When the Kansas City Royals announced last week that they had signed free agent first baseman to a one year contract, there were several different reactions that fans had. Almost all of them were justifiable reactions. The biggest insta-reaction I saw to the signing though was, “Why are we going to continue blocking Hunter Dozier?”
It’s a fair question to ask. After the Royals had stressed that they were going to give Hunter Dozier the opportunity to win the Opening Day first base job, what sense does it make to sign a 32-year old to take his place? If the idea is to rebuild, why not just let the young guys play and see what happens?
Here’s the thing with rebuilds, they’re actually trickier than you might think. “Play the young guys” only works if the young guys are ready to assume every day jobs on Opening Day. Trust me when I say that Dayton Moore and Ned Yost know that the idea of a rebuild is to get younger. They’re smart guys, I promise. They understand that Lucas Duda is older than Hunter Dozier, and that Lucas Duda probably isn’t fetching much in a trade at the deadline.
The problem is that Hunter Dozier may not be ready for the MLB. After only playing in a handful of games last year, Dozier hasn’t been overly impressive so far this spring and, if I may say so, looked less than stellar at first base. While I agree with the idea of going younger, you can’t just catapult players into big league action if they aren’t ready. It winds up impeding on their development more times than it speeds it up.
If you want to argue that Hunter Dozier is ready to be a big leaguer, fine. I will join you in your argument. But he has no business playing first base and needs to focus on becoming the Royals every day third baseman. I know the Royals have an obsession with Cheslor Cuthbert over at third, but that doesn’t mean that Hunter Dozier (a top 10 Royals prospect by most publications) needs to abandon the position. Dozier ought to be competing for the third base job, his natural position, not moving across the diamond to accommodate a player who may not be as good.
This Lucas Duda signing could actually turn out to be a great benefit for KC. Here’s the way I see the signing:
- Lucas Duda won’t be in KC for more than one year. He may not even play out the entire 2018 season in KC, for that matter. The Royals almost certainly won’t get much in return in a Duda trade this summer, but what they may get is a more polished version of Ryan O’Hearn after 350 more AAA at-bats. This is a signing that, in my opinion, allows Ryan O’Hearn to finish a real development at AAA, and then take over at 1B for KC in August after Duda has been shipped to the Red Sox.
- It allows Hunter Dozier to continue to develop at his natural position on the hot corner. I never liked the move to first base for Dozier and I’m hoping this signing means that he will assume the third base job as soon as he’s ready. I know Ned mentioned they wanted to get Cuthbert 500 big league at-bats this summer. I saw it. I just don’t think you can keep Dozier in Omaha for the entire season if he’s hitting the ball well, and I’m assuming they won't bench $3.5M Duda to allow him to play. Cheslor Cuthbert may be the odd man out this season if he isn’t hitting, and I'd argue that that is the way it should be.
- The signing of Lucas Duda (and more recently but also similarly, Jon Jay) will go a long way in helping the Royals stay competitive. It won’t help them make the playoffs, the Royals still probably won’t go .500, but with real MLB bats in the lineup at 1B and CF, they will certainly be more watchable in 2018 than they could’ve been. This could, theoretically, go a long way in TV negotiations at the end of the season.
You may disagree with me. Maybe you think that Hunter Dozier ought to play first base and that he needs to start their on Opening Day. While I disagree with you, I'm open to anything that makes the Royals better moving forward. While I disagree that Lucas Duda is blocking Hunter Dozier from playing in the MLB this season, I'm here to listen to your arguments in the comments section.