Friday, July 9, 2010


If Wilmington is the minor-league hottie that the Royals are constantly trying to please, then Burlington is the slightly overweight girl with self-esteem issues that’s just happy the Royals called, and never mind where they’ve been the last few days.

The Royals have sampled much of the Midwest League over the last quarter-century. Their low A-ball affiliate has moved from Appleton, Wisconsin in 1987, to Rockford, Illinois in 1993, to Springfield, Illinois in 1995, to Lansing, Michigan in 1996, to a two-year sabbatical in the South Atlantic League in Charleston, West Virginia in 1999, and finally to Burlington, Iowa in 2001.

The fact that I had to include the state along with the name of each city tells you what you need to know: none of these teams play in large cities, and none of them –with the exception of the Lansing Lugnuts – are a particularly desirable location for a minor league affiliate. In particular, the Midwest League teams have to deal with, well, Midwest weather. The Royals can afford a state-of-the-art drainage system at Kauffman Stadium, and can have the players back on the field just as soon as the Tornado Warning expires. The Burlington Bees can’t. Just by way of example, the Bees were rained out this Tuesday, and Wednesday the game was suspended in the seventh inning due to rain. That’s pretty typical. It could be worse; at least the Mississippi hasn’t flooded this year.

The Royals have stuck with Burlington for the last decade nonetheless, probably because it’s close by, and because the Bees put up with teams that are as consistently wretched as the Blue Rocks are consistently great. The Charleston Alley Cats were 61-80 and 53-80 in 1999 and 2000, and since moving to Burlington, the team has eight losing seasons in nine years, and finished at least five full games under .500 seven times.

The exception was 2008, when after a 30-39 first half, the Bees went 46-29 in the second half to clinch a playoff spot, then blew through three rounds of playoffs to win the Midwest League championship. And you guys all thought Mike Moustakas wasn’t a leader.

The Bees are on pace for their worst season yet in 2010, as even a doubleheader sweep on Thursday night only improved the team’s record to 30-52. Now, winning isn’t everything in the minors, and at this level of the minors winning isn’t much of anything. But this team is as weak in prospects as its win-loss record suggests.

The big exception to this is Wil Myers, and he alone makes the Bees worth watching. (Or he did, anyway.) Myers was drafted in the third round last year, but the Royals nearly took him with their first-round pick, and gave him mid-first-round money ($2 million) to sign. It’s been money well spent. As a 19-year-old in a tough hitters’ league, Myers started out slowly, hitting just .232 (but with good pop) in April. He heated up in May and June, and by the end of June his overall line was .289/.408/.500, with 10 homers, 19 doubles, and 48 walks.

Those numbers are ridiculous for a teenager in the Midwest League. Two years earlier, at the same age, Moustakas hit .272/.337/.468, with 22 homers and 25 doubles in a full season, and everyone was duly impressed. Myers’ performance for Burlington was very similar – except that Myers had more walks by the end of June than Moustakas had (43) all season long.

It’s so hard to evaluate the batting eye of a high school hitter, because they face so much inferior competition that sometimes they’re forced to expand their strike zone for the good of the team. Reports before the draft were that Myers had a good batting eye, but no one expected this level of patience.

Myers is clearly on a faster track than Moustakas was, because he was promoted to Wilmington at the start of this month. He’s only getting hotter; in eight games with the Blue Rocks, Myers has hits in seven of them, and last night he went 4-for-5 to raise his average with Wilmington to .438 (14-for-32). He only has two doubles and one walk in those eight games; we’ll cut him some slack.

Did I mention Myers is a catcher? No, I guess not. He is, you know. A 19-year-old catcher who has hit his way to high-A ball, where he’s batting right behind Eric Hosmer. Hosmer, who is one of the organization’s best prospects, is a year older than Myers and plays first base.

Wil Myers, the catcher, might well be the best prospect in the entire organization.

The problem is that it’s less than 50/50 that Wil Myers really is a catcher. The tools are there – he’s thrown out a solid 34% of attempted basestealers this year, and made just 4 errors – but he also has allowed 18 passed balls in just 51 games behind the plate.

