It turns out, the Royals believe, they’ve succeeded in adding a power bat to the middle of the lineup despite missing out in their pursuit of free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran.
That power bat is left fielder Alex Gordon, who can now shift down in the order to fifth, probably, after surrendering his leadoff responsibilities when the Royals acquired right fielder Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee.
“That’s been a big pick-up for us,” general manager Dayton Moore agreed. “Getting Nori allowed us to move Gordo into the middle. The success of our team is going to depend the current group that we have getting better.”
Manager Ned Yost is already toying with a revamped lineup that starts with Aoki, who compiled a .355 on-base percentage over his two years in Milwaukee after playing eight seasons for Yakult in Japan.
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“We can put him at the top of the order, where he can work the count and get us on base,” Yost said, “In our ballpark, it's a big, wide, expansive ballpark with a lot of ground out there.
“He can hit the ball to left. He can hit the ball up the middle, pull the ball to right field. He's got a lot of spots he can find holes. And hopefully, again, set the table for our big run producers and score more runs.”
Aoki excels at putting the ball in play; he struck out just 95 times over the last two seasons in 1,262 plate appearances, including only 40 times last year in 674 plate appearances.
Yost plans to keep second baseman Emilio Bonifacio in the No. 2 hole, where he batted .295 with a .352 on-base percentage over 33 games after moving into that role in late August.
The Royals were also 20-13 in those games.
Yost said first baseman Eric Hosmer “is pretty much going to nail down the three spot,” which suggests a middle three of designated hitter Billy Butler, Gordon and catcher Salvy Perez to maintain a right-left mix.
The tentative bottom third would be third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar.
“We’ve got two months left (before spring training),” Yost said. “We’ve got a lot of time to see what happens, but we're going to have more offensive RBI production further down in our lineup more than we had last year.”
Those two months also provide the Royals with a chance to sort out their crowded outfield. Yost said Cain, if he stays healthy, projects as the starting center fielder between Gordon and Aoki.
That pushes Jarrod Dyson, David Lough and Justin Maxwell into backup roles, but Moore said the Royals, “as currently set up,” won’t keep six outfielders on the 25-man roster.
It’s an issue because all three are out of options, which means none of them can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers.
“If we went to spring training with what we have, we’d probably have to do something before the end of spring training, assuming everybody stays healthy,” Moore said.
“We’re not in hurry (to do something). You want to keep as much depth as you can. If you can make a deal that makes sense, do it. But if not, you just evaluate things at the end of spring training and see what happens.”