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.