Since earning a promotion to the big leagues in June 2011, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has compiled a meager .606 OPS against left-handed pitching. In 2013, his third season in the Majors, he finished with a .546 OPS against southpaws. So when the Royals acquired infielder Danny Valencia — author of a career .879 OPS against lefties — from the Orioles in exchange for outfielder David Lough several weeks ago, there were some that thought Moustakas and Valencia would work well as platoon partners.
As Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star writes, the Royals still view Moustakas as a full-time starter at third base.
“Mike Moustakas is our everyday third baseman,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “It just gives us more depth, and our job as a baseball operations staff is that Ned (Yost) and the coaching staff have as much depth as possible and are in a position to match up as they see fit on any given night.”
Moustakas is just 25 years old and isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season, so the Royals certainly have some incentive to let Moustakas continue to learn and grow as a player. At the same time, they are also trying to compete in 2014 to end a 28-year playoff drought, currently the longest drought among all 30 Major League teams. They finished at 86-76 last season, their first season above .500 since 2003, but still finished in third place, seven games out of first. Squeezing out small advantages where possible could mean the difference between playing meaningful baseball in October or scheduling a golf outing.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