In theory, the Kansas City Royals decision to designate Pedro Ciriaco for assignment would not have mattered. The Royals felt that they were better off having a traditional seven man bullpen, and the thought was that either Danny Valencia or Mike Moustakas would be able to fill in if needed. After all, Alcides Escobar has played in at least 155 games in each of the last three seasons, and Omar Infante had only dealt with injuries once in the past four years, the Royals may have felt that there was a better use for that roster spot.
Naturally, just two days after designating Ciriaco for assignment, disaster struck in the form of a Heath Bell fastball hitting Infante in the jaw. Fortunately for the Royals and Infante, he managed to escape with a sprained jaw and a head injury that was not a concussion. In fact, it may be possible that Infante will not need to spend time on the disabled list.
Yet, that injury leaves the Royals in a difficult spot. Valencia finished the game at second base on Monday, and his defensive limitations at the position were apparent in his time there. Although Valencia only played at second for two innings, he threw away a potential double play ball on the turn at second. Fortunately for the Royals, the ball bounced right back to Eric Hosmer at first, keeping the runner from advancing another base.
That lack of defensive ability reared it’s ugly head once again last night. Facing Greg Holland with two outs and a runner on second, James Loney hit a pitch to the right side that Danny Valencia, with his lack of range in the middle of the diamond, could not get to. An actual middle infielder, on the other hand, probably makes that play and the Royals get out of the inning. Instead, that proved to be the game winning hit, and the Royals were saddled with a loss that they may not have had otherwise.
Carrying a backup middle infielder may not have been as important to Ned Yost and the front office as holding on to players that they favor, but baseball is not a game where emotional roster decisions take precedence. The Royals, for the first time in seemingly ages, expect to make the playoffs. Doing so requires being able to have the best 25 players to help a team win, not to hold on to players just because they may have hit a grand slam once or because they are out of options. A team that truly has playoff aspirations should not be trotting Valencia, a player who never played at second base in his professional career before Monday, as their starting second baseman at any point in time.
This is not to say that Valencia does not have a role on the Royals. He does. However, that role should be in a platoon with Moustakas at third base, giving the Royals their best chance to get offense from that position. Valencia should not, unless there is a dire emergency, be playing in the middle of the Royals infield.
The Royals refusal to do something that virtually every other team in baseball history has done, carry a backup middle infielder, cost them a game last night. Instead, a team that prides itself upon it’s stellar defense has Danny Valencia playing second base. This could get a lot uglier before it gets any better.