(From "Little Maggie," Good As I Been To You)
With the trade deadline coming up Sunday, the Royals are in a unique position. It's one you don't normally see for a team roughly 20 games under .500. Normally when you are that bad, you need help anywhere you can get it. But in the Royals' case, with so many young players on the major league roster and many more waiting in the wings, KC can afford to be picky if they decide to make some moves.
The Royals appear to be set at pretty much each defensive position, if not for this year, then for 2012 and beyond. Presumably they will pull the trigger on Johnny Giavotella at some point and he will be starting at second base next year, and today's promotion of Salvador Perez to Omaha makes me think he will be given every opportunity to win the starting catcher spot next spring.
Given that, Dayton Moore's focus the next few days and in the offseason has to be fixing a starting rotation that has ranged from mediocre to downright awful this season. Plus, there is a good chance they will need two new starters to fill out the rotation before next season. I feel like the Royals can compete for a division title next year in the normally weak AL Central, but only with a serious upgrade to the rotation. Moore's secondary objective should be solving the outfield logjam that is likely to result whenever Lorenzo Cain is deemed worthy of a spot on the major-league roster.
As a bonus, the Royals have plenty of prospects at all levels of the minor leagues now. Also, with this year's payroll at $38 million and change, there is plenty of room to add payroll. For once in recent Royals history, money is no object. Or shouldn't be, anyway.
Perusing the list of potential free agent pitchers this winter, it looks like a pretty thin class. Normally, big name free agents wouldn't even consider signing with the Royals. But I think players know what's going on with this organization and would at least consider coming here now. If there were plenty of big names available, I'd say the Royals would have a chance of signing one. But the limited star power in this particular class certainly hurts their chances. So any upgrade will probably have to come via trade, whether it's this week or in the offseason.
If it were up to me, I would be looking to trade for major league pitchers or pitching prospects who are ready to make the majors next year. I would certainly be looking to trade either Jeff Francoeur or Melky Cabrera. Or both, if I got enough return. I like both Frenchy and Melky, and both have played well here. But there is no guarantee the Royals can bring Frenchy back next season, and there is no guarantee Melky will hit as well next year. While it's true Cabrera is only 26 and theoretically entering his prime years, it is also true he has never had an offensive season this good. So I wouldn't feel locked in to bringing him back.
Beyond those two, I would be willing to listen to offers for anyone. While the Royals can afford to be picky, they shouldn't feel like any player is untouchable. The flip side of having a low payroll is that nobody on this team has a contract that would be untradeable. That should help the Royals get a better return if they trade someone on the major-league roster.
So KC is in a good position to trade a Joakim Soria or a Billy Butler, if that is what it takes to get a good starting pitcher. Of course I like Soria and Butler and would like them to stay, but I would like the Royals to win, too. And in Soria's case, I feel like he can be replaced by Aaron Crow or one of the other promising young relievers. Butler would be more difficult to replace--I'm not sure Clint Robinson is up to it, and the next really big hitting prospect in the system is Wil Myers, still in Class AA ball.
This trade deadline, and really the offseason, are going to be very important times for this franchise. You can only hoard so many prospects, and the payroll is unlikely to be this low again for some time. Smart, aggressive trades can set this team up for contention over the next several years.