In public comments and private moments, Royals general manager Dayton Moore never appeared to waver from his natural instinct to press all in and lean on the accelerator in 2017.
On Monday afternoon, six days before the Major League Baseball trade deadline, Moore made good on that promise. In a move to fortify the pitching staff for the stretch run, the Royals acquired right-handed starter Trevor Cahill, right-handed reliever Brandon Maurer and left-handed reliever Ryan Buchter from the San Diego Padres in exchange for left-handed pitchers Travis Wood and Matt Strahm and minor-league infielder Esteury Ruiz.
To consummate the deal, the Royals will sending nearly $8 million to San Diego to cover most of the balance of Wood’s contract, a two-year deal that included $8 million for 2018 and a buyout in 2019. The maneuver will save the Royals roughly $1.5 million. Yet the real prize on Monday was the addition of Cahill, a veteran who will round out the Royals’ starting rotation, and two relievers who offer a combined six years of club control.
“We needed to make sure we strengthened our pitching staff,” Moore said. “Obviously, Trevor Cahill can slide into a spot in our rotation. And Ryan and Brandon help deepen our pen.”
Riding a five-game winning streak that left them 1 1/2 games out of first place and in position for the American League’s second wild-card spot, the Royals moved fast, addressing two needs in one trade. They acquired depth for the rotation and reinforcements for the bullpen. They signaled their desire to aggressively compete for a playoff spot in the final season before Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar become free agents.
Cahill, 29, posted a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts for the rebuilding Padres, emerging as a possible trade asset after a shoulder strain forced him to the disabled list in May. He projects as a veteran capable of being a league average starter — or perhaps something slightly better — a rotation upgrade after a season-ending injury to Nathan Karns forced Wood into spot starts.
A 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander who relies on a sinker and a curveball, Cahill developed into an All-Star starter after debuting with the Oakland A’s in 2009. Yet, his career began to stall in 2014 following two strong seasons in Arizona and he bounced around the league in 2015. He spent most of the 2016 season as a reliever with the Chicago Cubs and signed with the Padres last offseason before elevating his stock with a solid first half.
Cahill will join a rotation fronted by Danny Duffy and Jason Vargas and buttressed by Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. The rest of the haul could help lift the bullpen. Maurer, 27, is a hard-throwing right-hander who has served as the Padres’ closer this season, converting 20 of his 23 save opportunities, including 15 straight since May 28. Buchter, 30, has made 42 relief appearances, posting a 3.05 ERA. Maurer is under control for two more seasons after this one. Buchter is not set to become a free agent until 2022.
“We’ve tried to be very clear since last year,” Moore said. “The deals that we want to make not only hopefully strengthen us in the now, but also give us more depth and better balance in the future.”
To acquire a starter and two relievers, the Royals were forced to part ways with Strahm, a promising left-hander who starred in the bullpen late last season, and Ruiz, an 18-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic who is batting .419 with a 1.219 OPS (on-base-plus- slugging percentage) in 21 games in the Arizona Rookie League.
Strahm, 25, spent most of this season in the bullpen before undertaking an unsuccessful stint in the starting rotation. His season ended when he tore the patellar tendon in his left knee during a game against the Minnesota Twins on July 1.
“It’s never easy trading young players,” Moore said. “Matty Strahm has a terrific future. We hated parting with Ruiz as well. He’s tearing up the Arizona Rookie League. We really like his ability to hit. But he’s several years away, at least three or four. So it makes sense to move forward on this deal.”
By including Wood in the deal, the Royals cleared a roster spot and gained a modest bit of salary relief in 2018. Wood, 30, signed a two-year, $12 million deal during spring training before suffering through a woeful start in the bullpen. He appeared to settle in in June, posting a 1.64 ERA in relief before allowing 12 runs in 13 innings across three starts in July.
The deal became official Monday afternoon, in the hours before the Royals opened a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
In the minutes after the trade was announced, the Royals also recalled left-hander Brian Flynn from Class AAA Omaha and designated for assignment reliever Al Alburquerque and right-hander Luke Farrell, who was pitching at Omaha. The package of pitchers from San Diego is expected to join the Royals here in Detroit.
“We’re very much in the thick of a pennant race in our division,” Moore said. “Every game is important, and so we felt if we could execute a deal sooner than later, the better off we’d be. Because oftentimes, it comes down to the last week.”
The Royals entered Monday a game and a half behind the Cleveland Indians and a game in front of the Minnesota Twins, who landed veteran starter Jaime Garcia in a deal earlier in the afternoon. More than two months after the season appeared a shambles after a disastrous April, the Royals are doing what they said they would. They are going for it — so the front office rewarded its players with pieces for another run.
“We’ve always felt good about this group of players,” Moore said. “Baseball as we know is unpredictable. You go through different phases throughout the season. It seems like in the past our team either gets really hot together or they’ve gotten cold at the same time. But what they have proved in the past and (are) proving again this year is they can weather the storm.”