The wait was long, probably too long in his mind, for Edward Olivares Monday night. Not until the 11th inning, when the KC Royals had just one out left to tie a record-breaking 8-5 game for the fifth time, did Manager Mike Matheny give Olivares a chance to play.
That Olivares hadn’t entered the contest earlier—or hadn’t started it—was curious in and of itself. He’d played well in the Royals’ just-completed road trip, clubbing three home runs, and was hitting .271. Matheny, however, deployed an outfield that night of Andrew Benintendi in left, Michael A. Taylor in center, and Ryan O’Hearn in right. They were collectively 1-for-10 when Matheny chose Olivares to hit for Nicky Lopez in the 11th, and Jarrod Dyson, who had replaced O’Hearn late in the contest, was 0-for-1.
Olivares rapped a 2-2 RBI single to center to make it 8-6. Kansas City mustered no more and lost by that score.
The next day, after coming through for Matheny and the Royals the night before, Olivares found himself on the way back to Triple-A Omaha to make roster space for recently-acquired reliever Joel Payamps, who lasted one day with the club until being optioned back to Omaha when KC reactivated Brady Singer from the Injured List. It marked the fifth time this season Olivares has completed the Omaha-Kansas City-Omaha round trip.
Never mind those three homers he hit during the club’s road trip.
Never mind his .322 average this season at Omaha.
Never mind his .392 Omaha OBP.
Never mind the 13 homers he’s hit in 52 Triple-A games.
Never mind that the Royals clearly believed Olivares had things to offer when they traded hot closer Trevor Rosenthal to San Diego for him last year, and that he hit .274 after arriving in Kansas City.
And never mind that the KC Royals are back in last place in the American League Central with 49 games left, a position from which they should be taking real big league looks at players like Olivares.
But no matter what he does, Olivares ends up right where he started, back in the minors instead of staying in the majors.
Why do the KC Royals keep Edward Olivares on the 2021 roller-coaster?
Some will say Olivares, still only 25 but a veteran of seven-plus professional seasons, is just the team’s odd man out, caught in the sometimes maddening numbers crunch that too often plagues poor-performing clubs with too-fluid rosters. There’s no reason, however, that the Royals couldn’t have selected a player more worthy of a trip to the minors than choosing Olivares five times.
Others will contend the club believes Olivares isn’t good enough to play in the majors, but that’s an argument his five separate callups tends to disprove
The fact of the matter may be that the Royals simply aren’t as high on Olivares as they once were, and summon him only when they need a short-term backup outfielder or bat, a notion for which there’s some evidence.
For example, Olivares is an outfielder by trade, but the Royals have played Ryan O’Hearn, more a first baseman than an outfielder, in the left or right 15 times this season and could be considering him for a corner position. That he plays in the big leagues while Olivares doesn’t probably isn’t coincidental.
Then there’s Jarrod Dyson, the veteran Royal who turns 37 Sunday but has seen action 68 times this season, primarily as a part-time outfielder. Dyson seems an unlikely candidate to return next season, which makes him immediately expendable late in a lost season; unless the Royals want Olivares to play every day (he doesn’t when he’s in Kansas City), Dyson occupies a roster spot Olivares could have.
So, too, does Michael A. Taylor, who’s hitting .240 with a .299 OBP through Wednesday. Taylor is five years older than Olivares and is playing on a one-year contract, while Olivares won’t even be eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season.
There are ways, then, the KC Royals could make room for Olivares and keep him. Recalling him for the rest of this season makes sense—the club should be taking a sustained account of him considering how hot he’s been for Omaha.
Unfortunately for Olivares, Kansas City may no longer be serious about him. And it may not be entirely his fault. Bobby Witt Jr. will soon need a position, which might force the Royals to displace Hunter Dozier from third to the outfield, Adalberto Mondesi or Nicky Lopez from shortstop, or perhaps Lopez from second if Mondesi stays healthy when he returns. Witt could also play center, which would definitely spell the end of Taylor’s KC tenure if the club has any interest in re-signing him, and severely limit Olivares’ options.
The KC Royals’ handling of Edward Olivares has become a bit of a mystery. Is it a case of declining interest?