by John Viril—
Every year, relief pitching gets over-valued at the trade deadline. Teams looking for a quick fix to help their short-term playoff fortunes often hope that acquiring relief help will put them over the top. That why teams will trade position player prospects for immediate bullpen help.
There’s a long and storied history of unbalanced trades of this nature going back decades. Boston famously traded borderline Hall of Fame candidate Jeff Bagwell to Houston in 1993 for immediate bullpen help in the form of middle reliever Larry Anderson. In 1997, the Seattle Mariners traded Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to Boston for Heathcliff Slocum. Closer to home, the Royals sent young pitchers Dan Miceli and Jon Leiber to the Pirates for relief pitcher Stan Belinda in 1993.
These kind of trades are still going on. Last season’s playoff run by the Orioles was fueled their acquisition of starting position players Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis for middle relievers in 3 prior deals.
That’s what the Royals need to do with their current bullpen excess: deal some of it for young position players not yet established in MLB. Right now, the only “bad” option in the bullpen is Kelvin Herrera (ERA 5.20), and he seems more stuck in bad streak rather than lacking talent. The Kansas City bullpen is loaded with power arms like Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, and J.C. Gutierrez. The Royals also have the major-league-ready relief pitchers Will Smith, Louis Coleman and Buddy Bauman (ERA 0.50) stashed at AAA Omaha.
With the team closer to contention than they have been in 10 years, it would be a crime if general manager Dayton Moore does not even try to improve his team. If a team offered a big enough bat, I’d consider dealing closer Greg Holland. Starting pitcher Felipe Paulino’s could be temporarily converted to the back end of the pen as he recovers from last season’s Tommy John surgery—if, of course, Paulino’s current back ailment checks out.
The problem, however, is that many of the “top” deadline trade targets are either 1) cost prohibitive for KC or 2) have a no-trade clause that excludes the Royals. That’s why I suggested last week that the Padres match up well with the Royals. Not only do the two clubs have complimentary needs, they also have similar cost constraints. Both the Padres and Royals might accept some performance risk, in return for cheap players with upside impact.