In the Dayton Moore era, one of the biggest holes the team has had that never has seemed to be filled is second base. In Moore’s first two years in Kansas City, he inherited Mark Grudzielanek, but after that, the position was manned by a combination of Alberto Callaspo, Mike Aviles, Willie Bloomquist, Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, Yuniesky Betancourt, Emilio Bonifacio, Miguel Tejada, Omar Infante, Ben Zobrist, Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi. I guess Christian Colon has gotten some playing time there, too. That’s not exactly a group of All-Stars, though Zobrist was awfully fun for a few weeks.
And now heading into 2017, the questions at second base remain. The four-year deal given to Omar Infante was so bad that the Royals walked away from it a full year and a half before its conclusion, so a position the team probably expected to be filled next year is in flux yet again.
They got decent production from Merrifield, as he hit .283/.323/.392 with some solid defense, so if that’s what we can expect from him moving forward, I’d say they’re all set for at least 2017, but he’s only had one minor league season with a higher average and didn’t show enough of a proclivity to walk, either in the majors or the minors, to see the OBP be much higher. It could be a detriment if the average drops. The .109 ISO is probably about right, though. I don’t know. Maybe he can be the answer for a season.
And there’s obviously the upside of Mondesi, who was massively overmatched offensively in his first big league action. Plus, he’s not a second baseman. He’s a shortstop. He dazzled with some spectacular plays, but struggled at times defensively to learn a position that isn’t typically his. If his bat can catch up with his athleticism this year, he’s a dynamic player who could give a huge boost to the team in 2017. So sure, that’s a possibility, too.
Oh, and the Royals are working Cheslor Cuthbert at second base this winter. I’m not going to say it won’t happen because I’ve been surprised before, but if it does work, I’ll be about as surprised that it worked as I’ve been about basically anything.
Forget those options. I think they can fill the position effectively and open up that flexibility they’ve been craving for years with one free agent move.
I mentioned Steve Pearce in an article a couple weeks ago, but he’s not an option to start every day at second base. There are some other options. They could opt for a high OBP guy like Chris Coghlan or a defensive guy like Daniel Descalso or a veteran like Chase Utley or even Neil Walker, a switch-hitting second baseman with power.
Let’s focus on Walker because I think he could be the solution the Royals are looking for on many fronts.
I think he would be an interesting pickup for the Royals who could really increase the team’s versatility. While Walker has played almost exclusively second base in the big leagues, he was a third baseman when he was drafted (and a very good one). He’s also dealing with back issues, which might make second base difficult for him. But you know what he can do pretty well? He can hit.
What if the Royals took advantage of what may be a down market for Walker because of his back injury and made an offer to him for two or three years at a reasonable dollar amount? He could play a decent amount of second base. He could play some third. He could even play some first. He could potentially be insurance at first base for after the 2017 season if the Royals don’t have anyone ready to replace Eric Hosmer.
On a team that used to have an identity as one that didn’t strike out, the Royals struck out way more than you’d like. Walker is someone who could help swing that back in the right direction. He struck out in 18.3 percent of his plate appearances last year, which isn’t elite, but it’s solid. He was at 15.4 percent as recently as 2014. His return along with hopefully a season from Mike Moustakas could be big in helping to push back to where the Royals would like it to be.
Now, this move would almost certainly signal the end of the Kendrys Morales era. If Walker were to play, say, 80 games at second, 20 games at third, 20 games at first and 40 games at DH, the Royals would have the rotation they’ve coveted for so long to get players half days off at the DH spot. He’d be a switch hitter to give the Royals the balance that Morales provided them the last two seasons. And he’d give them home run power as he’s hit 23 home runs in two of the last three years and was on pace to hit 30 if he had been healthy enough to receive 600 plate appearances.
In games he doesn’t play second, the Royals can work with a combination of Merrifield and Colon there. In games he does, the Royals can plug Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain in the DH role with Merrifield or Orlando working in the outfield. His time at third can obviously allow Moustakas to DH a handful of times throughout the year.
There are reasons it wouldn’t work. For one, there’s that back injury that cost him his last month-plus. If he’s still hurting, all bets are off. There’s also the possibility that some team doesn’t care what his injury issues are and gives him a deal the Royals shouldn’t, and probably couldn’t, match. But hey, if all the stars align, I like the idea of being able to add a switch-hitting power bat who might be able to be had for a bit of a discount due to various circumstances.
If he can be had for less than the asking price on Morales, it allows the team to free up other funds to go out and improve the bullpen and maybe even the starting rotation. Of course, other teams will have the same idea, but it’s one I think could help the Royals a great deal in 2017.