- The Royals’ Double-A affiliate announced yesterday that they’ve traded minor league outfielder Brandon Downes to the Braves. A return wasn’t specified, though presumably there’ll be cash or a player to be named later going back to the Kansas City organization to complete the deal. The 25-year-old Downes was Kansas City’s seventh-round pick in 2014 but entered the 2018 season with just five games played above Class-A Advanced. He’s hitting .198/.284/.365 in 111 PAs between Class-A Advanced and Double-A this season (including a 1-for-4 debut yesterday for Atlanta’s Double-A affiliate. Baseball America rated him as Kansas City’s No. 24 prospect four years ago, praising his solid-average speed and above-average power potential, though Downes has yet to deliver on that upside.
Now that the Royals have traded Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals in a surprisingly early deal of significance, the organization’s focus is shifting to Mike Moustakas, it seems. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports writes that Kansas City is now “looking to find takers” for the slugger, who burst out of the gates with a .301/.335/.569 slash through his first 194 plate appearances but has slumped to an ugly .219/.301/.375 batting line in the 146 PAs that have followed.
Moustakas is earning $6.5MM in 2018 and is still owed about $3.53MM of that sum through season’s end. While his contract technically contains a mutual option for the 2019 season, there’s no reason to think it’ll be exercised by both parties. It’s exceedingly rare to see both sides exercise a mutual option, and if Moustakas ends up playing well enough that a club wants him at the $15MM value of that option, he’ll very likely feel emboldened to go seek a multi-year deal, knowing that he cannot be saddled with the burden of a qualifying offer for a second time.
More out of Kansas City…
- The Royals’ return in the Herrera trade — third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, outfielder Blake Perkins and 17-year-old righty Yohanse Morel — has been regarded by many pundits as light, but GM Dayton Moore explained some of his thinking in an interview with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required). “The thing we knew about Perkins and Gutierrez is that they have a chance to be elite defenders,” Moore said of the two more advanced prospects he acquired. Moore said the team hopes to rebuild its roster around pitching and defense, and he likens the Herrera trade to the Zack Greinke blockbuster with the Brewers that brought Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City. Moore says that the organization viewed Cain and Escobar similarly — unsure how much they’d hit but confident they’d be premier defenders.
- The trade of Herrera and likely trade of Moustakas aren’t the only forward-looking moves in store for the Royals. Manager Ned Yost told reporters this week that Adalberto Mondesi will begin to start a game or two per week at shortstop in place of Alcides Escobar (link via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan). Escobar will see some time at third base, second base and even in center field, while Mondesi will see some time at second base as well. The move will allow the team to evaluate Mondesi as a potential building block, and as Yost points out, it could be beneficial to Escobar as well. “He’s at a point in his career now where it will increase his value if he can play multiple positions, especially center field, third base, second base and shortstop as he can,” said Yost. Indeed, with Escobar hitting just .202/.251/.286 as an impending free agent, it’d behoove him to demonstrate defensive aptitude at a variety of positions.
- Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star takes an excellent look at the early stages of the Royals’ rebuild, noting that it seems the organization is aiming for a fairly accelerated timeline. As evidence, Mellinger points to the slew of college arms the Royals took near the top of the draft as well as the fact that they targeted fairly advanced, defensive-minded prospects rather than lower-level talents with higher ceilings but more risk in the Herrera deal. Mellinger writes that part of the reason that the Royals aren’t likely to be open to a Salvador Perez trade is that they could be hopeful of being competitive again by the 2020 season, when Perez will still be under contract and will still be just 30 years of age.
The Angels and Dodgers were among the clubs that pursued reliever Kelvin Herrera before he was dealt yesterday from the Royals to the Nationals, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (in an article and on Twitter). In fact, per the report, the two Los Angeles franchises were “in serious talks” about Herrera.
That information is not only of historical interest. For one thing, it may hint something about the process the Royals undertook to move Herrera. The veteran reliever was among the most obvious and the best rental trade pieces in baseball. Most often, teams holding such an asset will take the decision until the deadline approaches, hoping that’s the best way to maximize their return.
With multiple teams involved in serious talks, it seems that the Kansas City organization decided to oversee bidding in mid-June. Perhaps that was due to concern over what other relief arms might reach the market and/or a desire to minimize risk associated with a high-performing pitcher. It also may reflect a universe in which contenders see an advantage to moving aggressively.
