Should Royals go all-in at trade deadline?

A few days ago, ESPN.com’s Christina Kahrl argued that the Kansas City Royals should go all-in for total victory and trade for Johnny Cueto. Now, reasonable people can disagree about this and, over at Royals Review, Shaun Newkirk did just that. One thing we could all agree about, though? The Royals, surprisingly, were great bets to make the playoffs.

Then Alex Gordon got hurt. And now, in addition to wondering if the Royals need a top-notch starting pitcher, we’re also wondering what they’ll do without their All-Star left fielder for the next couple of months.

There are some confounding things about the Royals.

The Royals rank second in the American League in ERA, but their rotation hasn’t been much good at all.

The Royals are just 10th in the league in scoring, 14th in homers, and 15th (last) in walks … but they’re also sixth in slugging percentage and fourth in OBP, thanks to a high (for this era) team batting average.

I wouldn’t suggest that the Royals have under-performed. But if they’ve over-performed, it’s not by much. FanGraphs’ BaseRuns methodology suggests they’ve played more fundamentally like a 45-37 team, still the best in the division and fifth-best in the league (a touch behind the Yankees).

Bottom line: The Royals have played well in a highly unorthodox way: pitching staff led by relievers (with a lot of help from the fielders!), offense paced largely by batting average. All of which might not be completely sustainable, but is probably sustainable enough to get the Royals through the second half of the season.

Which is a good thing, because there’s no help coming from within. The Royals’ bench is nothing special, and recent call-ups from the minors have included Dusty Coleman, Paulo Orlando, and Cheslor Cuthbert, none of whom entered the season on anybody’s list of hot (or even warm) prospects. The Royals’ only Grade A (or B+) hitting prospect is Raul Mondesi, a 19-year-old shortstop in Class AA.  And the Royals have an All-Star playing shortstop.

As things stand now, the Royals’ BEST option for replacing Gordon in left field is some sort of platoon involving Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson. Classic replacement-level.

Which makes the Royals, on paper, about two wins worse, over the course of a couple of months, than they would be with Gordon.  And still leaves them three or four games ahead of their competition. On paper.

Stand pat, then? Don’t go after Johnny Cueto or a bat to replace Gordon’s?

Yeah, I think so. It worked well enough last year and it’s worked well enough this year, and the rotation is likely to look a lot better soon, with Yordano Ventura coming off the DL this week and Kris Medlen’s rehab progressing reasonably well.

Ultimately, the Royals’ season will hinge upon an infinite number of variables, including the performance of not only their own players, but also the players on all the other A.L. Central teams (and their opponents!). If Omar Infante and Alex Rios somehow remember how to hit – both have been among the American League’s very worst hitters this season – Gordon’s absence won’t hurt nearly as much.

Which isn’t to suggest that management shouldn’t try to improve their chances. Christina Kahrl rightly observes that a pitcher like Cueto would make the Royals look a lot better in October. But as Shaun Newkirk rightly observes, the cost for just a few months of Cueto would be exceptionally high, especially considering the Royals’ relative paucity of top-notch prospects. This is really a bad year to be desperate for a starting pitcher, because half the teams in the majors seem desperate for a starting pitcher. Which obviously strengthens the Reds’ (and the Phillies’) position when negotiating.

Anyway, there are a great number of institutional forces that would probably keep the Royals from dealing for a big-time starter. Most notably? The Royals are the best team in their division despite the obvious absence of anyone who remotely resembles a rotation ace. And while Alex Gordon’s obviously an outstanding player, nobody’s mistaken him lately for Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. They’ll miss his .393 on-base percentage … but then again, management’s never really worried a whole lot about on-base percentage.

The prudent thing to do is ride this thing out. The price for Cueto or another Alex Gordon is just too high for this team, at this point in its season and its history.