KC Royals: Why Would KC Be Interested In 2B Brett Lawrie?
By John Viril
KC Royals rumors suggests that general manager Dayton Moore is interested in signing second baseman Brett Lawrie after his surprising release by the Chicago White Sox.
The Kansas City Royals have a four-way battle for the starting second base job this spring. Manager Ned Yost also said that he could end up alternating players at the position rather than settle on one regular player. The plot thickened when former Reds GM and current ESPN.com pundit Jim Bowden tweeted on Sunday:
That interest will surprise any fan who remembers Brett Lawrie’s multiple run-ins with the KC Royals in 2015 after he spiked shortstop Alcides Escobar while sliding into second base. Of course, rivalries like that tend to get forgotten once players shuffle teams. When you consider that the Kansas City Royals figure to field a 2017 roster with around 13 survivors from their World Series team, you realize team composition can change pretty drastically in just a couple of years.
Presuming that Alcides Escobar will be able to set aside that old incident, Lawrie does offer some attractive characteristics. The biggest advantage is that Lawrie has more of a track record holding a major league job than any of the current candidates.
Since the Royals seem committed to a deep playoff run in 2017, adding Lawrie makes sense. For a rebuilding team, you’d leave the current crop the chance to prove themselves.
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Lawrie produced 7.2 bWAR in his last four years. That averages out to 1.8 bWAR per season. Of course, until 2016, he mostly played third base. Last season, the White Sox moved him to second. According to Baseball-Reference, Lawrie rated only slightly below average on defense at the keystone. Overall, his production dropped to 1.3 bWAR. In Lawrie’s defense, he only played in 94 games.
However, the 27-year-old Lawrie could conceivably have improved his defense at second with a full season at the position under his belt.
Some fans might look at Whit Merrifield‘s stat line last season and notice that he put up 1.6 bWAR in 2016 in only 332 plate appearance. Doubling that number suggests that Merrifield could easily match, and exceed, Lawrie’s production with a full season. But, the problem with this argument is that Merrifield’s 2016 is the sum total of his major-league experience. What will he do when teams have a “book” on him?
No one really knows.
Similar uncertainties swirl around all of the other candidates for second base. Christian Colon has never gotten more than 147 at bats in a season. Cheslor Cuthbert played third base (badly according to most metrics systems), though he did get a full season of playing time under his belt as a rookie. Meanwhile, Raul Mondesi looked overpowered at the plate last season. But, Mondesi is tearing up the Cactus League with a batting average over .500.
The problem is that playing Lawrie at second could force Kansas City to deal either Colon or Cuthbert. Both players are out of minor league options and must be exposed to waivers if they don’t make the Opening Day roster.
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To me, the clear conclusion from Kansas City’s interest in Lawrie—if true—is that Dayton Moore believes his team can win a title. That opinion flies in the face of the conventional wisdom around baseball, that insists the Royals are due for a long-term crash.