Last offseason, the Royals made a very questionable series of trades, moving young relievers Ramon Ramirez and Leo Nunez in separate deals for Coco Crisp and non-tender candidate Mike Jacobs. While the Crisp deal was at least defensible on some level, the Royals certainly were in need of a consistent, solid center fielder, but the Jacobs deal was awful.
Not only did the Royals give up a hard-throwing young reliever for a 1B/DH that was coming off a .299 OBP season, but in doing so, they blocked 25-year-old first baseman Kila Ka'aihue. While Ka'aihue doesn't have a lot of power potential, he does an excellent job of taking pitches and getting on base, and he's flashed enough power to get by given his other skills. In 2008, the season before the Jacobs deal, Ka'aihue posted a .314/.463/.624 line in 376 PA in AA, with a 21.8% walk rate, and a .316/.439/.640 line in 114 PA in AAA, with a 17.4% walk rate.
Clearly, Ka'aihue was ready to get at-bats at the major league level, but the Royals chose to overpay in talent for a power threat that doesn't get on base and can't play defense. Jacobs would post a .305 wOBA and a -0.7 WAR on the season, reinforcing the poor evaluations within Kansas City's front office.
Turning 26 in March, Ka'aihue definitely deserves an everyday shot somewhere, whether that's with the Royals or somewhere else, like Cleveland, San Francisco, Atlanta, or New York. While he wasn't able to repeat his impressive power production and contact ability in AAA in 2009, he still had an impressive eye, with 102 walk and 85 strikeouts in 555 PA, and a very impressive 18.8% walk rate. He may be limited in terms of raw power and he's not much of a defender, even at first base, but the bat should still play at the designated hitter spot because of his ability to get on base.
The Royals have started the offseason off surprisingly well, as they've already made smart moves in declining the options on Crisp, Olivo and Yabuta, and the Teahen for Fields/Getz trade added two potentially solid pieces to the organization. Now the Royals just need to non-tender Jacobs, give Ka'aihue the DH spot, and let Fields back up Ka'aihue, Butler and Gordon. No need to play around at those positions anymore.