Two days after agreeing to terms with their new second baseman Omar Infante, the Kansas City Royals have made another significant move. It was announced yesterday that KC traded left fielder David Lough to the Baltimore Orioles for third baseman Danny Valencia. It seems no surprise that the Royals want a backup plan at third in case Mike Moustakas continues to struggle offensively, but is this really the right move for KC?
Losing Lough this offseason became necessary once the Royals signed Nori Aoki to play in left. As soon as that happened, after GM Dayton Moore told the press that he’d be very hesitant to trade away any more pitching this year, Lough became the team’s most talented, expendable player. Holding onto Lough for 2014 would leave the Royals with Lough, Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson as backup outfielders.
So while trading Lough seemed inevitable, whether or not Valencia was a good return on KC’s investment is very much up for debate.
Valencia’s career numbers do little to tell the whole story of his offensive productivity. He broke into MLB as a 25-year-old with the Minnesota Twins in 2010 with a .311 batting average and consistent power. The next year, Valencia started 151 games and recorded a .246 average with 15 homers and 72 RBIs, but his on-base percentage dropped to .294.
Since then, Valencia has split time in the majors and minors with limited success. He played in only 44 major league games in 2012 and couldn’t record an average or an OBP above .200.
2013 brought Valencia back to his previous levels of success with the bat. After looking good in Triple-A ball to start the season, Valencia earned a spot on the MLB roster for Baltimore and hit .304/.335/.553 with eight HRs and 14 doubles in just 53 games. A year’s worth of offensive production like that could help make the Royals one of the best hitting teams in baseball.
After Valencia turned things around in 2013, the Royals are hoping to catch him on the upswing of his career. Unfortunately, KC can only depend on that kind of effectiveness half the time.
For his entire career, Valencia has been great against left-handed pitching and lousy against right-handers. His career average against lefties is .329, but his average against right-handed pitching is a full 100 points lower. Although this makes it tough for Valencia to find a full-time job, it makes him a great platoon partner for Moustakas at third base. Moose’s batting average against right-handers is 48 points higher than it is against lefties.
While it may sting to see Lough succeed elsewhere, this move makes sense for a “win now” mentality. KC can’t accept .232 and 42 RBIs from a corner infielder, so it’s hard to argue against bringing depth to that position. Even though Moose looks good in Lara right now, that kind of production is disconcerting enough to make KC plan for the worst.
If he can’t get it together in 2014, Moustakas could lose a lot of ABs against left-handed pitching to Valencia. Hopefully, this fire lit directly beneath his keister will be enough to get Moose going in the right direction and make this trade irrelevant. Since he has failed to prove himself so far, this move is wise for a team that wants to compete immediately.