On Tuesday evening, a pair of relievers skipped down a long flight of stairs and appeared inside the first-base dugout at Comerica Park. In their first moments as Royals, as the bottom of the second against the Detroit Tigers played out on the field, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter looked around and surveyed the scene. They stopped for a moment, offering introductions to manager Ned Yost. They said hi to pitching coach Dave Eiland. They continued down to the rest of the dugout, shaking hands with new teammates — some of whom they’d never met.
In the annals of baseball greetings, the mid-game arrival on Tuesday occupied the vague the space between rare novelty and galvanizing moment. In the background, their new teammates continued a pennant race. In one run through a dugout, they had joined it.
“That was really different,” Maurer said, standing in his new clubhouse one day later. “But they were all happy to see us.”
Maurer and Buchter were late because they had been in San Diego the evening before, when news broke of a six-player trade between the Padres and Kansas City. The deal came on a Monday, a week before the non-waiver trade deadline, because Royals general manager Dayton Moore opted to jump the market and strengthen his pitching staff.
In one fell swoop, the Royals acquired Maurer, Buchter and starting pitcher Trevor Cahill in exchange for Matt Strahm, Travis Wood and Esteury Ruiz. In one deal, the club had filled a hole in the starting rotation and acquired two relievers for the stretch run.
Three days later, Moore reiterated that the deal made sense for his club — both now in the future. But as the Royals prepared to open a three-game series in Boston on Friday night, a simple question remained: Is Moore done dealing?
“We really like our team,” Moore told The Star on Thursday. “We feel that this current group has the ability to compete and win in our division, and go deep in the playoffs. I believe in this group. Do I think our roster can be improved upon? Of course.”
The non-waiver trade deadlines looms on Monday, which means the rumor mill is likely to churn all weekend. On Thursday, the Royals were continually linked to Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano, a veteran left-hander with a 5.99 ERA in 17 starts. In a report from Jon Morosi of MLB Network, the Royals and Blue Jays were discussing a trade while other teams remained involved.
Moore declined to confirm the interest in Liriano. Yet he indicated that the Royals were not close to any deals as of Thursday evening.
“We don’t have anything in the works right now,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean things couldn’t come together very quickly. The landscape of the game changes each and every day.”
The addition of Cahill appears to have filled out the starting rotation, with the veteran right-hander sliding in behind Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. Yet the Royals, like most organizations, covet pitching depth.
The Royals could opt to use Liriano out of the bullpen — or as cover for a second-half injury in the rotation. For now, though, they currently possess three lefties — Mike Minor, Scott Alexander and Buchter — in an eight-man bullpen.
Liriano, 33, is in his 12th major-league season after starting his career in Minnesota in 2005. In 2016, he began his year with the Pittsburgh Pirates before being dealt to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline. In the months after the deal, he posted a 2.92 ERA in 10 appearances, including eight starts, helping the Blue Jays to the playoffs — and eventually the American League Championship Series.
This season, however, Liriano has been dogged by command problems, issuing 4.9 walks per nine innings. In his last five starts he has posted a 7.40 ERA. Advanced metrics — including a 4.99 FIP, or fielder independent pitching — suggest he has pitched better than his ERA. But he has only resembled his best self in spurts.
For now, the Royals’ roster appears mostly set for the second half. On Thursday, they optioned reliever Kevin McCarthy back to Class AAA Omaha, leaving eight relievers in the pen. They did not make a corresponding move, sparking a modest bit of intrigue.
The Royals could eventually return to a three-man bench. However, outfielder Paulo Orlando and infielder Cheslor Cuthbert — who suffered a foot contusion on Tuesday — have both been returned from their rehab assignment. Both remain on the disabled list and will have their rehab clocks reset.
The club could also elect to add an element of late-game speed to the fold, though outfielder Billy Burns is not yet eligible to return after being demoted last Saturday.
The Royals will continue to monitor the market, Moore said. That search includes the possible pursuit of additional pitching depth. It could also extend to other corners of the roster. Maybe a veteran utility player or outfielder with speed? What about a potential veteran corner outfielder who could also fill in at DH? At the moment, only rumors.
On the whole, Royals officials feel comfortable with the roster, and Moore points to the weeks after the trade deadline, when players that pass through waivers are still eligible to be dealt. In that way, Moore says, the trade deadline is an artificial deadline to improve your team. Either way, it arrives on Monday.
“I like our team,” Moore said. “I don’t know if we’ll do anything else or make any additions. But I’m comfortable with the current group.”