Morning Coffee: Royals Bench is a Strength
Yesterday, the Royals made another move I agree with (this is getting weird) when they traded David Lough to the Orioles for Danny Valencia. A lot of fans will be sad to see Lough go, and as a person, I will too, but from a baseball perspective, this is the type of trade the Royals needed to make. I really think it helped both teams because it gives the Royals a platoon partner (and maybe a handcuff) for Mike Moustakas and it gives the Orioles some much needed outfield depth. It also helps to continue the overhaul of the Royals bench and makes it into what I think is quite a strength for this team.
The question is how the bench will be constructed, and at this point, I think it comes down to the fourth outfielder. The locks for the bench begin with Emilio Bonifacio. Signing Omar Infante made Bonifacio go from a slightly above average at very best starter to an excellent super utility player. Bonifacio’s ability to play second, third, short and outfield makes him an incredibly valuable player, but also could spell the end for one of Dyson or Maxwell. In my mind, I had already eliminated David Lough from one of the possible big leaguers next season because he had such a similar skillset to Dyson but without the elite tool that Dyson possesses (or the ability to play center field long-term).
The other spot that’s guaranteed is not guaranteed to any particular player yet, but it’s the backup catcher position. I think by trading Kottaras for cash (AKA selling him), the Royals weakened this part of their bench, but I also think that with Perez likely to be out there for 130 games that this position is a bit less important than the other bench roles. Moving forward, I bet Perez only catches 100-115 games per year and the backup catcher will mean more, but for now, whoever it is does not mean that much to the team in 2014. There’s been some talk the Royals were interested in a veteran backup like a John Buck or Kurt Suzuki, but that just doesn’t make much sense to me. If they do go after one of them, that would just boost the bench more.
In the outfield, that’s where the questions begin. When the Royals signed Infante, I thought it might spell the end of carrying two backup outfielders because of Bonifacio’s versatility, but at the time, I thought Maxwell would be the best person for the job due to his right-handed power off the bench. I love what Dyson can bring to a team, and his speed is obviously game changing, but the way the roster was set up following the Infante move, the Royals really needed to have some extra power somewhere, and it was probably going to come at the expense of Jarrod Dyson’s speed. I think Bonifacio can provide a lot of what Dyson brings to the table, just not as well as a defensive center fielder and as a base runner.
The newest guy who I think will be a member of the bench is Danny Valencia. He is a corner infielder and that’s it. I really think he was brought in to both platoon with Moustakas and to serve as a guy who could take over for him if he tanks again. Last season with the Orioles, he hit .304/.335/.553. The slugging percentage is what really jumps out at you there and he was a nice fit for Camden Yards, but it goes beyond that. Against righties, he hit just .203/.250/.422. Against lefties, though? Valencia hit .371/.392/.639. For his career, he’s a .329/.367/.513 hitter against lefties. If the Royals use him correctly, he can be such a huge asset for this team. With Valencia on the roster, Moustakas should never start against a left-handed pitcher and he should never bat after the sixth against left-handed reliever when the game is on the line. Valencia makes this team better if he’s used correctly. Valencia isn’t very good defensively, but the difference between him and Moustakas offensively more than makes up for that, especially with a rangy shortstop like Escobar.
Now, though, with Danny Valencia on the roster, I think the Royals can afford to part ways with Maxwell and keep Dyson around instead. I think that might even be the direction I’d go. But let’s take a look a little deeper into it. When you look at the Royals starting nine that is projected, there’s only one player I look at and question if he can be out there for a full season’s worth of starts and that’s Lorenzo Cain. Everybody else at least has some track record of being out there for 130 games or so. So my first thought there is that Dyson has to stay to account for the possibility that Cain could go down. Of course, then I think that Aoki can probably handle center and Maxwell could slide in to the right field spot. Still, Dyson keeps the defense up to snuff when he’s out there.
In thinking about it, I think Valencia’s presence means that Jarrod Dyson is the guy who gets to stay on the roster. The Royals needed right-handed power off the bench and they would have had to sacrifice what Jarrod Dyson brings to get that from Maxwell, but now they don’t have to do that anymore. The added bonus financially is that Maxwell is a bit more expensive than Dyson, so the Royals can save a bit on payroll in this facet. What I love about the moves the Royals have made is they now have a bench comprised of players who could fill in for a week or two or more and not embarrass the team like they’ve had in the past. I’ve said in previous seasons that depth is going to be a problem because the Royals couldn’t afford an injury. Now they can. Yes, there will absolutely be a drop-off from starter to backup, but if there wouldn’t be, then these players wouldn’t be a backup. Now, though, the drop-off isn’t so massive that the team could nosedive from it. I really like how the Royals bench shapes up now. If they could just get that number two pitcher, I’d be 100% all in for 2014.
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