by John Viril—
After 28 games, the Kansas City Royals stand a gratifying 17-11. The good start is largely due to GM Dayton Moore’s successful (so far) reconstruction of the starting pitching staff. Royals starters rank 7th in MLB with an ERA of 3.56 and 8th in xFIP with 3.68. This result represents a massive jump from the 2012 staff’s no. 26 ranking and 5.01 staff ERA.
Kudos Dayton Moore.
Yet, with the good start comes added scrutiny. Dayton Moore cannot continue to tolerate substandard performances on a team that has shown it has a chance to contend. He needs to start thinking about how he can patch the holes on his roster. The problem areas reside in his starting lineup.
While both 3B Mike Moustakas and 1B Eric Hosmer have struggled early this season, the Royals are committed to these two cornerstone prospects. Either their scouts are right about them—or they are wrong—but the Royals cannot cheat themselves of finding out if Hosmer and Moustakas can become the middle-of-the-order bats that their minor league pedigrees indicate. You can’t do that if you pull the rug out from under their development—even in a pennant race.
That leaves two possible positions that can realistically be upgraded: RF and 2B.
Right Field—Jeff Francoeur is just not getting it done. His current line is an abysmal .253/.295/.364 for an OPS of .659. That’s virtually identical to last season’s unacceptable .665. While his fielding has improved, in 28 games Francoeur is playing at exactly replacement level (0.0 WAR).
Francoeur, however, IS effective against left-handed pitchers. He’s hitting .381 vs. left-handers this season (in only 21 ABs) and hits .291/.342/.480 against them for his career. He needs to become a platoon player to remain useful to the team.
Playing Dyson would have some benefits. He’s a terrifying baserunner, hits left-handed, and brings excellent defensive range. The problem is Dyson has little power and is likely to be exposed with too much playing time. He’s best suited as a situational bench player. Meanwhile, David Lough is tearing up Omaha to the tune of .364/.423/.536 and he also hits left-handed. The problem is that calling up Lough to platoon with Frenchy would require the Royals get rid of either INF Elliot Johnson or INF Miguel Tejada to make room on the roster.
I doubt that Dayton Moore would want to disrupt his bench for an unproven player.
A trade seems the most likely scenario. Oddly enough, both of the best candidates play for the Cubs: CF David DeJesus and RF Nate Schierholtz. Both Schierholtz and former Royal DeJesus bat left-handed and are in the final year of reasonable contracts.
33-year-old DeJesus has by far the superior track record of the two and is much more of a known quantity in Kansas City. He’s in the final year of his contract that pays $4.5 million this season with a $6.5 million option year for 2014, with a $1.5 million buyout if his team fails to pick up the option. Not only would he make a good platoon partner for Frenchy this season, DeJesus would be a viable stopgap in 2014 to allow RF prospect Jorge Bonifacio to develop.
If Dayton Moore balks at the price in prospects and money for DeJesus, he could turn to Schierholtz. Schierholtz is 29 and has a career batting line of .272/.321/.417 for an exactly league average OPS+ of 100. The primary advantage of Schierholtz is price. He’s in the last year of a $2.2 million contract with no option year or added buyout. Schierholtz could probably be had for a couple of C- prospects.
Second Base—As much “grit” that Chris Getz brings to second base, his weak bat (career line: .255/.311/.318) combined with his average glove limits his value. With disappointing hitting coming from both Hosmer and Moustakas, the Royals could use any offensive boost they can get. Getz’s bat is a prime target for upgrade.
The problem is that 2B is pretty much a positional wasteland in MLB. As limited as Chris Getz is, the Royals currently rank 14th in fWAR from 2nd base. The options for improvement include: 1) increase platoon time for Miguel Tejada, 2) call up Johnny Giavotella and 3) trade.
Manager Ned Yost could turn 2B into a platoon between the right-handed hitting Miguel Tejada and the left-handed Getz. Currently, Tejada is hitting .313/.353/.375 in only 17 PA’s. Subbing Tejada for Getz against left-handed pitchers could boost 2B production without disturbing the roster.
Dayton Moore could call up AAA 2nd base prospect Johnny Giavotella and hope he can finally hit in the major leagues. Such a move would not create roster problems since Getz still has a minor league option year remaining. The Royals could send Getz to Omaha while giving Giavotella a trial at 2nd. The problem is Dayton Moore doesn’t seem that enchanted with Johnny. Moore had numerous opportunities to give Giavotella time to establish himself in the major leagues. Instead, he continues to let Gio languish in Omaha while talking about his sub-standard defense. If Moore wouldn’t make playing time for Gio when the team was going nowhere in 2012, why would he do so when they’re trying to make a playoff run?
As for a trade, the only serious upgrade that looks to be available is Chase Utley. Utley is in the last year of his contract and Philadelphia looks like they’re in trouble. But, I can’t imagine that the former All-star would be at all cheap—even on a rental basis. Utley is sure to draw a qualifying offer and Philly would give up a compensation pick by trading him before free agency. Other candidates include Maicer Iztursis and Emilio Bonifacio of Toronto, but both are hitting worse than Getz. I don’t see the point.
For the first time in years, the Royals look like they might be a buyer as the trade deadline approaches. The opportunity exists for Dayton Moore to improve his ballclub due to clear weaknesses in the lineup. How effectively Moore addresses these issues can mean the difference between the playoffs and yet another failed season.