Acquired RHP A.J. Puckett and LHP Andre Davis from Kansas City Royals in exchange for OF-S Melky Cabrera. [7/30]
Puckett was the Royals’ second-round pick out of Pepperdine in 2016 and he has a chance to be a fast-riser for the White Sox if he can develop above-average command of his fastball to go along with a plus changeup. The fastball sits 90-92 mph and can touch 94, with some downward plane to it. He can flash above-average command of the fastball, but his changeup command can be spotty at times despite it showing as a plus pitch. Puckett needs to work on preventing his hips from flying open while staying true to his 6-foot-4 frame.
He’s a ways off from the majors because his curveball is very much a work in progress. It shows sharp 12-6 movement at times and sits 71-74 mph, but he does not throw it consistently from his high-three-quarters slot. Not having consistent command of his secondaries has led to him becoming a nibbler at times; he has 46 walks in 107 1/3 innings this season. If he can develop the curveball and find more consistent command of his secondaries, Puckett is a safe bet to make it to the majors, and at the very least can eat some innings in a rotation. —Victor Filoromo
Acquired OF-S Melky Cabrera from Chicago White Sox in exchange for RHP A.J. Puckett and LHP Andre Davis. [7/30]
Kansas City is threading a needle here, and if they don’t get it exactly right, there are a fair few losing seasons between them and the playoffs again. Of course, if they do get it exactly right, they might end up in the playoffs again this year, and then everything feels a little bit different.
This team won two pennants, played a game with a chance to win the World Series twice, and actually won the thing once. They did it all with a core that can not only be cleanly characterized as homegrown, but that everyone recognized as a budding championship core even in its seedling form. The Royals’ farm system was famously amazing as far back as 2010, and one of the best ever in 2011. It was mostly these guys who made it so. Now, most of them are on the cusp of free agency, and it’s clear that most of them will move on.
After this season, Royals fans will still have Salvador Perez, Danny Duffy, and (perhaps to their chagrin) Alex Gordon to remind them of those World Series runs, but the rest of the stars will likely be gone. While they’re still around—while this team whose commitment to winning the fans reciprocated, and then some, is still mostly out there in the home colors at Kauffman Stadium—the front office and ownership groups have to be sensitive to what any move means. Even if they were only on the very fringe of contention, selling off the core like spare parts would have been a bad look, and since they’re legitimate contenders now, failing to support them with additions to the roster would also have gone over like a lead balloon.
On the other hand, this team still isn’t likely to be favored even in a potential coin-flip game, and the Astros team they’ll face if they advance beyond that is much better than the one they narrowly beat in the 2015 ALDS. Moves to improve the team have to be sensible, have to balance the long-term needs of the franchise with the demands of the fans and the stars who already have one foot out the door. And there’s one more constraint, one thing that makes even this low-cost upgrade at a position that needed it a little bit tricky: you can’t just shove a franchise icon onto the bench.
That’s what the situation demands, right now. Gordon can’t hit, and while his glove is still pretty good (better than Cabrera’s, though Cabrera hasn’t been the outright butcher one might have expected him to be by age 33), it’s not close to making up what he gives away at the plate. Gordon stayed, though. He hit free agency, and while his market never developed quite the way he might have hoped, he had the chance to sign elsewhere and he didn’t. He’s the guy who hit the homer that spun the 2015 World Series in favor of Kansas City. He was there before any of the big-name prospects; he was there when Melky was the center fielder and Jeff Francoeur was over in right, hitting more or less like Gordon is hitting now.
With Brandon Moss hitting much better lately and Jorge Bonifacio playing well in right field, this move can only spell a whole lot less playing time for Gordon, if the Royals want to realize the full potential benefit of adding Cabrera. The question is whether they can do that, without disrupting the vibe that has always been a part of what the Royals do, a partial explanation for their persistent outstripping of everyone’s projections and expectations. Instead, what will probably happen is that Gordon will give up just part of his job, playing against most right-handed pitchers while Cabrera takes at-bats from both Bonifacio and Moss, and Cabrera will actually displace Gordon only against left-handed pitchers.
Cabrera is an excellent fit in that regard, because Gordon is a left-handed hitter and has hit .201/.320/.301 against southpaws since the start of 2016. Cabrera, formerly an extremely balanced platoon split guy (never a guarantee, even for switch-hitters), has seen that split widen a bit, and is hitting .310/.340/.498 against lefties during that time. If Ned Yost can strike the somewhat delicate balance needed here, this should be a substantial move. Against teams (like the Indians, for example) with very tough lefty relief options behind good righty starters, Cabrera can be doubly useful off the bench, batting for either Gordon or Moss as the situation dictates. We'll see if Yost is capable of nimbly managing the matchups and egos required to get the most out of his bats down the stretch. —Matthew Trueblood