Mike Moustakas was a prodigious power hitter in high school, setting the California high school record for most hung dong. That resume was part of what sold the Royals on making him the #2 overall pick in 2007 over Matt Wieters, Jarrod Parker, Jason Heyward, and Rick Porcello.
Just a year ago, it looked like the Royals had made a terrific draft pick. Mostakas was hitting .268/.327/.490 at the All-Star break with 15 home runs and 47 RBI. We were actually debating whether or not he had been snubbed for the All-Star team!
But it was almost as if that perceived snubbing sent Moose into a tailspin. He hit just .211/.261/.325 the rest of the season with 5 home runs and 26 RBI. That tailspin has carried over to this year, where he has hit .186/.252/.284. This is no longer a small sample size slump at this point. We are at Defcon2 with Moustakas' career here. Since last year's Boo Cano Fest at Kauffman, Moustakas is hitting .200/.257/.307 in 501 plate appearances. With the Royals slowly creeping into playoff contention and with July almost upon us, it seems like a good time to start addressing the serious hole on this roster. So what are our options at third base?
Him? Moose has been epically awful this year, but he has the talent to make you think he could still bounce back and have a decent year. After all, he has a Hall of Fame hitting coach! Any evaluation of new candidates will have to judge whether that player can outperform what you think Moustakas will hit over the remainder of the year, not what he has done thus far. Because no one can be this bad, right?
Alex Gordon was awful for half a year, then turned it on. On this date in 2007, he was hitting .215/.311/.354. He hit .272/.318/.451 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI the rest of the way. Its not unthinkable Moose could figure things out. Speaking of Alex....
Hey, one of our best hitters was once a terrific third base prospect. Why not move Alex Gordon to third base? That opens up an outfield spot for David Lough and Jarrod Dyson in the outfield, both of whom are better hitters than Moustakas this season.
Nice thought, but its not going to happen, according to manager Ned Yost. And for good reason. Gordon hasn't appeared in a game at third base since 2010 and hasn't regularly played the position since 2009. Since then he has become a Gold Glove left-fielder. Moving him to third base to get marginal offensive upgrades like Jarrod Dyson and David Lough in the lineup seems like a trade-off not worth making, assuming Gordon can play a passable third base despite not having played in awhile and having little time to get used to the position again. Gordon was also the one who asked to be moved to left-field, so he would have to be on-board with a move back. This is the kind of move that would make perfect sense in a Strat-o-Matic game, but less sense in real life. So get out of your basements and watch a game, nerds.
By WAR, Tejada has been nearly as valuable as Billy Butler (0.4 WAR for Tejada, 0.7 for Billy). Ned has used the 39 year-old Tejada sparingly, giving him just 62 plate appearances, but the veteran has responded to hit .310/.355/.448, the highest OPS on the team for anyone with 50 plate appearances. Could Tejada handle playing every day?
Let's not forget that Tejada did not play any Major League Baseball last year, and played just 36 games of minor league baseball. In 2011, he played semi-regularly for the Giants and put up a .596 OPS. Oh and baseball drug tests now. Just saying, its harder for older players to bounce back without some sort of enhancement.
Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. We've begun to see Tejada's playing time at third base increase, particularly against left-handed pitchers. Don't be surprised if he takes over the position full-time if Moose continues to struggle.
I like Elliot Johnson. He can play all over the field, he can swipe a base, he walked a bit in the minors, and he seems like a sparkplug who can fire the team up. But he's not a starter. He's barely a Major League bench player. I don't see him as much of an upgrade over Moose.
Johnny is a bit of a fan favorite on this site, I think because he could easily fit into a mayonaise jar we could keep on our bookshelf in the basement. We would poke holes for air of course, we're not monsters. Johnny impressed in the minors from 2010-2012, hitting well over .300 at high levels. But he floundered when given the chance in the majors, hitting .242/.271/.340 in 376 plate appeances over two seasons. Couple that with less-than-stellar defense, and you can see why the team wasn't in a rush to give him a job this year. Gio has been playing some at third base in Omaha, raising the possibility he could play the position in KC. But his numbers in AAA this year - .259/.341/.403 in 64 games, while not bad, certainly aren't screaming promotion.
The Royals could look to other organizations to plug the hole in at third base. They could go one of three ways. First, they could make a major trade for a long-term player. A young player blocked in another organization like Jordan Pacheco on the Rockies or even a veteran with years left on his contract like Aramis Ramirez might be available. This would in effect be closing the book on Moustakas as a failed prospect and moving on. This is highly unlikely as it seems premature to give up on Moustakas completely and in Ramirez's case, it is unlikely the Royals would be willing to take on that much money.
Second, the club could make a major trade on a short-term player. This is also unlikely however, as the Royals would be reluctant to give up much in terms of minor league talent. The Royals could perhaps eat a contract a team was willing to dispense with, but David Glass has said he'll only add payroll if he feels the team is contending. There is also the matter of a shallow pool of impending free agents at third base. Michael Young is the only decent third baseman who would likely be available (but man, wouldn't Dayton love Michael Young?)
Third, the team could look for any cheap options off the scrap heap.
James Darnell was designated for assignment by the Padres last week. He was once a Top 100 prospect who suffered a major shoulder injury which has drastically affected his bat. He's also playing left-field now, so my guess is his shoulder is not strong enough to play third base anymore.
Chris Nelson has bounced all over the waiver wire this year, already having played for the Rockies, Yankees and Angels this year. Anaheim outrighted him again last week, making his possibly available. Nelson is a .277/.318/.407 hitter in 710 Major League plate appearances and hits from the right side.
Reid Brignac is capable of breathing.
There are always AAA infielders bouncing around baseball like ping pong balls. Taking a flyer on a Yamaico Navarro, Cody Ransom or Russ Canzler-type player might pay off - it did once before with Wilson Betimet.
So what's the move here? I'm going anti-Lee Judge and asking you to play GM. Enjoy the fruits of the third baseman tree.