The opportunity surfaced in the days before Christmas. The Royals did not take long to pounce.
The end result came Tuesday afternoon, when the club acquired power hitter Peter O’Brien from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor-league pitcher Sam Lewis.
The Royals saw the deal as an opportunity to bolster their organizational depth and land a young position player with elite power potential. O’Brien, 26, had been designated for assignment on Dec. 23 after Arizona claimed catcher Juan Graterol off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds.
The price was relatively modest: Lewis, 25, finished the 2016 season at Class A Wilmington and joined the Royals organization as a free agent in 2012. But the possible upside remains intriguing for a team that is seeking to acquire assets for both 2017 and beyond.
“We’ve always liked his ability to hit with power,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said of O’Brien. “He’s got a couple of options remaining as well. So it fits in line with what we’re trying to do going forward.”
The options mean O’Brien can be stashed in the minor leagues for the next two seasons. A former catcher who has transitioned to the outfield, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound slugger lacks a natural defensive position. But the Royals also view him as a potential flier in a possible DH rotation in 2017.
“He gives up depth,” Moore said. “And we’re trying to balance the importance of winning in 2017 and, obviously, adding as much depth as we can — not only for now, but in the future.
“He’s a young position player; there’s not a lot of supply right now. So we’re trying to acquire as much quality offensive talent as we can. And he’s a player that we’ve had our eye on for a while.”
A second-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2012, O’Brien batted .141 with five homers in 28 games for Arizona in 2016, his second major-league stint. But for O’Brien, who attended college at Miami, the promise resides in his bat, which clubbed 84 homers in 342 games during the last three minor-league seasons. The production included 34 homers in 106 games in 2014. It was during that season that he was traded from New York to Arizona in a deal that sent Martin Prado to the Yankees.
The minor-league numbers come with some potential red flags. O’Brien has piled up 382 strikeouts over the last three seasons, and he posted a .295 on-base percentage at Class AAA Reno in 2016, which made him expendable this offseason. The Diamondbacks once viewed O’Brien as a possible answer at catcher. But a case of the throwing yips necessitated a move to the outfield.
Still, the right-handed hitting O’Brien has been especially potent against lefties, which could offer value in a possible DH rotation. The Royals, Moore said, had tried to trade for O'Brien in the past.
“We like his power potential and we have quality reports on him,” Moore said.
The Royals have spent much of the offseason acquiring players with big-time power, including outfielder Jorge Soler, who came to Kansas City in the trade for reliever Wade Davis in early December. But the club has also been linked to other free-agent hitters who could offer value at the designated hitter position, including first baseman Pedro Alvarez, who spent last season in Baltimore after six seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Alvarez, 29, hits from the left side and could give the Royals another dimension at the designated hitter spot. But for now, Moore said the club is still monitoring options on the free agent market.
The Royals have remained consistent in their desire to use a rotation at DH, in part to offer playing time to infielder Cheslor Cuthbert, who is now out of options and is poised to lose his spot at third base to Mike Moustakas.
“We’re obviously monitoring the landscape,” Moore said. "Certainly as we get closer to spring training, we feel good about our current roster. But as we know, there’s always room for improvement.”