You may not have noticed this, but Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar is approaching a franchise record. You may not have noticed this for a number of reasons. The month of August was a whirlwind of victories and impressive numbers, and July was the exact opposite, and, well, this summer of baseball in Kansas City has been a difficult one to pin down.
But the biggest reason you may not have noticed a possible record is because the whole thing is playing out right in front of us, day after day. On Saturday night, Escobar started for the 135th time in 135 games this season. If he maintains that pace, appearing in the final 27 games this year, he will become the first Royals player in club history to play in 162 games twice.
Escobar also did it in 2014. Only four other Royals — Billy Butler, Carlos Beltran, Hal McRae and Al Cowens — have gone wire to wire, appearing in 162 games. If Escobar can finish off the feat this year, he would have an argument as the most durable player in franchise history.
“That’s my goal,” Escobar says. “When I start the season, I say I want to play 162 games.”
There are many reasons for Escobar’s lasting durability. Royals manager Ned Yost calls Escobar “genetically blessed,” the owner of a lithe 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame that can handle the grueling daily grind of a season. There are also reasons to question it. Despite a hot August, Escobar entered Saturday with a .638 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), which ranked as the fifth worst in baseball among players qualified for the batting title. But on the whole, Yost sees Escobar’s durability as an important tool.
Since 2011, only two players in baseball (Robinson Cano and Adrian Gonzalez) have logged more games than Escobar’s 916. At times, the Royals’ roster has gone without a natural backup option at shortstop. After all, they didn’t really need one.
“He just doesn’t wear down,” Yost said. “When he has injuries, he heals extraordinarily fast, so that he’s not out a long time. He’s got a very high tolerance for pain. He doesn’t ever show any effects of it.”
Escobar, 29, has become a mainstay in the middle of the diamond, a presence on defense and the reigning American League Championship Series MVP. Yet, the Royals could face an intriguing decision in the offseason. In 2017, Escobar is under contract through a $6.5 million team option — the final year of a long-term extension signed before the 2012 season.
The financial investment is reasonable, even for a player whose offense has plateaued in recent years. And the organization’s internal replacement, Raul Mondesi, could possibly benefit from a year-long apprenticeship at second base before taking over at shortstop in 2018. But with a payroll that continues to rise, the Royals could perhaps entertain the idea of a trade that would send Escobar elsewhere.
Still, the prospect appears remote. And for the moment, Escobar is entrenched in the lineup. Even with Mondesi on the roster and other options in the middle infield, Yost doesn’t appear inclined to give his starting shortstop any time off.
“He’s pretty much steady,” Yost said.
Escobar rewarded his manager’s loyalty with a strong August. In 29 games, he batted .300 with a .342 on-base percentage and three homers. He also had his strongest defensive month, leading the league with nine defensive runs saved, according to stats compiled by ESPN’s Mark Simon.
On the whole, Escobar’s defense still rates as average, according to advanced metrics. But his catalog of superb plays is one of the most extensive in baseball. According to research by Simon, Escobar led all players with 70 “web gems” from 2009 to 2015.
Escobar routinely makes a high number of tremendous plays because he is athletic and coordinated and possesses a bazooka for a throwing arm. But there is also another reason: his durability.
“I want to play 162 games no matter what,” Escobar said. “If I feel like I’m healthy, I can play.”