Last week, the Royals traded away Brandon Moss, the only first baseman on the 40-man roster with significant experience at the Major League level. The move led to speculation a reunion with Eric Hosmer was imminent.
But what if Eric Hosmer is not the Opening Day first baseman? What other options do the Royals have if they choose not to spend $100+ million on the first base position?
Cheslor Cuthbert has spent most of his career as a third baseman, but the metrics have him as a below-average defender there. His arm strength is great, and he has made some highlight reel plays with his quick reflexes. But his lateral movement isn’t great and his arm can be erratic. A move to first base could help his defense and he could perhaps even focus more on his offense.
His numbers thus far would be underwhelming for a first baseman - he is a .261/.306/.390 hitter in 205 Major League games. But he is just 25 years old and was hampered with injuries last year. He flashes decent power, although he would have to improve it to be even an average first baseman. His plate discipline still leaves much to be desired - he has just a 6.3% walk rate in the bigs while striking out 20% of the time.
Hunter Dozier was knocking on the door in 2016 after a big season, but suffered a major setback last year, missing the first six weeks with an oblique injury, and two months with a hamate bone injury. He came up as a third baseman, but has begun learning other positions in an attempt to get more playing time.
Dozier showed great power in 2016 in the minors, but has had a very inconsistent track record. He is 26, so he is at the point in his career where the Royals need to see what he can do. But he also has options remaining, so he could find himself in the minors to begin the year, after missing so much time last year.
Others: Ryan O’Hearn had a disappointing season in 2017 that saw him demoted from AAA to AA. He has some of the best power in the organization and can draw some walks, but his strikeout rate is a bit of a red flag. At age 24, he will have to put together a solid season to get back on the radar. Frank Schwindel was perhaps the best hitter in the Royals’ system last year, hitting .329/.349/.541 with 23 home runs across AA and AAA. But Schwindel almost never walks, which seems like a good bet to get exposed at the big league level. Neither O’Hearn or Schwindel is currently on the 40-man roster, suggesting the Royals don’t see either as part of the future.
Free agent options
Lucas Duda would be pretty funny considering one of the best moments in Royals history came at his expense. Duda smacked 30 home runs last season, but hit just .217/.322/.496. He was a bit BABIP-unlucky and his strikeout rate spiked to 27% last year. He just turned 32 and was a 3 WAR player as recently as 2015. He is terrible against lefties and should probably be in more of a platoon situation, perhaps coupled with Cuthbert or Dozier. He is a bit of a poor defender, as we found out in the 2015 World Series.He could probably be had on a short-term one- or two-year deal worth around $10-12 million.
Adam Lind was a part-time player for the Nationals, but put up some of his best rate stats, hitting .303/.362/.513 with 14 home runs in 301 plate appearances. Like Duda, he is awful against lefties - the Nationals only sent him up against them 29 times last year - and would probably work best in a platoon role. Lind was a long-time starter with a bit of a roller-coaster career. He was a 2.3 WAR player in 2015 with the Brewers but fell to a below replacement-level player in 2016 with the Mariners, according to Fangraphs. He would probably be available on a cheap one-year deal worth around $5-6 million, making him a potential stop-gap for the Royals.
Logan Morrison is the best free agent first baseman on the market after Hosmer, after smacking 38 home runs with the Rays and hitting .246/.353/.516. He wants to play for the Royals, having grown up in suburban Kansas City. Morrison has shown some good power and can draw plenty of walks - he was sixth among qualified first basemen last year in walk rate - but his low contact, low-average approach has not fit the team philosophy. He should still command a two- or three-year deal worth over $10 million per season, which could very well be out of the club’s price range. If the team is rebuilding, having Morrison’s bat in a short-term situation may not be that big of a priority.
Mark Reynolds also hit 30 home runs last year, although 21 came at home in Coors Field with the Rockies. Reynolds has typically been a very low-average hitter, but he has hit .274 over the last two seasons combined. Some of that is inflated by Coors, but his .247 average on the road is a big improvement over his career numbers. Reynolds is a right-handed hitter, which may make him not a great fit on the right-handed heavy Royals. He also turns 35 in August, which may make him a poor fit for a rebuilding club, even if he is available on a cheap, one-year deal.
Others: Chris Carter led the league in home runs in 2016, but was let go and hit just .201/.284/.370 with eight home runs in 62 games last year at age 30. Mike Napoli hit under the Mendoza Line with 29 home runs and a ton of strikeouts, pretty much the same kind of player the Royals just gave up in Brandon Moss (who actually had a better wRC+ than Napoli). The Royals had Danny Valencia before, but he has been considered a clubhouse nuisance wherever he has gone.
Mark Canha was a terrific Rule 5 pick in 2015, when he hit .254/.315/.426 with 17 home runs for the Athletics. But he missed most of 2016 with a hip injury and struggled badly last year, spending most of the year in the minors. He is capable of playing all three outfield positions, but could settle in at first base. Canha has flashed good power at times, but his ceiling is pretty limited and at age 29, there isn’t a terrible amount of upside, but he would be cheap and the asking price shouldn’t be much.
C.J. Cron has been the subject of trade speculation with the Angels. The 28-year old has been a solid right-handed bat, hitting .262/.307/.449 in his career, smacking 16 home runs in each of the last three seasons. Cron is eligible for arbitration for the first time year, so his $2.3 million salary would be affordable to the cost-conscious Royals. Cron has put up 2.8 WAR in three and a half seasons, so his trade value isn’t particularly high, and it may only take a fringy arm or two (think Miguel Almonte) to land him.
Tommy Joseph has hit 45 home runs over his first 249 Major League games, but with the Phillies signing Carlos Santana, he appears to be the odd man out. Joseph’s home runs aren’t a product of Citizens Bank Park - his home run totals are almost equal on the road. But his overall hitting numbers are much better at home - he’s just a .223/.272/.416 hitter away from Philly. His numbers took a bit of a dive in the second half last year, and he sat upon rookie Rhys Hoskins’ impressive debut. Joseph doesn’t walk much and has an above-average strikeout rate. The right-hander is just 26 and hasn’t yet hit arbitration, making him a good fit for a rebuilding club.
Kennys Vargas has considered going overseas which could be an indication he doesn’t have much of a future in Minnesota with their glut of sluggers. The 27-year old switch hitter has not quite lived up to the power potential his 6’5’’ frame might suggest. He has hit .252/.311/.437 with 35 home runs in 859 MLB plate appearances. His defense makes him more suited for DH, but perhaps the Royals could live with his glove at first if he brought power.
Others: Garrett Cooper was a throw-in to the Marlins in the Giancarlo Stanton deal, but is probably blocked in Miami by Justin Bour. He put up big numbers in AAA last year but is 27 years old. Former Missouri State Bear Luke Voit put up impressive numbers in AAA at age 25 last year and could be blocked in the Cardinals organization. Christian Walker slammed 32 home runs in AAA for the Diamondbacks, but it was in Reno, and he’ll be 27 next month.
If the Royals don’t bring back Eric Hosmer, who should be their first baseman?
This poll is closed