That’s all open to interpretation. What is clear, though, is that both L.A. clubs have an eye on bolstering their bullpens — and a willingness to do so by pursuing a pure rental asset. Presumably, they’ll be among the teams to pursue other such hurlers that come available over the coming weeks.
According to Nightengale, the Halos in particular “remain immersed in talks with multiple teams for pitching.” That’s notable given the team’s recent fade and spate of injuries. There’s certainly still a path to the postseason, but it’ll take some internal improvements (including a return to health) and stumbles from one or more teams ahead in the standings. It seems, though, that the organization is willing to chase roster improvements even in this setting — a topic that Nightengale explores in greater length in the above-linked post.
The Nationals have officially struck a deal to acquire reliever Kelvin Herrera from the Royals, making for a fascinating early swap. Outfielder Blake Perkins, third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, and righty Yohanse Morel will head to Kansas City in return.
This agreement represents a rare, mid-June strike of real consequence. We’ve already seen a few other notable trades this year, so it could be that the market as a whole will move quicker than usual — and much more rapidly than it did last year.
Herrera checked in at the #2 spot on MLBTR’s initial list of the top fifty trade deadline candidates. Beyond his excellence on the mound, Herrera’s pending free-agent status for the cellar-dwelling Royals made a trade all but inevitable. He’s arguably the most significant player to have been dealt in the month of June in recent memory — a topic we examined just last week.
The Nats will take over the $7,937,500 salary that Herrera is earning in his final season of arbitration eligibility. With 82 of the 186 service days on the MLB calendar already in the books, the Washington organization will be on the hook for something like $4.44MM.
Certainly, the high-octane Herrera looks to be a key new piece for the Nats’ pen. This deal is the latest summer bullpen swap for the organization. Last year, the Nationals added Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, and Brandon Kintzler, the same three hurlers that make up the preferred late-inning unit on the current ballclub. In prior years, the team added Mark Melancon and Jonathan Papelbon. (The latter trade was the most regrettable of president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo’s tenure. Not only was Papelbon a disaster in the second season of his deal, but the team handed quality young righty Nick Pivetta to a division rival.)
The 28-year-old Herrera will likely function in a set-up role in front of Doolittle, but skipper Dave Martinez will also have the choice to switch things up as match-ups dictate. Herrera has spent plenty of time as the K.C. closer and has loads of high-leverage postseason experience, so he ought to be able to function in any role that his new team prefers.
Herrera still works at about 97 mph with his fastball, though he once averaged over 99. Notably, he’s also generating swinging strikes at a quality 14.4% rate, marking a return to form after a downturn last year. Unsurprisingly, then, the results have been excellent thus far in 2018. Herrera has allowed just three earned runs in 25 2/3 innings, racking up a stellar 22:2 K/BB ratio along the way. He’s not generating quite as many grounders as he has in years past, but has tamped down on the long ball somewhat and has obviously been exceptionally stingy with free passes.
On the other side of this arrangement, the package features three interesting players that most prospect rankings did not grade among the very best in the Nats’ system. Clearly, though, the Royals felt the package was strong enough to warrant an early move. For the Nationals, shipping out that trio still leaves the club with the bulk of its highest-ranked prospects still available for the future — or, perhaps, for further deals this summer.
Depending upon who you ask, Gutierrez and Perkins each rated just outside of or just within the ten best prospects on the Nationals farm. The former is a 23-year-old third baseman who has scuffled a bit in his first attempt at Double-A this year, but is regarded as a talented corner defender who possesses a quality hit tool and some power potential. Perkins, 21, has run into some troubles at the High-A level but has an interesting blend of speed, power, and plate discipline along with up-the-middle defensive ability in the outfield. As for Morel, a reputedly live-armed 17-year-old, he’ll represent a long-term wild card in this swap.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Royals announced a flurry of roster moves (Twitter links) this morning, including outfielder Jorge Soler’s official placement on the 10-day DL with a left toe fracture. Left-hander Eric Skoglund was transferred to the 60-day DL, while infielder Ramon Torres and right-hander Scott Barlow were optioned to Triple-A. Joining the 25-man roster are infielder Adalberto Mondesi, outfielder Rosell Herrera, and righty Wily Peralta, as the Royals selected Peralta’s contract from Triple-A Omaha.
