The Royals made their signing of pitcher Jordan Lyles to a two-year deal official today, and to make room on the roster they designated first baseman Ryan O’Hearn for assignment.
O’Hearn was originally an eighth-round pick by the Royals in 2014 out of Sam Houston State. He didn’t put up big power numbers in the minors, but he had some underlying metrics and a patient eye that gave hope he could be a solid power hitter in the big leagues. He exploded on the scene in 2018, coming up for 44 games at the end of the year and smacking 12 home runs for a line of .262/.353/.597. But he was never able to recapture that success. In 901 plate appearances over the next four seasons he hit just .211/.282/.351.
O’Hearn did have some utility last year as a pinch-hitter, going 11-for-30 (.367) with a home run as a bat off the bench. There was also some thought that the ban on defensive shifts next year could help him - he has a much higher wOBA without the shift than with the shift. However he also has a high groundball rate, which will still make it difficult to take advantage of a shift ban.
The move is a bit curious since the Royals already signed O’Hearn to a $1.4 million deal for 2023. Under the old labor deal, that would be a non-guaranteed contract if the Royals cut him by a certain date in spring training, but my understanding was that under the new labor deal, those deals for arbitration-eligible players are now guaranteed. The Royals would have ten days to trade O’Hearn, but if he goes unclaimed on waivers, the Royals would still be on the hook for his salary.
With O’Hearn off the roster, it makes it easier for Nick Pratto to make the team next spring as a first baseman. Vinnie Pasquantino and Hunter Dozier are also capable of playing first base.