KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 08: Melky Cabrera #53 of the Kansas City Royals rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the bottom of the 3rd inning of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 8, 2011 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
With Kansas City out of the division title race, and the draft behind them, it's time for the Royals to turn their attention to the summer trade market.
As of June 15th the Royals currently sit seven games out of the lead in the American League Central Division. While Kansas City may not be out of the race, in all likelihood, postseason baseball is not on the horizon for this team due to the overall shape of the pitching staff.
Currently the Royals are last in the American League in ERA, hits allowed, runs allowed, and have allowed the second most home runs and walks in the league. Kansas City is also second from the bottom in strikeouts. None of that is a good sign. When you realize 41 of the 67 games Kansas City has played thus far have been at home, and the Royals have still allowed the second most home runs in the league, that number becomes even more worrisome to think about.
Outside of the solid addition of Felipe Paulino to the rotation, Bruce Chen has the lowest ERA for a Royals starting pitcher, at 3.59. Chen has been on the shelf with an injury and hasn't started since May 5th, so there is no guarentee as to how he'll pitch once he returns from the disabled list. While Paulino has been a nice story so far with his 1.29 ERA, he has a career ERA of 5.53 and if he continued to pitch this season at a sub 3.00 ERA, it won't be enough for Kansas City to stay in contention. This means now is the time to bite the bullet and look to the future.
While many Royals fans are tired of hearing wait until next year, at least have faith the Royals are much closer than a few years ago. We know Kansas City has a solid bullpen, and the offense is finally in a position to allow Kansas City to be competitive. The fact that Kansas City is just seven games under .500 with how bad their starting pitching has been is really astonishing to be honest.
As for the pitching staff, Kansas City has no one outside of Joakim Soria that makes much sense in a trade. While Soria may not have the value he had last summer, if he continues to pitch well over the next four to six weeks, there will still be quite a few teams out there who would want to discuss a deal with the Royals. The best thing about closers may not be their production, it may actually be how much teams overvalue them in trades. The best recent example is Minnesota trading catching prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps. While the Twins have stumbled through the first half of the season (and Capps has a 4.50 ERA), Ramos has been nothing but solid for Washington, and even the extra guy Washington received in the deal, reliever Joe Testa, has a 2.02 ERA through 15 games in the minor leagues this season. Soria has a good contract, which will likely add to the enticement in helping Kansas City if they choose to shop Soria. Again, the next month is very important for Soria, as it has enormous bearings on a potential Royals trade.
Now when you start to think about potential trades the Royals can make over the few weeks, it becomes fun when you discuss the offense. The three main trade chips are Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur, and Wilson Betemit. Of anyone, Betemit is the most likely to be dealt, probably sooner than later. With the recent call up of Mike Moustakas, Betemit simply as no place on this team anymore. Being a rookie and part of the core future of the Royals, Moustakas is going to play every day, and that in understandably so. Ideally Betemit would be a better second basemen than he is and start every day over Chris Getz, but it's not going to happen. Betemit is a corner infielder at this stage in his career and unless your last name is Moustakas or Hosmer, there is no chance in that happening any time soon.
Betemit is 29 years old, and the timing is right if you are going to make a move. He's on a friendly contract and won't be receiving any playing regular playing time with Kansas City anymore. At this point, I'd almost be afraid to play him, as he'd likely struggle after being out so many days in a row. There is known interest in Betemit, so why do anything that could negatively effect the positive perception other teams have. If I was Dayton Moore, Wilson Betemit would be the first move I'd be making on the trade market, again sooner than later.
Now moving on to Cabrera and Francoeur, I know neither are likely to bring back anything that will make me jump out of my seat, but if the Royals can turn Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth into Tim Collins, there is hope you may receive something intriguing in return. Cabrera has actually been a surprise thus far, on his way to having a career year. He is near his career high in batting average, and his slugging percentage thus far is the best he's ever had. He's tied for the Royals lead with nine home runs, and is just four away from tying a career high. The issues still remains that he walks far too little and his glove has been a liability at times. Meanwhile Lorenzo Cain is a year younger, more athletic, and has a higher batting average and on-base-percentage at AAA Omaha than Cabrera has this season. The dropoff in power between Cabera and Cain would likely be offset by defense in the field. Like Betemit, Cabrera is cheap and even has an outside chance at being arbitration eligible.
Now moving onto Francoeur, he is less likely to be traded than Cabrera as he seems to be one of Dayton Moore's "boys", but he likely is gone if the right deal comes up as well. While I have been surprised at times with Frenchy's play, again he is replaceable. Eventually the Royals will need to determine what they have in Omaha outfielder David Lough (.314/.354/.484 this season), and there is also Wil Myers waiting in the wings. He'll likely be in Kansas City full time in 2013.
There are others such as Jeff Francis who may have value in a trade, but you don't want to completely blow up an already poor pitching staff, the only way I see Francis going in a trade at the moment is if he is packaged with one of the outfielders to a contender.
Also on the horizon, there may be value for Omaha 1B/DH Clint Robinson. Robinson, hitting .345/.427/.629 at Omaha with 17 home runs and 50 RBI is part of a logjam at first base in the Royals systems and likely has no future with the big league club. It's unfortunate, but it is what it is.