healthy) and Price (if he's put on the block) would dramatically help the Royals' rotation, is it worth deviating from the plan of building through the farm system and sacrificing top prospects in exchange for a three-month rental?
The Royals got good by developing players, not trading away guys like Ventura who, despite struggling this year, still has immense talent and four years of team control left. Same with Duffy and the team's top prospect, Raul Mondesi.
Being almost assured of a playoff spot gives the Royals the option of going for a mid-tier starter, like Mike Leake, Dan Haren, or Aaron Harang, if he gets healthy. Perhaps even a guy like Jeff Samardzija would be doable, if the prospect cost isn't too great. But Kansas City simply can't afford to take the big splash like the bigger market Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees or Red Sox can.
In the end, the Royals have a team that is capable of winning the World Series as currently constituted and, barring a historic collapse, is going to the playoffs. But without another useful starter added to the mix, they run the risk of burning the 'pen, which along with their defense is the undeniable strength of the team.
Kansas City is going to do something. But this is not the time to go "all-in."