by John Viril—
With less than 48 hours to the MLB trade deadline, the Kansas City Royals appear to be buyers for the first time in general manager Dayton Moore’s tenure.
There is one clear position that the Royals need to upgrade: 2nd Base.
Here is how I rank the potential trade targets in terms of 2013 impact:
1) Howie Kendrick–with the Angels falling out the race, Albert Pujols went to the disabled list to allow his ailing foot to heal and the front office has indicated they would consider deals for both of their middle infielders. 30-year-old Howie Kendrick instantly became the no. 1 trade target at 2nd base.
Landing Kendrick would be a coup. He’s a 3.2 bWAR player who is currently hitting .298/.338/.444 with 11 home runs. He plays a solid defensive 2nd base and he’s signed through 2015. The only problem with acquiring Kendrick is the cost: in both prospects and salary.
The first issue is that Kendrick is owed approximately 2.9 million for this season, plus 9.5 million for each of the next two years. While the Royals will have $23.5 million coming off the books for 2014 with the expiration of contracts for Jeff Francoeur, Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen, trading for Kendrick is likely to end any possibility of extending either James Shields or Ervin Santana.
The other problem is the Angels want pitching for Kendrick—at the very least a near-ready prospect with high upside. The Royals do have 3 such players in Danny Duffy, Kyle Zimmer, and Yordano Ventura, but are likely to balk at dealing them them.
2) Marco Scutaro–Scutaro is having a fine season for the Giants with an OPS+ of 123. Scutaro is something of a one trick pony at the plate. His only real skill is getting on base—which he does to the tune of a .373 OBP. Scutaro would be the perfect no. 2 hitter in the Royals lineup with his .313/.373/.391 line. Acquiring him would allow manager Ned Yost to move Hosmer back to no. 3—and would create a nice L-R-L-R order.
The biggest problem with Scutaro is his age and contract. He’s 37-years-old with two more years to go on a 3-year $20 million deal. While he’s clearly worth it this season, Scutaro’s remaining 2 years are too likely to become a Francoeur-like albatross. At his age, Scutaro could lose it at any time.
3) Kolten Wong–Wong is the highest-rated 2nd base prospect in baseball according to mlb.com. I pretty much see Wong as the best deal if you consider factors like age (22), future control, cost, and upside. He’s a MLB-ready AAA player with a solid bat (.824 OPS) with a slick glove. The biggest problem here is that the Cardinals are after name-brand starters like Cliff Lee and Jake Peavy. Wong is almost certain to be included in any such deal since he’s close to the majors and blocked by a better player in All-Star Matt Carpenter.
The only way I can see the Royals obtaining Wong is 1) if they decide to deal Ervin Santana or 2) if Lee and Peavy deals fall through and the Cardinals settle on a package that includes reliever Luke Hochevar plus prospects. I see both scenarios as unlikely.
4) Erick Aybar–Aybar currently starts at SS for the Los Angeles Angels, but many scouts see him as a better 2nd baseman. He’s having a bad offensive season (.280/.309/.384) which limits his utility for the stretch run, but should reduce his cost. Aybar is also signed through 2016t an average of $8.5 million per season.
The biggest problem with Aybar is he does nothing to help the Royals two biggest offensive problems: OBP and power. While he’s certainly an upgrade over the death valley of offensive production provided by Elliot Johnson and Chris Getz, Aybar doesn’t walk and has little pop. His career high is 10 HR in 2011 and his career-high slugging percentage is .423. Aybar would form an impressive double-play combination with Alcides Escobar, but would entrench another low OBP bat in the lineup for years to come.
That being said, the Royals might be able to pry Aybar loose without surrendering one of their top-tier pitching prospects. Perhaps the Royals could sell the Angels on the notion that Hochevar has solved his confidence problem while pitching from the stretch and can return to the rotation next season. If so, they might land Aybar for a package that includes Hochevar, Chris Dwyer, and maybe an A ball arm like Kyle Smith. Such a deal would be attractive to the Royals, but would it be the best the Angels can do?
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5) Kevin Frandsen–I include Frandsen simply because I see him as a potential upgrade that no one else has considered. With the Phillies talking extension with Chase Utley but having no real hope of contention this season, they might trade their top utility player. Frandsen can play both 2nd and third while batting right handed. He’s having a solid offensive season (.280/.368/.415) and plays above-replacement level defense at both positions. He’s 31-years old and is 1st year arbitration eligible, so he’s still cheap at $850K. I can’t imagine he would command more than low-level prospects to acquire.
The problem is that Frandsen is really a bench player. He’s never accumulated more than 296 plate appearances in a season. His current line is the result of 118 ABs for the Phillies. Can he really hold up for two months of regular use?
It might well be worth a try. Acquiring Frandsen would allow manager Ned Yost to use BOTH Frandsen and Miguel Tejada against left-handed starters at 2nd and 3rd. Or, Frandsen would give Yost the option of playing the hot bat between him and Miguel Tejada, without over-exposing either player. While hardly ideal, trading for Frandsen would be better than doing NOTHING—while carrying little risk.
There are, of course, other possible deals. Yet, I would not consider Philadelphia’s Eric Young or the Mets’ Daniel Murphy as viable options due to their limited defense at 2nd. Players like Luis Valbuena, Darwin Barney, Richie Weeks, and Danny Espinosa are hitting so poorly, they won’t help for the 2013 stretch run. I do like the idea of a Gordon Beckham deal, but I doubt the White Sox are anxious to help the Royals fill their biggest hole.
The bottom line is that Dayton Moore can’t afford to sit on his hands and continue to bleed runs from 2nd base.