Royals save $5 million, get two pitchers in deal that sends Brandon Moss to Oakland

The Royals traded Brandon Moss to Oakland on Monday.
The Royals traded Brandon Moss to Oakland on Monday.

In a move to clear salary, bolster rotation depth and possibly prep for the biggest free-agent signing in club history, the Royals on Monday traded first baseman Brandon Moss and left-handed reliever Ryan Buchter to the Oakland A’s in exchange for right-hander Jesse Hahn and minor-league right-hander Heath Fillmyer.

The deal represented the Royals’ latest cost-cutting maneuver as they continue to pursue free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Royals sent $3.25 million to Oakland, saving $5 million of the remaining $8.25 million on Moss’ two-year contract. The trade came just hours after the team officially re-signed shortstop Alcides Escobar to a one-year, $2.5 million deal that could pay him up to $4 million this season.

“The economic part of it is very real to us,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore told The Star on Monday evening.

The Royals have spent much of the winter attempting to trim payroll, listening to offers on multiple relievers. The goal has been flexibility — for the future and for a possible deal with Hosmer. They dumped $9 million earlier this month while dealing reliever Joakim Soria to the White Sox and Scott Alexander to the Dodgers in a three-team trade. On Monday, they paired Moss, an underachieving slugger with one year remaining on his contract, with Buchter and gained more financial flexibility.

The savings could be used in an aggressive offer for Hosmer, who is a free agent for the first time and expected to command a long-term deal that could approach $140 million. The Royals are believed to have made an offer close to that number. The only other public suitor has been the San Diego Padres. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Padres’ offer for Hosmer is less lucrative.

Yet Moore remained noncommittal on Monday when asked if he expected any free agent signings in the weeks before spring training.

“We’ll see,” he said. “These things are unpredictable. I don’t have anything for you right now.”

The market for Hosmer, 28, has remained stagnant amidst a wider freeze in baseball’s offseason free-agent market. The Royals, though, have remained patient as they move into the early stages of a franchise rebuild.

The process began this offseason with an internal directive from Moore to restock the farm system. It continued on Monday when the club acquired Hahn, an injury-prone starter who posted a 5.59 ERA across the last two seasons, and Fillmyer, 23, whom Moore described as a “young projection starter.”

Hahn, 28, began his career with promise, posting a 3.23 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 170 innings in 2014 and 2015. Armed with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and a curveball with significant movement, he appeared ready to become a rotation staple in Oakland. But he battled elbow issues in 2015 before being slowed by shoulder and triceps injuries in 2016 and 2017, respectively. He logged just 116 innings in 2016 and 2017. He became available this winter because he was out of options and unlikely to make the A’s opening day roster. Moore said Hahn would compete for a spot in the Royals’ rotation this spring.

“He’s got really good stuff,” Moore said. “He’s had some bad luck with some injuries. He’ll get going, be really dominant. He’s had some setbacks injurywise. But we feel really comfortable.”

Fillmyer, 23, recorded an 11-5 record with a 3.49 ERA at Class AA Midland in 2017. A fifth-round pick in 2014, he has a career 3.78 ERA in 392  2/3 innings in the minor leagues. He was added to the A’s 40-man roster this offseason. He will likely offer rotation depth while starting the year in the minors, Moore said.

For now, the addition of Hahn gives the Royals an assortment of back-end-of-the-rotation options as spring training looms in a matter of weeks. With Danny Duffy headlining the rotation, and Ian Kennedy returning for a third season, Hahn will compete for a spot with a group that includes Nathan Karns, Trevor Oaks and Jakob Junis.

The rotation is also expected to include veteran Jason Hammel, though he could also find himself as a casualty of a another salary-dumping trade. Hammel, 35, is owed $11 million entering the second season of a two-year, $16 million contract. Yet as Moore executed a deal on Monday, he reiterated that no such trades were imminent.

“If the right situation comes along,” he said. “As you know, I’ve made our objectives really clear. We want to rebuild our farm system, and we’re certainly focused on managing our payroll more efficiently going forward.”

The club has stated that its payroll will likely be somewhere in the $105 million to $110 million range in 2018. The current projections — before a possible Hosmer signing — approach that number.

Moss, 34, is returning to Oakland, where he excelled early in his career, after batting .207 with 128 strikeouts in 118 games last seasons. Buchter, 30, posted a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings last season after being acquired from San Diego in a midseason trade. He will make close to the league minimum this season and is under club control for another four years.