When the Kansas City Royals 2014 season started, the most noteworthy stat from the first two games were the hitless stretches from both Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas. Escobar went 16 at bats before picking up his first hit and now he’s turned the season around to the point that his numbers aren’t just respectable, they’re good. Mike Moustakas, on the other hand, isn’t quite there. He has hit a few homers, which is valuable on a team nearly completely bereft of power, but outside of those few homers, he’s been largely a disaster at the plate akin to what we’ve seen of him in past years. When both players were struggling, Ned Yost said that he likes to give a player 100 at bats to let them settle in to the season.
“At least 100,” Yost said. “These are all guys that have been here before. Not everybody starts off on fire. At the end of the year, these guysâ€™ numbers are all going to be about what they should be, what we think theyâ€™re going to be.”
Here we are. After last night’s game, Mike Moustakas now has 84 at bats and is hitting a less than robust .155/.226/.346. He does have the aforementioned homers, which is nice, but if that’s all he’s contributing, it’s simply not enough. And additionally, Moustakas has had spurts of homers before, only to be followed by long stretches without them. If his only contribution on offense is the occasional three or four homer week, the Royals just can’t wait around for that. The Royals are getting close to that 100 at bat mark and the question is what happens next with Moustakas, who is doing more than his part to weigh down an offense that doesn’t need any additional help being weighed down.
The first thing that will likely happen once this 100 at bat is reached is that if the Royals are asked, Yost will probably respond with something about how once Moustakas got going and got his first hit, he’s been much better. He’ll talk about how he’s putting together good at bats and he’ll mention how he’s hitting the ball hard and how they think results are just around the corner. That will mostly not be true. Moustakas is hitting the ball harder, but he’d have to be by definition. He is putting together some solid at bats, but he isn’t really going well enough for a team that has their eyes on the postseason to keep running him out there day in and day out.
The way I see it, the Royals have four options and I’ll talk about them in the order of their likelihood.
This solution does appear to already have been implemented to some extent as the Royals have played Valencia against each of the last two lefty starters after Moustakas played against two of the first three. We’ll see pretty quickly if this is the case because, at a quick glance, the Royals face five left-handed starters in their next 12 games. My guess is Moustakas starts at least one of those and my secondary prediction to that is that people get worked up over it and rightfully so. We all know about the career splits of the two players, but in extremely tiny samples in 2014, the trends are continuing. I expect the Royals to begin pinch hitting for Moustakas more often in situations when lefty relievers are brought in to face him rather than worrying about “getting into his dome” by pulling him from a game. When a lefty is on the mound, Danny Valencia gives the Royals a much better shot than Mike Moustakas and they’ll have to act accordingly.
Moustakas Becomes the Backup
I have to say that the straight platoon is really the only thing that I could happening at this point in the season other than nothing changing because of the above mumbo jumbo that I wouldn’t be surprised about. Still, as the season progresses, the situation could get bleaker and the Royals might have to take more action. I could see a point when the Royals decide that Danny Valencia is the every day third baseman and Mike Moustakas is his backup, pinch hitting late in the game against tough right-handed relievers, replacing him for defense late in the game and giving him the occasional Sunday off. Valencia playing every day is far from ideal as he has his big struggles with right-handed pitchers, but Valencia’s .628 career OPS against righties is an improvement over Moustakas at this point. The defense will take a pretty sizable hit, so let’s hope this option isn’t the best one for the Royals at any point. If it is, that means really bad things for Moustakas.
Moustakas to Omaha
I think this is unlikely, but not impossible. At some point, a second consecutive season with an OPS+ below 80 just can’t be tolerated on a team expecting to contend (boy I say that a lot, don’t I?). You’ll start to see the signs of this being a possibility if Johnny Giavotella or even Christian Colon starts playing a lot of third base in Omaha. Right now, those two are the most likely replacements for Moustakas if the Royals decide to send him down. If the Royals send Moustakas down, that tells me they’re done with him and they’ll need to find a solution until Hunter Dozier is ready in a year or two. Because of that, another option with him going down would be to pick up a stopgap like a Casey McGehee or even a Chase Headley type who might come pretty inexpensive. The whole idea that Moustakas could be demoted is a pretty big longshot, but definitely not something that should be discounted.
Depending on the circumstances, we could be looking for the same signs with this option as we are with him being sent to Omaha with Giavotella or Colon playing a lot of third. The other option, though, is a challenge type trade with Moustakas for someone like Matt Dominguez of the Astros. Another thought is a Moustakas (and more probably) for a guy like Pablo Sandoval, a pending free agent having a rough start to his season. This whole scenario is highly unlikely, but I suppose it could happen, so I included it.
We’ll see if the Royals take action at 100 at bats like Yost had mentioned they would look into doing. My guess is that very little changes. I do think Valencia sees more at bats against left-handed pitching in pinch hitting opportunities, and he will start most games against lefties. It’s just very disappointing to see what Moustakas has done to start the season, but the Royals don’t have time to play games. They’re currently 13-12 and if they can get their offense kickstarted, they do have a chance to be a pretty darn good team. The way Moustakas is hitting is not contributing to that goal, so the Royals need to do whatever they can to get better, even if it means moving on in even a small way from their disappointing former top prospect.
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