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The enigma of Adalberto Mondesi

What to do with a glass cannon

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

From the very beginning, the Royals have handled Adalberto Mondesi very unusually. Signed as a 16-year old out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, the Royals spent the next few years aggressively promoting the teenager through the minors despite unexceptional numbers. 2015 was a whirlwind for Mondesi: he suffered the first injury of his pro career early on, was named a Texas League All-Star, finished the season with a 77 wRC+, and finally was added to the World Series roster, becoming the first player in the modern era to debut in the World Series. He struck out on four pitches.

Mondesi began the 2016 season in AA and was slapped with a 50 game PED suspension in May. He was called up to the majors in July and proved in 47 games that he was not ready, punching out over 30% of the time while hitting to a 33 wRC+. He made the opening day roster in 2017 as the starting second baseman, hit to a -17 wRC+, and was demoted before the end of April. He spent most of the rest of the season in AAA, where he finally put together an extended stretch of offensive production.

Mondesi started the 2018 season injured. Though we didn’t know it at the time, it turned out to be a harbinger for things to come. He joined the big league team in mid-June and spent the rest of the season showing what he was capable of. He bashed 14 homers, swiped 32 bags, and flashed outstanding defense at shortstop. He hit to a 113 wRC+ and was worth 2.5 fWAR in just 75 games. Mondesi matched that fWAR total in 2019, but had two separate stints on the IL.

2020 perhaps best encapsulates Mondesi as a player. Through the first half of the truncated season, he looked lost at the plate, consistently whiffing on breaking balls in the dirt and producing a 16 wRC+. Even his running was off, getting thrown out on five of 13 stolen base attempts. In September, he looked like a completely different player. Adalberto hit .356 and smashed six homers that month, as well as swiping 16 bags in 19 attempts. His wRC+ for the month was 186, and he was the third most valuable position player in baseball that month.

An oblique injury kept Mondesi off the 2021 opening day roster. This turned out to be just the first of a series of injuries that would essentially amount to two lost seasons for the shortstop. He appeared in just 50 games combined between 2021 and 2022, with poor results at the dish (64 wRC+) but enough value elsewhere to produce 1.0 fWAR.

The Royals and Mondesi are now at a crossroads. Adalberto is entering his last season of arbitration, with free agency on the horizon following the 2023 season. A contract extension seems unlikely given the events of the last two seasons, and his trade value is non-existent at this point, so the Royals have an interesting decision to make: should they tender Mondesi a contract this offseason? Here I will present a case for both sides of this debate.

The case for paying Adalberto Mondesi

It’s easy to feel like Mondesi has been a disappointment given the way the organization hyped him up early on, but the fact is he has been a solid, productive player. Despite missing so much time, Mondesi has been the second most productive player for the Royals since the start of 2018 (minimum 100 plate appearances). On an fWAR/game basis, he has been easily the most productive player in that group. In fact, there’s a larger gap between Mondesi and second place (Vinnie Pasquantino) than between Vinnie and sixth place (Andrew Benintendi).

Admittedly, he is very streaky offensively. When he’s right, he’s one of the very best players in the game. When he’s not, he looks utterly overwhelmed with the bat. It can be a frustrating viewing experience, but it ultimately adds up to slightly below average production at the dish. While he’s streaky offensively, he’s consistent with the rest of his game: Mondesi is the best defensive shortstop on the 40-man roster (depending on your preferred flavor of defensive metrics) and one of the best base-stealers in all of baseball. Combine those with a 90 wRC+ and you have a tremendously valuable player.

It’s even possible there’s still untapped potential here. While it feels like Mondesi has been around forever, he just turned 27 this summer, which is generally considered the prime age for a hitter. He needs to stay on the field, but perhaps his best is yet to come. Just based on physical tools, nobody on the 40-man not named Bobby has a higher ceiling than Adalberto.

