At some point, likely in the near future, the Kansas City Royals will have Alex Gordon back and in the lineup. Once he returns, he will be manning his typical location in left, and will hopefully be providing that same Gold Glove caliber defense while being that same all around presence on offense.
When this return occurs, the Royals will be forced with an interesting decision in terms of playing time. Ben Zobrist, who had been acquired for the stretch run, has been manning left while Gordon has been on the shelf. When Gordon does return, Zobrist is not likely to return to a utility role, especially given his production. In that case, either Omar Infante or Alex Rios would need to take a seat on the bench.
As every knows, neither Infante nor Rios have exactly set the world afire with their production this season. Infante has ‘produced’ a .219/.233/.311 batting line, and his 43 OPS+ and 48 wRC+ rank last in the majors of any player that qualifies for the batting title. Rios has not been much better, posting a .250/.285/.322 batting line, with an OPS+ of 67 and a 66 wRC+. Obviously, the Royals could use an upgrade in either spot.
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As it turns out, the Kansas City Royals may not have that difficult of a choice to make when it comes to finding a place for Ben Zobrist in the lineup. Over the past few weeks, Alex Rios has begun to hit the ball once again, posting a .275/.300/.345 batting line over his past fifteen games, and is in the midst of a modest seven game hitting streak. Infante, despite his recent outburst of triples, has nine hits for the month and only six hits since August 7th, all of which have come in the last five games.
Even though it may be that Infante is about to go on a hot streak, his track record this season would tend to indicate otherwise. However, replacing Infante in the lineup may not be as cut and dry as the offensive statistics would indicate. Alcides Escobar and Infante have great chemistry together up the middle and a seemingly innate sense of where the other player will be. Is it worth potentially affecting that chemistry for better production with the bat?
Given that Escobar has had to play with quite a few second basemen over his tenure with the Royals, any adjustment period may not take that long. Zobrist has been a solid defensive second baseman over his career, and has actually been better than Infante. During their respective careers, Zobrist has been created with 46 defensive runs saved at second, while Infante has saved only six. Not only could Zobrist be an upgrade in the lineup, he could help improve the Royals already stellar defense as well.
The Kansas City Royals will need to find a place for Ben Zobrist once Alex Gordon returns. It seems like the decision of where to slot Zobrist in the lineup will not be that difficult to make.