The Royals were shutout yesterday for the fourth time already this year, and there to make the last out of the game was Brandon Moss. While Moss is not the sole cause of the Royals offensive struggles, he has certainly been a significant contributing factor. The left-handed slugger was supposed to provide a power bat in the middle of the lineup after signing a two-year, $12 million deal last winter, but instead he has hit just .153/.244/.319 with a 34% strikeout rate.
The slow start has caused many fans to wonder how long the leash is on Moss before the Royals do something about the automatic out he has become. The slump is not new either - Moss had an epic slump to end last season with the Cardinals. Dating back to last August 29, Moss is hitting just .117/.203/.246 in 192 plate appearances.
What should the Royals do with Brandon Moss? The Royals have certainly had experience with a DH who can't hit in April. Rustin Dodd made this astute comparison over the weekend.
Player A on May 6, 2016: .200/.248/.310, two homers, 24 Ks— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) May 6, 2017
Player B on May 6, 2017: .159/.253/.333, four homers, 27 Ks
Player B is Brandon Moss and Player A is of course, Kendrys Morales. Fans were calling on Morales to be designated for assignment after a slow start, but the Royals’ patience would be rewarded. After terrible April, Morales hit .270/.335/.487 with 28 home runs the rest of the season and landed a lucrative three-year, $39 million deal with Toronto.
The Royals are very unlikely to release Moss this early into his contract. The Royals have shown a bit more willingness to cut bait on a player owed money, but hardly any team lets a player go in the first year of a multi-year deal, let alone after just one month. Here is a list of players signed to guaranteed contracts that Dayton Moore has released, with the approximate amount of salary the team had to eat on the remainder of the deal.
|Player released||Contract signed||Released||Salary eaten|
|Scott Elarton||2 year, $8 million||July 25, 2007||$1,400,000|
|Brett Tomko||1 year, $3 million||June 21, 2008||$1,634,000|
|Horacio Ramirez||1 year, $1.8 million||June 10, 2009||$1,090,000|
|Juan Cruz||2 year, $5.5 million||April 23, 2010||$2,834,000|
|Yuniesky Betancourt||1 year, $2 million||August 14, 2012||$488,000|
|Jeff Francoeur||2 year, $13.5 million||July 5, 2013||$3,625,000|
|Bruce Chen||1 year, $4.25 million||Sept. 5, 2014||$590,000|
|Jason Frasor||1 year, $1.8 million||July 13, 2015||$790,000|
|Omar Infante||4 year, $30 million||June 21, 2016||$14,500,000|
Brandon Moss is still owed about $11 million through next year. Releasing a player owed that much money is not unprecedented for Dayton Moore, but it would be unprecedented for him to let a player go this early into his guaranteed contract. The only way they would cut bait is if they were truly convinced Moss was completely washed up.
How can you tell if an older player off to a slow start is slumping or is truly washed up? I took a look back at the last ten seasons and looked at players 33 years of age or older at power positions (first base, outfield, DH) that had an April with a batting average worse than Moss, to see what they did after their terrible start.
|April numbers||Rest of the season|
Raul Ibanez is a slow starter! He was released in June of 2014, later signing with the Royals. Xavier Nady, Brian Giles, and Magglio Ordonez were all pretty much washed up following their poor Aprils. David Ortiz was an All-Star after a poor April but a sizzling hot May. Curtis Granderson has gotten off to a slow start again this year, hitting .128 in April. Ryan Raburn rebounded from a poor season due to a bad April to have a great season in 2015.
So in most cases, the hitter rebounded after an awful April, sometimes even with an All-Star caliber season. But there are a few cases in which the player was definitely washed up. One stat that stands out for concern with Moss is his 34% strikeout rate. Adam LaRoche, David Ortiz, and Adam Dunn are the only players on this list to strike out over 30% of the time in April. Yet they all bounced back to reasonable numbers the rest of the year.
So if the Royals aren't going to release Moss, and trading him is out of the question as no one wants to acquire a designated hitter who can't hit, what can you do about Moss?
Frankly there haven't been a ton of better options. Despite his very low batting average, Moss is still seventh on the team in wRC+ due to his high walk-rate (he's second on the team in walks) and home runs (he is third on the club in home runs). The Royals could platoon him or even bench him in favor of a Jorge Bonifacio/Jorge Soler combo in rightfield/DH. Moss has struggled against lefties, particularly last season. However Bonifacio has all of 13 Major League games under his belt, with mixed results. It may be worth seeing what he can do, but it is not all that certain he will be an upgrade over what Moss can do the rest of the season.
Ultimately the Royals probably have to be patient with Brandon Moss. He has been a streaky hitter, and he will likely always be a low-average, high-strikeout hitter that provides value with his walks and occasional home runs. The season is still young enough that a short hot streak can turn his numbers around quick. If Moss hits .300 over the next two weeks, his average will be around the .225 he hit last year. If you don't think even that is possible, consider just last June, Moss hit .333/.407/.792 with eight home runs in 21 games.
Brandon Moss will need to start hitting soon, but even if he heats up it may not matter much. The Royals have dug themselves into a collective hole that may be too large to dig out of. Still, the Royals will need Moss to be a productive hitter, if nothing more than to give them an additional trade piece this summer or next.