KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With the Royals riding a six-game winning streak to pull within five games of Baltimore in the race for the final wild-card spot — and Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trading deadline looming — the question for general manager Dayton Moore is obvious:
Just how bold should he get in the next 48 hours?
Moore has stated he is not interested in just “selling” at the deadline, meaning if he does make a deal, particularly in the case of pending free-agent Ervin Santana, he wants to acquire something in return that can help the Royals during these final two months.
And, of course, there also is a chance Moore will hold onto Santana, and make a different deal that could aid manager Ned Yost’s struggling offense through the final nine weeks.
The most obvious need for the Royals is at second base, where Chris Getz has struggled to contribute and where Johnny Giavotella, given a very brief opportunity, wasn’t able to wow the front office and win the job.
Right field really isn’t a pressing need at the moment, given David Lough’s production (.297/.316/.441) offensively and defensively. Granted, the Royals would like a thumper in that spot, but Lough (four homers) has shown he can go deep on occasion and he also has shown he can hit lefties (.304) and hit in the clutch (.433 with runners in scoring position and two out).
Where Moore could instantly upgrade is at second base, where as a team, the Royals are hitting just .230 with a horrible .279 on-base percentage. And Moore could be looking for a long-term solution at this position, too, since former first-round pick Christian Colon has not shown signs he can be the second baseman of the future.
Phillies veteran second baseman Chase Utley, a pending free-agent, would have been a terrific fit, but he has a no-trade clause that the Royals and Phillies would have had to work around. And more recently, the Phillies reportedly are moving toward negotiating a long-term deal with Utley.
But it also has been reported that the Angels have thrown up the white flag, and would be willing to deal second baseman Howie Kendrick or shortstop Erick Aybar.
Much of the Royals’ fan focus has been on Kendrick, a 30-year-old signed through 2015. He has about $22 million left on his contract.
Kendrick would be an instant upgrade offensively over Getz. Kendrick hit .285 two years ago with 18 homers and 63 RBI. This year he is hitting .299 with 11 homers and 43 RBI — those numbers would qualify him as one of the Royals’ top hitters.
The Royals might have more interest in Aybar, who is 29 years old and is signed through 2016 at $8.5 million a season. Aybar doesn’t have the power that Kendrick possesses, but he does have a little pop.
Aybar hit 10 homers and drove in 59 runs in 2011, and he has four homers and 37 RBI this season along with a so-so .310 on-base percentage.
But Aybar might be a better fit in the Royals’ minds because he is more athletic than Kendrick. Scouts believe Aybar is much better suited to play second base, which he did earlier in his career.
And Aybar could make for a fantastic up-the-middle combination with Alcides Escobar for years to come. Aybar also is a plus-baserunner — he stole 30 bases two years ago, and 20 last year.
The problem, of course, is that neither Aybar nor Kendrick would come cheap.
The Angels likely would have their eye on Royals pitching prospect Yordano Ventura, and that would be a tough sell to Royals nation, especially on the heels of last winter’s trade of Wil Myers.
The Angels also reportedly have indicated if they don’t get a top-line prospect, they want a ready-now starter for the rotation. The Royals could potentially dangle left-hander Danny Duffy, who does have big-league experience, though, that again would dismay the fan base. Duffy has become a popular player mainly because of his candor on Twitter.
And while it is easy to play fantasy baseball with player trades, the Angels likely aren’t going to fall for lesser-valued trading chips such as Luke Hochevar or Tim Collins or Luis Coleman. To move Aybar or Kendrick, the Angels are going to want a player with a high ceiling in return.
Then, of course, there’s the problem of money. Acquiring either Kendrick or Aybar is going to bump the Royals’ payroll up to new heights, and Moore would have to convince owner David Glass that such a trade and the added payroll would provide the needed push to make the playoffs.
Acquiring Aybar or Kendrick also might doom any potential long-term deal for Santana — and Moore would prefer to utilize his financial resources for pitching.
Then again, Moore has been bold before, and with the Royals on the threshold of competing for the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, he may just go bold again.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org