For months, the Royals extolled the virtues of a designated hitter by committee, a rotating role that would offer more flexibility to the roster and more rest for an aging roster.
In signing free-agent slugger Brandon Moss, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the club was not ditching that idea. Instead, club officials believe they have acquired a player with the versatility to DH, play a corner outfield spot or spell Eric Hosmer at first base.
In other words: The Royals believe Moss can be a strong complement for their championship core.
“We didn’t sign Brandon to be our DH,” Moore said on Wednesday. “We plan on rotating that slot. We have an aging lineup, as we know. I think it’s going to be very beneficial to give a lot of our position players an opportunity to DH from time to time.
“That’s our method. One of the things that attracted us so much to Brandon was that he wasn’t a pure DH. He could play both wing outfield spots. He could play first base. So that was important for us.”
The signing of Moss, 33, became official on Wednesday afternoon, close to three days after each side agreed to a two-year, $12 million contract over the weekend. Moss will make $3.75 million in 2017 and $7.25 million in 2017. The contract also includes a guaranteed $1 million buyout on a $10 million mutual option in 2019. Moss could also make up to $500,000 in bonus money. According to the contract, Moss will make an additional $50,000 if he reaches 275 plate appearances, and another $50,000 for every additional 25 plate appearances up to 500.
For now, the Royals’ payroll projects to approach $140 million, yet Moore hinted Wednesday that the club will likely make another move before pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 13.
The Royals believe they must attempt to fill the rotation hole caused by the death of starting pitcher Yordano Ventura. Moore said the club would look to the remaining free-agent market, in addition to trade possibilities. The Royals are also expected to look for ways to add depth to their bullpen.
But on the offensive side, the lineup has started to take shape. In signing Moss and trading for outfielder Jorge Soler, the Royals have added a measure of pop to a lineup that finished 13th in runs scored and last in the American League with 147 homers in 2016. Moss, who could find himself batting in the lower third of the lineup, is coming off a 2016 in which he batted .225 with a .300 on-base percentage and 28 homers in 128 games.
“We went into this offseason looking for opportunities to lengthen out our lineup, spread it out, (acquire) a more veteran presence, more power,” Moore said. “And we’re just really fortunate to execute this deal.”
The addition of Moss could complicate the role of third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, who is out of options and slated to lose his starting spot to a healthy Mike Moustakas. Cuthbert must stay on the 25-man roster or be exposed to another club through waivers. The roster equation could present Cuthbert as a possible trade chip. But on Wednesday, Moore said the club still believed there was enough opportunity for the 24-year-old infielder.
“I think so,” Moore said. “First of all, you’re assuming perfect health. And we learned last year that that’s probably not the case. And like I said before, as our roster begins to age a little bit, it gives Ned (Yost) an opportunity to mix and match a little bit. I have great confidence that at the end of the year, it will work to the overall productivity in a positive way.”
But first, Moore said the Royals desired more production from their offense. And as the club searched for offensive help this offseason, Moore said Moss fit the profile. The club liked his makeup and reputation as a solid clubhouse presence. The team’s analytics department believed his power would translate to the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium. There is some evidence for this. In 17 regular-season games at Kauffman, Moss has batted .309 with a .338 on-base percentage and three home runs. Those numbers do not include the Wild Card Game in 2014, when Moss crushed two mammoths shots in the Royals’ 9-8 victory over the Oakland A’s.
“I love this ballpark,” Moss said Wednesday afternoon, while donning a Royals jersey at his introductory news conference. “I think it’s one of the most unheralded ballparks in baseball. It’s beautiful. And as far as hitting goes, some hitters like hitting in small parks; some hitters like hitting in parks where you see the ball well. And this ballpark has always been a ballpark where I’ve seen the ballpark really well.
“I don’t know why that is. It’s just one of those special ballparks. I feel like, for a power hitter, if you can see it and you can barrel it, it shouldn’t matter the size of the ballpark.”
As he enters his first season in Kansas City, Moss will also be motivated to shake off concerns after an atrocious slump marred the end of his 2016 campaign in St. Louis. A season ago, Moss was hitting .261 with a .333 on-base percentage through the end of August. Then a dreadful stretch over the season’s final month hampered his overall production and limited the market for his services this winter.
On Wednesday, Moss said some of the struggles stemmed from an ankle sprain that required a trip to the disabled list in early July and never quite healed to 100 percent.
“It was feeling OK, but the wear and tear every single day — it killed me,” Moss said. “It still didn’t have to be as bad as it was. I don’t think you’re ever going to see a hitter go nine for 109 ever again.
“Sometimes in this game, things happen. Obviously, you go out there and you don’t play at 100 percent, you can’t expect 100 percent of the results … but I never expected it to be what it was.”
For now, Moss has an opportunity for a fresh start with a new franchise — an organization he has admired for a while, he said. Two years ago, he came to Kauffman Stadium for the 2014 Wild Card Game as a member of the A’s, experiencing “the most fun and most heartbreaking game” of his career. He hit two homers that night, and the A’s still lost in 12 innings. For the Royals, it was a franchise-changing moment. For Moss, it remains a painful memory.
“We played for 12 innings, and one team had to come out on top,” Moss said. “You won’t see very many baseball games like that.”
And yet, something attracted him to this Royals team, he said. Maybe it was the way they played. Maybe it was the joy they seemed to exude on the field. But whatever it was, he could see himself playing for Kansas City some day. As the calendar pushed toward February, the opportunity finally came up. On Wednesday, it became official.
“I know that they bring in good people here,” Moss said. “They’re not going to go out and get a guy just because he’s a good player. You have to fit a certain mold. I take pride in hopefully fitting that mold.
“I’ve always admired the way they play. And I’ve always thought this would be an outstanding place to play, because it looks like they’re having fun. That’s what I do. Baseball, to me, is fun.”