On Tuesday, I offered up the proposition that the current Royals roster simply was not good enough. After losing yesterday afternoon, making them 3-12 in Zack Greinke's last 15 starts, it only seems to reinforce my point.
Given that, I really don't think it is too early to start thinking about the offseason. It is certainly less frustrating than trying to analyze why this roster currently contains 13 pitchers and two backup catchers.
Going into this offseason, the Royals have truly three untouchable players: Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria and Billy Butler.
Sure, you can make a case for the exorbitant haul Greinke might net or that a losing team does not really need a great closer (although closers are seldom traded, by the way), but as an organization part of rebuilding is having something to build upon. Those three guys are pretty solid building blocks in my opinion.
After that, I have come around to the mindset that you hang onto Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar, also. While Meche has struggled with injuries, Bannister is a true No. 4 starter (which is not exactly an overwhelming compliment), and Hochevar will never leave up to his first overall pick projections, they still provide the Royals with the only segment of the team that can be considered at least league average—maybe even better than that.
So, at this point you might be saying "well, WHO is left to trade?" and you might be right, but I will make a case that there still are commodities that will return value on this roster. Today, my focus is not on David DeJesus and Mark Teahen, but instead on second baseman Alberto Callaspo.
Before the trade deadline, the Diamondbacks traded Felipe Lopez to the Brewers for Cole Gillespie, a AAA outfielder, and Roque Mercedes, a High-A ball pitcher. At 29 years old, Lopez is three years older than Callaspo and enjoying a fine season (310/373/425).
Those numbers are well above what Lopez has posted the past three seasons, however, when he threw up an OPS of .739, .659 and .730.
Felipe is also currently 6.7 runs above average in the field (courtesy Fangraphs.com). That fielding number is also out of character for Lopez. In 2006, he was 17.5 runs below average, 6.6 below average in 2007 and 7.7 below average in 2008.
Now, for reference, Alberto Callaspo is 11.5 runs below average in the field this season and posting a .781 OPS (297/349/432). I will admit to not having seen Lopez play all that much, but when you factor in the age difference and the similarity of both the offensive and defensive numbers, I think the Callaspo/Lopez comparison is defensible.
In an offseason trade, I am not sure you get two players back for Callaspo, so let's assume that the Royals can only get one and that they (for once) focus on getting some offense. That theory puts the focus on the type of player that Gillespie is.
At the time of the trade, Cole Gillespie was a 25 year old outfielder coming off a AA campaign that saw him hit 281/386/472/858. In his first year in AAA, Cole was hitting just 242/332/424 with 12 doubles, 5 triples and 7 home runs. Since the trade, by the way, Gillespie is posting a plus 900 OPS in AAA.
Overall, Gillespie projects as a solid everyday outfielder, but probably not as a star. However, the Brewers gave him up, plus Mercedes for a player in Lopez who can be lost to free agency this winter. The Royals would be offering a player with similar skills, three years younger, and under team control for four more seasons.
So, with that as a somewhat logical foundation, here are three trade possibilities:
HOUSTON - The Astros have 33 year old Kaz Matsui playing second and hitting poorly. He is owed $5 million in 2010 and I am not sure if Houston thinks it is contender next year or not, but I still think it is a possibility.
In return for Callaspo, I would target outfielder Brian Bogusevic. The 25 year old is a former pitcher who converted to outfield just a year ago. Brian hit the ground running and posted a AA line of 371/447/556 in 51 games last season. In AAA this year, Bogusevic has respectable if unspectacular line of 277/353/375.
The Royals would be taking a risk that Bogusevic, with just 172 games of hitting under his belt, is going to blossom like a Rick Ankiel and not crash and burn like a Mike Stodolka. Maybe this is a bit light for Callaspo, but then again, I would like to envision a production Bogusevic batting fifth in 2010 than watching Callaspo hit there again next year.
DETROIT - Yes, I know all about the 'don't trade within the division' logic, but come on: we are talking about Alberto Callaspo here. The Tigers have Placido Palanco at second, a marvelous fielder with an ever declining bat who is headed toward free agency.
The Tigers might be content to try to resign Palanco (hoping that the rest of their bats can carry him) or they might be willing to wait on Scott Sizemore or Cale Iorg.
However, this is a first place team that expects to be in first again next year. Callaspo for all his defensive problems (and maybe Jim Leyland thinks he can make him competent) brings a solid bat that would look pretty good batting seventh in Detroit.
In return, would the Royals think 24 year old Casper Wells be enough? Wells is a muscular athlete who slugged .589 in AA in 2008, but is currently hitting 252/366/483 in his first full season at that level this year. Wells is more of a'2011' type guy, but has some pretty interesting upside potential.
Possibly the Royals would need another player to make this deal work, but Wells would immediately become the organization's best outfield prospect (or second behind David Lough, at least).
NEW YORK METS - Speaking of teams that expect to contend, meet the Mets. Injuries have destroyed this team in 2009, but they also have some holes, too. New York also has 33 year old Luis Castillo playing second base and owe him $12 million over the next two seasons.
While Castillo has had something of resurgence at the plate (.402 on-base percentage, .770 OPS) it is worth noting that he has posted an OPS better than Callaspo's .781 just once in his career...and that was back in 2000. Luis is also on his way to posting his second consecutive below average fielding number (-7.7 thus far).
Okay, let me say that right here, I start to go into a little bit of flight of fancy, but I'm curious to see what others might think of this.
The Royals are on the hook for $12 million to Jose Guillen (all in 2010), the Mets are on the hook for $12 million to Castillo over 2010 and 2011. What would the response be if the Royals offered Callaspo (remember, he's cheap and under team control) and Jose Guillen for Luis Castillo and, wait for it, Fernando Martinez.
Martinez, all of 20 years old, hit a stunning .176 in 100 major league plate appearances so far in 2009, but did post a solid 290/337/540 line in AAA (at age 20 mind you). He has moved quickly, too quickly probably, through the Mets' system having never played more than 86 games at any one level.
He is either THE top prospect in the system or one of the top the Mets have.
Does New York bite on this offer, hoping that Guillen might have enough of a resurgence hitting sixth in their lineup to help them back into contention in 2010? Maybe not, probably not, actually—not even if Dayton Moore publicly apologizes to the Mets for sticking them with Ambiriox Burgos.
What if Kansas City picks up a third of Guillen's salary? What if they threw in a minor league pitcher? Who would it have to be and would you make that move under those conditions?
Now, you might be wondering why the focus of my proposed trade efforts is arguably the team's second best hitter.
Well, Callaspo falls into the precarious position that so many other Royals also do: Everyday players who are better supporting cast than offensive core players. He is the worst defender on a bad defensive club who happens to occupy a position for which one can actually see a successor on the horizon (Jeff Bianchi).
I believe Callaspo has more value to a good team than he will provide to the Royals over the next two or three seasons. That makes him the focus of my first offseason trade, but certainly not the last.