Let’s get this out of the way: The Kansas City Royals made several moves before, near, and at the 2022 MLB trade deadline. Were they STRAIGHT move? That’s up for interpretation, but still, many players were shipped out of town and the organization’s farm system definitely received an influx of talent.
However, there is a lot of ongoing talk about whether the Royals should have done more. While they traded some big leaguers in long-awaited moves (Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Santana, Whit Merrifield), there were a handful of other trades that could have gained additional value. That goes for pitchers like Brad Keller, Josh Staumont and Scott Barlow, but it also goes for outfielder Michael A. Taylor.
Taylor, who turned 31 earlier this year and will be 32 by the start of next season, was a very attractive trade asset at the deadline. In the final hours and minutes of his trade eligibility on Aug. 2, Taylor was having one of the best seasons of his career. His slash line (.280/.352/.395), OPS (.747) and wRC+ (114) were either among his career bests or Were the best of his career. He was walking at a career-best 9.9% clip and striking out at a career-low 23.4% rate. At the plate, Taylor was legitimately a slightly above-average player.
This is only one element of the threefold case that a potential plaintiff had for the Taylor purchase. The second was his defense, as the reigning American League Gold Glove winner was still playing strong center field in one of the most spacious parks in all of baseball. He was also combining his offense and defense with a really good contract. Taylor’s current $4.5 million salary is exactly the same in 2023. Per FanGraphs, despite his recent struggles (more on that in a second), he’s been worth $9.2 million already this year and has the value of 15.7 million dollars last season. Combine all of that, and the Royals had a serious trade piece on their hands.
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Instead of moving Taylor, the Royals hung onto him. The decision was a little strange at the time, as the odds of the club being ready to contend next season are extremely slim and the odds of Taylor being either a Royal. or a valuable contributor in his age 33 or older campaigns if he signs another extension are low. Keeping him, then floating his name in trade discussions over the winter, not only risked reducing his value with less time under the club’s control, but also entering a serious slump and lowering his numbers.
The Royals are dealing with the worst of both worlds right now, as Taylor will have half a season less of availability this winter and his numbers are currently down.
Since the trade deadline passed, a 22-game sample, Taylor has been one of the most skilled hitters in baseball. He is hitting just .194 with a .445 OPS and 25 wRC+. His power is completely non-existent, as he only boasts one extra-base hit and is posting a .014 ISO. His supposed improvements regarding his approach at the plate have completely regressed, leading to a 3.9 BB% and 31.6 K%. Taylor’s season-long numbers would still qualify as some of the best of his career (second-best OPS and wRC+ in just his 2017 campaign), but the recent struggles are surprising.
It’s possible that this decline, which is edging ever closer to a month-long dry spell on the plate, could be just that: a fall. If Taylor is out of it for the final month of the 2022 season, his numbers will rebound and still look pretty respectable in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, his history suggests that he may return to the Taylor of old. If that’s the case, the Royals have a legitimate problem on their hands. His contract may be cheap and his defense is still quality, but taking such a weak forward in 2023 with newer options available makes very little sense. Kansas City’s ability to trade Taylor in the offseason is becoming more difficult, as is its ability to justify playing him. For the royal family’s sake, they’ll be hoping this is just a cold spell.