Myers wasn’t a full-time catcher in high school, so he has barely a year of full-time backstopping to his credit at this point. I think the impact of blocking balls behind the plate is overrated. The Royals survived a couple of seasons of Miguel Olivo just fine; they can survive Wil Myers. Myers’ offensive skills, solid arm, and weaknesses with the nuances of catching remind me of Jorge Posada, who to this day drives the Yankees crazy with his defensive deficiencies. (Hey, it’s hard to catch with so many rings on your fingers.)

The greatest impediment to Myers’ glove might be his bat. If he keeps hitting like this, he’s going to force himself to the majors before his glove is ready, and the Royals will be tempted to move him to the outfield. In their defense, that might even be the correct move. Myers’ body type – a lanky 6’3”, 190 – lends itself more to running around an outfield than squatting behind the plate. His offense will definitely play in a corner, and he has the speed (10 steals this year) and arm to make himself into a quality right fielder in short order. And while catchers are always in demand, the Royals have less depth in the outfield than they do at almost any other position.

Still, you hate to give up on the potential to have a catcher who hits like Myers does. For now, the Royals don’t have to make that decision. If Myers keeps hitting the way he has, though, he might be ready for the majors by the time he’s 21, and then a decision will have to be made. It’s a dilemma other teams would love to have.

Picollo on Myers: Very good hands, good athleticism, but footwork is not good. Pop times to second base are 1.8-1.9 seconds, which is good…footwork is an issue partly because he’s tall and lanky…if he doesn’t smooth out his actions behind the plate there are some worries about his long-term health if he stays at catcher…his defense isn’t helped by the fact that A-ball pitchers are much more erratic than in the majors…has heard from scouts that Posada [he brought up Posada’s name on his own] looked much the same way in A-ball – some nights he looked awful, some nights he looked good.

With Myers gone, the cupboard is almost bare. The second-best hitter on the team, outfielder Carlo Testa, is hitting a modest .255/.331/.450, and is 23 years old. There isn’t another hitter anywhere on the roster who strikes me as more than a long-shot prospect.

On the mound things are equally bleak. The pitching staff includes some notable names, but they’re not notable for their performances this season. One’s notable for being an early-round bust (Sam Runion), another for struggling to return from Tommy John surgery (Matt Mitchell), and another for being talented but with a perpetually sore arm (Kelvin Herrera).

Keaton Hayenga was a late-round pick in 2007, even though he had torn his labrum on a bad slide during his senior year of high school. The Royals were enamored enough with his arm that they gave him $300,000 to sign, then waited patiently for 2 years for him to return to the mound last season. This year, the wrapper was finally taken off, and the Royals were excited to see the return on their investment.

What they’ve received is a pitcher with an 8.23 ERA, and just 17 strikeouts in 43 innings. When you gamble on prospects, sometimes you’re going to crap out.

Bryan Paukovits, who was a junior college draft-and-follow from 2006, has been the Bees’ best pitcher this season. In 62 innings, he’s allowed just 43 hits and 16 walks, with 65 strikeouts. The problem is that he just turned 23; he’s a few levels below where a prospect his age should be. The Royals have promoted him to Wilmington, and he gave up nine runs in his first start, although he’s pitched better since then. He’s a prospect, but a marginal one.

With all that said, there’s at least one pitcher on the Bees’ staff who has true All-Star potential. That would be Tyler Sample, who was the Royals’ third-round pick in 2008 out of a Colorado high school. Sample was considered quite raw – and had already had Tommy John surgery in high school – but he threw very hard and had a very promising knuckle-curve. He was very much a project, and in his pro debut he walked more than a batter per inning, but last season he walked just 22 batters in 55 innings.

He made his full-season debut this year, and his control issues resurfaced, as he walked 27 batters in his first 30 innings. His control has slowly but dramatically improved since; in his last ten starts, he has walked just 28 batters in 49 innings, and in his last two starts he has just two walks (against 14 strikeouts) in 12 innings.

He’s still a long ways from the majors, and he just turned 21. But his stuff is undeniable, as he’s allowed just 59 hits in 79 innings while striking out 71. He’s a monster at 6’7”, 245, and sometimes it just takes tall pitchers a while to straighten out their mechanics and repeat them on every pitch. If there’s one pitcher in the organization that I’d bet on to jump up the prospect rankings in the next 12 months, it’s Sample. If the light bulb goes on, he could move very, very quickly.

