The major additions the Royals made to their big-league roster came from their own farm system, not through the trade market.
No other point on the Major League Baseball calendar carries the uncertainty and possibility of the trade deadline. Multiple teams make acquisitions that alter their outlooks for the rest of the regular season, the postseason and/or for future seasons in a short period of time.
Wednesday did not disappoint, as a flurry of activity took place with the potential to hugely impact this season’s World Series championship chase.
Division leaders Minnesota, Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers each made deals involving players at the major-league level — including trades involving former Royals Zack Greinke and Martin Maldonado.
The Royals (40-70), meanwhile, executed their largely expected deals earlier this month with more long-term goals in mind.
More than placeholders
After the All-Star break, the Royals traded away veteran starting pitcher Homer Bailey (Oakland), veteran relief pitcher Jake Diekman (Oakland) and veteran catcher Maldonado (Chicago Cubs).
Bailey and Maldonado each signed a one-year deal with the club, while Maldonado’s signing came in the aftermath of Salvador Perez’s season-ending surgery in spring training. Both would likely have signed elsewhere at the end of the season.
Diekman signed a one-year deal with a mutual option shortly after the Royals’ pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in February.
While each of those players brought something back in return, the Royals also believe they each played roles in the development of the young players the club will build around going forward.
“Diekman was really good in the pen with the young guys, helping them stay calm and helping them by setting an example of how he goes about things and, at times, by struggling,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He had a couple of outings where he really struggled. Young guys watch how does a veteran handle that.”
“Homer, for the starters, they know that he’s thrown two no-hitters in the big leagues. They know that he’s really struggled the last couple years, and they watched his bounce back. He was good with young guys, too.”
For young pitchers like Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Glenn Sparkman, Scott Barlow, Jorge Lopez and Richard Lovelady, veteran pitchers helped fill a void that a coaching staff can’t make up for by itself.
An outfielder like Billy Hamilton, a power-hitting infielder like Lucas Duda and an experienced backstop like Maldonado also had similar impact on the club’s position players and hitters.
“It’s just more mentorship than anything,” Yost said.
Thus far, the Royals have received a major-league pitcher in Mike Montgomery, a position player prospect in Kevin Merrell, who immediately moved into the organization’s top 30 prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com, as well as a speedy outfielder and pitching prospect in exchange for veterans with expiring contracts.
Montgomery, primarily a relief pitcher for the Cubs, fits the Royals’ track record of taking chances on experienced pitchers who come with some question marks. Even their 2015 and 2016 pitching staffs included starters such as Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Young.
Montgomery, who the Royals originally drafted, has begun the process of stretching out as a starter, and he’s under club control for two more years after this season.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said bluntly last winter that restocking the farm system was a priority that wouldn’t get accomplished with one or two good draft classes. They’d need to explore all avenues, including the Rule 5 draft and trades, as well as the draft.
Shortstop Merrell and outfielder Dairon Blanco, each acquired from Oakland, are both considered athletic players with elite speed. They went straight to the Royals’ Double-A affiliate.
Clearing the decks
Fifty-two games remain in the season, and the Royals’ trades have reconfigured the roster in such a way that the majority of the 25-man roster (15 players) are 26 or younger and hold the potential to be with the club for multiple years.
Homegrown players from their farm system must be catalysts for the Royals’ next contending team. The rest of this season will be about getting guys ready to play central roles.
Players like outfielder Bubba Starling, first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, corner infielder Cheslor Cuthbert and second baseman/shortstop Nicky Lopez will get the chance to play on an everyday basis, a crucial part of their development.
That also paves the way for the Royals’ decision-makers to evaluate their young core at the major-league level and assess what areas they may have to go outside the organization in order to bolster.
“It gets to a point where you get mentored enough and you’ve got to do it yourself,” Yost said. “I think we’re kind of there right now. The Dudas are gone. Anybody that was in the way of one of these young guys playing every day is either gone or sitting on the bench.”
Hamilton not being moved at the deadline presents an interesting decision for the club. While the Royals could designate him for assignment and clear roster space, that may not actually create another opportunity for a young player.
Right now, Hamilton is one of those players who has been moved to the bench. The outfield has gotten somewhat crowded now that the Royals need to play Starling every day. Hunter Dozier will play more right field than third base in the final two months, and they’re still clinging to the idea that Jorge Soler needs to play the outfield semi-regularly and isn’t a full-time designated hitter.
Assuming shortstop Adalberto Mondesi returns before the end of the season — this week he has taken swings from both sides of the plate hitting off a tee as well as fielded grounders at shortstop — and Lopez goes back to playing second base exclusively, Whit Merrifield also must factor into the outfield equation.
So a Hamilton departure might create room for a young player to join the roster, but it may not open up playing time.