Help Still Wanted?

The Royals could use bats to support starters like James Shields. (USA TODAY Sports)

The Royals could use bats to support starters like James Shields. (USA TODAY Sports)

After weeks of silence on the trade market, one of the two teams other than the Detroit Tigers that can credibly be called contenders for the AL Central division crown (or more realistically, the second wild-card spot) has made a move: the Kansas City Royals have dealt infielder Danny Valencia to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Liam Hendricks and catcher Erik Kratz.

Not exactly a blockbuster deal, but there are reasons why each side pulled the trigger. Valencia provides versatility in the infield for Toronto, but should probably sit against right-handed pitchers. Second base is already crowded with Munenori Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson, but Valencia could platoon with Juan Francisco at third, as Francisco has been helpless against lefties his entire career. Having to spend six rosters spots filling four lineup spots everyday isn’t ideal for the Jays, but they’ve already been doing that all season with the likes of e.g. Ryan Goins, and at least Valencia is a proven MLB level role player. Makes sense from Toronto’s side.

Meanwhile, neither of the players the Royals got are actually in the majors at the moment — both players will be added to Kansas City’s 40-man roster and it’s not clear that they’ll be joining the MLB team any time soon. For what it’s worth, the Royals can’t keep trotting Bruce Chen out there in what’s still a playoff race — the Indians lit him up in his first spot start for the injured Jason Vargas, and there’s no excuse for that not to be his last. However, Hendricks doesn’t sufficiently address that situation: He’s got an ERA over six so far this year and is a 5.38 ERA pitcher for his career. The Royals are an organization that knows pitching, and they do have a good defense in Kansas City, so one would expect that ERA to tick down some — but there’s only so much you can polish a pitcher like Hendricks, who is now on his third MLB team in four years. Kratz will take over the backup catching job from Brett Hayes — and given Ned Yost’s managing and Sal Perez’s production, that role in Kansas City is about the most unimportant one on the roster.

Essentially, the trade addresses very little for Kansas City (who, entering action Monday, were five games back of the Tigers for first and two back of the second wild card) except to perhaps clear the way for former first round pick Christian Colon to get playing time again now that Valencia is gone. It seems highly unlikely that Colon is actually going to displace Omar Infante at second base for any significant period of time, and whether or not Colon is a better utility player than Valencia is, again, mainly irrelevant to the overall issues the Royals are actually facing at the deadline. But at least they can give him a better look.

So is this really it? About a month ago, I wondered if Royals general manager Dayton Moore would go all-in on this season, seizing an opportunity to make the playoffs in a small window of contention. But both Kansas City and the other non-Detroit team in the Central that still has postseason aspirations, the Cleveland Indians (a game and a half behind the Royals), have been almost non-participants in even the rumor mill that surrounds the trade deadline so far. There’s been rampant speculation about whether the Indians will or won’t trade shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera with heir apparent Francisco Lindor knocking on the door — or, conversely, whether they’ll deal Lindor for big-name pitching help like Jon Lester or Cole Hamels, two big names that have recently splashed onto the market. But the organization itself has been mostly silent.

This is all understandable, to an extent. While Kansas City has publicly affirmed its commitment not to sell at the deadline, that does not necessarily make them buyers. There are pieces available to fill the positions they need filled — namely right field and third base — but with a bit of luck the Royals team as currently constructed could sneak into the postseason. And if ownership isn’t willing to expand the budget or part with prospects to, say, take on Alex Rios or Adrian Beltre (should the Rangers decide to shake things up), then the Royals will have to go with what they have.

The same story is true in Cleveland: It’s not impossible for the current version of the Indians to make noise in the postseason this year, provided they climb over the Royals to do it — but it would be a lot more feasible with an upgrade or two to the active roster.

Whatever the two teams decide, however, time is running out to make a significant move — and as of right now, with all due respect to Hendricks and Kratz, that’s a decision neither team has indicated they’re yet ready to make.

12 thoughts on “Help Still Wanted?

  1. Pingback: MLBVoice » Blog Archive » GAME ON! TUESDAY – FUN! Talkin’ Baseball w/Mary! :)

  2. Hendricks is very tough to read. His ERA is over 6 because he has had two very-good-for-an-emergency-fifth-starter starts and one abominable start in Cincy that drove his ERA up. He probably tops out as “serviceable #4″ in a year or two, but he’s still a useful piece.

    The Jays needed a righthanded bat off the bench in the worst way. The Stankees showed us that this series. We looked awful at times against their bullpen.

    I think both sides won this trade. It’s a good minor deal.

  3. Cleveland not making a whole lot of noise shouldn’t come as a great surprise. Their two biggest free agents deals in the last two years (Bourn and Swisher) both came without much fanfare or pre-empting. Heck, the Indians weren’t even in the rumor mill for Bourn.

    Hopefully any moves before the deadline end up having more of an impact than those two…

  4. i would suggest that mr. bernhardt should do more research or get out of the biz of trying to be an expert. while it is true that bruce chen’s start for the royals on sunday was not good, it was not his “first spot start for the injured Jason Vargas”. The reality is that Sunday’s game was chen’s 3rd start since vargas had his appendectomy (did mr. bernhardt know that was why vargas was out?), and the royals won the first 2.

    • While indeed you are correct that it was his third start in place of Vargas and it was an error in research on my part to label it otherwise, my overall point regarding Chen — which is that he is not a serviceable starter in the year 2014 — is borne out by his inability to go deep into games even when he is not surrendering runs (the only time he has managed to complete six innings was his first start of the season), and he is usually surrendering runs (Chen sports a 6.42 ERA).

      And while Vargas will hopefully be back shortly for the Royals relegating Chen to the bullpen, it is not as if Kansas City doesn’t need to address its rotation even with a healthy Vargas. Many of these same criticisms of Chen — age and general ineffectiveness multiple times through the lineup — apply just as keenly to Jeremy Guthrie, who remains in the rotation despite a horrific June (10.07 ERA).

      • As a Royals fan, I’d like to apologize for the comment above. Not only is it chock-full of unwarranted hostility, but it clearly misses the point, as you rightly point out.

        Other than the one, unimportant error regarding about number of spot starts for Bruce Chen, the article is spot on. Bruce Chen is not an adequate starting pitcher, especially for a team that hopes to make the post-season. And the recent KC-Toronto trade is puzzlingly, at best. Not only did the Royals acquire 2 guys who will contribute little to nothing to their team, but they made Toronto (a team currently beating them out for a wild-card spot) better. Quite the strategy.

  5. Pingback: MLBVoice » Blog Archive » GAME ON! WACKY WEDNESDAY – It’s FUN! Talkin’ Baseball w/Mary! :)

  6. Good point. Seeing Kratz a lot in the N.L. East, more times than not it seemed the days he caught were the days the Braves (my team) couldn’t do much at the plate. I always thought he was undervalued from a defensive standpoint.