Two-thirds of the Kansas City outfield is clearly set for the 2022 season.
Kansas City Manager Mike Matheny can rest easy this winter knowing left field and center field are in good hands. Andrew Benintendi (left) and Michael A. Taylor (center) joined the Royals in 2021 and validated the club’s decisions to sign them by winning their first Gold Gloves.
Benintendi also hit .276 with 17 home runs and 73 RBIs, his best numbers since 2018 and accomplishments made more difficult by the fractured rib that sidelined him for three weeks. Taylor had the second-most most RBIs (54), third-most home runs (12), and third-best average (.244) of his career, but it’s his glove that makes his claim to center field so strong.
Right field: The KC Royals have a difficult decision to make for 2022.
Who to play alongside Benintendi and Taylor is the only outfield question facing Kansas City this winter. Should the Royals give Kyle Isbel, serviceable there last season, the first shot? How about Hunter Dozier, whose $25 million contract means he’ll play somewhere? Or do they try Ryan O’Hearn or Edward Olivares in right?
The last two options are either off the table or should be. The club seems reluctant to give Olivares a long look anywhere and O’Hearn, despite his 40-man roster spot, is no longer a serious candidate for an everyday job.
Dozier’s defense has never been quite up to the Royals’ liking, but full-time designated hitter isn’t an option because Salvador Perez needs more time at DH and Adalberto Mondesi will get some turns there, meaning the three will share the spot. Dozier will occasionally play right, where he worked 25 times last season.
Unless the Royals try Mondesi in right (it isn’t out of the question), Isbel should get the Opening Day nod for the second straight season. The Royals sent him down in late April, but he returned later and ended his first major league campaign with a .276 average and .337 OBP.
Don’t be surprised, though, if Kansas City lands a veteran right fielder via trade or free agency after the lockout ends.
The Royals were quiet before the MLB lockout began and, if past is prologue, will probably remain so after it ends. That may mean the 2022 club will, with an exception or two, look a lot like the 2021 team—it would if the season started today.