It’s time for Mike Moustakas to go to Omaha

05/12/2014 7:48 PM

05/12/2014 7:48 PM

It’s time for the Royals to stop waiting on Mike Moustakas. Time to be realistic. Time to look more at four years and 1,614 plate appearances of what he’s done rather than scouting reports about what he might do.

The Royals should send him to Omaha.

This is supposed to be the year, right? We’ve been through Dayton Moore’s ProcessTM and we’re a few seasons into Ned Yost’s Phase TwoTM. For 28 years, Royals fans have at least pretended to hope. This is supposed to be the year.

James Shields is the team’s best pitcher since Zack Greinke, and he’ll almost certainly be somewhere else next season. So this is supposed to be the year. Oh, nobody with the Royals will actually say that. Not on the record, anyway. There is nothing to be gained by grand proclamations and, besides, Kansas City has heard enough promises.

But by trading for Shields, the Royals signaled they are more concerned about today than tomorrow and, well, this is where Moustakas fits in. Because once, it made sense to think of Moustakas as a potential franchise cornerstone. That was a long time ago.

The Royals will make a roster move before Tuesday’s game against the Rockies, and now more than ever, it makes sense to put Moustakas in the minor leagues. In practical terms, the Royals would be better off with an extra reliever for a few days than more pretending that four home runs are a reasonable counterpoint to a .147 batting average, .215 on-base percentage and .321 slugging percentage this season.

There are other ways the Royals could add a reliever, of course. The most obvious is letting go of Justin Maxwell, a 30-year-old fifth outfielder on his fourth organization who saw two plate appearances on a seven-game road trip. Omar Infante could be sent to the disabled list. This would buy some time.

But Moustakas is the issue here, because he’s the one who has to hit for the Royals to win in the long term. We’ve said here in this space that if the Royals are wrong about Moustakas or Eric Hosmer, the whole thing is hard to salvage. So right now, the Royals need to do what they can to salvage Moustakas. It’s hard to see how that’s done with more of the same.

This is the argument the Royals are having internally, and there is no consensus. A segment of the organization remains loyal to Moustakas’ potential and says there is no better option. Others are ready to move on. Send him to Omaha, they argue, where maybe he can find his swing.

The Royals have tweaked Moustakas’ stance and they’ve adjusted his approach, and he’s actually seeing more pitches and getting into better counts than before. But he’s still not hitting.

So maybe a break would be best for him, and for the team. The Royals would miss Moustakas’ defense but might improve their offense with more time for Danny Valencia and Johnny Giavotella. The situations aren’t directly analogous, but Alex Gordon and Billy Butler each benefited from minor-league demotions.

The existence of this internal debate is a bit of a mile marker. The Royals have protected Moustakas at every opportunity. He is Moore’s first official draft pick. He is the star of several Yost rants, most notably the one about

the third baseman tree

.

The evidence is tough to argue against, though. In calls for patience, the Royals at various times have mentioned 1,000 and 1,500 career plate appearances before fair judgments can be made. Moore has often cited the 40-game mark as the first opportunity to form relevant opinions about a team’s season. Well, Moustakas is beyond both of those individual marks and Tuesday will be the Royals’ 38th game.

Sentimental ties aside, Moustakas has stunk as a big-league hitter so far, especially against inside fastballs.

The Royals are past the point of being able to justify giving Moustakas regular plate appearances without at least trying a different way of getting him going.

So far this season, there are 12 starting pitchers in the National League hitting better than Moustakas. Out of 179 big-leaguers with enough plate appearances to qualify as regulars, only one has a worse batting average, only one has a worse on-base percentage, and only 21 (including Billy Butler) have worse slugging percentages.

Including his signing bonus, the Royals have spent more than $5 million and waited nearly 2,500 days for him to be a good big-league player.

Moustakas was underwhelming in 2011, occasionally promising in 2012, disappointing in 2013 and downright Betancourtian so far in 2014. His defense is pretty good at third base, and especially the way the Royals are built, this is no small thing. But in an offense that already operates without a safety net, its simply unacceptable for Moustakas to be making a case as the worst everyday hitter in the American League.

In spring training (when Moustakas was raking), he and manager Ned Yost both admitted his confidence was shaky at times last season. Well, he’s hitting even worse now than a year ago. Nobody would say this on the record, but it sure stands to reason that his confidence is shaky again. It would be miraculous if the confidence of his teammates and coaches isn’t shaky again.

What the Royals will actually do before Tuesday’s game is uncertain. Most likely, Moustakas will remain in the big leagues. The Royals can maneuver around it for now, and in the baseball world big decisions are rarely made before they have to be made.

Every bit of evidence argues the Royals need to try something else with Moustakas, and there are (finally) indications some club officials are making the argument. Time is running out. Every game matters.

This is supposed to be the year, you know.

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