Adalberto Mondesi’s 2021 season has not exactly gone to plan. In the very last game of Spring Training, he injured his oblique. This injury kept him out of a Royals uniform until May 27. Then, his June began just like his April did: with an injury. Over the weekend, the Royals sent Mondesi back to the Injured List, and to date Mondesi has appeared in seven games.
This is particularly painful for a few reasons. First, Mondesi is an absolutely dynamic player. No individual currently employed within the Royals organization—with the possible exception of Bobby Witt, Jr., who is still honing his craft in Double-A—has his blend of power, speed, and fielding prowess. Mondesi can change a game by himself, and it’s hard to imagine the Royals going through an 11-game losing streak with Mondesi on the team.
Second, well, we’ve been here before with Mondesi. This is his age-26 season, but it has been eight years since Mondesi has played more than 113 games in a single professional season. His collection of injuries reads like a baseball-specific version of the song Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.
As a result, people are frustrated with Mondesi. We’ve seen glimpses of brilliance, but he’s never put it together in a single season—and it’s looking like we’ll have to wait another year at least for that to happen.
Unfortunately, this frustration has led to a lot of really bad takes about Mondesi. There are...more than one, with Soren Petro on 810 making a few of them, most recently in an interview with beat writer Alec Lewis on June 1. Let’s start with the first one, that Mondesi is soft and that his inability to play on the field is some existential crisis that can affect the rest of the clubhouse:
Listen, at some point there’s got to be a breaking point. I just put myself in the shoes of the guys who play around the diamond...Maybe he won’t fight through injuries, maybe he’s just brittle. Listening to Mike Matheny go on and on about how talented he is when he sits on the disabled list drives me crazy...[Mondesi] defies the culture of the game, for whatever reason. Either way, the game frowns on not being able to play more than 100 games. I worry about him infecting the clubhouse.
This criticism is particularly hilarious to me, because there’s nobody that’s less happy about Adalberto Mondesi’s 2021 season than Adalberto Mondesi. Empathy is vital in understanding human emotions and intentions, and if you’re raising questions about Mondesi’s toughness without incorporating even a little empathy, you are doing it wrong. You do not end up playing baseball professionally if you don’t love the game, if you don’t have a burning desire to go out and compete. If you think that Mondesi doesn’t want to be out on the field, you clearly have not watched a second of his clear passion at work on the field, on the basepaths, and at the plate.
Additionally, Mondesi has no incentive to sit out whatsoever. Mondesi is the son of a big league baseball player—you don’t think he knows that what you get paid in arbitration and on the free agent market is affected by how often you’re on the field? He has already lost out on millions of dollars, perhaps tens of millions of dollars, because of his current injury history.
Petro also made another, and far dumber, complaint: that the Royals should just trade or cut Mondesi already.
If they’re not making the move to get the shortstop they need because they’re trying to perpetually figure out if he can or can’t do it, then they’re failing in the front office...At some point, you become a cancer. If it’s crippling you from the decisions you have to make, then take whatever bag of baseballs—and he’ll bring more than that—take whatever it is and move on.
One would think Royals fans would be well-acquainted with what happens when a team offloads a player at their lowest value in part due to injury, because that’s what the Boston Red Sox did with Andrew Benintendi. Last year, Benintendi played in 14 games and hit extremely poorly. The Red Sox offloaded him for what amount to peanuts, and lo and behold Benintendi has been excellent for the Royals, while the main players the Royals gave up—Khalil Lee and Franchy Cordero—have been awful.
But also, it’s not like the Royals are overflowing at the shortstop tree. Who are you gonna stick there? Hanser Alberto, signed on a minor league deal in the offseason? Nicky Lopez, who has yet to prove that he’s a good enough hitter to stick in the big leagues at all, let alone as a starting shortstop? How about 34-year-old Alcides Escobar? Lucius Fox, whose career Triple-A OPS is .585, and who has not made his big league debut? And Witt, well, he’s a 20-year-old in Double-A. Let’s not put the cart before the horse there.
Look: I get it. It’s ok to be frustrated about Mondesi. It’s ok that his injury drives you crazy. But what are the Royals supposed to do? Trade him at his lowest value for no real reason? Cut him, and let someone else pick him up for free? The stark truth is that Mondesi is worth a spot on the 26-man roster, when healthy, no matter if he’s a starter or not. Royals fans have seen what a dearth of talent yields: 100-loss teams and sadness. Until Mondesi hits free agency, keeping him around and playing him when he’s health is the only realistic option. We just have to grin and bear it.