When the Royals agreed to sign Omar Infante last Friday, they did more than just fill the enormous void at second base. Inserting Infante into that spot pushed Emilio Bonifacio to a utility role off the bench, where his speed and versatility can be more valuable. Having players like that on the bench is a huge asset for teams, and the Royals with Jarrod Dyson are a prime example of that. They’ve been able to use Dyson as a pinch runner extraordinaire, and he’s been a terror on the basepaths for opposing teams in late inning situations. Putting Bonifacio’s (and presumably, Dyson’s) speed on the bench helps to shine the light on something that the Royals’ reserves appear to be sorely lacking – power.
That is where Justin Maxwell comes in.
Maxwell was acquired at the trade deadline for minor league pitcher Kyle Smith, and most people likely had low expectations. However, Maxwell was excellent offensively for the Royals, putting up a line of .268/.351/.505, with 5 home runs in 111 plate appearances, good enough for a wRC+ of 134. His ability to draw a walk (BB% of 9.9) and hit for power (ISO of .237) was something rarely seen from a Royals’ hitter, with the exception of the now-departed George Kottaras. While Maxwell came to Kansas City with a reputation as a lefty-masher (career .789 OPS v LHP), he actually had a significant reverse platoon split in 2013, OPSing .797 against righties compared to just .710 against lefties. Granted, that came in fewer than 250 plate appearances, but still an interesting note.
After the Royals traded for Norichika Aoki, their outfield became even more crowded, and with Dyson’s speed and defense being such a valuable weapon off the bench, I thought it may be possible that the team would choose to part ways with Maxwell in a trade of some sort. Now, however, it is apparent that the Royals simply must have Maxwell’s bat on their bench. Take a look at the potential bench players, and their career numbers in the majors:
Emilio Bonifacio: 79 OPS+, .078 ISO
Brett Hayes: 71 OPS+, .154 ISO
Jarrod Dyson: 81 OPS+, .137 ISO
David Lough: 91 OPS+, .118 ISO
Justin Maxwell: 101 OPS+, .202 ISO
One of these things is not like the others.
Maxwell isn’t a great defender like Dyson or Lough. He’s not a versatile speed demon like Bonifacio. He’s not a catcher like Hayes. But Maxwell can hit, and he can hit for power. Home runs aren’t everything, but it sure is nice to have a player who can come off the bench to hit them in the later innings. None of the other potential bench options have that ability, which means if the roster doesn’t see any other changes before spring, Maxwell absolutely must be with the Royals in April.
The Royals, of course, still must decide if they want to have 4 or 5 outfielders in Kansas City. Bonifacio could possibly be the 5th outfielder and pinch runner instead of keeping Dyson. Or, the team may see a lack of options in the AAA outfield and want to avoid losing a potentially impactful player like Dyson or Lough, so they may choose to keep 5 actual outfielders on the roster. Regardless of that decision, it has become imperative that Maxwell and his powerful bat are in Royal blue on Opening Day.