KC Royals: Kansas City’s biggest mistakes of 2019

KC Royals (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KC Royals (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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KC Royals,
KC Royals, /

The KC Royals signed Lucas Duda to DH and play first base after Eric Hosmer‘s departure following the 2017 season. He didn’t work out as planned; nevertheless, the Royals signed him again for 2019.

Eric Hosmer was a key ingredient to the mix that propelled the KC Royals to back-to-back trips to the World Series and the Fall Classic title in 2015. But his departure via free agency following the 2017 season–part of the exit of other championship core players that triggered the club’s present regression–left a void at first base the team desperately wanted and needed to fill.

Their search for Hosmer’s replacement led the Royals to a member of the New York Mets’ team the Royals defeated for their 2015 title. On the last day of February 2018, after the club had already opened Spring Training, it signed former Met first baseman Lucas Duda to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. General Manager Dayton Moore was forced immediately to deny concerns that the move would impede the progression of Hunter Dozier, then considered the team’s first baseman of the future–because Duda’s deal was for a year, Dozier could get more seasoning in the minors before heading to the big leagues.

The deal wasn’t perfect, but seemed reasonable. Duda was averaging just over 17 homers over eight seasons and had twice hit 30, including 2017 when he clubbed 17 for the Mets and 13 for Tampa Bay. Those numbers compared favorably to Hosmer, then a seven-year veteran averaging about a homer more a season than Duda. And Duda was a good defender at first base; although some peripherals indicated Hosmer’s defense was overrated, his four Gold Gloves suggested otherwise.

Duda split his time between first base and DH; for the most part, however, he took Hosmer’s place at first, playing 61 games there and DH’ing 24 times. His production was passable but not what the Royals needed–he hit 13 homers, drove in 48 runs and hit .242. But he struck out too much and posted a below-average OPS+. Dispensable but not matching anyone’s needs by the July trade deadline, Duda found himself dispatched to the Braves for cash.

A free agent once again after the season, Duda signed with Minnesota but didn’t last through Spring Training. Then, despite having enough players who could play first base–Ryan O’Hearn was ready to take a full season shot at the position, Frank Schwindel had considerable experience there, and Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert had seen time at first–the Royals rescued Duda with a minor league deal. There was little doubt he would make the club.

And make it he did. But the deal soon turned sour and ended badly. His bat ineffective from the start, Duda didn’t last the season, playing in only 39 games until the club released him July 28th. His .171 average, four home runs and 15 RBI’s told the story.

Bringing back Duda for 2019 made little sense. The Royals were well-stocked with players who could play his position and DH; he occupied a roster spot that temporarily blocked younger, more deserving players. By any measure, “Duda redux” was a mistake.