With old friend Kendrys Morales in town last weekend, and Brandon Moss continuing to flail, I thought it may be a good time to revisit the designated hitter market from last winter. At the time, it looked like a buyer’s market, with several big boppers on the table. The Royals once again flirted with the idea of having a "rotating" DH position, resting regulars, but ultimately signed Brandon Moss to a two-year, $12 million deal.
The Moss deal has been nothing short of a disaster three months in. He is known to be a streaky hitter, but with the season nearly half over, it seems unlikely Moss is going to justify his deal or provide much utility for the Royals.
Knowing there was a flooded market of DH candidates, could the Royals have done much better? Here are last winter's free agents.
It is interesting how little conversation there was about Logan Morrison. The Kansas City-native has been rather disappointing in his big league career thus far, but he has shown decent power in the past and at age 29 would be much less likely to have his career dive off a cliff than some of the older candidates. However he, Mark Reynolds, and Eric Thames - probably the three best candidates here - are all playing first base, and it is unclear whether they would have taken a DH role in Kansas City.
Morales has pretty much matched his power numbers from Kansas City a year ago, but his walk rate has dropped rather significantly. The Jays were chided for jumping on Morales so early in the off-season and locking him up to a three-year deal. Due to his slower-than-molasses baserunning, Morales has been only replacement level, despite his 15 home runs, and he seems like a good bet to be dead money in 2019, when he is earning $11 million at age 36.
Chris Carter was recently let go by the Yankees. Former home run champ Pedro Alvarez was left to look for a minor league deal, and he has yet to play a big league game, hitting .222 with 16 home runs for Baltimore's AAA affiliate. Ryan Howard gave it a go with the Braves, but was let go after just 11 games. Billy Butler remains unemployed, his career seemingly over.
The lesson learned from last winter's market may be - perhaps the best move is not to play? Most of the DH-only hitters on this list have been replacement level or worse this year. The traditional stereotype of a DH is an old fat guy at the end of his career who swats dingers and whiffs a lot. But maybe we need to re-think that. The terrible baserunning a player like that provides, and the danger of that player losing hit hitting ability at that age, may suggest that a "rotating DH" is a better option. Consider that on offense alone, a speedy, high-contact, low-power guy like Whit Merrifield has been more valuable than a plodding, home run-hitter like Kendrys Morales.
Rotating the DH would also allow the Royals to keep their options open. With Brandon Moss stinking out loud, the Royals are stuck with his contract. They aren't going to eat that much money on his deal, they can't send him to the minors, they are left having to manage him on the roster as best they can.
Contrast that to if they had rotated the DH position. Cheslor Cuthbert might have gotten first crack. He has struggled this year (although he may have fared better with regular playing time), but had he slumped, they could have turned to Jorge Bonifacio (or Jorge Soler by this point). They could have turned to cheap free agents like Daniel Nava and Jose Martinez who, by the way, used to be in the Royals organization, and have gotten off to fantastic starts.
This, of course, is using the benefit of hindsight, but the point remains that signing Brandon Moss was an opportunity cost that has been spent by the Royals. Allowing themselves more flexibility may allow them to better adapt to a changing situation.