Back in 2008, when he was 24 years old, Kila Ka’aihue hit .314 with 37 homers, 104 walks, and a 1.085 OPS in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Two years later the Royals may finally be giving him a shot, with Ka’aihue joining the roster yesterday in place of the injured Rick Ankiel after hitting .304 with a 1.086 OPS in 23 games at Triple-A.
Ka’aihue has never projected as a superstar, but as a solid, relatively young hitter with power and patience the Royals’ refusal to give him an extended look has been confusing. And even now, after calling him up, they may not actually have a place for him to play.
Ka’aihue has played exclusively first base in the minors, but the Royals have Billy Butler there for the next decade or so and Jose Guillen is hitting .287 with eight homers and a .902 OPS in 27 games as the primary designated hitter. Asked how he might find at-bats for Ka’aihue, manager Trey Hillman said:
We’ll see where it fits day to day. It depends on what I do with the outfield. It depends on how I use Willie [Bloomquist]. It depends on how productive Mitch [Maier] is. Right now, you can view it as an extra bat off the bench. He might play some first base. If he plays first base, Billy [Butler] might do some DHing. That would necessitate putting Jose [Guillen] back in right. Well mix and match.
Based on Hillman’s history, my guess is that “we’ll mix and match” is code for “he won’t play much.” The easiest solution would be making room for Ka’aihue by trading Guillen, but while the early power numbers are impressive he seems unlikely to draw a whole lot of trade interest following back-to-back awful seasons. Which is why this suggestion from Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star makes sense:
They’d have to cover most or all of Guillen’s contract in a trade, but they should be thrilled for the opportunity, and here is where it gets interesting: If the Royals can’t flip Guillen for a prospect, they should bench or release him. This team isn’t winning the division, Guillen won’t be back next year, and that money is spent anyway. Guillen can help this team’s future in two ways. He can bring a prospect back in a trade, or clear room so Ka’aihue can get regular at-bats.
All of which is far too logical for the Royals to actually do it, of course.