The Royals need to have a fire sale or go all in at the trade deadline

Jazz Chisholm Jr. #2 of the Miami Marlins reacts during the first inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at loanDepot park on July 03, 2024 in Miami, Florida.
Jazz Chisholm Jr. #2 of the Miami Marlins reacts during the first inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at loanDepot park on July 03, 2024 in Miami, Florida. | Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

No in between

By and large, the 2024 Kansas City Royals season has been a surprisingly pleasant one. They’re a legitimately good team with playoff aspirations. Now, those aspirations are pretty low; this is a “it would be a huge to simply squeak into the dance with the third Wild Card spot” situation, not a “we expect to win the division” situation. But considering the team won 56 games last year? That’s great!

Fortunately or unfortunately—whatever your perspective on this may be—the fun of this season has been a flash bang grenade of sorts and has distracted pretty much everyone from the organizational health as a whole, which is better than it was but still rather mediocre.

To start with what’s good: the Royals have an MVP candidate and a Cy Young candidate both under contract through 2028 at the earliest in Bobby Witt Jr. and Cole Ragans. Their payroll situation is great, as they have no albatross contracts and only have $31 million on the books in 2026. High-end talent and payroll flexibility is something a lot of teams wish they had.

Unfortunately, there’s cause for a lot of concern in the long run. To begin with, the young position player core has, outside from Witt., turned out to be extremely flawed. Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, and Brady Singer, strong contributors to the pitching staff turnaround, only have two years left on the team after this year. The farm system is also one of the worst in the league and there are no current top-tier prospects on their way other than perhaps Blake Mitchel, who is 19 years old and in A ball. And the team hasn’t proven they can turn risky high school pitchers into contributors despite spending a lot of top draft capital on the likes of Frank Mozzicato, Ben Kudrna, Blake Wolters, and Hiro Wyatt.

Put all of this into context and take a look at this graph, then, which shows the Royals’ playoff likelihood, descending from its high from about Memorial Day to where it stands now at about 28%. Kansas City has the eighth-highest playoff chances right now. There are only six spots available.

A graph of AL teams’ playoff odds. Kansas City’s playoff odds have fallen to below 28% as of July 8.

Thus, we come to the thrust of my piece. Consider, that no savior from the minor leagues is coming this year. Consider that no savior is likely coming next year or by next trade deadline. Consider that the Royals will lose Singer, Lugo, and Wacha to free agency sooner rather than later. And consider that the Royals are one of 10 AL teams with a playoff chance greater than 10%, most of whom will be interested in improving their team.

There is, in my opinion, only two results: sell hard, or be aggressive in acquiring premium talent. There’s not a middle ground.

Kansas City is here because of a variety of factors which are all at play together. If their farm system were better, maybe you stand pat, hope for more improvement and talent infusion, and make a move next year. If their young players were showing more promise, maybe you make a small move to shore up some weaknesses but avoid making a big splash until you know what you have a little better.

But none of those things happened. The Royals accidentally found themselves in a place where they have a two-and-a-half year window where they didn’t have one before. Their free agent acquisitions have been better than expected. Their superstar hitter has continued to improve. As a whole, the defense is excellent. They’ve got a small but absolutely reasonable shot at getting to the playoffs this year—again, one year after winning 56 games!

So they have two choices. The first choice would stink, but it would be a legitimate one: sell. One of the most painful parts of recent Royals seasons is that they haven’t had premium trade talent. Well, they do now. Wacha, Ragans, and Lugo would be incredibly valuable to buyers, and reasonable markets would exist for Salvador Perez and Freddy Fermin. It would result in an infusion of minor league talent the club desperately needs while freeing up even more payroll to make big moves in the following years.

The other choice is painful in a different way, but it’s way more fun: buy. And not buy a little bit; buy a lot. Go for broke. Does this mean decimating an already weak farm system? Yeah. It would look bare after making a trade for Luis Robert Jr. or Jazz Chisholm Jr. or some other junior that I’m forgetting that is good at baseball and under team control for multiple years. But there’s a threshold where a farm system needs to be in order to supply a rebuilding team with enough talent to sustain itself, and the Royals already aren’t there. Giving themselves a coinflip chance to make the playoffs as opposed to one in four? That’s worth it, and a Chisholm or Robert would still be on the team for next year’s try.

The good news is that JJ Picollo and team don’t have to make a decision right this second. MLB’s trade deadline is at the end of July, and that’s another few weeks to see where Kansas City’s playoff odds go. They need outfield help and bullpen help. There are options. Let’s hope the Royals do something about it.

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Title: The Royals need to have a fire sale or go all in at the trade deadline
Author: Matthew LaMar

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