One of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies is uttered by Harvey Keitel to Nicolas Cage in the ridiculous early 2000s classic film, National Treasure: “Somebody’s got to go to prison, Ben.”
Applied generally, “Somebody’s got to go to prison” is a wise statement that someone somewhere has to pay the consequences of a misdeed or mistake. It reminds me of another one of my favorite lines in media, the one in which a random Marine sergeant in Mass Effect 2 lectures soldiers that “Isaac Newton is the deadliest son a bitch in space” and that firing a spaceship’s railgun means that “you are ruining someone’s day, somewhere and sometime!”
Anyway, applied specifically to the Royals, Keitel’s line translates rather directly to “sombeody’s got to play third base.” To perhaps stretch this metaphor past its awkward breaking point, the Mass Effect 2 quote applies as well: the Royals are paying for the mistake of a man whose railgun shot resulted in a replacement level Hunter Dozier slamming into the Royals roster for multiple years.
All this led to a reality that the Royals face in 2023, which is that somebody needs to play third base and that Dozier still lingers on this team like a sixth-year senior who is way older than everyone else but who keeps coming back anyway. The result? Meet third baseman Hunter Dozier.
For the Royals, third base will belong to Hunter Dozier. General manager J.J. Picollo said Saturday the Royals want to solidify a position that saw five play at least 15 games there. “We want Hunter Dozier to get at-bats,” Picollo said. “That’s the best place for him to play every day.”
This is not quite a situation in which playing Dozier at third base is the lesser of two evils. Rather, it is a situation in which there are many evils, Dozier being on the team at all being a big one. But this is a situation in which playing Dozier as the regular third baseman is the least of multiple evils.
Let’s address the first evil here, the aforementioned big one in the previous paragraph, which is that Dozier’s big league career is essentially toast. This is a new front office that knows about the concept of Wins Above Replacement, which is great, and while Kauffman Stadium’s days may be numbered, its internet works just fine. So the Royals have probably seen that Dozier has literally been the worst position player in Major League Baseball over the last two years by Fangraphs’ version of WAR, a position he shares with the roughly 57-year-old Miguel Cabrera.
The phrase “addition by subtraction” is almost purpose-built for this situation. Independent of Dozier’s work ethic, history with the team, leadership abilities in the clubhouse, and community service, he provides no real on-field value to the team. He is a below average hitter for his career and a below average fielder at every position except first base, where the defensive numbers show him as adequate. Every team in baseball can find similar production by promoting someone from their Double-A or Triple-A teams. Dozier’s roster spot and playing time would better be used elsewhere.
But, as with all personnel decisions, there are reasons other than performance that factor into the Royals’ decision to continue to employ Dozier. In Dozier’s case, there are 16.75 million reasons, each of them bearing George Washington’s green face. That nearly $17 million in salary must be paid regardless if Dozier plays for the Royals or another team, and it is split out between $7.5 million this year and $9.25 million next year.
A sunk cost is a sunk cost. However, reading between the lines here, I think that the Royals are positioning themselves to offload Dozier’s salary by 2024. Kansas City sees this year as an evaluation year with 2024 as a target year to make big strides and big moves.
Picollo says they are looking to "2024 or 2025"— Royals Review (@royalsreview) January 25, 2023
Compares Evan Sisk to Tim Hill.
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Sounds like Barlow will still be closer.
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Dozier’s trade market has seemed to be understandably frigid. But Dozier does have some value: he performs well against lefties, and he’s perfectly acceptable at first base. He could fit in with a roster who needs a platoon bat and a little positional flexibility as a treat. The Royals wouldn’t get a meaningful return, but they could get out of a majority of Dozier’s deal in 2024, when his one-year salary wouldn’t break the bank of most teams.
That would, of course, leave the Royals with Dozier at third base. And with the Royals’ vaunted third base tree withered like the White Tree of Gondor in the latter half of the Third Age, it’s not like they have better options. Even their “good” options aren’t so hot. Nate Eaton played a lot of third base in the minors, but he’s already 26 and his minor league track record isn’t great. Nicky Lopez can play third base, but you probably don’t want a hitter with a career wRC+ of 73 to be your full-time guy at the hot corner. And the Royals’ best third base prospect is...21-year-old Cayden Wallace, who will probably start at High-A ball.
In other words, the starting third baseman for the next Royals playoff squad is likely not on the big league team or anywhere in the upper minors. However, you’ve got to have a third baseman. If Dozier doesn’t play third base, he ends up blocking or soaking up playing time for players who might be on the next Royals playoff squad. If he plays first base, Vinnie Pasquantino (and maybe Nick Pratto) don’t get reps. If he’s in the outfield, MJ Melendez and Drew Waters don’t get as many chances. And if he’s solely the DH, he can’t build much value for himself on the off chance he does bounce back.
It would be much better if the Royals had a more reliable player than Dozier to man the hot corner, and I think they know it. But you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt, and that hand currently includes Dozier playing third base. It may not be the best option—but it isn’t the worst one, either.