After the expected non-tender of Chris Getz, the Royals look to move on to a new second baseman in 2014. As of right now, the Royals have Emilio Bonifacio, Johnny Giovatella, and Christian Colon as guys who you could argue as major league players who could conceivably man the position in 2014. The other option would be to find a new player in free agency or via trade. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing David Glass shelling out $240 million for Cano, which is err, surprising.
What would be the best avenue for the Royals to take? I don’t know, but let’s dig a little deeper on some of the options they have. Keep in mind I am considering Kansas City as a team that wants to be a World Series contender in 2014 within the limitations of their payroll. Given that they seem willing to give Carlos Beltran a 3yr/ 48 million dollar contract (which may or may not be true) I will at the very least assume they are willing to sign a mid-level free agent or two during this offseason.
1. Trust Emilio Bonifacio: I liked the move to acquire Bonifacio last season, as he has shown the ability to help major league teams due to his flexibility and speed. While there is little defensive value from Bonifacio at short or in center field, defensive metrics seem to like him at 2B, 3B or a corner outfield spot. His offense is not great, with his .279 wOBA last season, though he does switch hit. He is basically a no power speedster with below average on base skills. Fangraphs put him at 0.6 WAR in 420 at bats. For a playoff contender Bonifacio is a solid reserve and a bad starter, and I would guess that is how the Royals see him also.
2. Give Giavotella another chance: I am going ahead and discarding Giavotella as a realistic alternative. He was a fan favorite a few years ago as a no defense all hit second baseman, but he just simply hasn’t hit and there is no way to trust him as second division starter in the major leagues. He is a nice organization depth piece that can play in the case of an injury; but his clock is ticking to show something before he is not even a consideration to keep on a 40 man roster.
3. Roll the dice with Christian Colon: It seems to me that I like Colon more than most. The shine has worn off, as the former top prospect has yet to make a single at bat in the major leagues, and next year will be his age 25 season. That being said, he does look to have a skillset that would make him a viable bench bat in the major leagues in 2014. He can back-up at shortstop and second base with a decent enough glove and a decent hit tool. Last season he had a .325 wOBA in AAA which included 12 home runs and an impressive 9.9% K rate.
We know that the Royals do love them some low strikeout players and Colon seems to fill a hole in their 25 man roster as back up middle infielder. Like Bonifacio, though, his value is better served with limited at-bats, and the consistent rule applies that a playoff team can’t trust an average prospect with no major league experience to start for them in 2014. In my opinion, the Royals will be looking to add someone outside the organization to start at second in 2014.
4. Sign Omar Infante: Omar Infante was good last year. In fact, he’s been a valuable player for the last four years. He is a plus fielder and a plus at the plate, compiling 3.1 WAR in 2013 according to Fangraphs. The problem with Infante is price. The Yankees have been said to already have a contract offer on the table and it looks like he could demand a contract similar to the one Jhonny Peralta received earlier this offseason. This seems a little out of the Royals price range.
5. Trade for Brandon Phillips: Brandon Phillips generally gets called overrated by SABR folks but I think that his large RBI totals and mainstream media love makes people forget that Phillips is a very good player from an analytical standpoint also, even if he has declined each of the last two years. 2013 was the first year since 2006 that Phillips did not have a WAR over 3.0. Even banged up, he played in 151 games last year, and has hit 18 home runs for the past four seasons, all but guaranteeing we will see the same total in 2014. His offense has dropped significantly from his monster 2011 season, seeing his wOBA drop to .307 and an ever increasing K%.
Phillips has 4 years and 50 million dollars left on his contract. It would probably take some combination of outfielder/ prospect and relief arm to acquire Phillips, with the Reds conceivably eating somewhere between 10-20 million dollars of his contract. I was hypothesizing a Cain for Phillips swap or maybe a Dyson/ Crow for Phillips swap. This would give the Royals Phillips around the same price Infante will get this offseason, but with an extra fourth year on his contract.
The Reds seem to be wavering on whether or not they actually want to trade Phillips, but my guess is that they would have no problem seeing him go for the right price. While this certainly should be a consideration for the Royals, having to deal pieces for an arguably overpaid veteran on the decline could work out very poorly for them moving forward.
6. Sign Mark Ellis: This is one of my two favorite options for the Royals. Mark Ellis had his 5.75 million dollar option declined by the Dodgers, which seems pretty backwards to me since they were willing to shell out $10 million to Brian Wilson, but I guess Cuban defector Alex Guerrero makes Ellis as expendable. Ellis compiled 433 at bats last year and contributed 1.8 WAR. He has been an elite fielder his entire career and while this skill has declined over time, there is no reason to expect his won’t be the case moving forward.
Ellis isn’t a complete loss at the plate, either, as a guy who does a little but not much of everything. He had an OPS of just .674 and a wOBA of .300 last year. But that is not why you are signing Mark Ellis. I think the Royals could easily lure Ellis to KC given the playing time he could receive. I would have no problem giving him a multi-year deal worth 4-5 million per year to obtain him. That would be a huge upgrade over last year for a fraction of the cost it would take to get a slightly better player in Infante or Phillips. The Royals look to agree with me, as it looks like themselves along with the Dodgers and Rays have already expressed interest in the veteran according to Ken Rosenthal.
7. Trade for Nick Franklin: The Mariners are weird. Not only are they weird but they also just signed Robinson Cano to a reported 10 year, 240 million dollar contract, and now have a bit of a middle infield logjam with both Brad Miller and Nick Franklin already on the roster. After years of knowing that Franklin would have to move off of short, they finally did so once he reached the major league level in 2013, and he probably projects as an average at best second baseman defensively. He does have several years of control being that he didn’t get a call to the big leagues until midseason last year.
Franklin’s minor league track record and major league cup of tea suggest that he is going to have problems striking out at the big league level, but he has always shown a very good ability to draw a walk and has also shown a plus hit tool over his minor league career. Franklin did struggle at the major league level, so there is risk here, but there is reason to believe he will improve given what the scouts have said about him, along with the numbers he has put up.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough, the Mariners are weird. It is hard to say what they would want in return for a trade. It does seem like a position of weakness for the Mariners (the bullpen) is a position of strength for the Royals, who have already expressed some interest in moving a guy like Aaron Crow for the right return.
I think the Mariners are more likely to add Franklin as a piece of a bigger trade (David Price?), but if that doesn’t work out the Royals could make a good trade partner for the talented middle infielder. Of course, there are other options out there, but I think these are all realistic options as to what we could see the Royals front office doing.
The market on Mark Ellis seems relatively thin, so unless the Dodgers get scared of their newly acquired Cuban defector playing second every day and offer Ellis an overpay of a contract (which is realistic), I think the Royals could be a prime candidate to acquire him. He wouldn’t be as big of a splash as other free agent/ trade options, but he is a solid major league starter that would allow the Royals to put middle infielders they have in the bench roles they should probably be in.