If this were a Cody Bellinger situation, perhaps a non-tender would be the right move. But while Bellinger is making $17 million this season, Mondesi is being paid just $3 million. He got a $480k raise after 2021 and, having played just 15 games this season, it’s hard to see how he’ll get much more than that. He will likely get paid around $3 or 4 million for 2023. Given his typical production, that would be an excellent deal for the Royals. If he gets hurt again or performs like he did in his 15 games in 2022, his contract isn’t rich or long enough to hamstring the Royals.

So go ahead Royals, sign the man and run him out there at shortstop. If he stays on the field, he could become an extension candidate, get flipped at the deadline, or - if many things break right - play a key role on a contending Royals team. If he doesn’t, he hits free agency at the end of the season and another organization can take a chance on a tantalizing talent.

The case for non-tendering Adalberto Mondesi

The case here seems pretty obvious: saying Mondesi is made of glass would be an insult to glass. He’s been about as durable as cardboard throughout his career. His career high for games played in the majors is just 102. In the last five seasons, the only season that he avoided a trip to the IL was the shortened 2020 season. Here are his total games played between all levels for every year of his pro career:

  • 2012: 50
  • 2013: 125
  • 2014: 110
  • 2015: 81
  • 2016: 99
  • 2017: 110
  • 2018: 104
  • 2019: 113
  • 2020: 59
  • 2021: 54
  • 2022: 15

“The best ability is availability,” so the saying goes, and Mondesi clearly lacks it. His own general manager said as much. Another saying that applies here is “the best predictor of future injury is previous injury history.” Generally speaking, when a guy gets hurt at a young age as much as Mondesi has, they don’t just suddenly stop getting hurt.

Even with a new offseason training plan focused on keeping him healthy, Mondesi still got hurt in 2022. There’s no clear pattern to his injuries. Just in the past five years, he’s had injuries to both shoulders, both obliques, groin, left hamstring, and now left ACL. He’s gotten hurt playing defense, getting back to first on a pickoff, and swinging the bat. There’s no load management plan possible that will keep him on the field.

Even if he somehow stays healthy, how much production are we really expecting here? Yes, the baserunning and defense are excellent. But how about the bat? It seems like Mondesi’s 113 wRC+ in 2018 is the outlier. In the four seasons since then, he has a 79 wRC+, a .283 OBP, and almost seven times as many strikeouts as walks. His occasional hot streaks are just not enough to offset the extended stretches of being a black hole in the lineup. Maybe he’d be more consistent if healthy, but we can’t count on that.

His contract may not be expensive but financial cost isn’t the concern here, opportunity cost is. With how many question marks there are surrounding Mondesi, it’s hard to justify using a roster spot on him. It’s even more difficult to justify when you consider the depth the Royals have in the infield. Bobby Witt Jr., Michael Massey, and Nate Eaton were the regular shortstop, second baseman, and third baseman, respectively, down the stretch in 2022. Nicky Lopez proved this season that he cannot hit enough to be an everyday player, but he’s a plus defender at three infield positions, making him a perfect fit as a utility infielder off the bench. Hunter Dozier is still on the roster (for now) and likely is in the third base picture if he sticks around. Maikel Garcia demonstrated an excellent approach and solid defense in the minors and figures to be organizational depth at shortstop at the very least. Where exactly does a streaky, oft-injured shortstop fit in here?

Mondesi has had his moments with the Royals, but those moments have been few and far between due to injuries and ineffectiveness. He was sold to us as a future face-of-the-franchise type superstar, but by now it’s clear that will never happen. It’s time to cut bait and move on.

There is a case to be made on both sides here. Do you believe in the talent, or are you ready to move on? Of course, I suppose there is a third option: non-tender Mondesi and see if you can bring him back on a minor league deal. That would solve the problem of him taking up a roster spot, but I bet there’s a team out there - perhaps Miami or Colorado - that would take a chance on a major league deal. The Royals have a lot of work to do this offseason, and part of that will be figuring out what to do with a talented but fragile player.


What do you think the Royals should do with Adalberto Mondesi?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Tender him a contract
    (638 votes)
  • 26%
    Non-tender him and move on
    (335 votes)
  • 24%
    Non-tender him and attempt to sign him to a minor league deal
    (313 votes)
1286 votes total Vote Now