With every game they win, the Kansas City Royals look more and more like clear buyers in the next month. Winners of ten in a row, the Royals are now holders of a 1.5 game lead in the AL Central, and have the third best record in the entire American League. A swoon is, of course, possible, but given the moves they’ve made over the last two years to be competitive, I don’t think they’re going to have any interest whatsoever in taking the foot off the gas.
This potentially benefits the Chicago Cubs in at least two ways: (1) It puts another prospect-rich team on the market to potentially acquire a piece, or pieces, from the Cubs; and (2) it takes one of the top rental arms, James Shields, off of the trade market. The latter is probably the big one, given that odds remain low that the Royals will actually acquire a player from the Cubs (that’s just math).
But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Given all the winning, the Royals are going to need to address some weaknesses if they want to hold up – especially over the Tigers – for the next few months. They could use a bat, to be sure, but I also see a relatively weak rotation that could use a big-time arm.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Royals have been connected to the Cubs’ two available arms, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, in recent days. And Dave Kaplan now goes as far as to suggest that the Royals may already be interested in making a move:
I do not see any scenario where Cubs will re-sign Jeff Samardzija. Team to watch out for is the KC Royals who may be ready to take a shot.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) June 19, 2014
It has always made the most sense – just as it has the last two trade deadlines – for the Cubs to spread out their two primary trade pieces, both pitchers, so that they didn’t compete with each other on the market as assets. It further made sense that, if you were going to split the two up, you’d be inclined to hold onto Samardzija just a bit longer because teams get a little irrational as the deadline approaches, and Samardzija carries the most trade value.
But if a team like the Royals wants to jump early, and is willing to meet the Cubs’ exceedingly high price? Forget the plans.
The problem, however, in the Royals jumping the market on Samardzija is the acquisition cost. They’ve got the bullets to get a deal done, but the headliner would presumably be pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, a 22-year-old righty the Royals took 5th overall in the 2012 draft. (Before you ask, no, I don’t think Yordano Ventura is a realistic target, given that he’s already succeeding at the big league level, and looks to be a stud. But, yes, if the Cubs could get him … want.)
Zimmer is a fantastic prospect, ranked in the top 30 of most prospect lists this year after putting up ridiculous numbers in his first full pro season last year. Sounds like a perfect first piece to a Samardzija deal, right? Thing is, he’s hurt. He’s got a lat injury that’s kept him out all year so far, and he might not pitch again until late July. No, the lat muscle isn’t the shoulder or the elbow, but any injury makes you nervous (and you do wonder about the relationship between muscular and structural issues, even if MRIs come up clean).
For that reason, the Cubs might be willing to take Zimmer, but they’ve have to discount his value pretty significantly to account for added risk. That discount might be sufficiently steep that the Royals wouldn’t want to move Zimmer at all. And if Zimmer isn’t in the picture, working a deal for Samardzija becomes trickier.
There’s Raul Adalberto Mondesi, a top 50 shortstop prospect who could be a future stud, but he’s just 18. (Of course, he’s 18 and already in High-A, so … want.)
There’s Jorge Bonifacio, a 21-year-old top 100 outfield prospect at AA, but he isn’t hitting this year.
There’s Hunter Dozier, a nice 22-year-old bat at High-A, but he’s a third baseman (not that you exclude anyone for that reason, because depth is great, but that’s probably the one spot you’re not really looking for a top-line guy right now).
There’s top lefty Sean Manaea, who’s flashing great stuff in his pro debut at High-A, but he’s battling control issues (and there were those health scares that knocked him down in the 2013 draft, if you’ll recall).
There’s a quality righty in Miguel Almonte, but he’s 21 and having mixed results at High-A.
I could go on. The Royals have a great, deep farm system, and they’ve got enough to make a deal, even without Zimmer. I’m just not sure the Cubs will prefer their particular package – and especially not if it means they don’t get to see what might have been available in mid-to-late July.