But that’s it for Burlington. One top prospect, one sleeper prospect, and a whole lot of chaff. That’s a pretty standard fare for a minor-league team. It’s a tribute to the organization that “pretty standard fare” makes Burlington easily the weakest full-season team in the system.

I’ll be back next week with a brief overview of the short-season leagues, and then try to tie it all together with my unscientific rankings of the organization’s top 30 prospects.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Deadline Decisions.

As most of you have noticed, this season has been rather therapeutic for me as a fan of the Kansas City Royals. By the end of the 2009 season, my relationship with the team had become, frankly, toxic. I’m in a much better place now, to the point where I think that many of my fellow Royals bloggers are needlessly pessimistic about the future of the franchise. I like a good Dayton Moore joke as much as anyone, but I almost wonder if there’s some sort of time warp going on here, where people continue to judge Moore as if the last six months never happened.

Moore gets hammered, and deservedly so, for moves like the Betancourt trade and the Kendall signing – but is only grudgingly given his due, if at all, for the fact that the farm system overfloweth. As Kevin Goldstein rhetorically asked after Chris Dwyer’s last start for Wilmington – 6 innings, no runs, 9 strikeouts, and a promotion to Double-A after the game: “Seriously, is any system having as good a year as the Royals? Is there anyone even close?”

So I’ve climbed back on the Moore train, and plan to stay on board until we see what happens with the most impressive collection of minor league talent the organization has had in at least 15 years. That doesn’t mean that my criticisms of Moore will suddenly abate. In a way, the evaluation of Moore only really starts now.

This month, in fact, may be the most important month of Moore’s tenure to date. This is the month when we’ll find out whether Moore is truly serious about trusting the future of the Royals to the kids, or whether he’s going to continue to follow the safe, CYA route of employing proven veterans until they’re pried from his cold, dead hands.

In Moore’s first July as a GM, he was a trading dervish. He got the proceedings off to an early start, moving J.P. Howell to Tampa Bay for Joey Gathright on June 20th. He then moved Ruben Gotay for Jeff Keppinger (July 19th), Mike MacDougal for Daniel Cortes and Tyler Lumsden (July 24th), Elmer Dessens for Odalis Perez, Blake Johnson, and Julio Pimental (July 25th), Tony Graffanino for Jorge de la Rosa (July 25th), and on deadline day he traded Matt Stairs for Joselo Diaz, and Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista for Ryan Shealy.

Not all these trades worked out – actually, in aggregate the Royals probably lost more talent than they acquired – but the point was that Moore saw an opportunity to overhaul his roster, and took it. We can only hope he’ll be similarly active this season.

Moore hasn’t been active at the deadline since. In 2007, his only July trades were to acquire the infamous Roman Colon for a minor leaguer, and to trade Octavio Dotel (a no-brainer) for Kyle Davies. In 2008, the Royals did not make a single July trade, although they did pass Horacio Ramirez through waivers in August and then traded him to the White Sox for Paulo Orlando. (And they plucked Robinson Tejeda off waivers from the Rangers in June.) And last year, the only trade Moore made in July was…the acquisition of Betancourt. But hey, he also paid cash to acquire Ryan Freel and Josh Anderson, so it’s all good.

The Royals can’t afford that kind of passivity this season. Not when their window of opportunity looks like it might open a crack next season, and then be thrown completely open in 2012. Not when they’ve got at least a half-dozen players who will attract some kind of interest on the trade market. And not when they’ve got replacements ready to step in, all of whom figure to be better than the guy they’re replacing in a year or two, and some of whom are better than the guy they’ll be replacing right now.

This last point is crucial, because the unfortunate by-product of the Royals’ current 8-3 stretch is that some people are actually suggesting that the Royals are still in contention this season. Me, I prefer for my team to be playing better than .452 baseball before I think about contending. I’m a purist like that.

It’s one thing for Ned Yost to argue that the Royals aren’t out of it. He’s the manager; if he can’t make the case that his team isn’t out of it, he’s not doing his job. It’s another thing when our old friend Jeff Flanagan argues that the Royals can’t afford to trade Jose Guillen because they’re in the race. Come on, Jeff. You’re better than this.

“Try and visualize the lineup right now without Guillen – replace him with Mitch Maier or Willie Bloomquist. Seriously, how does that look?”

As a courtesy to Flanagan, I won’t make a list of the six different reasons why this is a ridiculous argument.

