By dealing for a pair of minor-leaguers in Toronto’s system, Royals general manager Dayton Moore attempted to balance his roster, opened the door for a promotion for former first-round pick Christian Colon and delivered a vote of confidence for rebounding third baseman Mike Moustakas.
The team traded backup third baseman Danny Valencia to the Blue Jays for Class AAA catcher Erik Kratz and right-handed reliever Liam Hendriks. Colon received a call-up from Class AAA Omaha, and will join the club as a backup to second baseman Omar Infante and shortstop Alcides Escobar for the series against Minnesota that starts tonight at Kauffman Stadium.
Kratz replaces Brett Hayes as the backup to Salvador Perez. The Royals designated Hayes for assignment. Hendriks will go to Omaha as a swingman. But as Moore discussed the maneuvers on Monday evening, he focused on both Moustakas and Colon.
“Moose has played very well,” Moore told The Star in a telephone conversation. “We just felt we needed to add some depth to the middle infield. August is a very grueling month, a lot of baseball to be played.
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“As you know, it’s very hot in Kansas City. We just need to add some depth there to be able to spell Infante and Escobar from time to time. We felt it was a move that strengthened the depth of our roster.”
Colon fits the bill. He posted a .791 on-base-plus-slugging percentage for the Storm Chasers. He had four hits in 12 at-bats during a cameo with the Royals earlier this month. He can play three infield positions, and could spell Moustakas against left-handed pitchers, the role vacated by Valencia.
Those around Colon rave about his makeup, and in recent weeks, team officials mentioned how useful a player of his type could be. The Royals have made several moves to improve their clubhouse composition in recent weeks, which is one reason Raul Ibanez remains on the roster despite paltry production off the bench.
The Royals could have simply cut ties with Ibanez. Instead, they flipped Valencia, who had a .354 batting average and an .878 OPS against left-handed pitchers. Valencia now joins his fifth team since 2012.
“We made the best deal we could,” Moore said. “Like I said, we felt it was the right thing to do for our team.”
Toiling in the minor leagues at 34, Kratz cannot be considered a sizable upgrade over Hayes. But he provides more potential as a power hitter. He has hit 21 home runs in 501 big-league plate appearances, spread across five big-league seasons.
Despite enthusiastic internal reviews for his game-calling, Hayes was hitting a mere .135 in 27 games.
“We added some depth in the backup catching role with Kratz,” Moore said. “He’s a quality receiver, and can throw, and has got some power.”
That last piece of the puzzle is Hendriks, a 25-year-old with a 6.06 ERA in parts of four seasons for Minnesota and Toronto. He struck out 91 batters in 108 1/3 innings for Class AAA Buffalo this season, and will add to the Royals’ pitching depth in Omaha.
The non-waiver trade deadline expires at 3 p.m. Thursday, and the Royals remain in the market for upgrades. But they have reportedly backed off their pursuit of Philadelphia outfielder Marlon Byrd and Texas outfielder Alex Rios.
Byrd and Rios are considered the two prime outfield targets on the market. Either would fill the Royals’ right-field void, and both were scouted extensively by the team in recent weeks, according to people familiar with the situation.
But a series of factors complicate matters. Byrd possesses a no-trade clause which he has told reporters includes the Royals. Fox Sports reported Rios likewise can block a trade to Kansas City.
A no-trade clause does not presume a player does not want to go to a certain organization. But it does provide leverage for the player.
For Byrd to accept a deal to Kansas City, the team may have to guarantee his $8 million vesting option for 2016. Thus the Royals would be wedded to Byrd for two more years and $16 million dollars, all for a 36-year-old two years removed from a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and a .488 OPS.
Rios’ contract also features a $13.5 million team option for 2015. Considering payroll constraints, that is pricey sum for a player like Rios. He has not made an All Star team since 2007. He produces at about an average clip from a corner outfield position.
In addition, a belief persists among rival executives that the Royals do not intend to add sizable portions of salary this season. Moore has said before that the baseball operations department has clearance from ownership to spend more. But on Monday, he declined to speculate about the team’s upcoming moves.
“We’ll see,” Moore said. “We’ll see. We’re still working. Who knows?”