Welcome back to the 29 trades in 29 days series. Every day, I will be taking a look at a new MLB team in an effort to find a trade package that makes sense for the Kansas City Royals to hypothetically pursue. For some ground rules and an example, check out the first installment of the series. Today, let's continue our run with the National League West as I examine a possible trade involving the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Tanking is a controversial topic in sports, but I don’t think the D-Backs were trying to do so this year — I think they were just that bad of a baseball team. When the Royals were at their absolute lowest point this season, you could always take solace in the fact that at least they weren’t Arizona.
Much like the Mets, the Diamondbacks only have one player of interest the Royals should take a look at. However, it might require taking on another player to make this trade happen but it is a necessary sacrifice to get a massive upgrade.
Arizona Diamondbacks Receive: UTIL Whit Merrifield, RHP Jackson Kowar, SS Peyton Wilson
Kansas City Royals Receive: UTIL Ketel Marte and SS Nick Ahmed
No matter how you slice it, Marte would be an upgrade over Merrifield for the Royals in about every way possible outside of defense. Age-wise, Marte is five years younger than Merrifield. Contract-wise, he’s under control for longer than Merrifield and will make less money in 2023 than he will. Finally, offensively, there is no real contest. When healthy, Marte has proven to be one of the best overall hitters in baseball, putting up an OPS of over .900 twice in the past three years.
It's the "when healthy" part that is a bit of a concern, as Marte was dealing with a nagging hamstring injury that only allowed him to play in just 90 games this season. I would, however, chalk that hamstring issue up as something that could’ve been resolved if the Diamondbacks would have kept Marte at his natural position at second base. This should be something the Royals should have no problem doing, seeing as ditching Merrifield opens up that position.
Merrifield has been good for Kansas City on some very bad teams, but it's probably time for him to find a new place to call home. He’s getting older, his bat is starting to fall off and the Royals very well could buy him out in 2023 to make room for a new Andrew Benintendi contract. With one realistic year left to trade him, the Royals should pursue that avenue.
Wilson is a recent draft pick for the Royals out of the University of Alabama who profiles as a do-it-all utility man with his speed and defense giving him the ability to play in the middle of the infield or patrol a corner outfield spot. Currently, though, the Royals have a similar prospect on the horizon in Nick Loftin. Loftin probably offers more offensive upside, which makes this possible top-10 Royals prospect more tradeable than others.
Wilson is more toolsy than the typical second baseman, and his speed earns plus-plus grades from some scouts. He's compact but strong and makes hard contact to all fields from both sides of the plate. He has surprising pop for a 5-foot-9 guy but will have to tone down his aggressiveness a bit in pro ball, where he profiles more as a tablesetter than as a slugger.
If he doesn't hit enough to be a regular at the next level, Wilson has the ability to play almost anywhere on the field as a utilityman. He has good instincts, range and hands at second base, where his well-above-average arm is stronger than most at the position. He's also a quality center fielder and a capable catcher, and he might be worth a look at shortstop, though all of his early appearances with the Royals have been at second thus far.
Kowar has been a fixture in these trade articles for a while and although I wouldn’t consider his inclusion as me giving up on him, his results from this season do make him the likeliest player to be traded from this young staff. The D-Backs are in desperate need of young pitching and if they'd prefer a pitcher like Daniel Lynch be included in the deal, fine. It would mean dropping this anchor from the deal, though.
Ahmed’s twilight has come a lot faster than anticipated, as his already meek offensive numbers took a drastic decline this year — his slash of .221/280/.339 and OPS+ of 67 were below his career average. However, when you consider his career slash (.236/.291/.380) and OPS+ (76), it highlights just how dire things have become. Ahmed is also slated to make over $7M next year and over $10M in 2023, which might be one of the worst contracts in baseball.
If the Royals were to outright release Ahmed after completing this trade, it wouldn’t surprise me. Royals fans shouldn’t look at this as picking up a bad contract, but rather as paying Marte what he’s worth. Marte is probably worth $15 million or even $20M a season and if we combine both Marte’s and Ahmed’s contracts into the deal, that’s exactly what is being paid.
While the Diamondbacks' farm system is borderline top-10, the bulk of their guys aren’t going to be ready until Marte is in the final year of his deal. Simply put, it makes no sense to have a player of Marte’s caliber on the roster when the club isn't going to be ready to win until 2025. Trading Marte is an inevitability for Arizona, and the Royals should make a decent run at acquiring this hidden gem of a superstar before a big-market team like the Yankees or Dodgers sweeps in to make it happen themselves.