For six consecutive years, the Kansas City Royals have employed Alex Gordon in left field. Every offseason except the previous one, the Royals knew that Gordon was returning. General Manager Dayton Moore and Manager Ned Yost did not wake up in the dead of night with cold sweats, wondering who would play left field. They knew. Everyone else knew. And even this year, after Gordon's worst season in seven years, Gordon will play left field.
The same can't be said about the infield. Omar Infante probably gave Moore and Yost his fair share of nightmares, but this year the nightmare is multifaceted, more complicated, and has more heads than a chimera--it's more like a pentmera, actually. It's totally real, obviously, so feel free to Google it.*
*Please don't do this. Among the image results for a pentmera search include a 'dusty pink' religious robe of some sort and an Adolf Hitler quote. A pentmera is not a real animal and Royals Review claims no responsibility in case of readers thinking it was real.
This multi-headed animal, the one that Moore and Yost have to think about, consists of five names. Those names' performance and the prediction of those performances by the front office will, believe it or not, have one of the biggest effects on the 2017 Royals. Those names:
- Hunter Dozier; third base, right field, first base, professional benchwarmer
- Cheslor Cuthbert; third base, assistant smile instructor
- Raul Mondesi; shortstop, second base, and helmets HATE him
- Christian Colon; shortstop, second base, third base, guy who could have been Chris Sale instead
- Whit Merrifield; Willie Bloomquist's younger, more handsome, better self
At first blush, those names don't look too appealing, and that's mostly because they aren't. Sike! Only Mondesi is under 25 years old, and the last time Mondesi put up an .800 OPS in a year as a professional ballplayer was zero o clock, nevermonth. While next year is only his age 21 season, he's got more in common with an undercooked steak than a superstar at the moment.
At second blush, you start to realize that decisions revolving around those five players and their respective performances makes up an outsized portion of the Royals offseason plans. Let's take a look at why.
- Best Case: above average bat at a trio of positions
- Worst Case: in the minors all year
- Best Case: above-average bat, playable at third base and second base, a lefty-masher for a DH platoon
- Worst Case: not good, just like 2016 only more depressing
- Best Case: following the career path of one Francisco Lindor
- Worst Case: following the career path of one Alcides Escobar, except not as good
He won't be on a top prospect list next year for a purely technical reason--he exhausted his rookie eligibility--but if he did, he probably would have taken a hit. See, Mondesi's always gotten by on athleticism and projection. He's always been extraordinarily young for his level, and regardless of his offensive output he has the type of unteachable skillset that you'd kill for. He's fast, he is a great baserunner, he has excellent footwork and ability at a premium position (shortstop), and is a switch hitter with decent power for the position. All those things also describe one Francisco Lindor, who's basically the second coming of Derek Jeter (let me remind you that is 3000+ career hits, future Hall of Famer Jeter).
- Best Case: average starting second baseman with utility at shortstop and third base
- Worst Case: just another gosh-darned useless utility infielder who could have been Chris Sale
What to do?
The biggest issue regarding these five is that they have overlapping skills in areas of need. The Royals need offense, a dependable second baseman, platoon bats for a DH, and perhaps some corner outfield depth as well. They could look elsewhere for these things--or they could decide that they have them internally. Not only do they have to decide that external v internal question, but they have to decide which internal player they like. Is Dozier or Cuthbert more likely to produce, given their similar skillsets? Do you have Merrifield or Mondesi play second base? Are any of them trade bait?
There are no solid answers, but the way the Royals approach these players is going to be very important.