The KC Royals signed Hanser Alberto Sunday. The deal may be more important than it appears.
It looks like a classic Dayton Moore acquisition, an inexpensive, low-risk, high-reward deal that really won’t matter if it fails. Peeled back a bit, though, the KC Royals’ Sunday signing of free agent infielder Hanser Alberto (via The Athletic’s Alec Lewis, Twitter link) has all the potential to be something much bigger than it initially appears.
On its surface, the transaction, a minor league contract with a non-roster spring training invitation, seems designed at most to give the Royals more infield insurance than it has with utility man Kelvin Gutierrez. Alberto, who’s played every infield position, has the significant major league experience Gutierrez lacks: Alberto’s played for Texas and Baltimore across five big league seasons, while Gutierrez has made it into only 24 games with Kansas City. And Alberto is a proven major league hitter. Gutierrez is not.
The long and short of Alberto is that he’s much more than a fill-in or minor league placeholder. The 28-year old righthanded hitter is an everyday-type player; in fact, he was the Orioles’ most regular second baseman for two seasons until they non-tendered him and he elected free agency in early December. The move was transparently rooted in club finances—Alberto was arbitration-eligible for the first time and projected to command a salary of $2.3-4.1 million.
Alberto owns a respectable .278 career average, including .283 in 2020 and .305 the season before, when he also cracked 12 home runs. Although he can play almost everywhere, he played 90 of his 139 games in 2019 at second base and 52 games there last season.
It’s that well-established association with second base that may well be the focus of the KC Royals’ interest in Alberto. The position is a team trouble spot requiring fairly immediate attention. While Nicky Lopez’s glove is perfect for the spot, his increasingly concerning offensive shortcomings can’t be tolerated much longer.
Lopez’s career slash is .228/.279/.307, (his .201 average last season barely cleared Mendoza), his OBPs of .276 (2019) and .286 (2020) are grossly inadequate, and he’s yet to display any power. Alberto, on the other hand, struggled at the plate until posting that .305 in 2019; although his career .300 OBP needs improvement, he obviously hits well regularly now.
Perhaps the Royals view Alberto as a platoon partner for Lopez, which makes sense considering their career splits—Lopez is hitting .228 against both right and lefthanded pitching, while Alberto lights up lefties (.350) and is slightly better than Lopez against righties (.237). Those numbers certainly justify playing Alberto, and resting Lopez, against lefthanders.
Or playing Alberto against both righties and southpaws if Lopez’s bat doesn’t improve significantly. How soon that improvement must come is the question, but the Royals won’t, and can’t, wait forever. Another entire season may be too long.
But Alberto can be invaluable even if Lopez springs to life at the plate. Second base is his specialty, but he’s played a lot of third, some shortstop, and has dabbled in left and right fields and at first base. His versatility makes him a clear threat to Gutierrez’s job security.
He also offers potential as a midseason trade chip.
Alberto may not be the lefthanded power hitter that presumably remains the primary object of the Royals’ current offseason talent search. But his addition to the organization is far different than the usual minor league deal with a spring camp invitation thrown in. Hanser Alberto may make more of a difference than many think.
Hanser Alberto is the KC Royals’ latest low-risk acquisition. He could turn out to have value far exceeding his contract status.