[Updated Royals depth chart at Roster Resource]
Soler is expected to miss at least six weeks of action with the injury, which was seemingly originally caused by a foul ball off his foot and then exacerbated when Soler was running on Friday night. Soler’s production has cooled off following a huge opening six weeks, though he still had a .265/.354/.466 slash line and nine homers through 257 total plate appearances this season. It seemed as though Soler was finally enjoying the breakout campaign long expected of him since his (not long ago) days as one of the game’s best prospects coming up in the Cubs farm system, though this DL stint is an unfortunate interruption to Soler’s season.
Speaking of top prospects, the most noteworthy of Kansas City’s corresponding moves is the promotion of Mondesi, who is back in the majors for the first time in 2018. Mondesi was a consensus top-40 prospect prior to the 2016 season, with Baseball Prospectus rating him as high as 16th on their list of baseball’s top 100 minor leaguers, though he has shown next to nothing at the plate in two brief stints in the Show. Mondesi has just a .181/.226/.271 slash line over 209 career PA in the majors, though he has shown more composure as a hitter at the Triple-A level. With the usual caveat that the Pacific Coast League is very hitter-friendly, Mondesi has hit .292/.328/.527 with 19 homers over 551 Triple-A plate appearances.
Mondesi has already displayed excellent speed and strong defensive ability, so his prospect ceiling would only be further elevated if he can add value as a hitter. He has mostly played shortstop in the minors with some time at second base, and with the Royals in rebuild mode, Mondesi could get an extended look at either position now that he’s back on the 25-man roster. Whit Merrifield is certainly staying in the everyday lineup but can play other positions than second base, so Mondesi could displace Ryan Goins for regular time at the keystone, or potentially displace starting shortstop Alcides Escobar. Manager Ned Yost told reporters (including The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd) that Mondesi will play four games a week for the time being, to keep Mondesi fresh after some injuries earlier in the season.
Peralta signed a one-year, $1.5MM contract (with a $3MM club option for 2019) last winter, though he has yet to appear in a big league game for the Royals after being outrighted off the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. Peralta has a 4.37 ERA over 35 innings at Triple-A, posting a strong 10.0 K/9 but a troubling 5.4 BB/9. The hard-throwing veteran is looking to rebound after a very rough 2017 season that led his being outrighted off Milwaukee’s roster last summer.
Although Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas is an obvious trade candidate, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hears (video link) that he’s unlikely to bring back much in a deal at his current pace. As Rosenthal points out, Moustakas’ offensive output has faded as the season has progressed, and the lefty-swinger has struggled all year against same-handed pitchers, who have limited him to a .224/.253/.353 line. He’s also due around $3MM after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. All of those factors figure to harm Moustakas’ value, Rosenthal posits. After hitting .272/.314/.521 with 38 home runs in 598 plate appearances last year, Moustakas failed to generate much interest in free agency, leading him to re-sign with the Royals for a $6.5MM guarantee in early March. Three months later, he’s slashing an unremarkable .259/.314/.474 with 13 HRs through 296 trips to the plate.
FRIDAY: Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a fracture of the first metatarsal of his left foot, Rustin Dodd of The Athletic is among those to report on Twitter. He evidently suffered the injury while running after putting a ball in play tonight, having previously fouled a ball off the same area recently.
The outlook on Soler isn’t clear just yet, of course, but this injury seems all but certain to cost him a decent bit of action. As Dodd notes, Jayson Werth missed nearly three months last year with a similar injury, though that’s not to say such an extended absence will be required in this case.
It’s unfortunate timing for the 26-year-old Soler, who was in the midst of a strong season after a brutal 2017 campaign. Through 254 plate appearances entering play today, he carried a .268/.358/.473 slash with nine home runs.
Needless to say, the Royals won’t be competitive this year, so it’s easy enough to weather the loss in that regard. And Soler wasn’t likely to feature as a trade candidate given his not-so-distant struggles and lengthy control rights.
Still, it’s rough news for a team that’s looking to build a new core and a player who finally seemed to be reestablishing himself. And there are financial implications as well. As we explained recently, Soler may have had cause to consider opting into arbitration at season’s end, but it now seems much more likely that he will stick with the guarantee provided in the contract he signed with the Cubs after he departed his home nation of Cuba.
