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Yankees potential trade partner: Kansas City Royals

If the Yankees want to upgrade before the trade deadline, they’ll want to inquire with one of the league’s also-rans, the Royals.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees

Hard as it is to believe, the MLB trade Deadline is in a week and a half. As brutal as it sounds to be traded and have to pick up and move your life in the middle of a pandemic, major-league teams will still have the chance to fortify their rosters at midseason. There will be interesting strategic dynamics at play in any event, as there’s no telling how much contenders will push during a season in which 16 teams make the postseason tournament.

What we can say for somewhat certain is that the league’s also-rans will likely be open to moving players that don’t much factor into their future. These days, it doesn’t get much more also-ran than the Kansas City Royals. While the expanded playoffs technically do keep the Royals’ hopes alive even at 10-15, this is not a team with any designs on a pennant any time soon.

What could the Royals offer at the deadline? The Royals do sport a cadre of strong veteran talent that is rare on tanking/rebuilding teams, in the form of Salvador Perez, Jorge Soler, and Whit Merrifield. Perez and Soler can hit free agency after next season, while Merrifield will get there after 2023. All three could help a contending team in an instant, but given the Yankees’ needs, it’s hard to seem them having any interest in a starting catcher or corner outfielder. DJ LeMahieu’s injury leaves them thin up in the middle, but a splash on a talented player under a long-term contract like Merrifield is all but out of the question.

Given the Yankees’ depth on the position player side, they’re most likely to kick the tires on pitching (they say you can never have enough of it). The Yankees could inquire on Danny Duffy, who would profile as a similar target to Alex Cobb, who Tyler mentioned when looking at the Orioles as trade partners. Like Cobb, Duffy has a fair salary, and thus won’t require a major return. Also like Cobb, Duffy is under contract for 2021, for $15.5 million. Both veterans would give the Yankees rotation depth this year and an option for next year, when the starting five will need reinforcement with the impending free agencies of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ.

Duffy flashed ace potential earlier in his career, but has settled in as a quality backend arm. Since the beginning of 2019, he’s given the Royals 155 innings with a 109 ERA+, along with 8.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 rates. Duffy sports a five-pitch mix, one that the Yankees could see value in molding. Duffy has relied pretty heavily on fastballs this year, using them nearly 60-percent of the time. Perhaps the Yankees would ask him to use his potent secondaries, such as his curve and change, more often instead.

Elsewhere in the rotation, the Royals could offer Brad Keller, though the 25-year-old right-hander won’t hit arbitration until next season, so Kansas City may view him as a long-term piece. Keller has pretty strong numbers on his young career, maintaining a 129 ERA+ in just over 300 innings. Yet his stuff, strikeout figures, and projections paint the picture of a more average starter. The Yankees would do well not to pay through the nose for solid, low cost, under team control players. Those are the kinds of players cheaper clubs in Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Miami covet. The Yankees are better off moving their prospects for impact talent.

Could that impact talent be found in the Royals’ bullpen? The names don’t exactly jump off the page: Trevor Rosenthal, Josh Staumont, old pal Ian Kennedy. Kennedy could profile as a similar target to Duffy, as Kennedy will hit free agency this year, but is signed for $16.5 million this season. If the Royals just wanted to get off the salary of the man who saved 31 games for them last season with a 140 ERA+, the Yankees could take a flyer.

More likely, if the Yankees wanted to find an impact arm in KC’s bullpen, they might have to look under the hood at players with unenviable surface stats but intriguing pure stuff. For example, 27-year-old righty Scott Barlow sported a 4.22 ERA and walked nearly five batters per nine as a reliever last year. He also sits about 95 mph on his heater, and has a pair of breaking balls that generate heaps of whiffs, according to Statcast. Barlow’s the kind of arm the Yankees could try to get creative with, seeing if the Royals have any interest in moving him, and then attempting to help him to reach another level.

That rather encapsulates the outlook on the Royals as trade partners. The Yankees aren’t great fits for Kansas City’s premium talents, so to make a deal work, a trade would have to fit one of two profiles. The Yankees would either have to take a salary dump of an unexciting but useful veteran, or they’d have to target a potential diamond in the rough, a player who could surprise in relief, or simply flame out with a 5.35 ERA.

I’d guess the Yankees aren’t likely to ultimately consummate a deal with the Royals this year. The players the Royals may look to move for big-time returns just aren’t on the Yankees’ radar. Still, keep an eye on them, as rebuilding teams such as KC are always liable to make moves at the deadline.