Winning a World Series is the pinnacle of the baseball mountain, but a champion’s landscape can change just a few months later. Just ask the Kansas City Royals. After winning it all in 2015, the 2016 Royals slipped to third place in the American League Central with an 81-81 record. Most expected Kansas City to regress, but to not be a factor for much of the season is a large disappointment.
Unlike the Dodgers and Yankees of the world, the Royals cannot afford to retain their championship core for the long haul. Attrition is unfolding in the form of free agency. That was acknowledged when the team swung deadline deals for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist a year ago – Kansas City knew its chances were running low.
General Manager Dayton Moore, who oversaw the worst to first rebuild, is tasked with retooling the roster for another run. Unfortunately, he also has to balance out the present and future. The Royals have a handful of key contributors nearing free agency, so they must decide who to move, extend or let walk. Making matters worse was the team’s desperation to keep declining outfielder Alex Gordon, whose four year, $72 million pact might come back to bite Kansas City. It did manage to extend World Series MVP catcher Salvador Perez. The team appears to be loyal to homegrown producers, but the payroll wall isn’t going anywhere, according to Moore. A multitude of tough decisions are looming. To say Moore’s position is unenviable is an understatement.
Enter Los Angeles. A week ago we discussed potential deals between the Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers. This week we will look at pieces of interest from the Tigers’ divisional rivals in Missouri. A firesale seems highly unlikely and if it were to occur, would probably take place at the 2017 trade deadline. Kansas City can’t stand pat, however, and has a number of movable pieces that could help the Dodgers. It’s also relevant that the Royals have reportedly tried to package Ian Kennedy in trades one season after giving him five years and $70 million. Given the Dodgers’ monetary power, absorbing Kennedy to lessen the prospect price is an additional option for all of these deals.
*Players’ ages in 2017 season in parenthesis*
SP Yordano Ventura (26): Signed through 2019 for roughly $21.25 million with $12 million club options for 2020 and 2021 ($1 million buyout)
The name Yordano Ventura carries a negative connotation around the MLB nowadays. Vertura is known as a hot headed, flamethrowing pitcher with command issues. Most fans probably want nothing to do with him. That’s understandable. But he may be a worthy risk-reward candidate, especially for a team such as L.A.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, among other media, reported the Royals were considering engaging trade talks regarding Ventura. The same reports referenced his attitude problems as a significant factor. His infamous fight with Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado serving as the most memorable incident in the minds of fans and evaluators alike. Even without maturity concerns, Ventura is a roll of the dice on the field.
After pitching 15.1 innings in 2013, Ventura’s first year in the majors was a boom. He posted a 14-10 record with a 3.20 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 31 games. The strikeout numbers remain, but his ERA has ballooned to 4.08 and 4.45 in the past two seasons. After surrendering 14 home runs in both his first two full seasons, he allowed 23 in 2016. He also walked more batters than ever before (78), gave up a career-high 190 hits and walked a career-worst 78 men. His strikeout rate regressed by 1.6 from 2015, his hits per nine increased and his 4.59 FIP suggests his luck didn’t have much effect.
We’ve seen fallen prospects rise to unfathomable heights before. Look at the 2016 World Series: Anthony Rizzo, Andrew Miller, Jake Arrieta and others needed scenery changes to peak. Though they didn’t have the reported immaturity of Ventura. After the Dodgers put up with the Yasiel Puig saga for several years, it might be surprising to see the team take a shot on Ventura here. If they believe Rick Honeycutt can work magic with him, Los Angeles should attempt to buy low.
Ventura possesses top of the rotation talent. In the right environment with a staff dedicated to his development, he could flourish. Keep in mind he’ll be 26 years young with two $12 million option years as the most financial compensation he can receive until 2021.
Los Angeles needs to add to its rotation, and while Ventura is a risk, so was Scott Kazmir, Zack Greinke, Cueto and other starters L.A. has pursued or other teams have committed big money to recently.
Kansas City ironically needs rotation help. Perhaps flipping the Royals a MLB-ready starter with less upside – such as a Brock Stewart or Ross Stripling – plus a B prospect could gauge their interest. If Ventura hits the market, expect several teams to try to take advantage and buy low. Ultimately, it makes more sense for Kansas City to keep him and let him rebuild his value unless he’s become toxic to the locker room. They’re operating from a weaker position right now in which obtaining Stewart and a good prospect might even be unrealistic.
If it’s a fair price, Los Angeles should consider adding Ventura to the fold.
