KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The arrival of veteran Raul Ibanez is designed to give manager Ned Yost a proven left-handed presence off the bench, as well as depth at the corner outfield positions.
It also is bound to create an interesting roster decision once outfielder Nori Aoki comes off the disabled list. Aoki is eligible to return Saturday, though club officials believe he is still a ways away from being healthy.
Still, all signs point to Ibanez, 42, being a part of this team for quite some time, even when Aoki returns. General manager Dayton Moore stressed by phone Monday that Ibanez is a key addition to this team, both on the field and in the clubhouse.
So how do the Royals manage the roster once Aoki is healthy?
"We’ll worry about that at the appropriate time," Moore said. "Our concern right now is winning games today."
When Aoki returns, the Royals could, of course, once again carry five outfielders, as they did to start the season.
And that would mean they would come up short in one other department — at utility infield or in the bullpen.
Along with Ibanez, the Royals added Christian Colon to the active roster Monday to replace Pedro Ciriaco as the utility infielder. It is possible that if the Royals choose to keep five outfielders in the future, they may yet again go without a backup middle infielder since Colon has options and can easily be shuttled back to Triple-A Omaha.
The Royals also could drop down to six bullpen arms. Right-hander Michael Mariot has options. However, Mario has been pitching well lately and is moving up on Yost’s confidence ladder.
If the Royals opt to remove left-hander Francisley Bueno from the roster, he would have to be designated for assignment because he is out of options. And keep in mind that Bueno is the only thing close to a situational lefty in the bullpen since Bruce Chen now is primarily the long reliever.
Also keep in mind that shifting down to an 11-man staff is probably the least attractive option to Yost, who is far more comfortable with 12.
Another option would be to trade Aoki when he is healthy. It’s no secret that the Royals have not exactly been enamored with his play since he was acquired from the Brewers. He has demonstrated only average range in the outfield with an average arm. And he has been mostly a slap singles hitter with marginal speed at the plate.
Of course, because of these drawbacks, Aoki wouldn’t hold much value on the trade market. But a deal to move Aoki would make sense especially if Ibanez figures in their plans beyond the July 31 trade deadline — having Aoki as a fourth or fifth outfielder doesn’t really bolster the bench because he is a left-handed hitter like Ibanez.
And right now, the Royals seem content with Jarrod Dyson in center and Lorenzo Cain in right, especially defensively. Along with Gold Glover Alex Gordon in left, that trio might be the best defensively in baseball.