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MLB Trade Deadline: Royals snag Melky Cabrera for playoff push

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Kansas City’s outfield has had a tough year, so they made a move.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few weeks ago, I called the Kansas City Royals sellers in my “ultimate trade deadline guide.” It looks like I was dead wrong.

Since that piece, the Royals are 10-7 — which doesn’t sound great, I know. But if we narrow the focus to after the All-Star break, the team has been on a tear, winning nine straight games from July 19 to July 28, boosting their playoff odds from 19.3 percent to 52.2 percent today. The Royals are sitting with a 2 12 game lead for the second Wild Card spot, which more than warrants buying at the deadline.

And, that’s exactly what they have done so far. The team got Trevor Cahill in a smaller trade from the Padres, and now they have made another deal, this time with the Chicago White Sox. Today, the Royals acquired outfielder Melky Cabrera from Chicago in exchange for two pitching prospects: right-hander A.J. Puckett and left-hander Andre Davis.

The Royals get their desperately needed outfield help

Despite having a collection of good names in the outfield, the Royals rank 23rd in the Major Leagues in fWAR from those three spots, making an outfield upgrade a necessity for them if they wanted to go the buyer route.

Lorenzo Cain has been the Royals’ best outfielder from an fWAR standpoint, but even he has struggled to put up big numbers offensively (102 wRC+). Alex Gordon, historically a top offensive and defensive threat, has struggled in his second year of his new contract (58 wRC+). Then, there is 24-year-old Jorge Bonifacio, who has played well (108 wRC+) and could slide into the DH role going forward. But Brandon Moss has played better in the second half, making it a tough decision for the Royals when determining whose at bats Cabrera should take.

Still, though, the Royals needed to make this move. They can figure out the playing time situation later; too many talented players is a problem they want to have. Their outfield hasn’t been good enough to get them to where they want to go, and Cabrera will fit in nicely.

While he isn’t having the best year of his career, the 32-year-old Cabrera has been useful. He is slashing .295/.336/.436 this year with 13 home runs and 56 runs batted in. His season total 105 wRC+ doesn’t pop off the page, but his 147 wRC+ in the last 30 days definitely does. Cabrera has become hot at the right time, and the Royals are willing to take a chance on him as a result.

Defensively, though, Cabrera leaves a lot to be desired, which suppresses his fWAR total. The Royals do, however, have MLB’s best outfield defense, and this addition shouldn’t significantly impact that.

Cabrera is a rental. He signed a three-year, $42 million contract with the White Sox during the 2014–15 offseason that is set to expire at the end of 2017. With around $5 million left on his deal for this year, the Royals will not have to take on that much salary, considering that they have already agreed to pay about half.

Really, Kansas City is getting an outfield upgrade at just $2 million or so, and that’s a pretty good deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cabrera ends up being a great addition for them down the stretch.

The White Sox make a necessary move

Let’s be real: The White Sox are not contending this year. They’ve basically traded every single player on their team that has any value whatsoever. So, is it really a surprise that they dump another rental like Cabrera? Absolutely not.

A.J. Puckett is a good add for Chicago. He was rated as the Royals’ No. 13 prospect on MLB Pipeline, praised for his great changeup and control. Puckett, 22, was the Royals’ 2nd round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. He is pitching at High-A, where he has a 3.90 ERA and a 98:46 strikeout-to-walk ratio (good for a 3.89 FIP) in 108 13 innings.

Here is the scouting report on Puckett from FanGraphs’ Eric Logenhagen:

A.J. Puckett isn’t a left-handed-pitcher but possesses the command/changeup profile anyway. Puckett’s fastball sits 90-93, will touch 94 and is only average despite his command of it due to a lack of plane and movement. His changeup, 82-85 with big fade, regularly flashes plus and should mature there. His curveball is inconsistent, in part because Puckett doesn’t reliably get over his front side to generate power downward movement, but the pitch should be average with more reps. He’s an above-average athlete.

Because Puckett’s breaking-ball projection is limited, so too is his ceiling. He projects as a quick-moving No. 4 or 5 starter.

Andre Davis, a 23-year-old lefty, is the second piece the White Sox get in the deal. The former 2015 8th round pick is at Class-A ball this year, where he has posted a 4.83 ERA and an 87:23 strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.98 FIP) over 85 23 innings pitched.

The White Sox, as they have throughout the past calendar year, continue to prioritize long term value and upside in their trades. It’s not a surprise, then, that they have the best farm system in the Major Leagues. They continue to build upon that with their trade of Melky Cabrera today.


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.