MLB trade grades: Royals trading Nicky Lopez to Braves is a lesson in futility

Braves get: Nicky Lopez, SS, 2B, 3B
Royal Sheep: Taylor Hearn, LHP

Rustin Dodd: The Royals are stuck in baseball purgatory — their rebuild hasn’t launched, and despite being more than 40 games under .500, they don’t have much to sell before the deadline. Reliever Scott Barlow has struggled this season. Salvador Pérez has a massive contract and “10-5” rights. One player who had minimal value was infielder Nicky Lopez, a strong defender who posted a 3.8 bWAR (and 6.0 fWAR!) season in 2021 before his BABIP stabilized and his offensive numbers rebounded to the ground.

Lopez was under club control through the 2025 season. The Royals don’t appear to be close to contention. So the club traded him to the Braves for … reliever Taylor Hearn, 29, who was just designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers earlier this month.

It’s a peculiar trade for the Royals. Not because Lopez had that much value. His stock clearly cratered after he posted a .567 OPS over the past two seasons. But instead of taking a flyer on a younger prospect in the minor leagues, the Royals are acquiring a lefty reliever with a 5.26 ERA in 229 1/3 career innings and two more years of club control, the same as Lopez.

Ultimately, it’s not the kind of deal that will make or break the Royals, which speaks volumes for the state of their club. The Royals are a team bereft of good options, and instead of placing a long-shot bet on a younger player, they will try to squeeze some value out of Hearn, who has a big arm. Still, the Royals could have acquired him for cash a week ago, which is how he ended up on the Braves in the first place.

The Braves, meanwhile, are acquiring a utility player who can handle multiple positions on defense, offers solid contact skills and is a sunny presence in the clubhouse. You don’t want to give Lopez too many at-bats, but the Braves won’t. For a replacement they just claimed after he was DFA’d…not bad.

Royal: D+
Braves: B

(Photo by Nicky Lopez: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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