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Homecoming

With the current nucleus assembled and ready for one last shot at glory, Dayton Moore set to add another complimentary piece by acquiring Melky Cabrera from Chicago on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a sort of homecoming for Cabrera, who hit .305/.339/.470 for the Royals in 2011. He was an important part of a strong offensive team that summer, and was part of the quartet that raked over 40 doubles.

Just for fun, here is the batting order from March 31, 2011, the day Cabrera made his Royals debut.

Aviles – 3B
Cabrera – CF
Gordon – LF
Butler – DH
Ka’aihue – 1B
Francoeur – RF
Escobar – SS
Treanor – C
Getz – 2B

A bit of a different cast in those days, no? Of course, 2011 was the season most of what we now know as the core made their debut. Eric Hosmer was up in May. Mike Moustakas arrived in June. Lorenzo Cain was a September call-up.

Less than a week after addressing their pitching needs, the Royals needed a bat to reinforce the lineup. The switch-hitting Cabrera is hitting .295/.336/.436 with a .266 TAv which is in the neighborhood of his career output. He turns 33 next month and has moved past the prime of his career, but it’s a graceful offensive decline. You knew based on his history with the Royals and the proclivities of manager Ned Yost, he would probably hit second in the order, behind Whit Merrifield. That was confirmed in Yost’s postgame comments about the trade.

As Yost also said in the aftermath of the Royals series victory in Boston, Cabrera will be spending the majority of his time in right field. That displaces rookie Jorge Bonifacio, who is having a fine offensive campaign, hitting .263/.332/.454 with a .269 TAv. That raised some eyebrows.

On the surface, it would seem Alex Gordon would be the natural choice for the bench. His .201/.294/.296 and .226 TAv has been a drag on the offense. However, this is the Royals. Defense matters, and they are a team that is love with their defense – and with good reason. Gordon, despite the struggles at the dish, still provides value with his glove. His 5.7 FRAA ranks fifth among all left fielders this season. That’s enough to push his WARP (barely) into positive territory at 0.3.

Outfield defense is important to the Royals because of the makeup of their rotation. Ian Kennedy (48 percent) and Jason Vargas (43 percent) are in the top ten among starting pitchers in fly ball rate. Jason Hammel (42 percent) ranks 13th. No other team has two pitchers in the top 13 in fly ball rate. The Royals have three. And with the acreage at The K, it’s important for the Royals to have a stout outfield defense.

Cabrera carries a -5.3 FRAA in left field this season. Bonifacio has likewise struggled and has posted a -5.1 FRAA in right. With such a fly ball heavy rotation, to put man each of the corner outfield positions with below average defenders is putting a ton of weight on the glove of Lorenzo Cain. Cain is a guy the Royals need to be giving some regular rest to keep him healthy down the stretch, not adding to his responsibilities in the outfield.

Bonifacio has been a revelation for these Royals, so it’s difficult to imagine he would be pushed to the bench on a semi-permanent basis. The smart money says he’s part of a pseudo DH platoon with Brandon Moss where Bonifacio gets the majority of the plate appearances. Bonifacio, in his small sample size, has fared better against right-handers this year and has been split-neutral in the power department. Moss slugs almost 55 points higher against right-handed pitching in his career so he’ll get some of those starts. Bonifacio can spell Cabrera every once in a while in right, and can maybe give Gordon the night off in left when the Royals have someone like Trevor Cahill and his 26 percent fly ball rate on the mound.

(A Bonifacio-Cabrera corner tandem wouldn’t work with Duffy and his 41 percent fly ball rate. You could maybe get away with it as most of the balls hit in the air against Duffy go to center field, but as the leader of the staff, he should merit the best defense possible. Besides, he gets plenty of action in shallow left that it could be a dangerous defensive alignment.)

The move still represents enough of an upgrade that it’s a good one for this team. The challenge will be to share the playing time among Cabrera, Moss, Gordon and Bonifacio, but these things seem to have a way of working themselves out in the long run. Besides, a little depth in August and September is never a bad thing.

Cabrera is owed around $5 million for the rest of the year before he returns to the free agent market. The Royals will pay about half of that amount. After seeing what the Tigers got in return for JD Martinez where the Diamondbacks picked up all the remaining salary, the Royals desire to lessen the impact to payroll meant a prospect with a perhaps little higher upside was shipped to the White Sox. Clint Scoles had the write-up on what it means to lose last year’s top draft pick AJ Puckett.

For the rest of the fallout, Terrance Gore loses his spot on the 25-man for Cabrera. That is obviously the correct move. It’s difficult to justify Gore on a 25-man roster. Having a pinch running specialist on a three man bench seems misguided. He’s a weapon for sure, just one that makes a little more sense when the rosters expand in September. We will see him again in about a month.

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