With just a week to go until the non-waiver trade deadline, the action continued yesterday evening, as the Royals and Padres made an interesting six-player swap. The Royals added three pitchers to their roster in Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter and sent LHPs Matt Strahm and Travis Wood to San Diego along with infield prospect Esteury Ruiz.
Until the deal was announced, it still wasn't clear exactly how Royals GM Dayton Moore planned to approach the rest of 2017. While the Royals currently sit just 1.5 games back of the Indians and would snag the second Wild Card spot were the season to end today, the team is at a crossroads, with Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer all entering free agency after this season. Putting aside the question of whether it would be wise to do so, it's certainly unlikely that the Royals will re-sign all three, making this season the last with their current core.
If they're going to make one last run while the gang's still around, the only issue was how they were going to get a reasonable upgrade (which they most certainly need, since they are currently sitting on -19 run differential). While flags fly forever and they certainly have no regrets about the trades they made to make back-to-back World Series and win one, the Royals have one of the shallower farm systems in MLB right now. Enter the trade with the Padres.
The most tantalizing part of Kansas City's return is certainly Cahill. Over 11 starts and 61 innings this season, he's having the best year of his career, highlighted by a 10.62 K/9 that's lightyears ahead of his career 6.63. His walk rate has dropped from his career high 4.80 BB/9 in 2016 to a more tolerable 3.54 BB/9. His 3.69 ERA and 3.39 FIP will be a welcome addition to a rotation that ranks 15th in MLB by fWAR (6.1), 16th by ERA (4.48) and 15th by FIP (4.49).
Of course, there's a reason that San Diego was able to sign him to a one-year deal this past offseason and Kansas City was able to trade for him. Cahill had dealt with injuries and walk issues and had been demoted to the bullpen and has only made four starts and pitched a little over 100 innings over the past two seasons. He's also missed time this season due to shoulder issues. So, yeah, he's only a rental, and a risky one, but that works out perfectly for the Royals given their current roster considerations. If he continues to pitch like he has been, he makes the Royals better without requiring them to give up too much in return.
In addition to Cahill, the Royals came away with a couple of relievers. RHP Maurer has been having a tough year in terms of results, as his 3.22 FIP vs. 5.72 ERA show. He's in arbitration through the 2019 season. LHP Buchter was reasonably good for the Padres last year (2.86 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 11.03 K/9, but with 4.43 BB/9) but this year he's developed a bit of a home run problem (1.64 HR/9 in 2017 v. 0.57 HR/9 last year). He won't reach free agency until 2021, but he's already 30, so it's not clear how much of an asset all that team control will be unless he he sorts out his pitching control, but between the two of them, the Royals are rolling the dice and picking up some cheap relievers who are ready to pitch now and around for a while.
The return for the Padres isn't particularly overwhelming, but it's not like the players that went the other way were either. Wood has been having even more problems with walks this year (4.32 BB/9) en route to a 6.91 ERA and 4.51 FIP. He's pretty much a throw-in and the Royals are eating all of his salary this year and next and going halfsies on his 2019 buyout unless the Friars decide to exercise his option.
The other two players moving are a bit more interesting. Strahm is coming off of a strong debut in 2016, where he pitched 22 relief innings and struck out 12.27 per 9 IP and put up a 1.23 ERA. Strahm was considered the top prospect (or close to it) in the Royals' system coming into the year, but he suffered a knee injury this year which required surgery and won't be back until 2018. Strahm has starter potential and he seems like a reasonable injured-pitcher gamble to make from the Padres' side.
The last player changing hands (Ruiz) is a gamble as well. The 18-year-old Dominican's numbers in the Arizona League this year (.419/.440/.779) are very exciting, but he's got a long path to the minors. Still, he's yet another interesting player on an increasingly interesting farm for the Padres.
Grade for Royals: B+
Kansas City was in the market for pitching, but doesn't have the prospects to compete with other teams' farm systems for the most elite options. That's probably just as well, since their postseason prospects are a little bit dicy to begin with. This trade looks like it balances their desire to give the current core one more shot at some postseason magic while grabbing onto a couple of pitchers who are around for a while and have enough upside that they might be flippable when the Royals actually do start on their looming rebuild.
Grade for Padres: B
The Padres didn't get back that much, but they also didn't give up that much. They flipped a bounceback flier and a couple of controllable but fairly fungible relievers for an injured pitcher with some serious upside, an interesting (but young) prospect and filler. GM A.J. Preller is continuing with the rebuild and got some interesting assets and still has the their biggest trade deadline chip, Brad Hand, on hand to trade.