As I write this, the argument for what to do with Guillen may have become a moot point, as in his last at-bat against the Mariners last night he pulled up lame while running to first base. We’ve been told that it was a quadriceps injury, and that he’s “day-to-day” – which, given Guillen’s history, seems incredibly optimistic.

This significantly impacts the Royals’ ability to trade him, obviously. But even if Guillen is out for an extended period of time, it’s unlikely to have a huge impact on the Royals in the long term. The Royals were never going to get more than a marginal prospect for him. The main value of trading Guillen was always to open up the lineup spot to a younger, more deserving player – if he’s on the DL for a while, that spot will open up anyway.

(Okay, the main value of trading him was simply to unload his salary – he’s owed nearly $6 million the rest of the season, which is to say, more than the Royals are likely to shell out for all of their draft picks this year. But I’m not sure the Royals would have been able to get another team to pick up a large fraction of his salary.)

The injury to Guillen, though, only hammers home the point that it’s better to move these guys a few weeks early than one day late. So let’s look at all the players the Royals might be tempted to trade this month – which is over half the roster – and see what they can get.

Player: Kyle Farnsworth

Outstanding salary: $2.25 million* + $500,000 buyout.

*: The season is at roughly the halfway point, so I’m simply dividing each player’s salary by two.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 80%.

Quick – who leads the Royals in ERA? Here’s a clue – it’s the same guy who leads the team in WHIP. Here’s another clue: it’s the last guy you would have guessed before the season began.

Farnsworth’s 2.04 ERA and 1.047 WHIP in 35 innings don’t justify his two-year, $9 million contract, but they do explain why the Royals thought he’d be worth the money. The dude still throws in the upper 90s, after all. There are always teams looking for bullpen help at the trading deadline, and Farnsworth’s contract situation is very favorable.

Farnsworth has allowed just three runs in his last 26 innings, and just as impressive as his performance is the fact that he’s maintained it even as the Royals have slowly ramped up his responsibilities. He started the season pitching the same garbage relief that he was relegated to last season. He then started pitching in games where the Royals had a large lead, then games where the Royals only trailed by a run, and now he’s pitching in tie games in the ninth inning, as he did Monday night. The old Farnsworth would have given up the walk-off homer on his second pitch – as he did last year. The new Farnsworth pitched a tidy one-two-three inning and got the win. Evidently Farnsworth is relying more on a two-seamer and a changeup this year. This makes some sense - as hard as he throws, his four-seamer never had much movement, and his two-seamer is still plenty fast.

It’s hard to believe that the Royals would keep Farnsworth, given that he’s gone after the season, and that he’s likely to have multiple suitors. Stranger things have happened, but the odds are pretty good that he’ll be moved soon.

Possible suitors: The Angels are still in the race, and have a pretty dreadful bullpen, a rarity under Mike Scioscia. The Red Sox are also pretty thin behind Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard. And the Reds are clinging to first place despite a bullpen without a single reliable right-handed reliever.

What the Royals should expect in return: Let’s not lose our heads here: he’s still Kyle Farnsworth. A single B-grade prospect would be a steal. More likely, the Royals are likely to get a guy who grades out as a future utility-player/good fourth-outfielder/bullpen arm.

Who replaces him: The Royals have a ton of relief prospects, but they could all still benefit from a little more development. If and when Hochevar or Meche returns, they’ll slip into the rotation and either Bruce Chen or Anthony Lerew will take Farnsworth’s role. Otherwise we might see another audition for Brian Bullington or Philip Humber.

Player: Scott Podsednik

Outstanding salary: $825,000

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 65%

If you want to be charitable towards the Royals, you can make the case that they signed Podsednik with the intention of dealing him at the deadline all along. If that’s the case, then mission accomplished: Podsednik is having a classic Podsednik season, batting .301/.348/.370. It’s a completely singles-driven profile; Pods has hit FIVE doubles all season, which is ridiculous for someone who has the speed to make a double out of a single once a month. Still, he’s hitting for average, and stealing bases (24 of 34 so far), and his defense in left field hasn’t been a complete disaster.

Best of all, he’s doing this in a season in which offense is suddenly down all around baseball, making otherwise-rational teams think that they now need an infusion of speed and little ball to win in this brave new world. I see no need to disabuse these teams of this notion. Podsednik’s low salary might make him particularly appealing to teams with financial constraints.

