Royals Acquire Decent Platoon Outfielder, Pay Real Price

Not only are the Royals not sellers, they’ve actually made a prospect-for-veteran swap on deadline day. To help shore up their right field situation, they sent RHP Kyle Smith to the Astros in exchange for outfielder Justin Maxwell.

Maxwell is a solid role player, athletic enough to play all three outfield spots and with enough ability to provide some offensive value. In 763 big league plate appearances, he’s posted a .319 wOBA/97 wRC+, and UZR/DRS have liked his defensive contributions as well. Add it all up, and he’s racked up +3.8 WAR in just over a full season’s worth of playing time.

However, that’s a very defense-heavy number, and we’re dealing with 1,500 innings of outfield play from a 29-year-old. You have to regress his expected defensive contributions a good deal, which is why both ZIPS and Steamer forecast him to be roughly an average defender over the rest of the season. It doesn’t kill Maxwell’s value entirely, but he’s very unlikely to continue to produce at a +3 WAR per season pace.

Still, Maxwell definitely has his uses. He’s mashed left-handers to this point in his career, he’s a good baserunner, and as part of a platoon with David Lough, the Royals could actually get some real production in right field over the rest of the season. He’s probably not an everyday guy, but there’s skills here, and if used correctly, he can help the Royals.

Unfortunately, these are the kinds of pieces you like to add for little cost. Casper Wells, for instance, is a very similar player, and he was passed around on waivers for the first few months of the season. The Nationals acquired Scott Hairston for low-level pitching prospect Ivan Pineyro. The Indians signed Ryan Raburn to a minor league contract over the winter. Lefty mashing OFs aren’t that hard to find, nor are they usually all that expensive.

However, to get Maxwell, the Royals gave up Kyle Smith, who Marc Hulet rated as their #10 prospect heading into the season. Smith has been excellent in high-A Wilmington this year, and is probably not far away from being ready for Double-A. He’s undersized, but the stuff and the results are there, and the Astros are clearly not shy about taking chances on short dudes who can play.

Smith isn’t any kind of elite prospect and might turn out to be nothing in the long run, but this seems like another example of the Royals paying an above market cost for a useful player that won’t actually help them enough for his presence to matter much. With or without Maxwell, the Royals aren’t going to the postseason this year, so at best, he pushes them a little closer to .500. Meanwhile, similar players are going to be outrighted off 40-man rosters this winter, and so while Maxwell is under team control for several more years, the future value he will provide could have been replicated without actually giving up a prospect at the deadline.

It’s not a backbreaker, and perhaps Maxwell will turn into more of a regular contributor than the short half of a job share, but this still seems like a bit of an odd maneuver for the Royals. This is the kind of trade that a contender makes to get their roster ready for postseason play. The Royals would like to be the team making those kinds of moves, but making those kinds of moves doesn’t make you a contender.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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