Most of the time, Major League Baseball teams follow a pretty basic formula for roster construction. They’ll have 12 pitchers, 2 catchers, 4 outfielders, 4 starting infielders, 1 utility player (who can play both middle infield spots), 1 backup corner infielder, and 1 designated hitter or another backup position player. There are exceptions, of course, but it seems like nearly all teams at least want to make sure they have a backup catcher, a backup outfielder, and a backup middle infielder.
For whatever reason, the Royals may be going against that trend.
According to some quotes from Dayton Moore, the team is leaning toward breaking camp without a backup middle infielder. They may opt for five outfielders in addition to having Danny Valencia and a backup catcher on the bench. Moore justifies having five outfielders by pointing out the injury history of Lorenzo Cain, which is certainly a valid point. Cain hasn’t proven he can stay healthy, so Jarrod Dyson is absolutely needed on the roster to give Cain a few days off here and there. I’ve also advocated for keeping Justin Maxwell on the roster, but that was with the idea of going with a 6-man bullpen. Maxwell’s presence instead of a backup middle infielder doesn’t make as much sense. I love Maxwell’s right-handed power off the bench, but that power is somewhat redundant with Valencia on the roster. It’s nice to have extra power and on-base ability, but it’s more practical to have a player who can competently handle a middle infield position once or twice a week.
Moore also names Carlos Peguero as an option for one of the five outfielders, since he, too, is out of options. However, Peguero on the big league club would make even less sense than Maxwell. Peguero is left-handed, so he wouldn’t provide any kind of platoon advantage over the other corner outfielders, and he isn’t adept enough defensively to handle center field should he need to step in for any length of time. Again, I’m a big fan of guys with legit home run power, but Peguero doesn’t seem like a good fit with this Royals roster. There aren’t likely to be many pinch-hitting opportunities for Peguero, since Alcides Escobar is the only right-handed hitter that doesn’t hit adequately against right-handed pitching, but removing Escobar from the game would then result in Mike Moustakas playing shortstop and putting Valencia at third base. For a team that relies on terrific defense, that seems like a bad idea.
Jeffrey Flanagan, in the linked article above, mentions that the Royals can handle having no backup middle infielder early in the season, since numerous off days and potential rainouts offer opportunities to rest both Escobar and Omar Infante without taking them out of the lineup on gamedays. While I can understand that line of thinking, it seems far too short-sighted. How would they handle a minor injury to Escobar or Infante? Obviously, if the injury is significant enough, the team could place either player on the disabled list and call up a replacement from Omaha. But let’s say Escobar tweaks his ankle early in the game, and may need a day or two of rest. Or maybe Infante gets knocked down on a takeout slide and lands awkwardly on his shoulder. Would the Royals be comfortable having Moose and Valencia on the left side of the infield? Would they want Valencia turning double plays at the keystone? Again, for a team with 60% of its starting rotation being completely defense-dependent, that strategy is incredibly flawed.
With Emilio Bonifacio now out of the fold, we all thought Pedro Ciriaco would be stepping into that utility role, since he’s kind of a poor man’s version of Bonifacio. I don’t think Ciriaco could be very successful if he’s in the lineup for an extended period of time, but he can at least handle himself at multiple positions on the diamond, including shortstop and second base. Ciriaco even could step in for Moose at the hot corner for a day or two, which could eliminate the need for Valencia, though the Royals seem hesitant to let go of the player for whom they traded David Lough earlier this winter.
Or the Royals could go with Christian Colon, who I also have doubts about, but who likely wouldn’t be a disaster fielding ground balls up the middle, either. If the Royals do start the season without a backup middle infielder, I suspect Colon will be the one to get the call when they do make a move, since his potential is higher than Ciriaco’s.
Starting the season with five outfielders and zero backup middle infielders would be a very curious choice to say the least. The team doesn’t really have a need for multiple platoon bats, especially at the expense of a bench player with middle infield experience. Obviously it remains to be seen if Moore’s plan comes to fruition, but even the fact that the Royals are considering such a tactic is quite confusing and nonsensical. Hopefully the organization can recognize this mistake before it actually happens.