The discussions had stretched for days, long enough for Mike Moustakas to make peace with his fate. On Wednesday night, shortly after the Royals completed a nine-game home stand, general manager Dayton Moore informed Moustakas he was being demoted.
In a move that was painful but inevitable, the team optioned Moustakas back to Class AAA Omaha. The third baseman took the news “like a pro,” Moore said. Moustakas expressed his disappointment at his lackluster performance, and reaffirmed his motivation to aid this club later in the year.
“Good baseball players can self-evaluate,” Moore said in a telephone interview on Thursday morning. “And Mike is a good self-evaluator. He understands that it’s in his best interest to go down and focus on some things.”
When the team promoted Moustakas in 2011, they envisioned him as a franchise cornerstone. Three years later, he is mired in the worst season of his career, batting just .152 with scant evidence of improvement. A two-double game on May 14 turned out to be a mirage. He managed one hit in his next 13 at-bats, and looked increasingly hapless at the plate.
“Ultimately,” Moore said, “I thought it was the best thing to do for the organization and for Mike.”
A winter spent in Venezuela with hitting coach Pedro Grifol buoyed Moustakas heading into the season. He scorched the Cactus League for the second year in a row. But Moustakas once again failed to deliver in the regular season.
In his place, the team recalled utility man Jimmy Paredes from Omaha, where second baseman Omar Infante is expected to start a rehab assignment on Friday. Paredes will back up Danny Valencia, who had begun to siphon playing time away from Moustakas. “We just felt that it’s best to ride Danny Valencia for a while,” Moore said.
The team traded for Valencia this offseason as a safety net. They envisioned him as part of a potential platoon, with Valencia facing southpaws. Instead, as Moustakas’ production cratered, Valencia emerged as a more viable option.
The Royals had contemplated this move for at least two weeks. The Star first reported the ongoing discussions at the start of the home stand, which prompted a furor when the team elected to keep Moustakas on the big-league roster. The club insisted his defensive ability and power were vital.
Moustakas was wounded by the criticism, which leapt at him from the pages of the newspaper and from the airwaves. He responded with a small demonstration after his starting role in that game on May 14, when he refused to answers questions about himself and instead only praised started Jason Vargas. He later explained he felt uncomfortable with the attention, and did not want to distract from the team.
The Royals selected Moustakas with the second pick of the 2007 draft. He boomed 36 homers in his final, full minor-league season in 2010. When the club promoted him in 2011, he was rated the game’s No. 9 prospect by Baseball America.
Now he returns to a level he once dominated. Moore framed the maneuver as a “reset” for a player who looked overwhelmed at the plate.
“He’ll be fine,” Moore said. “He’s got a heart to play. That heart and that passion are going to sustain him and keep him going. He’ll go down there and experience success, and we look forward to his contributions when he returns.”