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The Royals Were Transactional Yet Still Fell Short at Deadline

Kansas City made plenty of moves, but did they prove to be the right ones?

The book on the 2022 MLB trade deadline has officially been shut, and the Kansas City Royals did a lot of good things this summer. They lived up to the famous (or infamous) "transactional" tag that has been attached to the organization in the recent past. Let's start with that.

That transactional nature kicked off way back in late June, a month and change before the deadline even arrived. Kansas City got things going by trading aging first baseman Carlos Santana for Wyatt Mills and William Fleming. That move has proven to be far from a difference-maker yet, but Mills has pitched big-league innings already and is under team control for quite a while. That's something for a player that was giving the club next to nothing until his pre-trade hot streak.

Just in time for the 2022 MLB Draft, the Royals sent their Competitive Balance Round A pick, No. 35 overall, to the Atlanta Braves for a package featuring their former top prospect. The early returns for that swap are already paying huge dividends, and that's a massive plus if trends hold. Instead of using that pick on one player with poor odds of becoming a valuable big-league contributor, Kansas City gets three cracks at finding a gem now. Yet again, another wise move.

One of the club's big fish, left fielder Andrew Benintendi, was shipped to the New York Yankees for — you guessed it — a trio of prospects. All three arms that came back to the Royals have potential, and one of them had an impressive outing on Tuesday. Two of the three rank in the club's top 25 prospects now. Giving up cash considerations in exchange for Seattle Mariners pitcher Anthony Misiewicz has the potential to lead to a playable bullpen arm. Moving off of pieces such as Emmanuel Rivera and Cam Gallagher and opting for help in the bullpen and outfield is sound logic. That's a lot to do in one trade season, and that's not even all. 

As Tuesday afternoon morphed into Tuesday evening, right at the 6:00 p.m. EST buzzer, the news broke that the Royals traded utility man Whit Merrifield to the Toronto Blue Jays. In return, the organization now has a top 25 prospect who has minor similarities to Merrifield and a top 15 prospect who has already made his MLB debut on the mound this year and has seen decent success in 2022. That proved to be the club's biggest move of the day with a more-than-decent haul heading back in return, and it undoubtedly contributed to being transactional. 

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The problem is that the Royals also left multiple opportunities on the table.

Despite the reliever market reportedly being dry less than a week before the deadline, players such as Jorge Lopez, Scott Effross and Josh Hader were all traded from their teams and brought back significant hauls. Scott Barlow, the Royals' best reliever and one of the best closers in the sport, stayed put despite having two more years of club control. The return for Barlow surely would have been significant, yet general manager J.J. Picollo opted against moving him.

Josh Staumont isn't close to the bullpen arm that Barlow is but when he's at his best, he's a downright force to deal with. Brad Keller is a 27-year-old starter who can slot directly into the end of a playoff-caliber rotation and pitch adequately for the next season-and-a-half. Michael A. Taylor plays a good center field and is enjoying perhaps the best season of his career at the plate. The market for all four of the aforementioned players heated up on Tuesday, but all four remain Royals. The argument for keeping them around is somewhat sound — someone has to play — but it also made a ton of sense to move them.

Barlow is a premier pitcher who could have been the cherry on top of the Royals' farm system rebuild. He also likely won't be around once the team is ready to contend once again. A similar fate could be in place for Staumont, and he may have led to Kansas City netting a decent prospect or two. Keller will be a free agent after next season, and there haven't been rumblings of the Royals offering him a contract extension. Being proactive and moving off of him had a respectable return written all over it. Taylor is 31 years old and comes at a very reasonable price tag next year. On a playoff team, he'd offer legitimate value. More so than even Barlow, the odds of him being a Royal during a playoff season are remarkably low. 

Picollo and company had an opportunity to truly sell and go all-in on resetting, but they didn't. Don't get it twisted: several intelligent and necessary moves were made. To call this trade deadline a complete and utter failure would be foolish. With that said, the fact that it could've been markedly better could come back to haunt the Royals in the near future. 

Time will tell whether holding on to valuable pieces will prove to be the right decision, but those chances remain incredibly slim. The Royals aren't contenders right now, nor will they be contenders in 2023. Heck, they may not even be contenders in 2024. Choosing to keep players who might not be around to be a part of the next good Royals team that takes the field simply seems like a series of missed opportunities. It's true that Kansas City was transactional, but it can also be true that other chances were punted on. That doesn't make for an F-grade deadline, but it sure doesn't make for an A-grade one either.