Possible suitors: Left fielders for the San Diego Padres are hitting a combined .193/.289/.279. Throw in the fact that Podsednik is a perfect fit for that ballpark, and I’m a little disappointed that we haven’t seen a trade already. Melky Cabrera has been so disappointing in Atlanta that they’ve been forced to play Eric Hinske out there.

What the Royals should expect in return: Again, we (and the Royals) need to keep our expectations in check. As an everyday player, Pods is likely to fetch more than Farnsworth, but only a little more. I’d be happy with someone who would rank as the 15th-best prospect in the organization – which, given the state of the farm system, would actually be a half-decent prospect.

Who replaces him: Alex Gordon, assuming he’s eligible for parole.

Player: David DeJesus

Outstanding salary: $2.3 million this year, $6 million next year or $500,000 buyout.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 55%

The big fish in the Royals’ pond, DeJesus is having the best season of his underrated career. He’s hitting .329/.397/.466, adapted to his third outfield position in the last three years flawlessly, is under a very reasonable contract, and has a very enticing option for next season. He’s also almost a certainty to be a Type B free agent, and possibly a Type A free agent, either this year or next.

The draft pick compensation is a huge part of his trade value. Twenty years ago, teams would give up impending free agents without any recognition of the value those players would have in terms of draft picks. Things are different today. Three years ago, the Red Sox gave up three players for a half-season of Eric Gagne, in large part because they valued the draft pick that Gagne was expected to give them. (Gagne then pitched so badly for the Sox that he dropped out of the Type B rankings completely.)

DeJesus’ situation is interesting because there’s a good chance he’ll be a Type A free agent this winter – but if his option is picked up, he’ll probably be a Type A free agent next winter as well. The Elias rankings are based on a player’s performance over the past two seasons, so DeJesus’ numbers this year will count towards his free agent status both times. Basically, as long as DeJesus hits as well in 2011 as he did in 2009, he’ll have the same Free Agent status both times.

The Royals have three options with DeJesus:

1) Trade him.

2) Decline his option, offer arbitration, then collect two draft picks when he signs elsewhere this winter.

3) Exercise his option, then decide between 1) and 2) against next year.

From where I sit, declining DeJesus’ option would be foolish – a player of his caliber is a bargain on a one-year, $6 million deal. The only downside is the risk that he gets hurt or somehow plays so poorly in 2011 that the draft picks you would have gotten this winter dry up.

The Royals might justifiably say that they’d rather have the draft picks in hand, given that they’re odds of contending in 2011 aren’t that great even with DeJesus. But for a team that’s in a win-now mode, DeJesus’ option is awfully enticing. Which is to say, DeJesus probably has more valuable to another team than he does with the Royals.

So the incentive is there for a deal to be made. The question is whether a contender is willing to give up the talent it will take to get DeJesus and the two draft picks.

Possible suitors: Since DeJesus can play all three outfield positions competently, any team with an outfield need is a potential destination. The same teams that would want Podsednik would want DeJesus even more; the Braves, in particular, have the farm system talent to get a deal done. The Red Sox don’t know what they can expect from Jacoby Ellsbury or Mike Cameron, and J.D. Drew hasn’t even had his annual injury yet. If the Rays are as fed up with B.J. Upton as they appear, then Tampa becomes an option. A sleeper team might be the Giants, if they decide to go all-in for this season.

What the Royals should expect in return: A lot. A lot, or they shouldn’t do the deal. Let’s put it this way: I wouldn’t trade DeJesus for the package that the Phillies got for Cliff Lee (J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies). Granted, that’s more a reflection of Ruben Amaro’s incompetence than anything else. But DeJesus should be able to command the standard three-prospect package of a Grade B+, a Grade B-, and a Grade C prospect. Think of this as a do-over on the Carlos Beltran trade.

(Going on a tangent for a moment, but I think we can add Ruben Amaro to that list of General Managers who I’d rank behind Dayton Moore. Amaro gave Raul Ibanez that three-year deal that looked like a steal for one month, and an albatross ever since. He was given a huge gift when Roy Halladay agreed to a contract extension before trading for him, and then screwed everything up by giving away Lee for pennies. He gave Ryan Howard a ridiculous contract extension at the exact moment before his value went south. And the Phillies are barely over .500, in third place, and in danger of squandering the final peak years of some Hall of Fame-caliber players.)

