When the dust settles on this year’s MLB Trade Deadline, big names such as Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish will have relocated, and teams such as the Cubs, Yankees and Dodgers will be declared the winners of July.
But quietly, it’s been another playoff-contending team that has improved itself perhaps more than any other in baseball: the Kansas City Royals.
On Sunday, the Royals announced they had acquired White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera (quietly hitting .295/.336/.436 this year) in exchange for minor-leaguer pitchers A.J. Puckett (the No. 13 prospect in the Royals system) and Andre Davis.
We have acquired OF Melky Cabrera from the White Sox, in exchange for minor league pitchers AJ Puckett and Andre Davis. #Royals
— Kansas City Royals (@Royals) July 30, 2017
This trade is the Royals’ second of the past week, following the one that netted them starting pitcher Trevor Cahill and relievers Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter for pitchers Matt Strahm, Travis Wood and infield prospect Esteury Ruiz. And though none of the four players Kansas City has acquired is any sort of game-changer, they collectively provide upgrades at four roster spots.
The Royals’ biggest need entering the deadline was a No. 5 starting pitcher, after Nate Karns (4.17 ERA), Jake Junis (5.50), Travis Wood (6.91), Matt Strahm (5.45), Eric Skoglund (5.59) and Chris Young (7.50) all proved incapable of holding the role. In steps Cahill, a solid arm with good numbers in 2017 (3.69 ERA, 3.39 FIP entering the trade) and some playoff experience.
Kansas City’s second biggest hole was probably its bullpen, which has performed well this season but has also thrown a lot of innings and lacks a crew of established middle relievers. Enter Maurer and Buchter, both of whom have solid track records and high strikeout rates and provide some useful depth.
And their final notable hole was at corner outfielder. The Royals have gotten awful performance from longtime stalwart outfielder Alex Gordon, underwhelming production from DH Brandon Moss and so-so output from young right-fielder Jorge Bonifacio. Enter Cabrera, who has better numbers than Gordon and Moss and better pedigree than Bonifacio.
Quick thoughts: 1) Melky fills the Royals biggest need perfectly: a DH/LF, especially vs LHP. 2) Puckett's a name, but price was reasonable.
— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) July 30, 2017
As of Sunday afternoon, the Royals—pursuing one final postseason run before Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Jason Vargas all become free agents—find themselves 54-48, in position for the second wild card slot in the American League. Sure they’ve been outscored by two runs on the season, and sure FanGraphs’ BaseRuns formula suggests they’ve actually played like a 50-52 team, but their record is their record, and it puts them in strong position for a playoff spot.
Without the prospects to acquire one game-changing player at the deadline, they went after four solid ones. It’s not crazy to imagine Cahill could be a win better than the sub-replacement-level players he replaces, that Melky nets them a win by stepping in for Gordon, Moss and Bonifacio based on matchups and that Maurer and Buchter add a win by bolstering the middle-relief corps. And maybe those few wins make the difference as the Royals hunt a playoff berth in a wide open American League.