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One Easy Move for 2010: Make Mitch Maier the Regular Centerfielder

We should appreciate Mitch Maier a little more around here, because it's clear nobody else is going to.

Maier's not totally useless offensively and he's decent with the glove at an important position. He'll be 28 next season and likely near his peak as a player. Assuming the Royals don't pick up Coco Crisp's option ($8 million), Maier's a reasonable option in center, especially for the Major League minimum. Letting Maier and DeJesus roam two thirds of the outfield real estate would help offset the likely presence of Jose Guillen.

Obviously, you would have to say this is unlikely, because Dayton Moore likes to acquire centerfielders. Their actually being good is not a prerequisite either. In my mind, Joey Gathright, Ryan Freel and now Josh Anderson have all rented the same apartment during their time in KC. For years now, we've seen how Dayton places guys afield based on relatively minor elements of how they hit: center fielders should steal bases in Dayton's vision. Period. If David DeJesus was better at stealing bases and worse at everything else, he never would have lost his CF job, which is why the Royals ended up acquiring Coco Crisp after Gathright failed, and why every Royals affiliate below AAA has a guy who does nothing but steal bases playing CF.

Actually, Maier reminds me a little of Gathright's best qualities. Even when he was struggling this season, Maier was doing his damnedest to take pitches. The difference between Maier and Gathright is that Maier didn't cost the Royals J.P. Howell, and he's still got a modest power potential. Maier has slugged .458 in the minors, compared to Gathright's .366 mark. Josh Anderson, on the other hand, shares Gathright's lack of power, as his career slugging percentage in the minors is .366. Hopefully, Maier can drive the ball enough to earn enough respect to still post a decent OBP.

Since returning from Omaha on July 25, Mitch Maier has hit .348/.446/.457 in his last 56 plate appearances. His season line is still pretty pedestrian at .247/.332/.346, but a .332 OBP is nothing to dismiss on this team. Thanks to a good season afield, Maier's posted a 0.4 WAR in 2009, and, not to be redundant, but non-below-replacement-level players aren't something to dismiss on this team either. DeJesus (2.1), Coco (1.3) and Maier (0.4) are the only Royal outfielders to be above replacement level this season. That's right, Maier's been better than St. Willie (-0.4), who is supposedly having a career season.

(Dayton Moore acquired position players having an above replacement level season: Crisp, Olivo (1.2), Callaspo (0.9), Pena (0.7). Baird's guys have kept this from being a 110-loss team. Trust the process.)

This is what your farm system is supposed to do. Sure, everyone also wants stars, but producing guys who can be league average or slightly better, for the league minimum, for a year or two, also provides tremendous value to a team. Yes, Maier was taken 30th overall back in 2003, so he isn't going to go down as a great pick. Nevertheless, he's ready to contribute just in time for his peak years, which also gives the Royals another few years to find someone better before Maier gets too expensive.

The Royals have enough problems on the roster, including one Superfund site in right and another at shortstop that they don't know about, that they should be willing to accept a simple, if unsexy, solution in center. Mitch Maier now!