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Backup shortstop options for the Royals

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To Esky, or not to Esky?

Kansas City Royals v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Royals are expected to have a very quiet off-season this year, but one position they are looking to address is backup infielder. Adalberto Mondesí is the starter at shortstop, but the club has had concerns about his durability and will look for someone to spell him on occasion, as well as fill in around other infield positions as needed.

Jeffrey Flanagan recently spoke to Dayton Moore about addressing the position.

“I think we’ll be very observant and open-minded to veteran players that perhaps are left standing a little bit [in free agency],” Moore told MLB.com. “When you evaluate our current roster, we definitely need someone who can back up at shortstop on the 25-man roster. We have to look at that. Who that is right now, I can’t tell you.”

The Royals may be able to swing a minor trade or perhaps even find a gem in the Rule 5 draft to address the situation. For now, let’s examine the internal options as well as free agent possibilities to fill the role.

Internal options

Alcides Escobar is technically not an internal option as he is a free agent, but the Royals are certainly familiar with what he can do. The Royals gave him 531 plate appearances last year, despite Escobar being the second-worst qualified hitter in all of baseball, so there must be a lot they like about the guy. But Flanagan writes of Escobar’s “expected departure” which may mean he is no longer in the Royals’ plans. Escobar will be 32 next month and may want to be on a winning team, or somewhere where can play on a more regular basis - the Tigers may be interested, for example.

Rosell Herrera is mentioned by Dayton Moore as a possibility, although Flanagan notes it has been four years since Herrera has played shortstop on a regular basis. Still, he would only have to fill in on occasion, and only until Nicky Lopez is ready for big league action. Herrera is also out of options, so he would have to be on the club anyway, or be exposed to waivers. Herrera hit just .203/.269/.259 over his last 43 games, and the 26-year old may not have the bat to stick in the big leagues.

Ramon Torres is also technically a free agent, having been outrighted off the roster earlier this month. This probably means he is not in the picture, despite having a lot of experience at shortstop. The 25-year old switch-hitter has hit just .225/.269/.265 in 108 career MLB plate appearances, and had a poor season at the plate in Omaha last year.

Nicky Lopez is mentioned by Moore as well, but Flanagan notes the club does not want him on the big league roster as a backup. Lopez is one of the better prospects at the higher levels for the Royals, but he spent just 57 games in AAA, so the Royals could send him back there for more seasoning.

Humberto Arteaga has been known for his glove, but he finally showed something with the bat last year in AAA. The 24-year old Venezuelan hit .292/.322/.386 in 445 plate appearances with Omaha, the best offensive numbers of his professional career. He has also performed very well in the Venezuelan Winter League, which should give him a leg up in spring training on a Major League roster spot. He would be cheap and young, but there are likely still doubts about his ability to hit.

Jecksson Flores won a batting title for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals, batting .314/.363/.440 with 27 steals. He has played primarily at shortstop in his minor league career, but has also filled in all over the infield, and even the outfield, so he could offer some positional versatility. Joshua Payton at Royals Farm Report marveled at his defense, so the 25-year old may be at least able to contribute with the glove.

External options

Cristhian Adames is a 27-year old switch-hitting minor league free agent. He has appeared in 166 games in the big leagues with the Rockies, and hit .269/.324/.370 in 122 games with the top Marlins affiliate last year. He was better the year before, showing more power, although in a hitter-friendly environment in Colroado Springs. He has played primarily shortstop, but has played all over the infield.

Adeiny Hechevarria is part of a shortstop Major League free agent class that includes Freddy Galvis, Jose Iglesias, and Jordy Mercer, although those players are more likely to get starting jobs. Hechevarria is probably looking for something close to a starting role, or at least a reserve role on a contender, making him a long-shot to end up on the Royals. The 29-year old hit just .249/.279/.336 in 94 games with three teams, but is still a solid defender.

Dixon Machado appeared in 172 games with the Tigers over the past four seasons, but was outrighted in September, making him a free agent. The 26-year old has experience at both middle infield positions. He was pretty lousy with the bat both in the big leagues and in AAA, but overall had a 9.4% walk rate as a minor leaguer and has shown a propensity to steal bases.

Deven Marrero is a former first-round pick with the Red Sox, who hit .197/.250/.283 in 158 big league games over the last four seasons. The 28-year old was designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks in August after hitting .167 in 49 games with them. Marrero is known as a plus defender, although he may be a bit stretched at shortstop.

Cliff Pennington is an 11-year Major League veteran you may remember from his pitching performance in the 2015 ALCS when he was with the Blue Jays. He is 34 now and isn’t much with the stick, but is still an adequate defender at shortstop, and won’t cost much.

Gregorio Petit was a reserve infielder with the Twins last year, and the 33-year old has appeared in 197 big league games with five teams. He’s a lifetime .249/.294/.343 hitter and has played all over the field, including some time in the outfield.

Eric Sogard is known for his trademark glasses, but he couldn’t seem to see the ball well last year, hitting just .134/.241/.165 in 55 games. The left-handed hitter was much better in 2017, hitting .273/.393/.378 and has generally showed a very patient eye at the plate. The 32-year old can play all over the field, but his metrics at shortstop have been below-average.

Ruben Tejada has appeard in 657 big league games, and was on the roster for the 2015 Mets when they faced the Royals in the World Series. The 29-year old is a career .251/.325/.318 hitter with a healthy 8.4% walk rate. He was terrible in AAA for the Orioles last season, hitting .230/.291/.298.

Ronald Torreyes isn’t quite a free agent yet, but he was designated for assignment this week by the Yankees. He has played parts of four big league seasons, batting .281/.310/.375 in 615 plate apearances. He has versatility, playing all over the infield and is one of the younger options listed here at age 26.

Others: Cito Culver is a former first-round pick with the Yankees that has failed to hit much, but he does have some pop and tools. Alex Mejia hit .335 in 2017 with AA Springfield and had a taste of Major League action with the Cardinals, but has struggled in AAA. Peter Mooney is a 28-year old minor league free agent who hit .297/.374/.423 in 75 games for the top Marlins affiliate last year. Ryan Goins is on the wrong side of 30, but the Royals signed him once, right?