One of the obvious differences between the American League and the National League is the use of the designated hitter. It’s a position that keeps the careers alive of those players who are still formidable at the plate, but nearly useless in the field. And if you’re a team like the Kansas City Royals, it brings up a possible trade advantage when a player of that description is blocked in the minors for a NL team.
Consider the case of Mat Gamel. The minor league slugger has been a third baseman throughout his minor league career until this year when the Brewers have mostly played Gamel at first. He’s a man without a position because scouting reports read that Gamel’s a defensive liability no matter where you place him. Yet his bat speaks for itself. This year, Gamel is hitting .327 in AAA Nashville with 19 homers and 64 RBI. Last year, Gamel hit .309 in a half season in Nashville with 13 homers and 67 RBI. For his career, in just over 700 minor league games, Gamel has a .305/.378/.499 line. That’s a player ready for the majors.
Over the course of four major league seasons, Gamel has only been given 85 games and 171 at bats to prove himself. That’s an average of 43 at bats per season. He’s largely been written off by many, and yet the guy hasn’t even come close to getting significant playing time. The bulk of those games, 61 of them, came back in 2009 and Gamel responded with a decent .760 OPS. But the Brewers continued to flirt with other players at the position and gave significant ABs to Casey McGehee among others.
This is exactly the type of slugger the Royals could look at to take over at DH if they were so inclined to move Billy Butler for some prospects down the road, even after this year. Gamel also has extensive experience at both corners in the field if need be (i.e. if Mike Moustakas can’t hit the ball). Yet for this kind of impact bat, the cost wouldn’t be as high given his defensive limitations and even limited ceiling in Milwaukee.
Perhaps they’re grooming him to take over for Prince Fielder when he leaves via free agency for a monster contract. If so, then that’s a solid play and the Brewers should keep him. But if the team continues to move him back and forth trying to find a place for his bat, the Royals should move in.