Trade for Josh Willingham Shows that Royals Want More


Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

When I first decided to write this post, I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to say. Then, the Royals took over sole possession of first place in the AL Central, Jarrod Dyson did a standing back flip, and Kansas City’s newest rock star Sung Woo Lee lost his mind after putting up the “W” on the Royals Hall of Fame.

That sequence of events basically turned me into a big, goofy, grinning pile of mush for a solid hour. I’m guessing I wasn’t alone.

But I’m a gamer. A scrappy, gritty, competitor, if you will, and I fought through the emotion to bring you some (hopefully) hard-hitting analysis of the Royals’ big acquisition yesterday. As you probably know, the team traded pitching prospect Jason Adam to Minnesota in exchange for right-handed slugger Josh Willingham.

If you recall, I’ve advocated trading for Willingham for nearly a month now, so it should go without saying that I love this move, but I’ll say it anyway: I love this move.

Willingham is a perfect fit on this roster. He can’t really play much defense, but as a designated hitter, he should be in the lineup every time a lefty is on the mound, as he carries a career wRC+ of 128 against southpaws. Unlike some righties with power, though, Willingham can more than handle himself against right-handed pitching, evidenced by his career wRC+ of 120 in that department. A similar split exists this year, albeit slightly less effective overall (118 vs LHP, 108 vs RHP).

He should probably start every game at DH for the foreseeable future, but I would guess Raul Ibanez still gets some time against righties. Or, if Billy Butler needs a day off against a right-hander, Ibanez could play first with Willingham at DH. Even if Willingham isn’t in the lineup every day, he’s still going to be able to provide value off the bench in late-inning situations, because he has power and on-base ability.

Willingham isn’t quite the player he was a few years ago, but he still gets on base around 35% of the time, and when he hits the ball, it tends to go a long way. Both of those traits are pretty rare on this Royals team, so once again, this move is a great one. I would have liked to see what Adam could turn into, but odds are his ceiling was more of a back-end rotation arm, and surrendering that for a useful bat – even for two months – is a worthwhile risk.

It also allows the Royals to not rush Eric Hosmer back from the disabled list. Hand injuries can linger, and with Willingham now in the lineup, and Butler performing well defensively at first base, Hosmer can take his time in getting fully healthy before returning.

Ok, so at this point you probably understand that I really, really like this move for the Royals. But it’s not just the on-the-field impact of this move that I love. I also think this trade shows that Dayton Moore wasn’t satisfied just rolling along, hoping the current hot streak carried them to the postseason.

Moore has paid attention to what’s happened in Detroit. Anibal Sanchez and Joakim Soria are on the disabled list. Justin Verlander has been ineffective, before his apparent injury last night. Joe Nathan just gave up a hit to my next-door neighbor. Moore sees that team sliding back, and the Tigers’ issues have completely loosened their grasp on the division. Moore saw that opportunity, and he grabbed it.

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I do think Moore believed the team, as previously constructed, had enough talent to go to the postseason. I agree with that thought. I also thought the team, as previously constructed, had a razor-thin margin for error, because their offense could be so frustratingly streaky at times. A lineup with just 3 above average hitters will do that, of course. I also think Moore, in his heart of hearts, knew he could give his team a little bit of breathing room if he could add a bat to lengthen the lineup.

Before this trade, the Royals likely could have gotten into the playoffs as the second Wild Card team, which would be amazing. I wasn’t alive the last time the Royals were in the playoffs, and I would like to no longer be able to say that. But, a one-game playoff is just that: only one guaranteed game. Why stop there, when the division is right there for the taking?

The Tigers are vulnerable, and Willingham’s bat helps close the gap between the two teams, even if only by a little bit.

Wait. I guess, technically, the Royals are hoping Willingham’s bat helps make that gap even bigger now. Sorry for the confusion. This whole “first place in August” thing is kind of foreign to me. Ok, it’s actually totally foreign to me, and I have no idea how I’m supposed to act in the next two months. Is there some kind of dance I need to learn? Am I supposed to hold my hands a certain way? Any help would be appreciated. I’m getting off track. Again.

Dayton Moore pursued some players before the July 31 trade deadline, but wasn’t able to put anything together, for a handful of reasons. Since then, circumstances have changed. Hosmer is hurting. The Royals are rolling. The Tigers are tanking.

The division is totally up for grabs, and Moore made his move to add a bat to an offense sorely needing one. He didn’t absolutely have to make this move, but every bit of marginal improvement helps at this point in the playoff race. These wins are incredibly valuable, and even though Willingham will only be a Royal for a couple of months – hopefully three – bringing him into the fold shows that Moore knows how important this season is. He knows that while a playoff berth would be huge, this team was close enough to the division lead that an extra bat could be just the thing to put the Royals on top.

As it turns out, they didn’t need Willingham to climb to the top of the standings. The Royals now just need him to help keep them there.