Maurer opened the year in the majors but was dropped from the 40-man after a brutal start to the season. His overall numbers at Omaha — 5.48 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9 in 23 innings — really aren’t that intriguing. But the six-year MLB veteran has been better of late, Maria Torres of the Kansas City Star notes on Twitter.
As for Adam, his first 15 1/3 MLB frames came with some ups and downs. He racked up 16 strikeouts against four walks, but also allowed six balls to leave the yard — accounting for most of the damage (eight earned runs) against him.
We’ll use this post to track Wednesday’s notable agreements from the top few rounds of the draft (rankings referenced are courtesy of Baseball America, MLB.com, Fangraphs and ESPN’s Keith Law — with the scouting reports from MLB and Fangraphs both coming free to the general public) …
- Reds second-round pick Lyon Richardson scored a $2MM payday to forego his commitment to the University of Florida, per MLB.com’s Jim Callis (via Twitter). That’s nearly half a million over the slot value ($1,520,300) for a player who has only recently emerged as a high-end pitching prospect. MLB.com’s team was highest among major prospect outlets, ranking Richardson 67th on the basis of his ample upside as an athletic hurler who has shown big velocity despite unpolished mechanics.
- The Yankees have announced a variety of signings, including deals with second-rounder Josh Breaux and third-rounder Ryder Green. These agreements were first reported by Callis (Twitter links), with the bonus values pinned down by Jon Heyman of Fan Rag (Twitter links). Breaux’s bonus of $1,497,500 handily tops his $1,086,900 slot value, while Green, too, receives an over-slot $997,500 bonus that exceeds his $576,400 slot value. All of the above lists include Breaux among the top 100 available prospects, with an increasingly promising bat and improving work behind the dish justifying the placement.
- The Braves got second-round selection Greyson Jenista for a $1.2MM bonus that leaves them $250,500 of extra pool space to work with, Callis reports on Twitter. The Wichita State slugger received a fairly broad array of grades from prospect hounds, but the Fangraphs crew was highest. With big power and the ability to draw walks, but also plenty of swing-and-miss in his game, there’s a lot to like about the bat. One major question is whether Jenista will be able to work into being a reasonable defender in the corner outfield, or whether instead he’s destined for first base in the long run.
- Second-rounder Alek Thomas will join the Diamondbacks rather than heading to TCU, as Callis also tweets. The deal includes a $1.2MM bonus that tops the $1,035,500 allocation that came with the 63rd overall draft slot. Law was quite bullish on the young outfielder, crediting him with “five-tool potential” and “an advanced feel on both sides of the ball.”
- The Nationals have also agreed to terms with their second-round selection, UConn lefty Tim Cate, Callis adds on Twitter. It’s an at-slot, $986,200 bonus for the 65th overall choice of the draft. Best known for his big hook, Cate is an undersized hurler who has also had some worrying arm health questions crop up. Still, Baseball America ranked him 54th on its board, noting his “exceptional feel to land his breaking ball in the zone and bury it for swings and misses.”
- Still another second-rounder, Florida Atlantic infielder Tyler Frank, will take home a $997,500 bonus from the Rays, per MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo (Twitter link). That leaves the Tampa Bay club with some extra funds to work with, as the 56th slot came with a $1,228,000 allocation. Also going under-slot were Royals second-rounder Jonathan Bowlan ($697,500 bonus vs. $1,168,300 slot) and Twins second-rounder Ryan Jeffers ($800K bonus vs. $1,140,600 slot), according to Callis (Twitter links)
- Giving up lefty Sean Manaea helped the Royals win a World Series, but his rise in Oakland has surely left some K.C. fans wondering what might have been. As Rustin Dodd of The Athletic writes in a subscription piece, though, GM Dayton Moore has no regrets whatsoever about how things turned out. He explains how it was that the club sent Manaea to the A’s for utility star Ben Zobrist, saying that “Billy Beane was persistent” while the Royals “weren’t going to be outbid” for a key asset after coming up just shy the season prior. Now, though, Moore says the goal is to create a broad-based array of talent that will allow the organization to “compete for a long time,” hopefully without pursuing such drastic, win-now swaps.