Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
The Royals are now entering yet another extremely important stretch of their schedule. They currently sit 3.5 games out of first place in the division, and their next 9 games are against the Twins, Indians, and Rays, so this could be a chance to make up some ground on the Tigers. Oh, and following that 9-game span, the Royals will be facing those very same Tigers for 4 games just before the All Star break. Obviously some work still has to be done, but the Royals are in a decent spot, and they’ve gotten to that point while employing arguably the worst first baseman in baseball.
Eric Hosmer finished last season on a tear, and many people expected him to pick up this season where he left off. Needless to say, he has not done that. Hosmer is currently hitting .246/.286/.344, which comes out to a wRC+ of 72. The only regular position player in the lineup performing worse is Mike Moustakas, who has a wRC+ of 61. However, the two have been trending in opposite directions. Since Moose’s recall from Omaha on June 1, he has an 85 wRC+. In that same timeframe, Hosmer’s wRC+ is 42. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Moustakas surpass Hosmer’s overall numbers within the next couple of weeks.
Hosmer’s atrocious offensive numbers rank him dead last among qualified first basemen. He’s also one of the very worst baserunners in all of baseball – only Kurt Suzuki has been worse, according to FanGraphs. Defensive metrics don’t love his glove either, although I do think he’s better there than what the numbers say. Still, his ability to pick balls out of the dirt isn’t close to enough to provide positive value to the club at the moment.
So now the question becomes: what should the Royals do with him?
The first and most obvious step is to drop Hosmer in the lineup. There is literally no reason for him to be receiving more plate appearances than Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez, or any other regular, really. As I mentioned, Hosmer’s hitting worse than every other player. He’s made more outs than any other player in baseball, and that’s not a category anyone wants to be leading. Continuing to bat Hosmer second or third in the order is akin to grabbing a log from a fire, over and over again. It’s foolish, and it’s only going to bring pain and anguish.
Beyond doing that, the next thing I would do is demote Hosmer to Omaha. If you’re surprised by such a suggestion, consider this: when Moustakas was sent down, he was hitting .152/.223/.320 over 139 plate appearances. In Hosmer’s last 161 plate appearances, he’s hitting .192/.230/.278.
Hosmer is hitting worse than Moustakas was when the latter was optioned to the minor leagues.
If Moose was struggling badly enough to deserve a demotion, what does that say about Hosmer? The Royals badly need offense from first base, and Hosmer isn’t providing it. He may have some value with his glove, but again, it’s not nearly enough to make up for his complete lack of offense.
Surely some of you are wondering who I would suggest take over the first base duties if Hosmer did get sent down, and that’s a fair question. Here’s my answer: anyone who won’t hit worse than every other first baseman in Major League Baseball. That bar his replacement needs to clear isn’t so much a bar as it is an extension cord laying on the ground. It won’t take much to produce at a higher level.
Just about any option would be better than Hosmer right now. Butler may not be a Gold Glove winner, but he’s not completely incompetent there. Plus, he has been hitting the ball more lately (134 wRC+ in June), so he can help overcome some of his defensive deficiencies. The Royals also could then rotate the DH spot between multiple players, including whoever actually replaces Hosmer on the roster.
The only real first baseman in Omaha who could potentially provide some offensive value is Matt Fields, who has been hitting extremely well lately, posting a .942 OPS in June, with 7 home runs. He’s not really a prospect at all, but I think he’s done enough to earn a shot, and it’s not like he could hit that much worse than Hosmer. Granted, Fields has struck out in almost 30% of his plate appearances, and defensive reports aren’t exactly glowing, so he may not be someone you want there for an extended period of time.
If neither of those options sound appealing, the Royals could look to the trade market. I’m the first to admit I’m terrible at hypothetical trade scenarios, but a guy like John Mayberry or Garrett Jones could probably be had relatively cheaply. It is somewhat difficult to find a trading partner with a major league first baseman, because most of the teams with good first basemen are also good teams. Weird. The other options are bad teams with first basemen signed to long deals, like Anthony Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt, both of whom are obviously going nowhere.
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The next possibility is to find guys performing well at Triple-A who are blocked at the major league level. Here we find players such as Allan Dykstra of the Mets (blocked by Lucas Duda), and Nick Evans of the Diamondbacks (blocked by Goldschmidt). These players are likely too old to be considered real prospects, which means the Royals wouldn’t necessarily have to invest much into them if things didn’t work out. They could just be placeholders for as long as it takes for Hosmer to get right in Omaha.
Unless, of course, the Royals take another course of action. They could look to trade Hosmer.
You never want to trade a player at his lowest value, but as Dave pointed out the other day, Hosmer’s best days may be behind him. He might still improve this season, but the longer that takes, the more difficult it will be for him to get back to the level he was at in 2013. Instead of spending more time and energy on a player who may not become the star many hoped for, the Royals could consider shipping Hosmer to a team who still sees some potential.
A lot of people in baseball have big egos, and they think they can fix talented and underperforming players. Some team may look at Hosmer and think they can get through to him and turn him into the legitimate middle-of-the-order bat the Royals see. He’s shown flashes in the past, and another team may simply think they can do what the Royals could not.
I don’t think an in-season trade of Hosmer is all that likely, but perhaps a team has a first baseman they are willing to deal in exchange for a package of players surrounding Hosmer. Gaby Sanchez is a nice platoon bat in Pittsburgh, and unless they really believe in Ike Davis, Hosmer could be appealing to them. I’m not a huge James Loney fan, and he’s still owed $15 million over the next two seasons, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rays wanted to make another deal with Dayton Moore.
Still, it may be best to wait until the offseason to try and move Hosmer. Giving him a few months to improve – even at the Triple-A level – could boost his trade value for the winter, and because he’s not likely to stick around Kansas City when he becomes a free agent in a few years, the Royals wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about him long-term. Besides, I have serious doubts that Hosmer ever returns even to his career high level of production, let alone anything above that.
Hosmer is an unrepentant hacker at the plate, swinging at pitches out of the strike zone more frequently than all but 11 qualified hitters. He also hasn’t proven he can consistently hit those kinds of pitches with any sort of authority, unlike some of the players above him on that list. Hosmer’s line drive rate is currently at 14.4%, and he also is hitting far too many ground balls (53.4% ground ball rate). He’s simply not driving anything, even pitches in the strike zone, and the consistent inconsistency in his mechanics suggests finding a solution may be difficult.
So, let’s recap. Hosmer needs to be dropped in the batting order at the very least. A team contending for the playoffs makes it very difficult on themselves by employing an out machine near the top of the lineup. Secondly, Hosmer deserves to be demoted to Omaha. I don’t think it will be some magic cure-all or anything like that, but again, his offense is hurting the team, and just about anyone could likely provide more value at the plate.
Finally, I would begin shopping Hosmer around the league to gauge his value now, although I’d probably end up holding off on trading him until the offseason. Some teams may feel he still has some untapped potential, and while I wouldn’t expect a massive haul of prospects, I do think the Royals could receive something of value, particularly if they include other pieces in a trade with Hosmer. I doubt the Royals do all of these things, but they do need to do something if they hope to stick around in this playoff race.