Final prediction: Cincinnati trades RHP Johnny Cueto and OF Marlon Byrd to Kansas City for SS Raul Mondesi, RHP Kyle Zimmer, and OF Jorge Bonifacio
After coming within one game of a title, the heat is on Royals fan-turned-GM Dayton Moore to land a bonafide ace.
In October of 1985, a 19-year old Royal fan named Dayton Moore watched his team clinch game 7 of the World Series - from a grassy knoll in between I-70 and the left field fence of Royals Stadium.
In October of 2014, likely with much-improved seating arrangements, Moore presided over the Royals' first postseason berth since that '85 season, along with an improbable run to within one win of a World Series title.
In July of 2015, Kansas City holds both the largest division lead in baseball, (6.5 games ahead of the Twins) along with the highest probability of winning their division in the American League. (80.4%, per fangraphs/coolstandings)
Moore's Royals are sitting prettily enough that they can upgrade the club with an eye towards games 1-3 of a potential ALDS. The problem is that KC's starting pitchers for those games would loosely project as Edinson Volquez, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie. It's a near-certainty that the Royals are surveying the trade market for a frontline starter, so let's examine the prospects they may choose to dangle this July, as well as which selling teams may be interested in what Dayton Moore is peddling.
1. Raul Mondesi, SS
Perhaps the Royals' most highly-regarded prospect, Mondesi's underwhelming offensive numbers throughout his minor league career are somewhat irrelevant to projecting what he could become. After being signed for $2 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Mondesi has been aggressively promoted to where he's currently a 19-year old playing in the AA Texas League, roughly three years younger than the average player at that level.
Raul's calling cards are defense, arm strength, and speed, so the pedestrian .247/.280/.399 slash line he currently sports for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals doesn't necessarily take any of his prospect shine away. Despite ugly K:BB ratios at every stop of his young career, Mondesi's bat is said to have some pop, with Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel suggesting 15 HR potential at his peak. If he can clean up the errors at shortstop and refine his plate approach - again, at 19 he has plenty of time - this is a player who'd have big value on the trade market for rebuilding teams.
With the Royals holding team options for the next two seasons on current shortstop Alcides Escobar ($5.2M in 2016, $6.5M in 2017), Moore could shop Mondesi as the headliner in a deal, knowing the position is set in KC for years to come while giving him time to restock the position through the draft and international signings.
2. Kyle Zimmer, RHP
Highlighting the Royals' pitching depth down on the farm are LHP Sean Manaea and RHP Kyle Zimmer. Both hurlers feature wipeout, frontline stuff when healthy and along with big frames, it's easy to project both as #2 starters down the line if they continue to progress.
There have been injury concerns with both players in the past, but the duo is currently healthy. Manaea was recently promoted to AA and has been used exclusively as a starter during his first 1.5 seasons of pro ball. On the flipside, Zimmer has been used this season as a multi-inning reliever for the AA team since returning on May 29th from a bout of shoulder soreness. This is purely speculative, but one wonders if part of the reason the Royals have been so cautious with Zimmer the past two months is to maintain his trade value, were he to be dealt to acquire an impact arm.
3. Jorge Bonifacio, OF
Ranked by most outlets as a top 10 prospect in the Kansas City system, Bonifacio is repeating AA in 2015 with middling results. On one hand, the .237 average and 92 strikeouts (in 329 ABs) indicate continued troubles with making contact. However, Emilio's younger brother has clubbed 15 homers on the season, already besting his career-high of 10.
Still just 22, Bonifacio is now on par age-wise with other players at the AA level. Now displaying his plus power in games to go with his plus arm, he could be a strong get for teams in need of a future RF.
Moore and the Royals have a number of options to explore when it comes to acquiring arms. Mid-rotation arms such as Gallardo, Kennedy, and Latos wouldn't cost KC as much on the prospect side, but the feeling is that a team with a playoff spot all but locked up and without a true ace will aim higher.
Two of the potential aces for sale happen to reside in the AL Central in David Price and Jeff Samardzija. Trades within the division do happen, but it's tough to see Dayton Moore jumping at the chance to strengthen the farm system of two rivals in exchange for a three-month rental. Cole Hamels remains eternally available, but his future salary obligations ($22.5M per year thru 2018, with a vesting option!) aren't a good match for the small-market Royals.
In my eyes, the best match for Kansas City brass is doing a deal with Walt Jocketty and the Reds for Johnny Cueto. All three prospects above seem to be a strong fit for the Reds; Mondesi adds a shortstop to a system that doesn't have much beyond Alex Blandino, Zimmer is a high-upside arm that could be paired with Robert Stephenson at the top of a rotation, and Bonifacio could be a replacement for Jay Bruce down the line. In giving up three well-regarded prospects, it's possible the Royals could also ask for a bat in return in case Alex Gordon isn't ready for October.