Surging Royals could widen gap in arms race vs. Tigers with trade
JUN 19, 2014 4:56a ET
Eventually, the Kansas City Royals will lose another baseball game. That is inevitable. At some point, they could fall back into second place. But what has happened over the past few weeks -- a major-league best 15-4 record -- is no fluke.
The 2014 Royals are better than the 2013 Royals. The 2014 Tigers are worse than the 2013 Tigers. A third comparison -- whether the 2014 Royals are better than the 2014 Tigers -- remains unsettled, but there's increasing evidence Kansas City will prevail.
The Royals have a deeper, better bullpen than the Tigers -- and no amount of trading between now and the July 31 non-waiver deadline is likely to change that. The Kansas City rotation has more quality starts than Detroit's this season. And while the Tigers' lineup often is revealed to be too young or too old, depending on the night, the Royals have had one of the most productive offenses in baseball since Dale Sveum took over as hitting coach May 29.
In short: Royals general manager Dayton Moore had the right idea when he acquired ace James Shields and lock-down setup man Wade Davis from Tampa Bay for a prospect package headlined by stud outfielder Wil Myers.
With Shields set to become a free agent after this season, that move in December 2012 effectively established a two-year window in which the Royals must win. This is the second of those years.
But what if Moore makes another trade to extend that window for another season?
That could explain why a Royals scout was in attendance when everyone's favorite trade candidate, Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, pitched Tuesday night in Miami. (In fact, the Royals scouted his start prior to that, as well.) By adding Samardzija, who won't become a free agent until after 2015, the Royals would acquire protection against the likely event Shields signs elsewhere after this year.
Because not only are the Royals outperforming the Tigers at the major-league level, but executives around the league believe Kansas City also has a deeper farm system than Detroit. As much as we tend to overrate the impact of deadline deals, for the Royals to acquire Samardzija or Rays super-utility extraordinaire Ben Zobrist would send a surge of confidence through their clubhouse ... and have the opposite psychological effect on the beleaguered Tigers.
To be clear, it doesn't appear the Royals are close to any impact deals. Moore likely would need to part with a member of the current rotation -- left-hander Danny Duffy is the most obvious candidate -- to acquire Samardzija, because of the Cubs' need for pitching. It's not clear if Moore is willing to do that.
The Royals may have an easier time meeting the price tag for Zobrist, since the Kansas City farm system is deeper in position players, which is what the Rays are expected to seek. Zobrist, like Samardzija, would be more than a two-month rental. Zobrist's contract includes a reasonable $7.5 million club option for 2015, after which he will become a free agent, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.
The Royals do have interest in the switch-hitting Zobrist, according to one major-league source, and he would fit their roster in a number of ways: He can play right field and third base, positions at which Nori Aoki and Mike Moustakas, respectively, have struggled to hit for stretches this year. He's regarded as an excellent teammate, would bring postseason experience to a young clubhouse, and played with Shields in Tampa Bay for many years.
One more factor that could help trade talks move along: Rays officials know the Royals' farm system well from legwork they did leading up to the Shields-Myers trade.
Samardzija and Zobrist are in demand throughout the industry, and it would be premature to describe Kansas City as a favorite to land either one. But the dream of reaching the postseason for the first time since 1985 has become a credible one for the Royals and their fans. And the rallying cry need not be "2014 or bust." The Royals should be good for a while, especially if Moore makes the right move -- or moves -- at the deadline.