No matter what your feelings are about the Royals outfield, we all can agree that there seems to be a bit of a logjam at the moment and Mitch Maier is the man who is being left out from the party. Through 36 games, Maier has appeared in just nine of them, garnering 16 at-bats.
We know Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur are going to be the corner outfielders with Melky Cabrera most often starting in center. Jarrod Dyson will stick around all season because of his speed and ability to be a late inning defensive replacement (not saying Royals manager Ned Yost will always use him properly, just stating the overall fact).
This leaves us with the quandary that is Mitch Maier. Maier has been nothing but a stand-up Royal since he was drafted by Kansas City in the first round of the 2003 draft out of he University of Toledo. That is the first and in my mind, key issue with Maier. He'll be 29 years old in June and time is no longer on his side. Will he all of a sudden turn it on and be a 15 home run 80 RBI guy in the majors? I won't discount it, but I would suggest it's not going to be happening.
There is nothing wrong with being a fourth of fifth outfielder on a major league roster, but there is when you have a deep talent pool of riches known as the Kansas City minor league system.
To solve the complicated arithmetic of the outfield, we will start with Melky Cabrera. For the sake of the argument, we won't be touching on Gordon or Francoeur as they are both enjoying good seasons so far and neither is on the verge or should be of losing starting time.
Cabrera is currently batting .282 and slugging .456. If he were to continue on such a pace, they both would be career highs. His on-base-percentage is below average, even for him, thanks to 24 strikeouts against 5 walks. That is not a good sign, especially for someone hitting second. To his credit he does have four homeruns and 22 RBI, where last season he posted four homeruns and 42 RBI in a complete 147 game season.
What I am suggesting is as the summer goes on, you trade Cabrera. Someone will overvalue his good first half and oodle over his pace of homeruns and RBI. Trust me, someone will overpay for this should it continue. We haven't even mentioned his defense, which on the surface may appear average, yet he is -1.2 in defensive WAR so far this season.
Lorenzo Cain is batting .295/.380/.443 at Omaha right now and is a speedster in the outfield. Not to mention he is two years younger than Cabrera. In a 43-game audition in Milwaukee last season Cain finished with a stat line of .306/.348/.415. Sure Cabrera likely has more power than Cain, but Cain will have a higher average, a higher on-base-percentage and is a better overall outfielder. I'll take three out of four and say Cain needs to be starting in Kansas City this summer after Cabrera is traded.
Oh yes, then there is David Lough. Lough is basically Mitch Maier, but still with upside. As stated prior, Maier will be 29 next month, while Lough is four years younger and currently hitting .321/.350/.534 at Omaha and plays all three outfield positions. Granted Maier has played roughly a third more minor league games in his career versus Lough, but Lough has higher on-base-percentage and a higher slugging percentage than Maier has in their careers. So if Maier is nothing more than your reserve outfielder, I believe Lough can easily do the same job and likely better over time.
That's not to say Maier doesn't have some value, but due to his age, that window is closing fast and unfortunately it may have already closed with comparable or better players in the farm system that are younger than he. There are always teams out there swapping wheeling and dealing reserve outfielders. The Royals have already traded Brett Carroll and Gregor Blanco this year and neither even made the Kansas City roster.
Maier finished seventh in the American League last year in triples playing only 117 games. In 2009 he had the highest fielding percentage in the league and was fourth in assists. Someone out there has noticed those things in the past and would be willing to take a chance on the guy.
Immediately when I think of value in a return, I know there is a loogy out there someone is willing to trade. For those of you not familiar with a loogy, it's a left-handed relief pitcher who is a specialist in that their job is usually to come into the game to specifically to pitch to a left-handed batter or series of them. Think of Dennys Reyes or Scott Schoeneweis as an example. With Tim Collins being the only lefty in the bullpen, he's going to need help before year end. He's already been used more times than any other Kansas City pitcher. That would likely be a trade were you could find value amongst major league players. Basically you are trading surplus for surplus with someone. And it doesn't really matter who the team is, if you can get a loogy with major league experience there is always a chance he could stick around with the Royals.
In the end, I don't know what Kansas City's plans are for Mitch Maier but it's obvious he isn't getting the playing time he needs and it's probably not fair to him. It's obvious what I would do, but often trades of back-up outfielders come along as out-of-the-blue surprises.