In the end, there was no rational choice left for the Royals.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas had come to look bewildered and guessing at the plate, so much so that it had all the earmarks of not being a mere slump but a lost cause.
So on Thursday morning, the Royals did what they’ve been reluctantly but steadily moving towards for weeks:
They optioned Moustakas to Class AAA Omaha, where they hope he first can stabilize and then get his mojo back.
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But there are no assurances of what comes next for Moustakas, 25, who was considered a building block of the Royals’ future after he was the overall No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft and flashed that promise with 20 home runs and 73 runs batted in 2012.
Since then, though, Moustakas struggled much of last season at the plate even as he continued developing into a defensive asset.
And with the exception of a few key hits, he has fizzled almost altogether this season, hitting .153.
So no matter how you look at it, he’s been regressing, despite spending what was by all accounts a prosperous winter playing in Venezuela, hitting well again in spring training and maintaining a relentless work ethic.
And now his numbers, and the often-awkward way he has amassed the numbers, can no longer be seen as blips or quirks but as a troubling body of work:
Moustakas is hitting .236 in 1,498 big-league at-bats.
At some point, this apparently is all a mental battle for Moustakas, whose acting-out after a key three-run double against Colorado last week arguably was indicative of how this was weighing on him.
Which is why it’s hard to know with any certainty what a stint in Omaha will do — even though this was the only possible move left for the Royals after trying any number of remedies in working with him.
It’s more likely than not that he will fare well there, but even so when he returns to the Royals there will be more glare and scrutiny for him to contend with … not to mention a quality of pitching that has been too much for him lately.
But first things first.
It’s imperative that Moustakas see this development not just as a disappointing moment or some sort of punishment but as an effort to help him … and even a merciful gesture.
Embracing that, admitting the problem, is the first step in maturing and finding himself.
It won’t be an easy road back. But it had to start somewhere.