In the era of three wild card tickets into the postseason, most teams have a decent shot at extended October baseball. Prior to Thursday’s games, only seven teams had a less than 10 percent chance of making it to the playoffs according to FanGraphs’ odds. Among those seven, only four had odds that rounded to 0.0 percent. Naturally, the Kansas City Royals were one of those four, as they’ve been competing with the relocating Oakland A’s for the worst record in baseball and one of the worst seasons of all-time.
With the expanded playoff format has come a seller’s market at the trade deadline. Fewer teams are firmly out of the race, so there are fewer players available and more employers in the running for their services. That’s good news for the Royals, because while they would be sellers in any market, their remaining assets probably wouldn’t draw too much interest if there were more alternatives out there.
As for whether the Yankees will connect with them, as they did last summer with the Andrew Benintendi trade, that’s another story. The Yankees are in need of a major acquisition to separate themselves from the pack of Wild Card contenders, and the Royals don’t have a player of that ilk that fits the Yankees’ needs this summer. But they do have a few men on expiring contracts that are enticing regardless.
After a disappointing final season in New York last year, not to mention a history of domestic violence, there is likely little appetite for a reunion with the Yankees’ erstwhile closer. Yet, he stands out as the Royals’ most obvious trade candidate. For starters, he’s a free agent after this season according to Roster Resource at FanGraphs, so they have little use for him. But crucially, he’s rebounded in a major way this year.
The owner of baseball’s hardest-thrown pitch on record, Chapman earned the nickname “The Cuban Missile” and averaged at least 99.4 mph on his heater from 2014 to ‘17. However, his fastball didn’t average even 99 again from 2018 to ‘22, and in the last of those five seasons, he averaged a career-low 97.5 mph. Given his history and his age (he turned 35 this offseason), he had to settle for a one-year deal on a noncompetitive squad.
Now, that pact seems like a bargain. The lefty is turning back the clock, averaging 99.4 again and striking out 42.9 percent of the batters he faces. His walk rate has remained elevated, and at 16.8 percent it’s the third-highest of his career, but the return of the punchouts has offset the wildness. If you need any more proof, his ERA (2.54) and FIP (1.79) are both outstanding, with the latter ranking fourth among qualified relievers and marking Chapman’s best since that magical 2016 season when he helped the Cubs to a championship after netting the Yankees Gleyber Torres at the trade deadline.
The Yankees’ bullpen has been remarkable, and it looks even better with Ian Hamilton back, so they may not want to break the bank for Chapman. If that’s the case, but they’d still prefer someone more proven than Albert Abreu and/or Nick Ramirez at the backend, they could check in on another Royals arm.
Update: Chapman’s actually already off the market, as he’s been traded to the Rangers.
Barlow, who’s played his entire career in Kansas City, has one more year of arbitration after this season. Yet, it’s hard to imagine the Royals turning their fortunes around that quickly, and he could net them a better return this summer with that extra year of control. While his ERA at 4.40 represents the worst of his career, it comes with his usual solid peripherals; his xFIP, for example, stands at 3.11, which would be his best. No major ERA estimator pegs him for a mark above 3.35.
His four-seam velocity is also down a tick, but he’s turning to it at the lowest rate of his career, so his success no longer hinges on it. His breaking-ball-heavy approach, meanwhile, has led to his second-highest walk rate (11.5 percent) but also his highest strikeout rate (32.8 percent).
Overall, between the elevated ERA (despite the peripherals) and the lower velocity, there are legitimate reasons Barlow won’t fetch the same haul Chapman will. But the tools are there for him to be an important contributor for the stretch run as well, and he can be acquired for much less.
Zack Greinke and Jordan Lyles
Greinke (a free agent after this season) and Lyles (a free agent after next) are both veteran innings-eaters who, despite their struggles this year, can both fill out a staff if need be, though they certainly won’t push a team over the hump. For the Yankees, they would only represent solutions in a worst-case scenario that involves further injuries to their starting staff.
The veteran utilityman is far removed from a 2015 season that resulted in a second-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting behind Kris Bryant. But while he hasn’t reached those same heights since, he’s played around some injuries to post a 95 wRC+ and roughly average defense. If the Yankees choose to keep Oswald Peraza in the minors and perhaps cut bait with Josh Donaldson, Duffy’s bat could represent an upgrade over Isiah Kiner-Falefa or even the slumping DJ LeMahieu in a utility role. Regardless, he could make for a nice depth add.
The veteran backstop and Royals captain, Perez has two years at $20 and $22 million respectively, plus a club option left on his contract. In order for the Royals to move him, they will likely have to eat some salary. Whether it’s worth doing so for what will probably be a minimal return given his declining defense depends on where the Royals see themselves going through the duration of his contract. Perez could be a lone fan-favorite on a team that continues to play poorly over the next three seasons, or the Royals can deal him before his value sinks too low and use the money they save and any prospects they receive to continue pushing their rebuild forward while the likes of Bobby Witt Jr. and Maikel Garcia are still young.
The Yankees have received little offense from their catchers this year — their 61 wRC+ at the position ranking fifth-lowest in the majors. But their commitment to catching defense has helped steady a hobbled rotation and breakout bullpen, and as a result, they’re tied for 10th in catcher WAR. So Perez doesn’t make much sense for the Yankees given their recent preferences at catcher, but he could be an option at DH if Giancarlo Stanton continues to struggle or re-injures his hamstring. Even in that case though, there would likely be cheaper alternatives.
If the Royals do choose to deal Perez, they could go all in and part with some of their younger guys like Nicky Lopez, who will himself be a free agent after the 2025 season. That would capitalize on the middle infielder’s value and potentially jumpstart Kansas City’s stalled rebuild. Either way, this goes to show that even for the obvious sellers, there are some tough decisions to be made and chaos to be had come deadline day. Buckle up.