Time will tell whether recent free agent signee Franmil Reyes is the latest in the line of reclamation projects the KC Royals so often take on, or simply a powerful slugger needing to rebound from a season-long slump. Spring training and the generous number of Cactus League at-bats he'll likely get from manager Matt Quatraro will tell the tale.
Reyes struggled so much last season that the Guardians, for whom he'd bashed 30 homers the year before (he hammered 37 in a 2019 campaign split between San Diego and Cleveland), DFA'd him in early August, and the Cubs declined to welcome him back for 2023 after claiming him on waivers. He finished his two-team year with 14 homers and a career-worst .221/.273/.365 line.
Signing Reyes makes sense for the Royals who, like other big league clubs, now rely on power more than they used to. But he's a dilemma waiting to happen: his resurgence, if it happens, will require Quatraro to find Reyes an everyday role. And the newest Royal's substandard glove, one that no one should relish seeing him use in a game, will complicate that task.
That leaves one good choice, designated hitter, but moving Reyes there will further muddle an already jumbled situation and make answering this question even harder: Who will DH for Kansas City this year?
The KC Royals' DH situation for the 2023 campaign is definitely unclear
Only one thing is certain as new manager Qutraro ponders his choices for designated hitter: catcher Salvador Perez, who turns 33 in May and will begin his 12th major league season behind the plate when Kansas City opens the 2023 campaign against Minnesota March 30, will DH more often than in the past. Keeping the club's backbone fresh and in the lineup while decreasing his injury risk is critical.
That, however, leaves the DH question only partially answered.
How about Vinnie Pasquantino? He'd be a perfect choice considering his excellent 2022 season, but Nick Pratto's unfortunate performance at the plate last year and Hunter Dozier's anticipated return to third base makes Pasquantino playing first base imperative. Unless Pratto, whose defense is nearly flawless and better than Pasquantino's, rediscovers his bat, Pasquantino's turns at DH will necessarily be limited.
Edward Olivares is another possibility. But he's in the running for one of the corner outfield spots (most likely right field given the Royals' desire to play MJ Melendez in left) and won't have much time to DH if he lands one of those starting roles. And KC might shop him if he doesn't.
Then there's Reyes. And what to do if his bat turns around.
The KC Royals have a puzzle on their hands if Franmil Reyes has a big spring.
Kansas City wouldn't have signed Reyes if their interest in him making the club wasn't strong. He'll have to hit in camp and in exhibition games; he's probably gone if he doesn't, but a member of the Opening Day roster if he does.
But Reyes breaking camp with the big club won't solve the Royals' puzzle at DH. A slugging Reyes is an everyday player, not a pinch hitter or a late-inning defensive replacement. Putting him in the outfield will generate the same kind of uneasiness that playing Jorge Soler there did, and DH-ing him works only if Pasquantino plays first in the event Pratto doesn't hit. But if Pratto makes the club as Quatraro's regular first baseman, Pasquantino still needs a place to play regularly.
So it is that much at DH depends on which bat, hot or cold, Pratto brings to camp this spring. Showing up with the hot stick will test Quatraro's lineup creativity. Someone, or something, will have to give.
DH by committee, anyone?
First base will be one of the most interesting positions for Royals fans to watch this spring.