Minor additions of Carroll and Bonifacio could address Royals’ major weakness
Even on their 17-4 run to start the second half, the Royals are still longshots to make the playoffs, but that hasn’t stopped them from attempting to fortify their roster. On Sunday, they traded for infielder Jamey Carroll, and on Wednesday, they added Emilio Bonifacio as well.
Given the two players’ versatility — they’ve combined to play three infield and all three outfield positions this year — the moves not only add depth to a squad that’s recently been hit by injuries, they offer a solution to the team’s gaping abyss at second base. Since Saturday, the Royals have placed centerfielder Lorenzo Cain and utilityman Miguel Tejada on the disabled list with oblique and calf injuries, respectively, and they may have to do the same for third baseman Mike Moustakas, who suffered a calf strain as well and is considered day-to-day.
Tejada, now 39 years old and back in the majors after sitting out all of 2012, had emerged from of a utility role to make 22 starts at second base, including 14 during the team’s second-half hot streak. At the plate, he looks like Chase Utley relative to his competition on the roster, hitting .288/.317/.378 in 167 plate appearances overall. Alas, his calf strain is serious enough that Kansas City put him on the 60-day disabled list, effectively ending his season unless — in the longest of longshots — the team can at least reach the American League Championship Series.
Even with Tejada’s input at the keystone, Royals second basemen have hit a combined .231/.279/.301, tied for the majors’ second-lowest OPS at the position, and even worse than last year’s .256/.289/.359, not to mention their 2011 mark of .254/.301/.335. This is an ongoing organizational problem that bears a close relationship to the talent (or lack of same) on hand, not to mention the willingness of manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore to settle for submediocre offense in the name of defense at the position.
The Royals have used four starters at second this year. Chris Getz, part of the perennial problem at the position since 2010, has made 49 starts and hit .217/.284/.286 in 184 plate appearances overall; he’s a career .252/.310/.312 hitter, so it’s not like he offers any upside. Johnny Giavotella, who has bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the majors over the past three years, has started just 10 times and hit .206/.289/.265 in 38 PA overall, and while that’s hardly a fair shake, the combination of his career major league line (.239/.273/.333 line in 414 PA) and the team’s longstanding distrust of his defense doesn’t exactly scream, “Problem solved!” Newcomer Elliot Johnson, who arrived as the player to be named later in the James Shields/Wil Myers trade, has played the best defense (+9 Defensive Runs Saved) while making 36 starts but has hit a wretched .184/.223/.247 in 169 PA overall; his career line of .213/.268/.315 is somewhere south of hopeless.
In adding the 28-year-old switch-hitter Bonifacio and the 39-year-old righty-swinging Carroll, the Royals have obtained two players who have significantly underperformed this year but who have much more substantial resumes, and neither costs much; both deals give the Royals the option of sending cash considerations to the Blue Jays and Twins, their respective former teams, in lieu of players to be named later. Bonifacio hit just .218/.258/.321 with three homers and 12 steals in 282 PA for Toronto, the one team whose second basemen have been less productive than those of Kansas City. Though he hasn’t ever come close to matching his 2011 breakout (.296/.360/.393 with 40 steals), his career line of .261/.319/.340 would represent 40-point upgrades on the Royals’ 2013 second basemen in both on-base and slugging percentage. Bonifaco is making $2.6 million this year and has one more year of arbitration availability; he’s a non-tender candidate unless his performance picks up. Interestingly enough, his younger brother Jorge is a 20-year-old outfielder who came into the year ranked as the Royals’ fourth-best prospect by Baseball America; he was recently promoted to the team’s Double-A Northwest Arkansas affiliate.
Carroll has hit an even more meager .223/.275/.254 in 212 PA (six with Kansas City) but his career .274/.350/.339 line would represent an even bigger upgrade on the current state of affairs if he were to rediscover his stroke and play regularly. He’s also got enough recent experience at shortstop (90 starts in 2011-2012) that he could offer a short-term alternative to Alcides Escobar, a slick fielder whose own .248/.275/.319 has been yet another drag on the offense. And hey, don’t discount the possibility that the Royals made this deal because they were so impressed by Carroll’s scoreless inning against them on Aug. 5 using a 74-79 mph fastball that they envision him helping their bullpen as well. Whatever his role, Carroll has a $2 million club option for next year, with a $250,000 buyout.
By themselves, these two moves won’t help the Royals (62-55) overcome their 6 1/2 game deficit in the AL Central and their four-game deficit in the wild-card race, a set of circumstances that gives them an estimated 7.6 percent chance at reaching the postseason according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds. But given the low bar of the players who have occupied second base for K.C., it wouldn’t take much for the pair to provide at least a one-win boost over the remainder of the season That would not only increase the team’s odds by a couple percentage points but also improve its chance of finishing with a record at or above .500 for the first time since 2003 and just the second since the 1994 players’ strike.
To do that, though, would require a healthier roster (since Carroll has been covering third for the past two games in Moustakas’ absence) and the willingness of Yost to make a leap into the unknown instead of settling for the grim state of affairs at second base that has been the hallmark of his regime. There’s certainly a chance that neither Bonifacio nor Carroll can provide the kind of upgrades that would make a difference, but the Royals won’t know unless they try.