Eleven days and nine victories after the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, the Royals landed one of their targets from the previous month.
The acquisition of Minneapolis outfielder Josh Willingham provides the club the right-handed hitting batter they sought, balances the club’s roster and represented the latest attempt by general manager Dayton Moore to provide incremental upgrades for his surging roster.
In exchange for Willingham, 35, the club dealt prospect Jason Adam, an Overland Park native pitching in Class AAA Omaha. The Royals announced the move about an hour before Monday’s game against Oakland, and Willingham will join the club on Tuesday.
Willingham has swatted 12 homers in 68 games for the Twins. He missed 41 games because of a fractured wrist. Despite a .210 batting average, his on-base plus slugging percentage is a more appealing .747. Moore lauded Willingham’s on-base skills (.359 in his 11-year career) and his power.
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“We see his presence in the middle of our lineup somewhere,” Moore said. “And being that presence that can get some big hits for us.”
Moore expects Willingham to become the club’s regular designated hitter. He still may split time with Raul Ibañez, but Moore insisted they would not platoon. With Billy Butler handling first base, the position has been manned in recent days by players such as slap-hitting outfielder Nori Aoki and backup catcher Erik Kratz.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the team requested unconditional release waivers on minor-league reliever Wilking Rodriguez. The Royals have not yet cleared space on their active roster, but a reliever such as Scott Downs, Bruce Chen or Francisley Bueno could be at risk. The arrival of Willingham once again provides manager Ned Yost with a four-man bench, and reduces the bullpen to a more customary seven-man unit.
Adam, a 23-year-old righty, suffered through a difficult year at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He gave up more than a hit per inning and pitched to a 5.03 ERA. The team recently promoted him to Omaha and shifted him into relief.
Earlier this month, the Royals claimed Willingham as he filtered through waivers. They had engaged with the Twins about him in July, but team officials lacked the flexibility to add salary. A recent surge by the club helped convince owner David Glass to take on the $1.836 million remaining in the final season of Willingham’s three-year, $21 million deal with Minnesota.
The DH spot opened up because of a stress fracture in the right hand of first baseman Eric Hosmer. He expects to undergo an X-ray on Thursday to gauge the status of the injury and, he hopes, receive clearance to swing a bat again.
“If it’s all healed up, then we start the hitting progression,” Hosmer said before Monday’s game against the Athletics.
Thursday also marks the two-week anniversary of the injury’s diagnosis. He initially estimated he could miss three to six weeks. Moore explained the organization would have to tread carefully upon his return. The minor-league seasons will likely be completed, so a rehab assignment is unlikely.
Thus, Willingham figures to be a critical component of their lineup for the remainder of the season.
“He’s a professional,” Moore said. “He’s a winner. And we feel very strongly that he’s going to help our team. He’s the type of player and presence that you add at this time of year.”