- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Alex Gordon's early-season slump is over, Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain are back from injuries, Wil Myers is preparing for his debut, and it's easy to imagine a time, within the next two or three years, when the Kansas City Royals might have the American League's best lineup.
LF Gordon, 28: His on-base percentage has climbed from .320 in late May to .377 currently.
SS Alcides Escobar, 25: His on-base percentage has climbed from .288 to .351 in two years.
1B Eric Hosmer, 22: Struggling in his first full year in the majors.
DH Billy Butler, 26: Hitting .300 this season.
CF Cain, 26: Has a .901 OPS in his first 11 games this season.
3B Mike Moustakas, 23: He's headed for a 25-homer, 80-RBI season.
C Perez, 22: He's got an OPS higher than 1.000 this year.
RF Myers, 21: He's got 28 homers in the minors already.
2B Johnny Giavotella, 25: Currently in the minors.
The Royals' problem, of course, is their starting pitching is horrendous, with the third-worst ERA in the majors; Ned Yost's starting pitchers have averaged barely more than five innings per outing. You can have a great, young, dynamic lineup, and it would still be like building a house on quicksand. The composition of the rest of the team really won't matter unless the Royals' starting pitching gets better.
The Royals have indicated to other teams they believe they are about two years away from being serious contenders -- two years to put together a credible rotation.
So as the trade deadline nears, the Royals will be perusing the market, looking for rotation pieces that can be installed now but will have more practical value to them in 2013 and/or 2014. Kansas City is not alone in thinking like this, by the way; the Boston Red Sox are less interested in two-month rentals and more interested in adding starting pitchers who can help them beyond this year. Part of the Tigers' motivation in adding Doug Fister last season was that they could control him through 2016.
Jon Lester, Red Sox: WARNING: SPECULATION ALERT. There is no indication that Boston is willing to trade the 28-year-old Lester any time soon, but even the Red Sox have to wonder if he might benefit from a change of scenery. Lester's command has regressed, and old friend Peter Gammons -- who knows him far better than I do -- has suggested that Lester might be more comfortable someplace else. If the Red Sox could land a starting pitcher and create some depth, they could flip Lester elsewhere for good value. Lester is making $7.625 million this year, will earn $11.625 million next year and has a $13 million team option for 2014.
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs: Chicago is expected to market the right-hander in earnest later this month, and the Red Sox will be among the teams involved in the discussions. At 28 years old, Garza has a 4.02 ERA, and he will be under team control through the 2013 season.
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: Tampa Bay will listen to offers for him, as the Rays will for all players not named Longoria. He's 25 years old, a Midwesterner, and has only a couple of years in the big leagues, so he would be a perfect fit for the Royals in many ways -- but he would cost, big-time. It's hard to imagine Kansas City prying Hellickson away from Tampa Bay without sacrificing one of their core young position players, and to date, the Royals have rejected all overtures about Moustakas, etc.
To summarize: Kansas City will probably have to defer its search for rotation anchors to the winter.
Billy Butler lifted the Royals, writes Bob Dutton.
L.A. makes sense for Dempster
About Dempster: He has been gracious in his public statements, saying that he would waive his no-trade clause in order to help the Cubs do what they need to do. But some rival general managers and agents wonder if Dempster would actually embrace a trade to a team like the Red Sox.
"He's about to hit free agency," said one GM. "He's never pitched in the American League. It doesn't make any sense for him to go there before he reaches the market."
"If he gets hit hard, it'll cost him," said an agent.
The Cubs are expected to trade Dempster very soon, and the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to be viewed as the favorites to land him. Pitching in the relatively weak National League West, in a pitcher's park, would probably be a good thing for Dempster.
• Scouts went to see Wandy Rodriguez, and he was terrible. Rodriguez has a 5.65 ERA in his last 10 starts.
• Francisco Liriano threw well but lost.
• Trevor Bauer was returned to the minors. The Arizona Diamondbacks will walk a fine line in steering his development. Bauer is self-motivated, self-assured (by all accounts) and in many respects, he is self-made; he has reached the big leagues a year after he was drafted because of what he has done. On the other hand, Arizona is going to want him to make changes in how he does his work, and it will be interesting to see how those alterations affect him.
From Nick Piecoro's story:
- Manager Kirk Gibson pointed to several factors other than a dropoff in stuff to explain Bauer's struggles. He said veteran hitters weren't chasing pitches that minor-leaguers might have. He said Bauer fell into predictable patterns. He said he didn't field his position or hold runners well.
- "I just chalk it up as he needs more seasoning," Gibson said. "I think he'll be back."
- Bauer believes the same, and he doesn't think he has to change the way he attacks hitters or the way he prepares for starts in order to do so.
Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels have dominated the discussions of starting pitching options on the trade market, but they are all headed for free agency this winter. Buster Olney lists some of the best multi-year pitching trade targets.