As Latin music pulsed out of a clubhouse stereo on Monday afternoon, Edinson Volquez sauntered across the room and paused in front of his locker, breaking into an impromptu dance. A few minutes later, Kendrys Morales appeared in the room, toting a bat in his hands.
Inside a clubhouse here at Tropicana Field, a collection of Royals had gathered in the hours before a series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. All around this room were signs of status quo. The same faces remained. The lineup was largely unchanged. As baseball’s nonwaiver trade deadline came and went at 3 p.m., the Royals held pat, occupying the thin space between buyers and sellers.
On the heels of a brutal July, with his club 12 games out of first place and 8 1/2 games behind the second wild card spot, Royals general manager Dayton Moore elected to stay the course. In practical terms, that meant Volquez and Morales, two pending free agents, remained on the roster. In a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon, Moore said the Royals found no deals that made sense for club's plans in both the short term and the long term.
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“Obviously, we’ve had a very disappointing and rough July,” Moore said. “I’m glad it’s behind us. That being said, today, and the last 72 hours, we just didn’t feel there was anything that drastically improved our team.”
Moore was speaking of his current 25-man roster, but his comments were not limited to 2016. Seven days earlier, the Royals' general manager said he would not “dismember” his team just because they had players who could become free agents. He stressed the important of winning games at the major-league level and positioning the roster for 2017. He reiterated the stance on Monday.
The Royals believe their window to compete extends through at least next season. A core of key pieces, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Danny Duffy, among others, are set to become free agents after the 2017 season. The same core was largely responsible for consecutive American League pennants in 2014 and 2015, club officials say. Given better health, improved starting pitching and more consistent production from their core, the Royals believe they are positioned for another run next season.
In that context, Moore said the Royals did not find offers that made sense. Whatever was offered for Morales and Volquez, Moore said it was not worth unloading a starting pitcher or a designated hitter with two months remaining in the season.
“Wins are very important, and that’s how we’ve always tried to conduct our business,” Moore said. “We’ve never tried to build for the future in a way that would lessen our major-league team and put us in a position where we're losing or have no chance to win games.
“So we just felt that we trust our players; they've done an outstanding job getting to us to a point [where] we've won, and we want to give them a chance to dig back out of this mess that we're in.”
In the days before the deadline, the Royals found the market for Morales underwhelming. In the case of Volquez, the club could afford to be cautious as it positions itself for 2017. At 32 years old, Volquez entered Monday with an 8-9 record and 4.70 ERA in 2016. The performance comes on the heels of a solid season in 2015, his first with the Royals. His current contract contains a mutual option worth $10 million for 2017.
Volquez is likely to decline the option and become a free agent. But the Royals can counter by proffering a “qualifying offer,” which is projected to be around $16.7 million next season. If Volquez accepts, the team would have a veteran pitcher on a one-year deal, a potentially satisfying result for an organization starved for starting pitching. If he turns down the offer, the club would collect another draft pick in the compensatory portion of the first round.
Moore declined to say whether the Royals would give Volquez a qualifying offer. “We’ll see,” he said. But he conceded the idea played into the club’s thinking.
“Well, we’re going to need pitching, and we like Edinson a great deal,” Moore said. “He’s performed well for us and he’s pitched a lot of big games.”
In addition, the Royals’ war chest of possible trade chips thinned out in the days leading up to the deadline. Reliever Luke Hochevar was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and is expected to undergo season-ending in the coming weeks. Closer Wade Davis landed on the disabled list on Sunday with a flexor strain in his right forearm.
Hochevar, who also has a mutual option for 2017, will likely become a free agent after the season. His performance had declined over the month of July, but if healthy, he projected as a natural target for contenders seeking relief help.
Davis, meanwhile, could have potentially netted a sizable return — a shutdown reliever available in a market friendly to sellers. But the prospect of a deal seemed remote, even before he suffered another forearm injury.
In the weeks leading up to the deadline, the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers were among teams that reportedly expressed cursory interest in Davis. In recent days, the New York Yankees unloaded relievers Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs and Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians, each trade bringing premium prospects in return. The Yankees’ roster, of course, is in a different state than the Royals. And Davis could be a central part to a possible run in 2017. But even then, Moore indicated that the offers for Hochevar and Davis weren’t necessarily there.
“We didn’t necessarily pursue deals with those guys that you mentioned,” Moore said of Hochevar and Davis. “Again, our focus is on trying to get back to the playoffs.”
As the Royals convened here at Tropicana Field on Monday afternoon, manager Ned Yost prepared for a quiet deadline. Volquez had been linked to both the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros. But as the clock struck 3 p.m., he was still here.
“I made it, boy,” Volquez said, smiling.
Nearly 30 minutes later, Moore spoke of giving his players an opportunity to dig out of their sizable hole. At this point, another playoff run would require a near historic run during the final two months. But on Monday, Moore spoke of doing just that. Hope, in some form, remained.
So as the trade deadline approached, the Royals mulled offers and charted a course for 2017. On Saturday, they sent outfielder Brett Eibner to Oakland for center fielder Billy Burns. Two days later, they felt the best course was nothing.
“If indeed we felt there was a deal that made good sense for us, we would have” made it, Moore said.