Who replaces him: Gordon, but if the Royals manage to trade DeJesus and Podsednik, they have some decisions to make in at least one corner outfield spot. They could audition Jordan Parraz or David Lough out there. There’s also a good chance that DeJesus’ replacement in right field will be one of the players coming back in a trade.

Player: Willie Bloomquist

Outstanding salary: $850,000.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 40%

A year after Bloomquist had a career-high 434 at-bats, the Royals have found a way to minimize his contributions – he has only 74 at-bats in half a season. The prescription for Bloomquist always said that for best results, take him in small doses. For as much flak as his signing received, our issue was was always more about what he represented than Bloomquist himself.

Since joining the Royals, Bloomquist has 508 at-bats and 167 games, basically a full season’s worth, and has hit .262/.305/.360, along with 30 steals in 39 attempts. That’s not a starting player, but as a utility player those numbers are perfectly acceptable. His salary of $1.4 million last year, $1.7 million this year is not ridiculous. What was ridiculous was that he was practically a full-time player last year. This year, his opportunities to hurt the ballclub have been limited.

One of the reasons why Bloomquist’s playing time has been curtailed of late has been the surprise performance from Wilson Betemit, who is hitting a frankly ridiculous .386/.438/.773 since he was called up. In 44 at-bats, he has hit four homers, which 1) ranks sixth on the team, and 2) is as many homers as Jason Kendall has hit since the start of the 2008 season.

Betemit isn’t anywhere near this kind of hitter, but there’s every reason to think that he can be a significant contributor to the Royals going forward. Betemit, like another ex-Braves retread in Bruce Chen, was a top prospect once upon a time. Betemit was signed by the Braves when he was 14 years old – no, seriously, 14. When his real age came to light years later, the Braves were disciplined – I believe they were banned from signing international players for six months – and they got off easy. Betemit is one of the few guys in baseball today who debuted in the majors as a teenager, in 2001. That off-season, Betemit was ranked the #9 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. As a 19-year-old, he had just hit .355/.394/.514 in a six-week stint in Double-A.

He didn’t stick in the majors until 2005, when he was 23, but hit a very respectable .305/.359/.435 as a rookie. He never developed after that point, and was traded in 2006, 2007, and 2008. He signed as a minor-league free agent with the Royals this winter.

The thing is, while he never developed into a star, Betemit really hasn’t played all that badly either. His career line in the majors is .263/.328/.445, and aside from a 45 at-bat audition with the White Sox last year, he’s always been at least adequate in the majors. He’s only 28 years old, and much like the player who essentially replaced him in Atlanta, Omar Infante (that would be All-Star Omar Infante to you, buddy), while Betemit’s dream of being an everyday player may be over, he should have a long and successful career as a super-utility player ahead.

Betemit can do most of the things Bloomquist does, but Bloomquist can do only some of things Betemit does. Both of them can play multiple positions, but Betemit also has the advantage of being a switch-hitter. Bloomquist’s biggest advantage in the field is that he can play all three outfield positions, whereas Betemit has never started a game in the outfield. On the other hand, given his bat, Bloomquist’s ability to play the outfield may actually be a detriment, because it tempts teams into playing him out there.

Betemit has made at least 16 starts at all four infield positions, and started at both shortstop and second base for the Yankees in 2008. He’s not the most graceful defender in the middle infielder, but then he more than makes up for it with the bat. Offensively, it’s no comparison. Bloomquist has a massive edge in speed; Betemit has a massive edge in plate discipline and power.

The problem with Betemit is that he doesn’t have the look of a utility infielder. Utility infielders are supposed to be scrappy, scrawny, speedy guys who don’t hit much – they’re supposed to look like Willie Bloomquist. Betemit doesn’t. But given our manager and general manager’s background with Atlanta, the fact that the Braves are thriving with Infante in that utility role lends hope that the Royals may feel comfortable doing the same with Betemit. Which makes Bloomquist, whose Swiss Army Knife package is appealing to some contenders, expendable.

Possible Suitors: The Red Sox, who are missing something like a third of their roster – including Dustin Pedroia – are rumored to have interest. You would expect almost every National League contender to at least kick the tires on Bloomquist.

