On Monday over at Fox Sports Kansas City, Jeff Flanagan speculated* the Royals may have interest in an Angels infielder not named Howie Kendrick.
*I get the feeling Flanagan is dialed in to Dayton Moore. If Moore isn't a source, then it's someone extremely high up and close to Moore. So when I say "speculated" I mean that I think he was told by someone who knows about these things.
Perhaps the Royals would be interested in Erick Aybar.
But Aybar might be a better fit in the Royals' minds because he is more athletic than Kendrick. Scouts believe Aybar is much better suited to play second base, which he did earlier in his career.
Of course. He's athletic. And the Royals love them some athletes. Especially athletes with career walk rates under five percent.
While Aybar has swiped at least 20 bags in each of the three previous seasons, his wheels are a little dinged up this year. He landed on the DL early in the season with a left heel contusion and also missed a few games with a sore right hamstring. This year, he's stolen five bases in nine attempts and has attempted to run in 8.6 percent of his stolen base opportunities. Compare that to last year, where he was 20 for 24 in stolen base attempts and ran over 11 percent of the time. Or 2011 when he was 30 for 36 and attempted to steal in over 16 percent of his opportunities. (An "opportunity" is defined by Baseball Reference as "plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open.") Yep, it's safe to say his legs are bothering him this year.
Because Aybar has shown the ability to steal a base in the past, the Angels opened the year with him hitting second. After he returned from his heel injury, LA hit him at the top of the order. After 31 games and a .269 OBP, Mike Scioscia had the brilliant idea that maybe he should move Aybar down in the order. (I have a theory Ned Yost and Scioscia were separated at managerial school birth. Maybe that's a topic for another post.) Granted, the Angels offensive issues run deeper than who is hitting leadoff, but putting Aybar at the top of the order didn't make things easier. Since moving down in the order (he occasionally returns to the leadoff spot), he's posted a .339 OBP in 43 games.
It wouldn't be a Royals rumor without noting that Aybar is OBP-challenged and heavily dependent on BABIP. I mentioned his career walk rate of 4.7 percent. His current walk rate is 3.9 percent. His walk rate peaked at 5.9 percent in 2010 and has declined every year since. There is absolutely no way a guy with that kind of walk rate should be hitting in the top two-thirds of a lineup without some power. But can't you see Aybar hitting first or second for the Royals? Because it "feels right."
Like the current crop of Royals who don't walk, Aybar is a contact hitter. While he chases 38 percent of all pitches he sees outside of the zone, he makes contact 88 percent of the time on all pitches. Not all contact is created equal. Currently, his BABIP is .299 and he has a .310 OBP. His best season at the plate was 2010 which included a .353 OBP, but that was powered by an unsustainable .338 BABIP. See how this works? His best season at the plate was 2010. His career high walk rate was in 2010. While this is not mutually exclusive, knowing how to take a walk certainly helps when it comes to having a quality offensive season.
Aybar is in the first year of a four-year deal he signed in April of 2012, that kicked in this year. According to Cot's, he will earn $8.5 million each season through 2016. While Kendrick has a limited no-trade clause in his deal, allowing him to block trades to 12 teams this year, Aybar has no such protection.
This rumor is one that actually worries me. This feels real. From Flanagan floating it as a possibility, to the athletic game, to the aversion to walks, to Aybar's contract. I think that if the Royals are going to make a deal in the next 48 hours, this is the guy.