In one of the more puzzling moves to be completed prior to this year’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Kansas City Royals acquired outfielder Justin Maxwell from the Houston Astros for minor league right-hander Kyle Smith. Maxwell wasn’t known to be available on the trade market, but what’s more surprising about the move is the Royals interest in adding an outfielder to their active roster given the holes that the team could have addressed instead.
In fact, Michael Engel at Kings of Kauffman’s reaction to the deal somewhat sums up the Royals-fan mentality rather accurately:
Anytime you can trade a decent, but legit prospect for a fifth outfielder, you gotta do it.
To understand the magnitude of the quote, you’ll have to appreciate Engel’s sarcasm as the move appears highly confusing at first glance. On one hand, the Royals don’t have a need in their outfield. Alex Gordon is entrenched in left field and hitting .271/.343/.404 in 440 PA on the year. Lorenzo Cain has cooled from a strong start, but has established himself in center field despite hitting just .259/.318/.366. Since jettisoning Jeff Francoeur earlier in the season the team’s used David Lough (.291/.308/.432, 215 PA) and Jarrod Dyson (.275/.340/.451, 101 PA) to fill out their outfield. Maxwell offers a minimal upgrade, if any at all, over that group.
Maxwell has struggled to a .241/.311/.387 line on the year in 151 PA. He’s missed some time due to a concussion and a broken hand, but he hasn’t looked like the same player who’d seemingly had a breakout season in 2012. Maxwell hit just .229/.304/.460 last season, but mashed 18 HR in 352 PA and made some highlight reel catches for the Astros in center field. He’s got the ability to play all three outfield spots and might ultimately serve as more of a utility outfielder with the Royals. He could also be worked into a platoon with Lough in right, but there appears to be little reason to think that Maxwell will suddenly slide right into the team’s starting lineup on a daily basis.
Additionally, while Smith is not among the organization’s top prospects he’s still a viable arm that the team appears to be giving up on quickly.
A 4th Round pick in the 2011 Draft, Smith has shown some promise on the mound but is far from dominating his competition. He’s spent the year with Kansas City’s High-A Wilmington affiliate, making 19 starts and tossing 104.1 IP. He’s posted a 2.85 ERA and 1.169 WHIP in that stretch, but has generally underwhelming stuff and may ultimately profile as a back-end starter at best in the long run. Smith’s development might track out differently with a move to the Houston organization, but he’ll be joining a team with one of the strongest farm systems in all of baseball.