When Royals fans review the box scores or scour news reports from Surprise, they are checking for names like Cain, Escobar or Jeffress – additions from the Greinke trade. Or they might be gauging the prospects of Moustakas, Hosmer and Montgomery.
But when the final 25-man roster is set for March 30, many of the players in Surprise will not be on it. Maier knows he’s at a crossroads in his career, and he’s playing like a man fighting for his professional life.
Maier went on an 8-for-8 tear last week, making a desperate bid to be included in the crowded outfield crew that breaks camp. Against the Angels last Thursday, he went 4-4, scored twice and drove in two, while adding two stolen bases. The next day he added four more hits and a walk and drove in the winning run against the Cubs.
Hitting like that, he’s a shoe-in for the major league roster, right? Well, not quite.
Assembling a major league baseball roster isn’t like making cuts in an NFL training camp. The best players don’t necessarily make the team. In the case of the Royals, there will be several of the best players, or at least the ones with the most potential, left off.
The Royals will most likely take five outfielders to Kansas City. Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer will be among those. Though Alex Gordon will probably not play like one of the top three outfielders in camp, he will go as well.
So that leaves Maier fighting with Cain, Gregor Blanco, Jarrod Dyson, David Lough and Derrick Robinson for the final two spots. The two who play the best won’t necessarily make the cut, however.
Maier and Blanco cannot be sent to the minors without clearing waivers first. The others can – they have what teams refer to as “options.” That means if the Royals believe Maier or Blanco have any value whatsoever, they will not be cut.
The same is true in regards to other positions as well. Bob Dutton did a great job describing how a major league roster is assembled and how options work for the Kansas City Star a couple of weeks ago.
Maier doesn’t have options, but he does give the Royals some. He’s a solid enough fielder, and a good enough athlete that he can play all three outfield spots. He can pinch run.
What he hasn’t been able to do thus far, however, is hit left-handed starting pitching. He’s hit .200 with no homers against lefty starters. A platoon could work in his favor. But if he’s filling in due to an injury to a starter, he could be a liability.
Maier will turn 29 in June. If he doesn’t make the team this year, his career could be in jeopardy. It’s hard to imagine another major league team that could use his limited skills.
The team may feel a vested interest to keep Cain as instant return for the Greinke trade. He is, by all accounts, an impressive athlete.
Fans hungry for a more dynamic player may be rooting for Cain, or for Dyson, Blanco or Robinson, all speedy athletes. Lough appears to be a well-rounded talent who has been a minor league fan-favorite.
With Maier, fans know what they will get, but they may want more than he can offer. Because he is “out of options,” the Royals may feel they have no other option but to keep him.