At various times over the last few seasons, the Royals have gone without a true backup shortstop on their roster. It’s usually not for terribly long, but it’s long enough that you at least wonder what would happen if the shortstop would go down. But for the Royals, the shortstop never went down. I’m not sure if you know this, but Alcides Escobar played a lot of games in a row and appeared in all 162 games for the Royals in three of four seasons from 2014 to 2017. His low from 2011 to 2017 was 148 and that was a year in which he was spiked and it looked for all the world like he’d be out for a long time. He missed a handful of games.
But now things are different. Escobar is no longer the shortstop. That title belongs to Adalberto Mondesi, who hit .276/.306/.498 last season. With the Royals, Escobar topped that average twice, that OBP twice and got within 100 points of that slugging percentage exactly zero times. So aside from being a considerably better option, he’s also less durable. And that’s not a bad thing necessarily, but I believe the Royals will treat Mondesi the way they treated Lorenzo Cain for most of his tenure. Sure, they’d love to get 150 games out of him, but I think they’ll be happy with 135-140 in order to keep him and, in Mondesi’s case, his back healthy from the beginning of spring to hopefully the end of October.
And what that means is an increased need for a backup shortstop on the roster. With Escobar, he wasn’t coming out unless he was hurt in the middle of a game, which meant someone would play out of position for four innings and then they’d call someone up from Omaha. You just can’t do that if you’re planning to give multiple days off to your shortstop. Even if it’s once a week, you want to have someone there who isn’t drastically out of position and hurts the defense regularly.
There are a few names out there they can pursue. You know one of them. You’re not going to like one of them. I don’t like it either. I’ll get to him last just because I don’t want to get to him.
The Free Agents
MLB Trade Rumors lists 12 players as free agents under the shortstop umbrella. I count another two or three who are non-tender candidates. Of those, maybe Tyler Saladino would be a bit, though it sort of depends on how the Brewers handle their free agents and Jonathan Schoop. Of the free agents, there isn’t really a great option that jumps out to me other than the one I’m not going to mention for now. Asdrubal Cabrera, Freddy Galvis, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Iglesias and Manny Machado all are obviously looking for starting jobs. Dixon Machado isn’t very good. Neither is Gregorio Petit or Eric Sogard. Jose Reyes is scummy, so he’s probably out. That leaves a couple players. Adeiny Hechavarria would fit as a strong defensive backup who would remind you a lot of that guy we’re not mentioning. And I’ve mentioned Jordy Mercer before if he’s willing to sign as a backup and for not too much money, though I think his market may be slightly more robust than I thought a few weeks ago.
This is always much tougher to gauge because it’s just hard to say what a team is willing to do. For example, the Red Sox have three shortstops on their 40-man roster, so maybe they’d be willing to part with a player who doesn’t have much of a path to playing time. That doesn’t mean they’d just give up someone like Tzu-Wei Lin easily because he’s shown way too much promise to just dump because there’s a roster crunch. Maybe Ronald Torreyes could be had in a deal. He’s been a backup for the Yankees for the last three years. As of now, he’s very important with Didi Gregorious out for awhile to start the season, but if they go get Machado and don’t move anyone, he becomes moveable. Another name to watch could be Charlie Culberson, though I don’t know how keen the Braves would be to trade him at all after seeing him hit .270/.326/.466 for them in 322 plate appearances last season. But if they sign a third baseman or a shortstop and keep Dansby Swanson, the roster is getting awfully crowded.
An outside the box thought would require the Astros to re-sign Marwin Gonzalez and then turn around a flip Aledmys Diaz, who they just acquired from the Blue Jays. That would all depend on how they act and react in free agency, so it’s just really tough to say there. Again, trade speculation is so tough that I hesitate to even name any additional names here just because it’s so early in the offseason. But just know the possibility to go this route is out there.
Unless I’ve missed someone, there isn’t really much out there in the Rule 5 at shortstop that would get me excited for the Royals to have to carry all season long. There is one player who I could see maybe possibly worth a shot and that’s Drew Jackson from the Dodgers. He might not fit perfectly at shortstop, but I think he can handle the position well enough to play there once or twice a week. He hit .251/.356/.447 with an 11 percent walk rate and 22.7 percent strikeout rate that gives a bit of concern. He can really run. If he’s left unprotected, I believe the Royals could do far worse than him as a backup infielder, and I think he can play the Rosell Herrera role well.
Okay, here we go. The Royals could bring back Escobar. While the fans were ready to move on after 2017, it sure seemed like everyone was ready after 2018, but he hit .326/.367/.442 the last two months of the season after he really became a backup player and even posted a walk rate of 6.3 percent. I’m not saying I like the idea. I’m saying these are the ways the organization would justify it and spin it. I mentioned Rosell Herrera, and I do believe that if he’s going to stick on this 40-man, it’ll have to be because he plays shortstop. He played 1.2 innings there in AAA last year, six innings there in 2015 and 346 in 2014, which is his last significant action at the position. He also hasn’t played there in winter ball at all, spending most of his time in the outfield. I’m not saying he can’t play short. I’m just saying he probably can’t. Humberto Arteaga is a defensive wizard and he’s coming off his best year with the bat and continuing to hit well in the Venezuelan Winter League. I don’t think he’s an especially strong possibility, but the organization really likes him. They could also add Jecksson Flores, who broke out in AA this season. He’s really more of a second baseman, but a nice season could get him a shot on the 40-man and a crack at the big league roster.
And that leaves us with the one guy who could make this whole discussion moot. If Nicky Lopez breaks camp with the big club out of spring training, he’s the guy. I imagine if he’s up in the big leagues, he’s there to play mostly every day and I would guess he’ll play second and third and fill in at shortstop for Mondesi when he needs a rest. Lopez hit just .236/.314/.341 over the final two months of the season, so there is definitely no harm in letting him cook a little more in AAA to start the 2019 season. I believe the direction they go with regard to the backup shortstop position over the next couple months will tell us a lot about their thoughts on Lopez.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a lot of words about a backup shortstop on a likely 90+ loss team, but hey, it’s early in the offseason and with so much attention likely to be focused on the pitching staff, this is the one spot where they might look to be active with position players.