The Royals bolstered their lineup Monday adding Twins slugger Josh Willingham in a trade for minor league pitcher Jason Adam. Willingham is a 35-year old right-handed hitter who is a free agent at the end of the year, so this is purely a rental move for the pennant push this year. Willingham is owed about $2 million the remainder of the season.
Willingham began his career with the Marlins as a catcher but quickly moved to the outfield when it became clear he was a defensive liability. He has been a defensive liability in the outfield as well, although his bat will play better out in left-field. With the Royals he is going to fill in as designated hitter while Billy Butler is playing first base in Eric Hosmer's absence. From Andy McCullough:
Moore expects Willingham to become the club’s regular designated hitter. He still may split time with Raul Ibañez, but Moore insisted they would not platoon.
Willingham does not have much of a career split against lefties and righties, so expect him to be the regular designated hitter. It is possible he could get a spot start in right field on occasion, but he has only played 35 games in right field in his career and none since 2009. With Nori Aoki hitting better and the fact he has a reverse split, it makes sense to have Aoki and Dyson split time in the outfield from here on out. It is also possible Willingham could spot Alex Gordon to rest the Gold Glove left-fielder down the stretch, although don't expect them to do that in a big game with a fly ball pitcher on the mound.
Willingham has slumped over the last month hitting .170/.286/.321 since July 1. He injured his wrist in May, missing a few weeks, so it is possible the injury has been lingering this year. Willingham also had his worst season last year, hitting just .208/.342/.368. Still, his line of .209/.343/.380 since the beginning of the 2013 season would be the second-best on-base percentage on the current Royals club (behind only Alex Gordon), and the third best ISO (behind Mike Moustakas and...Raul Ibanez!) His walk rate this year is 15.1%, the best on the Royals is Alex Gordon at 9.3%. ZIPS projects Willingham to hit .224/.344/.402 the rest of the year for 117 wRC+. I wouldn't count on Willingham to get that clutch single, but he can get on base and hit home runs, two skills the Royals desperately need right now.
Willingham is a pull hitter, having hit all of his home runs in either left-field or left-center-field. Small sample size and all (97 plate appearances), but he has three home runs at Kauffman Stadium, including one July 30 off Danny Duffy, with a career line of .278/.402/.430 at the K. Four of his twelve home runs this year would not have left Kauffman Stadium.
"We see his presence in the middle of our lineup somewhere," Moore said. "And being that presence that can get some big hits for us."
With Eric Hosmer out of the lineup, the Royals have moved Salvador Perez in the #3 spot in the batting order, with Billy Butler back in the cleanup spot. Perez has been slumping a bit, hitting just .230/.245/.326 since July 1, and it hurts to have his .308 on-base percentage overall hitting near the top of the lineup. The Royals might be wise to hit Willingham third, or move Alex Gordon to the third spot and have Willingham hit fifth, while sliding Perez to sixth. That's still not the optimal lineup (HIT GORDON LEADOFF YOU DUMMY!) but it may be the best we get out of Ned Yost.
Acquiring Josh Willingham not only adds a valuable player to a lineup sorely in need of more offense, but it signals to the clubhouse the front office really is serious about winning. With the way things are rolling, Willingham could turn out to be a key acquisition.