Bonifacio Could Be Royals’ Answer At Second
Six weeks ago, it looked like the Royalsâ€™ biggest need heading into this offseason would be solving the offensive black hole at the second base position. Now, at least, it appears the Royals may have a solution. Trading a player to be named (or cash) to Toronto for Emilio Bonifacio may go down as one of the best deals Dayton Moore has made, if Bonifacio can keep hitting at the pace heâ€™s been on since coming to the Royals.
However, the big question is, can he keep that up?
Bonifacio has 165 plate appearances as a Royal, and has amassed a .290/.358/.359 line. Thatâ€™s a decent sample (roughly ÂĽ of a season), so perhaps we can make a few judgments. However, Bonifacio has been in the majors off and on since 2007, with 2285 plate appearances and a .263/.322/.341 line, which is not nearly as impressive.
The good news is that Bonifacio is just two seasons removed from a good 2011 season, when he played in a career-high 152 games and hit .296/.360/.393. He battled thumb and knee injuries in 2012â€”the thumb injury (a sprain that put him on the disabled list twice) obviously cost him some power; his slugging percentage went from .393 to .316. So that likely explains that disappointing season.
In the offseason, Bonifacio was part of that huge Marlins-Blue Jays trade. Expectations were high for all the players Toronto acquired, but Bonifacio really struggled, hitting .218/.258/.321 in 282 plate appearances. There is no easy explanation, either. He wasnâ€™t hurt. He hit poorly at home and on the road (although he did do slightly better away from the Rogers Centre). Thereâ€™s a reason the Blue Jays essentially gave him away.
To me, it would be a bit risky for the Royals to depend on Bonifacioâ€™s offense next year. He almost certainly wonâ€™t maintain his 2013 productionâ€”heâ€™s shown the ability to sustain this level over a full season just once.
That is not to say Bonifacio is not useful. He has good speed, and uses it well (137 career steals, against only 36 times caught stealing). Heâ€™s not going to win any Gold Gloves, but he can play third and all three outfield spots in addition to second base (and he has made several plays at second I don’t think anyone else on the roster could).
And when you consider the Royalsâ€™ alternatives, Bonifacio starts to look acceptable. Weâ€™re all familiar with the in-house alternatives. Bonifacio has better career numbers than Chris Getz, and while Getz is probably better defensively, I donâ€™t think that makes up for the offensive differences. The Royalsâ€™ other options are suspect or unproven.
Even worse, the free agent pickings are slim at best. The big target will be Robinson Cano, who is obviously not coming to Kansas City for several reasons. Beyond that, thereâ€™s Chase Utley, likely to be out of the Royalsâ€™ price range. The next tier (Kelly Johnson, Ben Zobrist, Brian Roberts, maybe Omar Infante) all are older than Bonifacio and likely to get more money than they are worth based on past success.
Bonifacio is making $2.6 million this year and is arbitration-eligible (and a free agent after 2014, so the Royals have very little risk in this contract), so letâ€™s say he makes $3 million next year. Fangraphs has pegged his value at 0.6 WAR and $2.8 million this year. In other words, the Royals have gotten a bargain on Bonifacioâ€™s service (he has 1.0 WAR* in his time with Kansas City). And even if his 2014 season looks like his overall 2013 numbers, the Royals will likely be paying around the going rate for his contributions. And if he falters as a starter, he can still contribute as a super-sub (the risk is that the Royals have to overcome the lack of a good second baseman again).
*A great “what-if” is if the Royals had had Bonifacio on Opening Day, even if he struggled like he did in Toronto, the 0.6 fWAR he has, combined with replacing the -0.1 fWAR of Chris Getz and -0.2 fWAR of Elliot Johnson, the Royals would have an extra win. That would come in handy right about now, wouldn’t it?
With that in mind, if I were Dayton Moore, I would move second base down on my list of concerns for this offseason, and instead concentrate on finding a power-hitting right fielder.
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