Major League Baseball’s All-Star festivities in Miami mark a celebration of the game and, for the players not involved, a much-needed break. But Miami is also buzzing with trade talk as the July 31 trading deadline approaches and the Kansas City Royals have been part of a lot of trade conversations.
From the team's perspective, the scenario for the future has changed considerably since last year. In 2016, the Royals were seven games out of first at the All-Star break, but their core players had another year left on their contracts.
The All-Star Game was last year’s highlight for Eric Hosmer. He hit a homerun off Royals ex-teammate Johnny Cueto and went on to win the game’s Most Valuable Player award. Hosmer didn’t make this year’s American League All-Star squad.
But super agent Scott Boras is one influential figure who believes Hosmer is All-Star status, like his infield teammate Mike Moustakas.
“The one thing that Hos brings — who should be here, he should clearly be here — is that he, too, is just arriving at the age of 27 to his premium levels,” says Boras.
Boras represents Hosmer and Moustakas. When the Royals got off to a slow start, his clients’ names circulated as possible trade bait. Both have enough experience to likely make an immediate impact on a team in the post-season. And the Royals could get some young, long-term prospects.
But Royals general manager Dayton Moore insists that he wasn’t going to give up any of the Royals core players.
“Regardless of what is bantered about, what is written or speculation, we’ve been committed to this group from day one,” says Moore. “I’ve said it repeatedly, so that’s our mindset.”
But that hasn’t stopped the media from asking the All-Stars about the trade buzz.
For instance, the Pittsburgh Pirates are fading from contention in the National League, so second baseman Josh Harrison was queried about his teammates.
“Knowing now in the next couple of weeks the trade deadline coming up, there’s always now talk of guys who have become your buddies, your teammates, that they might go,” asked a radio reporter during the All-Star media session on Monday.
Harrison responded, “I think as you get older and mature in this game you understand the ins and outs. At this point of the season we all know what’s coming up in the next couple weeks.”
Though the Royals have been talked about all year, the tone has changed since they’ve surged into contention. They’re three games out of first in the American League Central and one-and-a-half games behind the second wild card berth.
USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale says the Royals have switched from their roles as sellers to buyers according to baseball scouts he has talked to.
“They’re so upset right now,” says Nightengale. “They (the scouts) say, ‘We just wasted two months following the Royals around the country and going to KC. They were going to sell off the pieces and we were going to buy them and deciding what we were going to give up what.’ Now they’re going to buy themselves. They’re in the race.”
Kansas City’s most notable acquisitions after the All-Star break were the trades two years ago that brought pitcher Johnny Cueto and the multi-dimensional Ben Zobrist.
But last year the All-Star break was barely over when Drew Pomeranz was dealt. He pitched for the National League in the All-Star Game as a member of the San Diego Padres, then was traded two days later to the Boston Red Sox.
Boston Herald reporter Michael Silverman recalls the trade under then-new general manager Dave Dombroski.
“I think they’d been scouting Drew," Silverman says. "They were well-aware that he was an All-Star and had put together an All-Star first half.”
Silverman added, “The Red Sox at the time were in pretty desperate need of another starter. A reliable starter. They paid a pretty hefty price. Dave Dombroski is not the type of executive to wait around.”
These days, it could be argued that there’s as much trade talk during the All-Star break as in December at the Winter Meetings. Like in Miami Beach when the Royals traded Bret Saberhagen six years after he was a World Series hero.
The Royals may not pull off another blockbuster trade, but it’s likely they’ll be one of several teams that won’t wait for a trade until the winter.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.