Now that weâ€™ve had a chance to (hopefully) calm down after the Wil Myers trade, itâ€™s time to address the elephant in the room. That would be the right field situation. After the Royalsâ€™ fanbase spent the entire 2012 season wondering when Myers would take over for Jeff Francoeur, that option is obviously off the table now.
This is a bit of an issue since the Royals have, with this trade, sent a signal that they intend to contend for a division title in 2013. Regardless of what we in blogger-land think, the Royals obviously felt they were close enough that James Shields would put them over the top. So Iâ€™ll play along and assume that they have a good chance, a real chance, to win the division.
However, itâ€™s going to be tough to win with the majorsâ€™ worst position player (measured by baseball-referenceâ€™s WAR values) in the lineup every day. And even tougher if he bats fifth most of the time, as he did last year.
Of all the things the Royals are counting on to go right in order to contend (a bounce-back year from Eric Hosmer, continued offensive improvement from Mike Moustakas, a full season of Salvador Perez, another solid offensive season from Alcides Escobar, among others), having the 2011 version of Jeff Francoeur (he had a 2.7 bWAR that season) show up seems the least likely.
So what options do the Royals have? While I expect Frenchy to be in the lineup on Opening Day, even if he has a lousy spring training, the Royals need to have a Plan B in case he continues his 2012 ineffectiveness or gets hurt. While itâ€™s easy to make jokes about how much the Royals love him no matter what, if they really want to win, they wonâ€™t hesitate to bench him. Or else the Myers trade was a waste.
The in-house option is to put Jarrod Dyson in center and move Lorenzo Cain to right. The good news is that this would improve the defense (for all the attention Francoeur gets for defense, his range was terrible last year) and would give us a fun outfield to watch. The bad news is that Dysonâ€™s offense would likely be worse than Francoeurâ€™sâ€”Dyson had an OPS of .650 last year while Francoeur was at .665. Obviously Dyson wouldnâ€™t be hitting fifth ever, so his offensive shortcomings would be slightly less damaging. Unless he is batting leadoff.
Other in-house options would be David Lough and the recently-signed Xavier Nady. I donâ€™t know that either one would be an improvement, but if you believe Francoeur was almost 3 wins worse than a replacement-level player last year, well, those guys are replacement-level players. Lough might be a little better than that, and I wish weâ€™d seen more of him before now (I think weâ€™re mostly beyond the â€œgive these guys a lookâ€ stage). At least with Lough, the Royals could platoon Frenchy and use him against lefties only.
Speaking of platooning Francoeur, check out this excellent piece by Derek Johannsen. Not to spoil the ending, but if the Royals could add someone like David DeJesus, that would be an excellent setup. Both players are solid if used properly, and that plan would let Ned Yost keep setting up that alternate lineup he loves so much. Consider that most nights, the other eight players will be evenly divided between left-handed (Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Moustakas, and probably Chris Getz) and right-handed (Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain, Perez, Escobar). Having a platoon split in right field would allow the lineup to alternate all the way through if Yost chose to do that.
I donâ€™t see a lot of help in the free-agent market. Iâ€™m sure the Royals donâ€™t want to spend a lot, which rules out Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn (although he does have the advantage of being a former Brave!). Thatâ€™s probably just as well; I have a feeling those two will be overpaid, even though they will be productive.
However, an intriguing possibility I see is Grady Sizemore. The former Indian turned 30 in August, and was a very good player before injuries got him. Granted, he missed 2012 with injuries and hasnâ€™t played a full season since 2008. The good news is that those issues make him relatively inexpensiveâ€”he had a $5 million contract with Cleveland for 2012, so he could almost certainly be had for that or a bit less, especially if there were some playing-time incentives added in. As a left-handed bat, he would fit nicely in a platoon situation. In fact, that might be best for him, rather than playing every day. Sizemore was a tremendous talent, and if he were able to recapture that, the Royals might end up with a positive WAR in right field. And every little bit will help as they try to catch the Tigers.
Perhaps the trade market would be more helpful. I would have been interested in Peter Bourjos of the Angels, but with Wednesdayâ€™s Kendrys Morales trade, it looks like Los Angeles intends to have Bourjos in center field next season. Moving on, I would be interested to see what Philadelphia would want for Domonic Brown, who was at one time considered a hot prospect. From afar, it looks like the Phillies have jerked him around a bit and not given him much of a chance. If they are really interested in Vernon Wells or Cody Ross or whomever, they might be willing to deal Brown. The Phils seem to be in a transition period and might welcome a decent prospect in return.
Another possible deal could be made with Arizona for Gerardo Parra. The Diamondbacks seem to have settled on him as a fourth outfielder, but he is good defensively (Gold Gloves arenâ€™t everything, but he did win one in 2011). And he hits well enough that he would not embarrass himself. And what do you know, heâ€™s another left-handed hitter. And as he will only be arbitration-eligible after next season, heâ€™d be easy on the pocketbook.
I realize that this discussion is probably moot. As I said, I expect Francoeur to be in right field on Opening Day. In fact, I expect him to go through spring training without really being challenged for that spot. Itâ€™s frustrating, but the Royals didnâ€™t seem to mind running him out there every day last year while he didnâ€™t hit (.235 batting average), didnâ€™t get on base (.287 OBP), didnâ€™t hit for power (.378 slugging percentage), and struggled defensively (range factor of 1.83, compared to the league average of 1.99). However, a team that is serious about contending cannot have an everyday player with those stats. If Francouer bounces back, great! Iâ€™ll be happy to see it. But if not, the Royals need to have a short leash on him; regardless, they need to have a backup plan ready. If not, then theyâ€™re not really serious about winning, and the Wil Myers trade was a waste.