A day after one of the Royals’ “core four” players from their 2015 World Series championship team left via free agency, another plans to return.
The Royals are bringing back shortstop Alcides Escobar, the MVP of the 2015 American League Championship Series — and if the short-term contract is finalized as expected, they plan to have Escobar continue to star at the position he’s held since 2011.
That would leave shortstop Raul Mondesi, long considered Escobar’s heir apparent on the left side of the infield, as the odd man out of a spot on the Royals’ 25-man roster.
“We’re not putting any limitations on him,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said on Friday at the team’s annual FanFest. “He can play second base, he can play short, he’s good enough to play center field. We’ll see how that emerges. We don’t have a clear vision of that right now, other than to simply say that he is a talent that we expect to develop.”
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The Royals are still impressed by Mondesi’s defensive prowess at shortstop. The chance they move him to center field, where Lorenzo Cain’s departure leaves a gaping hole, is slim. Moore expects an internal battle among the organization’s outfielders to determine who gets that starting job come the end of March.
Rather than rush a prospect who won’t turn 23 years old until late July, the Royals have opted to take a patient approach with Mondesi and bring back Escobar, a proven major-league shortstop who has played 162 regular season games three of the last four years.
Mondesi’s health has long concerned the Royals. The last two winters, Mondesi hasn’t been able to play in his native Dominican Republic baseball league because of recurring problems with his back. Despite being suspended 50 games in 2016 after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, Mondesi hasn’t logged a full season since playing a career-high 125 games in 2013. He has maxed out at 110 games twice, including last year.
Moore said the contract was not finalized, but ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Escobar’s deal is for $2.5 million. It’s a low-risk contract that gives the Royals the flexibility to give Mondesi more time to play every day and further sharpen his skills at Class AAA Omaha, where he hit .305 with 20 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs and 52 RBIs last season.
The addition of former Blue Jays infielder Ryan Goins this week also helps provide the Royals the kind of depth they need to bring Mondesi along at a more leisurely pace.
“Most days, I think he needs to be in the lineup of five of six, five of seven,” Moore said. “I think that’s important for where he is in his career.”
After a dreadful start to the 2017 season, Escobar ended up batting .250 with six home runs and 54 RBIs. From Sept. 1 to the end of the season, Escobar batted .330 with a .570 slugging percentage and had 33 hits in 30 games.
Despite his inconsistency at the plate, Escobar, 31, has proven himself to be a key component to the team.
“Esky means a lot to this city, he means a lot to this fanbase and he means a lot to our team,” Royals’ designated hitter Brandon Moss said on Friday. “It’s no joke that when Esky got going last year the team started to take off a little bit because he can do a lot of good things. His defense is second to none.
“... He’s a very undervalued player. He does things that may not look sexy in the box score, he doesn’t get a lot of talk on TV. But in the clubhouse he’s respected and he’s a huge asset.”