Finding a Utility Infielder

Outside of the consistent quest for starting pitching and a “killer bullpen” this offseason, the Royals have been in the market for a utility infielder. They haven’t excluded them being an all-around utility player, ready to fill in at outfield positions, but with Mitch Maier, Jarrod Dyson, and Omaha’s David Lough all seemingly ready to fill in if necessary, focusing on the infield is the bigger concern. If Alcides Escobar were to succumb to injury (knock on every piece of wood within reach), there aren’t really any suitable replacements, even for a short time. Now that we know Chris Getz will still be around, he could play the part if necessary. Heck, even Irving Falu could make an appearance. Still, though, there’s no reliable alternative.

Therefore, the Royals are looking for someone to fill that role when necessary and to give Mike Moustakas a day off from third if he needs it. Several candidates have been listed, but who is really the best option?

It was a bit puzzling when the Royals expressed a need for a utility infielder after trading their old utility infielder, Yamaico Navarro, to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Then again, no one seems to think that Navarro ever wanted to be a Royal or was interested in being with the team. It’s a fair point, as I don’t remember him looking too thrilled too often, but it’s interesting to note nonetheless.

Through the link above that leads to Bob Dutton’s tweet about candidates, we learned several possibilities that the Royals are considering. I just want to touch on what they’ve done the last couple seasons so that we’re all on the same page.

Edgar Renteria (35), seemingly the top candidate based on the amount of news about him, has been in the NL for the last three seasons. He played 292 games in that time and batted .256/.313/.345 over 1110 plate appearances. He played with the 2010 World Series Champion Giants and, outside of seven innings at second base for Cincinnati, has played every defensive inning at shortstop. For those that get into UZR and defensive metrics, Renteria’s UZR has been positive each of the past three seasons. He would seemingly fill the role well, and given that it would likely be a contract of between $1 and $2 million, the price wouldn’t be outrageous. Renteria is used to being a bench player, so at least he would be prepared for that spot. I don’t know anything about his fit in a clubhouse, but he’s definitely an intriguing option.

Mark DeRosa (36) has also spent most of the past three seasons with NL teams outside of half of 2009 in Cleveland. He was also part of the Giants’ World Series team and is thus a champion at heart. DeRosa batted .246/.317/.393 over 777 plate appearances in 212 games the last few seasons. He played in just 47 games in 2011 due to a wrist injury that forced him to miss June and July. He recovered well and ended the season on a tear in his smaller role, so he seems ready for 2012. Defensively, DeRosa is mostly a corner infielder and outfielder with some time spent at second base when absolutely necessary. He hasn’t played an inning at shortstop since 2008 with the Cubs. I really don’t think he’s a viable option for a shortstop replacement going forward, so it’s unlikely the Royals give him a look for that position.

Orlando Cabrera (37) is an option that intrigues me. I think most, if not all, fans will recognize his name from his time with the Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Indians, Angels, and Athletics since 2004. Cabrera has played much more than the previous two since 2009, with 1722 plate appearances in 413 games, including part of 2011 with the Giants.* He batted .264/.298/.355 over that time while spending most of his time at shortstop with additional games at third and second. His UZR has been up and down, but he’s a solid option that won’t be a huge liability when he’s in the game. Even though he’s aged considerably, he’d still be useful to have around. Unlike Renteria, however, Cabrera isn’t as used to a bench spot and may prefer a starting role, even at his old age. A good player to consider, but he may not fit the bill perfectly.

*The 2010/2011 Giants are also known as the “Lords of the Old Utility Players” based on their rosters.

The final candidate that Dutton listed was Carlos Guillen (36), who’s spent his entire career with Seattle and Detroit. Both Guillen’s playing time and production have been way down in the last few seasons with the Tigers, as his .253/.323/.411 line in 699 plate appearances over 177 games shows. He’s coming off the end of a big contract, which netted him roughly $36 million over the last three seasons, so he  may still think he can give more than he’s shown. Guillen hasn’t played an inning at shortstop since 2007, so thinking that he’d be a solid replacement there may be a stretch. And did I mention how much money he’s been making for how few games?

 

Based on what the Royals have said and what Dutton’s reported regarding their considerations, Edgar Renteria really is the best option. Orlando Cabrera would be very intriguing if he were willing to take the bench spot, and he might play a better shortstop, but Renteria seems more signable based on his playing time the last few years. Offensively, none of these guys are going to give you a ton of pop in their plate appearances, but they likely won’t make you hate their time there, either.

I’d like to think that the Royals can find young, cheap players to fill the utility infielder spot on the bench, but if they’re convinced they can’t, there are options out there. I think that Renteria and Cabrera are really the only two options out of the proposed few. I don’t know how either would mesh with the young team in the clubhouse, but I trust the management to make a smart decision there.

Post your choices for utility player in the comments below!

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Tags: AL Central Alcides Escobar Baseball Carlos Guillen Chris Getz Edgar Renteria Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Mark DeRosa MLB Orlando Cabrera Royals

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