Closer Joakim Soria would be prized on the trade market
In recent years the Kansas City Royals have become know as sellers at the trade deadline and in the offseason, moving veteran players in exchange for a never-ending string of prospects. The strategy is simple but not all that effective when it comes to being competitive for the postseason.
However, the club is slowly building up a core of talented players who are young enough to stick around for a few years before moving on. As examples, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and starting pitcher Danny Duffy are all 22 or younger.
The Royals have become adept at filling in the gaps with moderately-priced free agents and role players, and if they can continue that success, the team should be in a surprisingly good position within the next couple of years.
But to maximize their shot at making the playoffs sometime soon, the Royals need to capitalize on their current crop of sell-high candidates. Here are five players who, if properly shopped, could net K.C. nice returns in 2011.
Through 10 appearances, Paulino is sporting a very respectable 3.86 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The 27-year-old righty picked a good time to start performing well; he'll be eligible for arbitration next season.
While he's improved each year since his 2007 big league debut, Paulino is unlikely to get much better. This could be his peak, and it's certainly his last year as a six-figure pitcher. Do the Royals really want to cough up a million or two for a guy who could very well be back in the 4.50 range next year?
In a trade market that is relatively thin on starting pitching, even a back-of-rotation arm like Paulino could bring back a prospect or two.
Like Paulino, the 30-year-old veteran Jeff Francis is potential trade bait whose future with the Royals is up in the air. A free agent after this season, Francis could be moving on unless he's willing to take another short-term deal similar to this year's $2 million salary.
Considering that much of his career was spent at Coors Field, Francis' lifetime numbers aren't all that bad. He won't cause a bidding war, but the Royals could probably wrangle a mid-level prospect out of a team looking for pitching depth.
With a 4.65 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, Francis has been slightly below average. But he's capable of maintaining an ERA right around the 4.00 mark if he can avoid streaky play.
Frenchy has stated that he'd prefer to stay in Kansas City, but teams like the Red Sox have expressed interest in adding him as offensive depth. And next year's $4 million mutual option would represent a lot of dough to a team like the Royals.
Would they bring him back? It's possible. But Francoeur is only 28, and has some upside in terms of power.
That is a selling point in the current market, and teams in need of a right-handed bat could do worse than Francoeur's .775 OPS and 13 home runs.
According the ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, the Royals indicated a desire for "near-ready" pitching prospects in exchange for their outfielder, which may be tricky to get. But a deal could still happen, and if it does, Francoeur could be a solid bat off the bench for a contender.
It's easy to overlook Cabrera, but players who make the big leagues in their early 20's and are still around five or six years later tend to have pretty nice careers.
Cabrera is enjoying a career year at age 26, and his $1.25 million salary will likely shoot up significantly in arbitration next season. Of course, the Royals could avoid that by extending him, but will they invest?
If Melky is seen as too costly, he'd make a nice trade piece for teams seeking a reliable bat. The center fielder plays decent defense at a tough position, has 12 homers and 14 stolen bases in what has become a nice power/ speed combo, and sports a .786 OPS.
The 27-year-old Soria is by far K.C.'s most valuable bargaining chip. A proven closer with a career 2.23 ERA, he's widely regarded as one of the game's more desirable relievers.
Early-season struggles have given way to a rebound, and Soria has positioned himself well should the Royals elect to move him. He's under the Royals' control through 2014, but at a price; the team holds three options totaling nearly $23 million.
At the start of the 2011 season there was a lot of trade talk surrounding Soria. That's cooled of late, and the thought is that Royals might hang onto him for another year. But $6 million next year is a lot to shell out.
Don't be shocked if this valuable commodity is dealt before the deadline. And if that does happen, some team's bullpen will get a major upgrade that could impact the playoff race.