While the focus has been on the Royals pursuit of first baseman Eric Hosmer, there hasn’t been much discussion about what Kansas City will do if (or when) Hosmer doesn’t return. Normally at this stage of the game there has already been some talk of future replacements or even Plan B, C and D. Instead, there is hope upon hope that “The Golden Child” returns. But what direction should the Royals go in if Hos changes his address to San Diego or Boston? The good news is that there are options aplenty.
Let’s start with in-house options and the one name bandied about the most has been Hunter Dozier. Dozier is coming off of an injury plagued 2017 season where he was only able to rack up 33 games in the minors. There isn’t much statistically to go off of last year (.243/.341/.441 through 111 at bats), but in 2016 Dozier put together a solid minor league season (in both AA and AAA), posting a line of .296/.366/.533. Dozier is coming into his age 26 season and could be an intriguing option for a Royals team looking to rebuild. He has limited exposure to first base professionally (12 total games over the last two seasons), but with a number of his other positions filled (third base and the outfield corners), first base could be a good way for him to get some major league at bats without taking time away from some of the other younger talent. The team even worked with him last spring on the basics of the position:
Also in the discussion could be Cheslor Cuthbert, who was a man without a position in 2017. Cuthbert has a bit more experience at first base than Dozier (7 major league games, 67 in the minor leagues) but more than likely will be the starting third baseman if Mike Moustakas doesn’t return. Brandon Moss could also see some time at first base, since it was once his primary position and a move there could allow some players to slide into other slots in the lineup. If Moss played at first base, Jorge Bonifacio could patrol right field and move Jorge Soler to DH, allowing all three power bats in the lineup at once. Moss is obviously more comfortable at the position than Dozier, so a move could also get Dozier at bats at DH if needed. There is some mixing and matching that could go on with Moss playing his old position and it would allow manager Ned Yost more flexibility with his lineup.
Since we are bringing up options within the organization, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ryan O’Hearn and Frank Schwindel. O’Hearn looked to be on the fast track to Kansas City and appeared to have an inside shot at taking over for Hosmer. But his numbers took a slight dip in 2017 (.253/.330/.455 and 22 home runs at both AA and AAA) and was even shipped to Northwest Arkansas near the end of the season to maintain his playing time. O’Hearn was moved because Frank Schwindel put up an amazing second half for Omaha, hitting .396/.414/.681 from July 15th on, putting up 14 home runs and 53 RBI’s in that span. While both aren’t completely out of the picture, the Royals elected not to add either to the 40-man roster last month, leaving them open to the Rule 5 draft. While first basemen normally aren’t picked in the draft, it is also telling that neither were protected, a sign of what the Royals really feel about their value moving forward.
So with all that being said, I’ve been of the belief that Kansas City won’t look from within to fill the spot; instead, my gut tells me they will go looking for a veteran bat to hold down first base. There have already been a couple of first baseman that appear to be on the Royals radar:
Adams is a slightly above average career hitter with some power, but more importantly for Kansas City he would be a cheaper option for the ballclub. His splits are pretty lopsided, so if the Royals did sign him they would probably be better suited to use him primarily against righties.
Reynolds is an interesting choice, since he has long been compared to Dave Kingman as primarily a home run-strike out guy. He has encountered a career renaissance in Colorado the last two years, but it’s hard to get behind the Royals looking into him when you factor in the “Coors Field Effect”. In 2017, Reynolds home/away splits showed a major increase in production at Coors Field: .294/.393/.584 at home, .242/.311/.392 on the road . The slugging percentage in particular is very skewed and it showed in his power numbers: 21 homers and 31 extra base hits at Coors, 9 homers and 22 extra base hits on the road. His power would probably play at Kauffman Stadium but the concern would be his productivity when you take away those 81 games played at Coors Field.
While Reynolds and Adams appear to be on Dayton Moore’s mind, there are a number of quality first baseman on the market this winter. Carlos Santana would be a great catch, but one has to wonder if he would be out of Kansas City’s price range. Same thing for Yonder Alonso, as he is coming off of an All-Star season. Logan Morrison hit 38 home runs last year and racked up a wRC+ of 130 and the Kansas City native has said it would be a “dream come true” to play for the Royals. One does have to wonder if Morrison’s somewhat abrasive manner fits in with what Moore looks for in his clubhouse.
Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli are some other options in free agency this winter, but one player who should be on the Royals list is Adam Lind. Lind had a productive year for Washington in 2017 (.303/.362/.513 with a wRC+ of 122) and would be a good fit on a one or two-year deal. He would probably be best served in a platoon and could be a good choice if the Royals are looking to get Dozier’s feet wet at first base this year. Lind would be a stopgap player, but for somewhere in the $4-7 million dollar range he could be a nice veteran fit on a team looking to rebuild.
The good news for Kansas City is that there are plenty of options for them at first base if Hosmer decides to depart. While it might be hard for any of these players to equal his production this past year, all the Royals need is someone who can hit above the league average and play some solid defense at the position. The job here isn’t to get the same kind of results as the team got from Hosmer; instead, it is to hold down the fort for a couple of years before Nick Pratto or Samir Duenez is ready.