The Royals signed Kevin Kouzmanoff to a minor league deal (that becomes a $1 million dollar contract if he's on the roster) earlier today, in the kind of typical Dayton Moore move that no one saw coming. I should say first that I like the move, though I'm not entirely sure how it is going to actually benefit the Royals barring a strange combination of events. So maybe I don't like it that much.
Here's what we know:
- Kevin's struggles with the bat are firmly established. In 2011, with the Rockies and A's, he posted a cumulative .284 OBP. His career line in the majors is .255/.300/.420, though the bulk of that number has come in either San Diego or Oakland. There's a touch of power -- 23 homers in Petco in 2008 is no small feat -- and really not much else, which makes in him many ways a typical third-baseman of the old design. He showed some life in AAA last season (.302/.341/.550 in 272 PAs) which is only a mildly warmed comfort, but one that we'll take. (Weird fact, his slugging numbers have declined every year since 2007.)
- He's very good defensively, though it is unclear how good. By baseball-reference WAR, he's been about a 1.5 win player, by fangraphs WAR, that number jumps to about 2.8 on average. A huge difference.
- There's probably some scenario in which the Royals could use Kouzmanoff as a late game defensive sub for Moustakas, perhaps after Yuni has pinch-hit for him. (As Jeff pointed out this week, actually having Yuni hit for Moose is bizarre, but hey...) However, this is more maneuvering than I really seeing Yost employing often enough to generate any value. In Game Seven of the World Series, with the Royals up 3-1 in the 7th inning, I might like the idea of using Kouzmanoff as a defensive sub, but let's get to that bend in the river first.
So as a bench player that really never plays, Kouzmanoff wouldn't really be that exciting. He's better than Yuni, in so much as he can actually do one thing well, but it's basically a different version of that whole argument. As a baseball fan and wannabe analyst, I like thinking about depth and tactics and all that, but the reality is that isn't the way the game is managed, not regarding position players in an era of huge bullpens.
So the only other angle here, as Retro mentioned earlier today, is that Kouz is some kind of Moose insurance or Moose motivator. I'll add another: a scenario in which the Royals delayed Moose's service time clock at the start of 2012, using Kouzmanoff to do so.
Moose hit .263/.309/.367 last season, accumulating 111 days of service time in the process. If this were a computer simulation, I would 100% start Moose in AAA to begin the year. For one, I'm not sure he's actually earned a starting job in the Majors from a purely performance based standpoint. Two, the Royals have the incentive by the structure of MLB's CBA to delay and stagger his emergence as a regular player. Overwhelmingly, the chances are that whether Moose is a Royal on Opening Day or sometime in May this season won't alter his arbitration and free agency schedule, there's a case to be made that for insurance reasons the Royals should be conservative. If Moose breaks his arm and misses a year in Omaha, the Royals lose nothing, if he does so on a rainy night in Cleveland in April, he accumulates an entire year of Major League service time. Readers with an extremely good memory might note that I've made this argument before. While the big cutoff dates (Super 2, etc) get the most attention, the trajectory of players' careers is unpredictable. Look at Alex Gordon's ups and downs. Who is to say the Royals won't randomly demote Moose for three weeks in 2013? We just don't know.
And rounding back to the first thing we mentioned about Moustakas, he's far from a polished product.
Of course, none of this will happen. And perhaps, it shouldn't. The Royals have a human relationship with Moustakas, who is legitimately a major part of their future. They need to nurture him and make him feel like an integral part of the organization. Nickel and diming him (which would be the perception, if not the reality) by sending him back to AAA to start 2012 is likely not something that would be good for the relationship. Nor with their relationship with other players, or for their marketing position with the fans.
Nevertheless, Kouzmanoff gives the Royals the ability to do this thing that they would never do. Which I guess is fun.