KC Royals: It’s time to be honest about Nicky Lopez

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

The KC Royals are a mess. They currently have a record of 15-28, even after Thursday night’s one-run victory over Minnesota. Their .349 winning percentage is the American League’s worst. With Dayton Moore’s patented 40-game evaluation milestone now past, the time has come for the Royals’ brass to start making some necessary decisions that will positively impact the club’s future .

One such decision includes second baseman Nicky Lopez. After a solid 2021 season when he became the first shortstop in franchise history to hit .300 over a full season, Lopez has struggled mightily this year. His glove has been poor and his bat even worse, signaling that his days of Gold Glove-like defense and above average offense are behind him.

The KC Royals’ second baseman isn’t just in a slump. He’s been here before.

Lopez is now 27 with over 350 major league games under his belt. For 151 of those games—last season—he was fantastic He was a 106 wRC+ hitter and was worth 6.0 fWAR. Much of his value came from his defense, where he posted five DRS (two in 27 innings at second base and three in 1,233 innings at shortstop) and 25 OAA.

But compared to the rest of his career (per FanGraphs), it’s likely that 2021 was just a blip on the radar of an otherwise underwhelming career:

  • 2019: 103 G, 379 AB, .240/.276/.325, 56 wRC+, -2 DRS, 1 OAA
  • 2020: 56 G, 169 AB, .201/.286/.266, 55 wRC+, 7 DRS, 7 OAA
  • 2021: 151 G, 497 AB, .300/.365/.378, 106 wRC+, 5 DRS, 25 OAA
  • 2022: 43 G, 139 AB, .201/.279/.237, 60 wRC+, -4 DRS, -1 OAA

The numbers suggest that contrary to what he did last season, Lopez is a below-average major league hitter. It’s time to consider those 687 non-2021 at-bats for what they are—a better indicator of the Nicky Lopez the Royals can expect moving forward. And It’s time for the club to demote him to Triple-A Omaha where he can try to turn his career around. More likely, he will remain a depth piece with minimal trade value.

Without Nicky Lopez, the KC Royals could open the door to a youth movement.

Without Lopez on the major league roster, Kansas City stands to gain flexibility elsewhere. As it stands now, he’s the starting second baseman but can play shortstop to give Bobby Witt Jr. rest days. There’s plenty of value in that, but playing Lopez at second pushes Whit Merrifield to right field.

Merrifield can play well in right, just as he can at second base. The problem (a good one to have) lies in what the Royals have in Omaha—Vinnie Pasquantino, a scorching-hot first baseman aching to get his bat into the major league lineup.

More. Get Pasquantino to KC now. light

But with Pasquantino knocking down Kansas City’s door, where does that leave Nick Pratto?

In 2022, Pratto has played 105 innings in either right or left field for Omaha. That’s nearly 40% of all his innings, and that percentage has increased since his return from the Injured List. The Royals are clearly preparing Pratto to play more corner outfield in the majors, thanks primarily to the resounding exclamation point Pasquantino is putting at what should soon be the end of his minor league career.

But back to Lopez. With him in Omaha, second base opens back up for Merrifield, and the Royals can call up and employ Pratto as their everyday right fielder. Sure, Hunter Dozier will get (and deserves) his at-bats, but those can come as a rotation player to cover days off at first base, designated hitter and right field. Sending Lopez down also allows KC to call up Pasquantino to play first base every day.

What might a Kansas City lineup look like then? Here’s an example:

  • 2B: Merrifield
  • LF: Andrew Benintendi
  • SS: Witt
  • DH: Salvador Perez
  • C: MJ Melendez
  • 1B: Pasquantino
  • RF: Pratto
  • 3B: Emmanuel Rivera
  • CF: Kyle Isbel

Other moves would also be required. Without Lopez, the Royals don’t have a strong replacement for Witt at shortstop to cover his rest days. Iván Castillo, an offseason signing, could be recalled from Omaha to serve as a depth bat and utility man. Clay Dungan also has experience at shortstop and can play all over the infield, making him an excellent utility option and adding yet another young, promising bat to the roster.

No matter how you spin it, demoting Lopez removes a struggling player from the lineup and creates a ton of flexibility for a team in desperate need of finding some answers ahead of a 2023 season the Royals hope will be competitive.

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Demoting Nicky Lopez is Kansas City’s answer to kick-starting its youth movement.