Cardinals, Royals near trade deadline and 2/3 mark of season
Both of Missouri's Major League Baseball teams have played 104 games entering Tuesday night's contests, which means that they are rapidly approaching being two-thirds of the way through their 162-game regular season schedule. The Kansas City Royals will play game No. 108 in Oakland on Friday and the St. Louis Cardinals will reach that mark at home on the same day.
Besides being close to reaching that important season milestone, the activity surrounding both teams, and every other MLB team, is tomorrow's non-waiver trade deadline. 3 p.m. tomorrow is the time by which all trades have to be filed with the league office.
As both teams are in postseason contention nearing the two-thirds mark of the season. Going into Tuesday night's games, the Cardinals were 1 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central division and in line for the NL's second wild card berth. The Royals are five games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central division and 2 1/2 behind the Toronto Blue Jays in AL wild card competition.
Because they are contending, neither team has played the role of seller in this year's trade drama. However, through the time of this article, neither team has been much of a buyer, either. Rumors have abounded about both teams potentially acquiring players to augment their chances to claim one of the limited number of postseason spots, however. Following is a synopsis of what both teams' needs are, available options, what the teams can afford to or would like to give up in exchange and what the chances are that such deals occur.
Kansas City Royals
Team needs: Right-field, designated hitter.
In many games, the Royals have struggled to score runs. In effort to alleviate that issue, Kansas City took a flier on former Royal Raul Ibanez a few weeks ago after he was released by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Royals hoped that he could revive some of his former offensive power that has eluded him in recent years. So far, Ibanez hasn't impressed. In 14 games for Kansas City, Ibanez has a .209 batting average and an on-base percentage of .244.
While current DH Billy Butler has been swinging the bat better as of late, the season numbers are still what they are. Through 103 games Butler has hit .273 with a .326 OBP and driven in 41 runs. In right field, Nori Aoki hasn't been much better. Aoki's numbers are .265/.331/17. The Royals still need to improve their run production if they are going to catch and overtake the Blue Jays or Tigers.
Available options: Marlon Byrd, Seth Smith, Josh Willingham.
Byrd has enjoyed a decent year with the Philadelphia Phillies so far. The 36-year-old is hitting .273, has an OBP of .321 and, most importantly for the Royals, driven in 60 runs. The Phillies are out of contention and rumored to be looking to overhaul their aging roster. He could be an upgrade for Aoki in right field.
Smith has a higher batting average (.295) and OBP (.392) than Byrd but hasn't been nearly as productive at driving in runs (31 RBI). The San Diego Padres are also out of contention and are always looking for a way to improve their farm system. Smith is definitely another option in right field.
Willingham offers the attractive attribute of being able to play a corner outfield spot or be the designated hitter. The Minnesota Twins are out of contention. He is also in the final year of his contract, enabling Kansas City to acquire him with no commitment past this season. His average (.219), OBP (.361) and RBI total (29) aren't impressive, but he has the power that the Royals seriously lack. Willingham has hit 191 career home runs so far, averaging 28 long balls per 162 games.
Pieces to move: It's unlikely that Kansas City would move their top prospect, shortstop Raul Adalberto Mondesi to acquire any of these three players. If the Padres or Phillies are open to moving Byrd or Smith, they will likely want back a player that they could soon plug into their outfield to take that spot. The Royals' No. 7 prospect, Jorge Bonifacio, could fit that bill. He is the younger brother of the Chicago Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio, has an above-average arm and drives the ball well to all fields.
As far as the arms go, right-hander Christian Binsford is an attractive piece that the Royals may be open to moving. Binsford had a good outing in the MLB All-Star Futures game this year and induces ground balls by the dozens.
Why the deals may not happen: One potential problem with Byrd is his contract. If the Royals were to acquire Byrd, they would be on the hook for 2015 and a team option for 2016 at a cost of up to $16 million. At Byrd's age Kansas City may not want to commit to that, especially if they give up prospects.
If contracts are an issue for the Royals, the same could be said of Smith. His current deal is guaranteed through 2016 with a team option for 2017, carrying a maximum value of $19.75 million beyond this season. Smith is 31 and the Padres aren't as eager to re-tool as the Phillies are. It will take a more attractive package to get Smith than it would to get Byrd.
As far as Willingham goes the Twins may be reluctant to trade him within the division. Other than that, it will all depend on the Royals' interest and offer.
St. Louis Cardinals
Team needs: Catcher, starting pitcher.
Injuries have forced these important pieces to be areas of need for St. Louis. The Cardinals may have addressed their lack of complete faith in Tony Cruz by signing A.J. Pierzynski, but the shoes of Yadier Molina are hard to fill for an offense that was struggling to score with Molina healthy.
The somewhat uncertain return status of Michael Wacha, as well as the less than impressive performances of prospect Marco Gonzales have created a need for a starting pitcher. If the Cardinals are to catch the Brewers and/or keep their hold on the last wild card spot, they will need a reliable innings-eater to start once every five days.
Available options: Kurt Suzuki, Jon Lester, Jorge De La Rosa.
Suzuki is by far the best of the available catchers in baseball. He is hitting .309 so far this season and is on pace to drive in nearly 90 runs despite playing for a bad Minnesota team. Best of all for St. Louis, he will be a free agent at the end of the season.
The Boston Red Sox are out of contention and in a similar position to Philadelphia. Lester will also be a free agent at the end of the season, enabling the Cardinals to "rent" him for the rest of the season. In 21 starts so far this season for a losing team, Lester is 10-7 with a 2.52 earned run average and has 149 strikeouts.
Perhaps the most under-the-radar option on the starting pitching trade market, De La Rosa is a quality starter. He is 11-6, once again for a bad team, with a 4.19 ERA and 86 strikeouts. Again, he will be a free agent after the World Series. Not to be missed, De La Rosa averages going at least 5 2/3 innings in each start for his career, making him the innings-eater that St. Louis needs.
Pieces to move: Top prospect Oscar Taveras may be off-limits for these potential deals, but may still play a big part in them. The Cardinals may kill two birds with one stone in making a deal for these players by moving outfielder Allen Craig. That would create the desired room in the everyday lineup for Taveras.
Gonzales is probably the highest-ranked prospect that St. Louis would be open to trading. Charlie Tilson, St. Louis' current No. 9 prospect, would be an interesting piece for someone looking for an eventual leadoff possibility in center field.
Why the deals may not happen: Signing Pierzynski probably kills the Cardinals' chances of trading for a catcher before tomorrow unless Minnesota calls up offering to practically give Suzuki away. The odds of that happening are slim. The Los Angeles Dodgers are also rumored to be in on the Lester sweepstakes and may offer a better package than St. Louis, if Boston does trade Lester. It's entirely possible that the Colorado Rockies, De La Rosa's current team, may ask more than the Cardinals are willing to pay for two-three months of the pitcher's services.