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 wrap up our run with the National League East as I examine a possible trade involving the New York Mets.
The more and more I do these trades, the more I realize that what the Royals pulled off with the Tampa Bay Rays in acquiring James Shields was a move that wouldn’t be well received today. The Royals traded the prospect of the year (Wil Myers) and a couple of their top pitching prospects (Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery) to the top non-playoff team for arguably their fourth-best starting pitcher in James Shields and a throw-in bullpen arm in Wade Davis.
The modern-day equivalent of that trade would be:
- Toronto Blue Jays Receive: Bobby Witt Jr., Asa Lacy, Jackson Kowar
- Kansas City Royals Receive: Jose Berrios, Tim Mayza
This would be an absolute atrocious overpay for the Royals and rightly would be torn asunder by the fan base. However, the Shields trade helped build a championship team for the Royals, so this part largely gets ignored. If the Royals are going to trade top players and prospects, they should be going after the big fishes. There is only one fish in Queens that the Royals should pursue.
The Mets can’t seem to figure out anything when it comes to running a baseball team, as they are currently still looking for a new manager and general manager to help lead a team that has been rudderless since 2016. They have an endless supply of cash with new owner Steve Cohen and are in the same market as the New York Yankees, however, the Mets always seem to get it wrong in the end. Signing Francisco Lindor should’ve been an absolute coup for them but by the end of the season, he was “booing the fans" with teammate Javy Baez.
This leaves the Mets in a tricky spot, as they have only a handful of quality-rated prospects and their farm system currently sits in the mid-20s ranking-wise. Even though they have money to spend, the Yankees will always be the bigger draw so trying to spend like the big brother in the Bronx isn’t going to net New York anything but overpaid players they don't want.
For example, the 2021 Royals had a 26-man payroll of $52,514,932 and finished with a record of 74-88. The Mets, by comparison, had over $54M committed to just Lindor and Robinson Cano this season. The Mets only won three more games than the Royals. They need a change of identity and to do that, it’ll require moving the face of the franchise to get back top prospects. Luckily for them, the Royals can offer that in spades with a top-five farm system in all of baseball.
New York Mets Receive: P Asa, Lacy, P Jackson Kowar, P Brad Keller, SS Nicky Lopez
Royals Receive: P Jacob deGrom
When I started this series, I set ground rules that Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and M.J. Melendez were all off the table. I left out Lacy because of this exact trade. If there’s one player the Royals should consider moving their top pitching prospect and one of their best hitters for, it’s deGrom — who is the best pitcher in baseball without question. Under normal circumstances, the Mets might not consider trading their ace, but seeing as he’s halfway through his contract and just missed most of the season with an elbow injury, they might be willing to play ball.
Lacy was taken with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft and is currently ranked as the Royals' third overall prospect, trailing behind only Witt and Pratto. His pitch mix is also superb, featuring a plus fastball-slider combination and a changeup that if developed properly, could be the key to him being a front-line starter. The main issue for him is his control, which is why his ERA was a little bloated this year in Single-A. With all of that said, the talent is without a doubt there.
Lacy attacks hitters with a 92-97 mph fastball while using his 6-foot-4 frame to create angle towards the plate. He uses two distinct breaking balls, with his harder, upper-80s slider surpassing his downer curveball during his junior season and becoming a true plus pitch. He can pile up whiffs with both pitches, as well as a fading changeup that is a consistent plus offering and well-above-average at its best.
Kowar, despite his struggles this season, was still ranked inside the top-100 prospects at the beginning of the year and like Lacy, his control will ultimately be the thing that determines his future as a pro. Throw in the maddeningly inconsistent but usually healthy Keller to the mix, and you have yourself a pitching package that could tempt the Mets into listening to the offer.
To get this deal over the top, the Royals will have to offer a player that can create immediate and tangible results for New York. That’s where Lopez fit’s in. The Mets ran Jeff McNeil out at second base for the majority of 2021, and he posted a batting average of .251 and an OPS+ of 88. His breakout season in 2019 looks flukier by the day. Lopez offers a potential offensive and defensive upgrade for the Mets, as he was one of the best defensive infielders in the league last season while leading the Royals in both batting average and OBP.
How you feel about trading Lopez all depends on how you feel about his ability to hit for a high average once again, because his .300 average this year was quite the step up from his .201 batting average last year and his .240 average in 2019. Lopez doesn’t generate a lot of hard contact or a lot of fly balls, which is more than obvious if you check out his Baseball Savant page.
While that might suit his skill set that consists of mostly speed and contact, a quote from the legendary baseball movie Bull Durham illustrates the Royals' conundrum.
“You know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. Twenty-five hits in 500 at-bats is 50 points, OK? There’s six months in a season. That’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball — a ground ball with eyes! — you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”
-Crash Davis (Bull Durham)
This is ultimately the choice the Royals will have to make when it comes to Lopez and if they don’t feel like he can duplicate his offensive success from this year they might be able to package him in a trade with a team that does believe he can get that extra “dying quail” a week.
As far as the contract is concerned, it’s a lot of money for the Royals to take on. deGrom is set to make $30 million or more over the next three years of his deal, which would make him the highest-paid player on the team by miles. On the other hand, I doubt the Royals could add more value to their team this year for $30M if they went out and tried to acquire their standard free-agent haul of over-the-hill veterans.
The Royals are about to pay roughly two-thirds of deGrom’s contract value to the likes of Carlos Santana and Mike Minor this season, so why not put that money to much better use? None of the players the Royals would be giving away will have more individual value than deGrom, but the total value might make up for it.
If the Royals were to do this trade, its success can not be measured in awards. Whether or not deGrom would win a Cy Young award in KC has no point if the Royals don’t make the playoffs with him. For the Mets, it gives them an opportunity to get younger, shed some payroll and rebuild a farm system so that they can try to build a proper contender in Queens.
This would be another version of the Shields trade and, unlike the first time, the package the Royals are giving away will actually match the player that they are going to receive.