Emilio Bonifacio: Right player, right time

Ed Zurga

Bonifacio's production over the last month has been key to the Royals clawing their way back into the playoff race.

The Kansas City Royals made a fairly nondescript waiver trade on Aug. 14, acquiring Emilio Bonifacio from the Toronto Blue Jays for a player to be named later. At the time, the move seemed like a trade to acquire depth; Lorenzo Cain and Miguel Tejada had just been placed on the disabled list, while Mike Moustakas was battling a calf injury.

Kansas City has improbably stayed in the playoff race since the trade, partially thanks to an impressive run by the Royals and partially thanks to the struggling Tampa Bay Rays. Bonifacio hasn't been the only reason why the Royals remain in the Wild Card race, but he's been a key contributor and filled in admirably as the team's No. 2 hitter and second baseman.

The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Bonifacio in the mega-trade with the Miami Marlins. The switch-hitter played below replacement level, batting .218/.258/.321 in 282 plate appearances. He only walked in 4.6% of his plate appearances, striking out in 23.4%. All told, Bonifacio posted a -0.5 fWAR and a -0.1 rWAR.

Bonifacio's transformation since joining the Royals has been nothing short of remarkable. He is batting .304/.374/.392 in 117 plate appearances, good for a 112 wRC+ (54 wRC+ in Toronto). He has been a terror on the basepaths, swiping 13 bases with the Royals (12 with Toronto). Bonifacio has also shown impressive patience, posting a 10.3% walk rate while lowering his strikeout rate to 17.9%. Overall, he has earned 1.0 fWAR in Kansas City, an impressive figure over one month.

Not only has Bonifacio been a valuable addition, he has spent most of his innings at second base, a position the Royals sorely needed production from. Even with Bonifacio's above-average offense, Royals' second baseman have hit 30% below league-average on the year.

Ned Yost hasn't always trotted out the best lineups during the 2013 season, but his hands have been tied by a lack of quality hitters. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler were able to fill three of the top four spots, but Alcides Escobar hitting second or Salvador Perez hitting fourth hurt the team, as they struggled to perform in key lineup spots.

Bonifacio provided the Royals with a much-needed fourth hitter to place in the top of the order. He has slotted into the No. 2 hole, which has allowed Hosmer to shift to third and Butler to hit fourth. Having four hitters who fit in the top four spots in the lineup has greatly helped offensive production, giving the team four hitters in a row over the past month who have reached base consistently.

In short, Bonifacio's run over the last four weeks has been incredibly impressive. He's been the right man at the right time for Kansas City, filling multiple holes on the roster. But is Bonifacio an acceptable long-term solution at second base for the Royals?

I think the Royals should try and keep Bonifacio as a super-utility player, but should search for a second base upgrade. Bonifacio will turn 29 before the start of the 2014 season, and will be arbitration eligible for the final time. He is making $2.6 million this season and should see an increase in pay, although he will still be fairly inexpensive.

Bonifacio has earned 4 fWAR (4.8 rWAR) over 2237 career plate appearances, which is not the production you  want from a starter. He has hit 20% below-league average, and provided below-average to average defense, depending on your metric of choice. His fielding at second base has been adequate, but hasn't shown he will provide a lot value as a defender.

His biggest strength is his baserunning, and the Royals have shown they will take full advantage of his skill. He has already been credited with 3.0 baserunning runs; Kansas City seems to have given him much more freedom on the basepaths than he had in Toronto.

Even if the Royals help his value by letting him steal all of the bases, he still seems stretched as an everyday player. Bonifacio would be better served as the primary infield backup while providing some outfield depth, joining Jarrod Dyson as a second pinch-running weapon late in games.

Dayton Moore could certainly do worse at second than Bonifacio (Chris Getz) next season, but he would be better served looking for an upgrade when the Royals gear up for an important 2014 season. Bonifacio definitely has a role on that team, but it probably shouldn't be the role he has had during this stretch run.

There is no denying the impact Bonifacio has had on this team, and how well he has fit in with the current roster. Moore's acquisition of Bonifacio seemed like the Royals were adding filler, but it's proven to be one of the best waiver trades completed in August.

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