What the Royals should expect in return: A lottery ticket. Some 19-year-old kid who throws strikes and has maybe a 10% chance of seeing his velocity suddenly bump into the low 90s.

Who replaces him: Betemit takes over his role; the Royals have a half-dozen options for who takes over his roster spot. If they want a backup outfielder, they could go with Jordan Parraz. If they want Willie Bloomquist Lite, they can go with Irving Falu or Ed Lucas.

Player: Brian Bannister

Outstanding salary: $1.15 million. Bannister is also under club control for 2 more seasons.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 30%.

You know I love Bannister, and I can’t say that I want to see him go. If nothing else, keeping him around is worth it to have a perpetual foil to Dayton Moore in the clubhouse.

But if the Royals decide it’s time to move on, well, I can’t blame them. Bannister has a career 4.88 ERA, and over the last three years that number goes 5.76, 4.73, and 5.44. I think he’s a better pitcher than that, and for significant periods of time he has been a better pitcher than that. But twice in his career he’s run out of steam in August, and this year his numbers are destroyed by the 11 runs he gave up in Cincinnati when he became dehydrated.

Let’s face it: with his upper-80s fastball, there’s simply a limit to how good Bannister can be in the superior league. He’s the quintessential National League pitcher; against inferior hitters, without having to face the DH, and in a big ballpark – hello, NL West! – he could be a revelation. Plus, he’s an excellent hitter for a pitcher. At least, this is the pitch the Royals should be making.

The Royals don’t have to trade him, and they shouldn’t trade him just get rid of him. But in the long run, the Royals are looking at a situation where they should have five starting pitchers better than Bannister as soon as next summer. There’s nothing wrong with making a proactive trade now, rather than trading him for whatever you can get next season.

A month ago Bannister had a 4.50 ERA and his trade value was presumably a lot higher. Then came the disaster in Cincinnati, a bad start in Atlanta where he admitted to being gun-shy, six shutout innings to beat Stephen Strasburg, and then two consecutive outings where he’s allowed four runs. Basically, the Royals need Bannister to show some consistency over the next three weeks to convince suitors that his struggles were just a speed bump and not something to be alarmed by.

It’s no surprise, then, that with the All-Star Break coming up, the Royals are bumping Anthony Lerew from his start on Saturday in favor of Bannister. The Royals say they’re doing this because Bannister’s the better pitcher, and he probably is, but don’t be fooled: they’re showcasing him. If Bannister aces his next few auditions, we may have to find someone new to carry the torch of sabermetrics in the Royals’ clubhouse.

Possible suitors: The Padres would be an ideal location for him, and while San Diego has four starters with an ERA of 3.24 or less (!), their fifth starter, Kevin Correia, has a 5.05 ERA. The Dodgers have been struggling to find a fifth starter all season. The nasty divorce between the McCourts has basically frozen the Dodgers’ payroll, but if the Royals are willing to pick up Bannister’s modest salary the rest of the season, they could steal something here. Remember, the Indians’ willingness to pay the remainder of Casey Blake’s salary netted them Carlos Freaking Santana for a two-month rental.

But given that all three divisional races in the NL are close, there are a lot of teams that could use him. Maybe Omar Minaya wants to erase his mistake and bring Bannister back? The Reds? The Cardinals? There are a lot of landing places for Bannister if the Royals are serious about moving him.

What the Royals should expect in return: If the Royals trade him, it has to be with the knowledge that they’re giving up 2.5 seasons of a league-average pitcher. That’s not beanbag. It’s not worth trading him if they don’t get at least a Top-15 prospect in return.

Who replaces him: Meche or Hochevar in the short term. Michael Montgomery or Aaron Crow or Chris Dwyer or John Lamb by this time next year.

Player: Mike Aviles

Outstanding salary: Aviles is not arbitration-eligible yet, so his salary is basically the league minimum. Also, he won’t be a free agent until after the 2014 season.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 25%.

Aviles is the most surprising player whose name has come up in trade rumors. On some level, it makes sense. Second base is an easy position to fill, because you’re basically drawing on the pool of second baseman and the pool of failed shortstops. The Royals want to see what Chris Getz can do, and if Getz fails, then they have Johnny Giavotella getting ready off-stage.

