The trade deadline has passed, and the Royals were actually pretty transactional. In the past two months they have made six significant trades, adding 12 new players to the organization:
But there were still some trade candidates that the Royals ultimately held onto. We don’t know what, if any, kind of discussions the Royals had with other teams, but we can look back and see what the returns were like for comparable players.
The Royals have one of the best relievers in baseball in Scott Barlow, who has still been effective this year despite a poor weekend in New York and a slight decline in velocity. Josh Staumont has also been mostly effective although his walk numbers have spiked up. And Taylor Clarke has been a solid strike-thrower who has given up just three runs in 20 2⁄3 innings over the last six weeks. Adding to their value is the fact that all three relievers have multiple years of club control remaining.
The market for relievers appeared to have declined the last few seasons, but it came roaring back this year, perhaps due to the expanded playoffs and more contenders looking to beef up bullpens. Teams were aggressively acquiring relievers with multiple years of control remaining. Two trades stand out as comparable to the kind of relievers the Royals had to offer. First, the Blue Jays acquired pitchers Zach Pop, Anthony Bass, and a player to be named later from the Marlins for infielder Jordan Groshans. Bass is having a career year at age 34 with a 1.41 ERA, and has a club option for 2023. Pop is a bit of a journeyman who has stuck in the Marlins pen this year with a 4.12 ERA. Groshans’ stock has fallen quite a bit this year after a rough season in which he has hit .250/.348/.296 in 67 games at Triple-A. But the 22-year-old shortstop was a consensus top 100 prospect before the season with a good hit tool and a solid walk rate. Would pairing Barlow with Merrifield and maybe another arm (Taylor Clarke or Jose Cuas?) have enticed the Jays to part with Groshans and Samad Taylor and/or Max Castillo?
The second trade was when the Orioles took Jorge López, – remember him? – and traded him at the peak of his value to the Twins for four minor leaguers. None of the prospects – pitchers Cade Povich, Yennier Cano, Juan Nunez, and Juan Rojas – are ranked in the top 20 by MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, or Fangraphs, so if the Orioles see something, others don’t seem to see it . Maybe this is an indication that the market for relievers is more about quantity over quality, or maybe teams don’t trust López with his track record as much as someone like Barlow, who has been good for several seasons now. In any case, there were 16 relievers traded in the last 48 hours (including Trevor Rosenthal, who hasn’t thrown a pitch since 2020!), so there was a robust market that the Royals did not participate in.
Usually teams are looking to fill out their rotations to add depth, but it was not a great trade deadline for mid-rotation starting pitchers this year. After the big names like Frankie Montas and Noah Syndergard were traded, there were just four mid-tier starting pitchers traded at the deadline – Montgomery, Tyler Mahle, Jose Quintana, and Jake Odorizzi.
Keller has regressed the last two seasons and hasn’t pitched as well as any of those pitchers. Hey reportedly drew interest from clubs, but with a 5.03 ERA and low strikeout rate over the last two seasons, the offers probably weren’t too high. If he can rebound, perhaps the Royals shop him this winter or next summer.
Zack Greinke has a much better track record and has been a decent starter this year with a 4.41 ERA and tiny walk rate. But the Royals decided they weren’t going to trade him. The Pirates were able to get the 10th-ranked prospect in the Cardinals organization plus a young reliever in exchange for Quintana, likely a similar return that Greinke could have netted and perhaps a best-case scenario for a return for Keller if he is able to rebound in the next year.
There were really just three centerfielders traded at the deadline – Harrison Bader, Brandon Marsh, Jose Siri, and Brett Phillips. Phillips was traded for cash considerations, so that’s not really comparable. Marsh and Siri are both younger players early in their careers, not similar to Taylor at all.
Bader is the most like Taylor, but he is three years younger with a much better offensive track record. Still, Taylor has been better this year (a 112 OPS+ to Bader’s disappointing 93 with the Cardinals). Both players are under club control through 2023 at about the same base salary, although Bader has salary escalators that will certainly pay him several million more. Bader went to the Yankees for 29-year-old pitcher Jordan Montgomery, who has a 3.69 ERA in 21 starts for New York.
It’s a stretch to think Taylor would have warranted that return, but you have to wonder if the Yanks discussed including Taylor in the Benintendi deal to give them a great defender up the middle. Instead of having to deal away starting pitching depth, they could have offered the Royals more prospects. The Braves and Red Sox also picked up underwhelming outfielders – Robbie Grossman to Atlanta and Tommy Pham to Boston – Taylor could have represented a better alternative if they were willing to pay the price.