Will Willingham Help The Royals?
The Royals success in 2014 is a continuation of what they were able to accomplish in 2013; a 86-76 third place finish which was only their second winning season since 1994. While the 2013 team hit fairly well, this year’s now-division leading model only features two regulars — Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain — with OPS+ above the league average.
Instead, Kansas City is winning games with solid starting pitcher and an absolutely devastating back end of the bullpen.
Despite Willingham’s .210 batting average with the Twins this season, his on-base skill and power – an increasing rare attribute in today’s game — immediately make him the Royals second best hitter, after Gordon.
Willingham, 35, has never been much of an outfielder. But that shouldn’t come into play for the next four-to-six weeks as Eric Hosmer recovers from a broken hand. That injury has moved regular DH Billy Butler (who is finally starting to show signs of offensive life) to first, and now opens the DH spot for Willingham.
Raul Ibanez, who is 42 and hitting .186, had been DHing for the Royals with Hosmer shelved, so Willingham should be quite an improvement.
Hosmer’s eventual return will create a logjam in the outfield. If Willingham hits on even just the level he was with the Twins, he should force rightfielder Nori Aoki — who’s been a sub-replacement player in 2014 — to the bench.
To get Willingham, Royals GM Dayton Moore gave up Triple-A right hander Jason Adam. Adam, a Kansas City-area native, had shown promise in the bullpen after struggling throughout his minor league career as a starter.
However, minor league bullpen arms are always expendable, even for an eight week rental like Willingham.
Yesterday, Justin Verlander left the Tigers game against the Pirates with a soar right shoulder after an inning and five runs. This comes just days after Detroit placed starter Anibal Sanchez and reliever Joakim Soria on the disabled list. Things are so bad in Michigan that even their bat-boy appears headed for the DL after taking a clumsy tumble in last night’s game.
Kansas City saw the blood in the water and pounced by acquiring arguably the best slugger available. Now we’ll see if the move leads to the Royals first playoff appearance since 1985, when they won the franchise’s only World Series title.