And let’s face it: the Royals have never been entirely comfortable with Aviles. He never had a good defensive reputation, even in the minors, then shocked everyone by playing the hell out of shortstop as a rookie. This year, he’s played mostly second base, and frankly hasn’t looked all that sharp. The ideal solution would be to admit that Betancourt was a mistake and move Aviles back across the keystone, but the Royals probably look at how Aviles has played at second base and figure that it would only look uglier at shortstop.

If the Royals do trade him, this won’t be your standard deadline deal. Aviles is under contract for 4.5 more seasons. His career batting average is .300 on the nose, and that includes the .183 disaster last season when he played hurt. This would be a substantial trade of a cheap everyday player under contract for the long term, and the return would have to be in kind.

Possible suitors: Aviles’ name has come up in trade rumors because the Red Sox are reportedly interested in him; with Pedroia out in the short-term, and Adrian Beltre a free agent after the season, the Red Sox might see Aviles as a guy who can fill a lot of holes in different spots both now and in the future. But “a guy who can fill a lot of holes” is a lot different than “an everyday middle infielder”, which is why I’m skeptical that the Royals will be able to trade him for what he’s worth. What worries me is that they might be able to trade him for what they think he’s worth.

What the Royals should expect in return: Aviles isn’t the player that DeJesus is. On the other hand, he’s millions of dollars cheaper, and he’s under contract for three additional seasons. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a DeJesus-caliber haul for him.

Others of note:

Player: Rick Ankiel

Outstanding salary: $1.625 million, plus $500,000 buyout.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 15%.

First he has to get healthy. Then he needs to hit. And even then, some team has to be suitably confident that Ankiel will stay healthy, and keep hitting. It’s a tall order. As with Guillen, the Royals can be reasonably confident that Ankiel will pass through waivers, effectively moving his trade deadline to August 31st.

Player: Kyle Davies

Outstanding salary: $900,000, plus he’s under club control in 2011.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 10%.

Like Bannister, Davies has shown stretches of effectiveness, but whereas Bannister has been a league-average starter for months at a time, Davies has problems going more than a few starts at a time. Davies is cheap, but in the last five seasons he has just one year with an ERA lower than 5.27. In his last six starts, he’s walked 20 batters and struck out 13. I still think the Royals should try him in the bullpen for the next three months and see if they catch lightning. Otherwise, he’s a non-tender candidate this winter.

Player: Alberto Callaspo

Outstanding salary: Basically league minimum, and under club control through 2013.

Odds that the Royals will trade him: 10%.

There isn’t even a whisper of a Callaspo trade rumor, but you have to think the Royals are trying to figure out his future with Mike Moustakas on his way. Callaspo isn’t hitting nearly as well as he did last season; he hit .300/.356/.457 last year, and just .277/.310/.417 at the moment. But I actually think his trade value may be higher. For one, most of his dip at the plate can be explained by a drop in his batting average, which is somewhat fluky – the power he showed for the first time in his career last season has stayed. But more importantly, whereas last season he was a second baseman with terrible defense, he’s now a third baseman with at least adequate defense. Remember, the Royals were actively trying to trade him this winter, and the only substantial rumor we heard was from the Dodgers for Triple-A catcher A.J. Ellis.

I don’t think the Royals will trade him now, and I don’t think they should trade him now, because Callaspo’s value is not as a one-year rental, but as a long-term solution at the hot corner. Teams are more amenable to making major roster changes in the off-season. The Royals will likely hold on to Callaspo for now, hope that his batting average rebounds in the second half, and try their luck on the market again this winter.

Conclusion: Without even knowing what the Royals get in return, we can almost tell whether this will be a successful month for Moore simply by how many players get traded. With the exception of DeJesus and Aviles, it’s hard to imagine the Royals making a trade that doesn’t improve the team in the long term.

If you add up the percentages that each player gets traded, you wind up with an average of 3.3 players traded, and that doesn’t include Guillen, whose trade status is up in the air at the moment. That may be giving Moore too much credit, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that at least three guys get moved off the roster this month.

Basically, as along as Farnsworth and Podsednik find new homes, and as long as the Royals don’t give DeJesus or Aviles away, this will be a successful month. Anything less than that, and Moore’s ability to understand his team’s position on the success cycle – and his ability to avoid thinking that two good weeks from his team suddenly means they should be a buyer instead of a seller – will be called into question.