I like to break the cellar-dwellers of the league into two groups: those who have a plan and those who don’t. In the first group you have teams like the Orioles, long the doormat of the division but with solid infrastructure in place for sustained future success. Then you have a team like the Rockies, who refuse to keep their own stars but also refuse to enter a rebuild... and then hand out a vanity mega deal to a former star who clearly does not fit the team.
The Royals certainly fall into the former category. They have no illusions of being a competitive team this year, or even next year for that matter. But what they do have is a vision for how to get back into contention in the mid-to-near future.
The convenient thing for a Kansas City organization not bothering with contention is that they unequivocally will be sellers at the trade deadline. The Royals sit dead last in an impotent AL Central and are within two games of the worst record in baseball. What’s more, some of their top contributors are established big-leaguers nearing free agency. Combine those two facts and you have a perfect storm for business as August 2nd approaches. There are a handful of players on the KC roster that could attract the Yankees’ interest, and a couple more who are lesser fits yet still candidates to move — let’s see what they have to offer.
Andrew Benintendi will likely be one of the most sought-after players at the trade deadline. He’s having the best season of his tenure with the Royals, batting .313/.381/.398 with a 125 wRC+. He’s done so with limited pop (three home runs) and a slightly elevated BABIP, though both are likely the result of playing in the cavernous confines of Kauffman Stadium. He walks almost as much as he strikes out, and in general excels in the whiff and chase departments — as was the case during his time in Boston. He is playing roughly league average defense in left field and has slowed down to about league average sprint speed.
The Yankees will certainly gauge Benintendi’s market given the struggles of Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks. That said, it’s hard to know exactly what the price might be. On one hand, he is a pure rental, making $8.5 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility. On the other hand, there will be plenty of competition for his services with no less than five teams in the market for an outfielder, though I doubt it would require a top prospect to bring him into the fold.
Staying in the rental department, Zack Greinke is currently on a one year, $13-million deal with the Royals. Unfortunately for the future Hall of Famer, it appears that Father Time has finally caught up with him over the last two season. That said, at the very least he can eat innings in the second-half and might even give you a surprise quality start in the postseason. In 13 starts, the 38-year-old righty is 2-5 with a 4.85 ERA (84 ERA+), 4.72 FIP, and just 34 strikeouts in 68.2 innings pitched. Given the strength of their rotation and the reinforcement arms set to return off the IL, I highly doubt the Yankees would have any interest in Greinke.
Whit Merrifield is another player who the Royals could plausibly trade, but in whom the Yankees likely have zero interest. The Royals lifer is having his worst season in the bigs, barely breeching replacement level thanks to a .240/.293/.330 line, with the almost total disappearance of slug from his game leading to a 76 wRC+. Defensively, he has split his time between second base and right field, grading out slightly below average to average respectively. It feels like we’ve seen his name floated at every trade deadline since his debut in 2016; is this the year he is finally dealt? If they declined to trade him during his productive years, I struggle to see them doing so in the middle of a slump, even with his attractive $7 million salary this year and $6.5 million option for next season.
Returning to players who could spark the Yankees’ fancy, Michael A. Taylor is having a quietly stellar season, his 115 wRC+ the ninth-highest mark among centerfielders with at least 220 PAs. He’s batting .271/.352/.396 with a career-best 10.9 percent walk rate, still possesses elite speed, and grades out as above average defensively while manning one of the hardest centerfields to cover. And on a two-year, $9 million deal, he could be an under-the-radar target for the Yankees should they look to add a centerfielder to ease the load on Aaron Judge.
Finally, that brings us to the bullpen, and the Royals possess two power arms who are sure to generate interest. Scott Barlow has shown flashes of dominance as the Royals closer, though is suffering through somewhat of a down season by his standards. The strikeouts and velocity are down considerably, though he still sits in the 97th percentile in chase rate thanks to a slider that grades out as one of the best in the game. Barlow has 12 saves on the season with a 2.45 ERA and 3.99 FIP, and is earning $2.4 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
The more intriguing option for the Yankees would have to be Josh Staumont. He’s got a high-spin fastball that can touch triple digits and a hammer curve that generates whiffs in bunches. That said, he walks way too many batters (14.7 percent BB%) and is currently on the 15-day IL with a neck strain. He also is in his final year of pre-arb, meaning the acquiring team would receive three-plus years of team control — something that is sure to inflate the prospect cost despite a 3.81 ERA and 3.21 FIP that don’t immediately scream dominance for a reliever.