One more time, this is why the Royals could start season without a backup middle infielder
Probably the question I have been asked the most regarding the Royals the last two or three months has been related to the team’s backup middle infielder situation.
Back in late December, I wrote that the Royals likely would part ways with backup infielder Emilio Bonifacio, either by trade or release. The reasoning was that the Royals likely couldn’t justify paying a backup infielder in excess of $3 million, and also that Bonifacio wasn’t elated with the idea of losing his starting job to second baseman Omar Infante.
At that time, I also suggested there was a strong chance the Royals might even open the season without a backup middle infielder because of Bonifacio’s pending fate.
The first part of that forecast turned out to be true when the Royals designated Bonifacio for assignment in February.
And as the weeks go by in spring training, more media outlets are picking up on the notion that, yes, indeed, the Royals could start the season without an experienced backup for shortstop Alcides Escobar or Infante.
The reason for this quirky roster decision stems from the fact the Royals want to carry five outfielders and 12 pitchers. They want to carry five outfielders because backups Jarrod Dyson, Justin Maxwell and Carlos Peguero all are without minor-league options, and the team doesn’t want to lose them on waivers.
Dyson is a certainty to make the roster because he is the most experienced backup center fielder to injury-prone Lorenzo Cain.
But also, the Royals don’t want to lose Maxwell or Peguero, though they do think there’s a better chance that Maxwell would get scooped up on waivers than Peguero, who has minimal big-league experience.
Still, losing either Maxwell or Peguero is cause enough for the Royals to carry another backup outfielder behind Dyson.
And that means the Royals have only one spot left for a backup infielder, which surely will be Danny Valencia, a corner infielder who was acquired in a trade with Baltimore for David Lough.
That is why the Royals are working hard to get Valencia some practice time at second base, a position he has not played in the major leagues.
Club officials are not so concerned about having to replace Escobar, who has been a bit of an iron man with the Royals. In three seasons, Escobar has missed only 15 games, those absences mostly because manager Ned Yost felt the need to give him a rest.
Infante, though, is another story. Infante has been bothered most of this spring by a sore shoulder, and at his age (32), there is some cause for concern. He missed over 40 games last year with the Tigers because of various injuries, and there’s no guarantee Infante won’t get nicked up the first two months of the season.
But the Royals are willing to take that chance because they don’t want to sacrifice Maxwell or Peguero, or both. The thinking is that if Infante were to go down in the early season, Valencia would fill in for a game or two, hold the fort, and then the Royals could make a roster move by recalling either Christian Colon or Johnny Giavotella.
It’s possible, too, that the Royals could insert Pedro Ciriaco to replace Infante. Ciriaco, a journeyman backup, however, would have to clear waivers to make it to Omaha since he also is out of options.
But the primary option remains Valencia, who seems convinced he could handle any emergency duty at shortstop or second base.
"Am I a Gold Glove shortstop?" Valencia told MLB.com. "Who you gonna compare me with, a J.J. Hardy or an Escobar? Am I one of those guys? Probably not, but can I do the job and hold down the fort for a game or two games? I’m sure I can."
And Valencia’s backup middle infielder role would not be a long-term solution anyway. It’s simply a necessity for the early season. As most fans know, a major-league roster is fluid throughout the season, and the Royals’ roster no doubt will be, too.
As general manager Dayton Moore has told me often in the last two months: "The roster we start with isn’t going to be the roster we finish with. We constantly will have to adjust and massage the roster."
The most important factor now is that the Royals hold on to value — meaning either Maxwell or Peguero.
Maxwell has proven to be a late-game hero in his short stint with Kansas City, and the Royals also believe Peguero (27) could be one of those late bloomers who becomes a major power threat down the road.
And that is worth the gamble of starting the season without a bona fide backup middle infielder.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email email@example.com.