CP Wade Davis (32): $10 million club option for 2017 ($2.5 million buyout)
Well known by Andrew Friedman from his Tampa Bay Rays days, Wade Davis is one of the most dominant closers in baseball. It’s also not insider information that he’s being shopped and looks poised to wear a new uniform next spring. There’s been previously reported Dodger interest and with good reason. Regardless of Kenley Jansen, Davis would be a coup for Dave Roberts’ crew.
Kansas City will accept Davis’ option after the World Series ends. With a barren free agent market highlighted by three closers, the team can sit on any deal until all the available pitchers sign and some teams are left without a seat at the table. If the Dodgers are closer-less when the frenzy settles, expect Davis to become priority. If Jansen or another closer is signed, the Dodgers would be wise to still check in on Davis.
He may be a one-year rental, but Davis is an elite late inning reliever. Having Davis pitch the eighth and Jansen pitch the ninth effectively ends games after seven innings. To again reference this World Series, it’s proven the vitality of a strong bullpen.
He put up a 1.87 ERA in 2016, but his strikeout rate declined (9.8). His command and velocity also slightly dropped. But he has maintained around a 44 percent ground ball rate, and the Dodgers bullpen struggled (especially down the stretch) with holding the ball in the park. He’s visited the disabled list a few times recently, and injuries may be a long-term concern. But this idea is primarily as a rental if the Dodgers intend to swing for a championship next year.
Competition for Davis will be stiff, with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals leading the line. Acquiring Davis not only bolsters the bullpen, but leaves one of those teams scrambling for a likely far lesser option. Kansas City will want controllable pitching, as was mentioned with Ventura, so L.A. is a good match. But with Davis being a probable rental, and long-term health concerns could stop interest in a multiyear commitment anyway, the Dodgers may be gun shy here.
It ultimately comes down to what the team considers fair, and if it’s finally winning to sacrifice small parts of the future to go all-out in ending the championship drought. If it’s not too steep, L.A. would have a perfect answer to the Cubs with a Davis-Jansen duo.
OF Lorenzo Cain (31): Signed for $11 million in 2017
Cain, who as the author is a native of Valdosta, Georgia, was one of the pieces acquired in the first Greinke trade that sent the ace to Milwaukee. Cain’s proven worthy of headlining that package, slashing .287/.337/.416 in his career. He only played in 103 games in 2016, but his line of .287/.339/.408 was remarkably on par with his career averages. Prior to only 14 steals this year, he had 28 in back-to-back seasons. Cain doesn’t have any gold gloves, which is a bit perplexing considering his history of pristine defense. His game is fit to decline with age, so he might be better as a rental too.
An injury history and game predicated on athleticism might mitigate interest in a 32-year-old Cain on the open market next winter. The Dodgers are expected to splurge in a historic free agency, and giving Cain big bucks simply isn’t the best use of resources. Cain could hit leadoff for the 2017 Dodgers and move around the outfield as necessary. He fits in a nutshell, but there’s too many other dynamics at play for L.A. to invest in him.
The aforementioned pitchers, along with Alex Wood, a bullpen arm or a cheap outfielder such as Andrew Toles, could make the Royals pick up the phone. But Kansas City is probably going to request Jose De Leon for any of these players, and the Dodgers would be better to pass if that’s the line.
The other guys:
There’s a handful of other Royals who fit L.A.’s roster, but for whatever reason are inferior to other alternatives. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is a Scott Boras client sitting a year away from free agency. The team has Cheslor Cuthbert lined up to replace him if needed. Moustakas will make $8.7MM before hitting the market at age 30.
Obviously his place in Los Angeles would depend on Justin Turner’s free agency. Turner was a far superior player in 2016, and if you’re going to commit long-term to one of them, he’d be the safer choice. Letting Turner leave and relinquishing assets to eventually give Moustakas a big contract is counterintuitive to what the Dodgers say their plan is.
Right-handed hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar is another play who could fit if Turner walks. It would presumably push Corey Seager to third base (something the team publicly resents) and Escobar isn’t exactly a difference maker, so that option is low on the totem pole.
Jarrod Dyson would bring speed to the outfield, having swiped at least 26 bases every year since 2012. Dyson is 32 and Kansas City’s midseason acquisition of Billy Burns may have been in preparation of Dyson’s free agency (winter 2017). The Dodgers already have a logjam of average (and older) outfielders, so while Dyson’s legs could help, there’s just minimal payoff by making that deal. Dyson is also left-handed, further adding to his redundancy.
Alex Gordon doesn’t fit the Dodgers roster-wise or financially, while Eric Hosmer will be paid more off name than consistent production, while also not fitting at first base in L.A. Kelvin Herrera would be a great add to the Los Angeles bullpen, but Kansas City appears to be committed to him as its closer once it parts ways with Davis.