Opinion

Ask Andy: Who should the Royals target at the trade deadline?

Oakland Athletics second baseman Ben Zobrist.
Oakland Athletics second baseman Ben Zobrist. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Is all well in the land of the Royals? Their rotation is beset with injuries, but otherwise, yes. The team has won eight of its last 10. The Royals own the best record in the American League. Ned Yost passed Whitey Herzog on Thursday for most managerial victories in franchise history. The latest balloting for the All-Star Game featured eight Royals starters.

So, yes, it is safe to say this is a good time for Kansas City baseball.

But there is still much to discuss. In our weekly edition of the Royals’ question-and-answer, we cover potential trade options, the latest update on prospect Sean Manaea and various other topics. Let’s get to it!

That cash will most likely be stockpiled for future contracts. The team will give raises to all their arbitration-eligible players this winter. I would expect they attempt to lock up players like Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas to long-term deals. They could try the same with Eric Hosmer, though that will be difficult. Alex Gordon can become a free agent this winter.

But the organization also should have the resources to absorb money in a way they did not in 2014. We wrote about this at the deadline last year, how a lack of financial resources handcuffed them in trades. I still don’t think the team will go after Cole Hamels, who is due $76 million over the next three seasons. But they should be able to afford a high-end rental, like Johnny Cueto.

Zobrist makes the most sense. Right now, in 2015, he is the best player of the three.

It is hard to imagine Kansas City making a serious pursuit of Brandon Phillips. He turns 34 next week and has not been an above-average big-league hitter for the past four seasons. He is owed $27 million combined in 2016 and 2017. Given the team’s financial commitment to Omar Infante, that’s a ton of money to throw at mediocre second basemen.

Utley had a Hall of Fame peak in Philadelphia, but he has fallen off a cliff in 2015. He entered Friday hitting .181. Like Phillips, Utley possesses a no-trade clause. He could use that as leverage involving the rest of his contract, which features a trio of vesting options worth $45 million for the next three seasons. There is little reason for the Royals to commit financially to a player like that.

So, Zobrist. He will be a free agent. He is still a solid hitter (108 OPS+) and a versatile defender. He could play second base and perhaps right fielder. The Royals could use him.

But so could 28 other teams. Zobrist figures to be one of the most popular commodities on the trading block. So Kansas City must build a package necessary to top the other offers. Do they want to sacrifice an asset like Raul Mondesi or Miguel Almonte or Sean Manaea for a couple months of Ben Zobrist? Because that’s what it might take.

Might as well ask Dayton Moore: How does an analysis of a player’s character fit into your player-acquisition process?

“It comes up constantly,” Moore said. “If there’s a medical question, the character always comes into that. Because: Is he going to push through things? If he does have an injury, is he going to work hard to overcome it through the rehab process. So the character analysis is in there.

“Obviously in the scouting and the analytical side, they have certainly an expectation or a judgment of a player. If the scout says a player’s expected to do A, B and C, the character part of that — if he’s out making poor choices off the field, it’s going to affect him on the field.”

He added, “It always comes back to the good character part of it. You’ve been in a lot of clubhouses. You can see what guys can do to disrupt the chemistry of a team.”

The Royals, especially here in 2015, do not have those issues. Moore also feels a responsibility, one issued to him by owner David Glass, to field a club of players who can be considered a credit to the community.

“Mr. Glass expects our players to uphold the integrity of the game,” Moore said. “He expects them to connect with the fans. He expects them to do the right things within to the community. And represent the organization and the game of baseball well.

“That’s the way we feel, also, as a leadership team. And that’s the way Ned feels. That’s what our players have come to expect.”

To chime in, from my perspective: All teams search for players in this view. Sometimes teams gamble. The Royals did, after all, once employ Jose Guillen. So I would not say that this organization is more pious than others, or cares about character more than others. But they have had more success with it than others. Which is an important distinction, but still a credit to the front office.

If there is a tipping point, the Royals are not even close to reaching it. And they probably shouldn’t be close to it. Holland earned his closer’s role, as he was pretty much the best reliever in the American League from 2011 to 2014. It will take a lot for him to lose that spot in the Kansas City bullpen. Considering he has blown only one save this year, that’s not a scenario that will unfold any time soon.

We outlined Holland’s issues relatively extensively last week. To sum up: His velocity is down, his command is worse, his strikeouts are fewer. A BABIP regression was looming. But as of this point, his troubles this season have not cost the Royals much. So there is no crisis here. Not yet.

I talked to assistant general manager J.J. Picollo this week. Sean Manaea was one topic of the conversation. He has fully recovered from his abdominal strain and groin issue. Manaea threw four innings in an extended-spring outing on Sunday.

“I saw part of it,” Picollo said. “He was pitching really good: 94, 95 mph . . . His breaking ball looked good. His change-up looked fine. He’s healthy.”

The next step for Manaea is a five-inning outing on Friday in an intrasquad game. He will stay at their temporary complex at Papago Park and pitch in a game in the Class A Arizona League. That outing should last 75 pitches.

Given that schedule, Manaea would finally break camp and pitch for one of the full-season affiliates on June 29 or June 30. The team has not yet decided where Manaea will begin the season, but it would likely involve a few starts with either Class A Lexington or Class A Wilmington before Manaea graduates to Class AA Northwest Arkansas.

Not in the playoffs.

Finn Balor, of course.

One day for breakfast last month, John made a corn beef and tater tot hash. It was criminal how good that tasted.

I saw Title Fight in March in Arizona with the legend Pete Moore. Good show. Merchandise opened. That’s a fun band.

Anyway, here’s a Title Fight top five off the top of my head:

1. “Shed.”

2. “Numb, But I Still Feel It.”

3. “Your Pain Is Mine Now.”

4. “Receiving Line.”

5. “Head In The Ceiling Fan.”

Right now? The Briscoes. I love that they turned down WWE because they want to manage their chicken farm and their landscaping business, and they felt NXT wasn’t a career-making opportunity. They are John Turturro in “Rounders.”

I also enjoy The Young Bucks. They are hilarious. I appreciate their irreverence, their horrible look and their high-spot addiction.

It’s going OK. I am trying to quit drinking Diet Coke. The gout is getting better. The All-Star Game should be fun to cover. I get to answer fun questions from readers each week. I can’t complain.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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