Don't Kill the Mellinger

Columnist Sam Mellinger's thoughts on sports and other important stuff

About the Royals’ plan to open the season with two banged up middle infielders and no backup...

03/19/2014 11:02 AM

03/19/2014 11:24 AM

The Royals once played consecutive seasons (in the American League!) with Ross Gload as their primary first baseman. They went through parts of five seasons with Kyle Davies in the rotation. They once gave Jose Guillen a $36 million contract, and hired a man who’d never coached, managed or played a day in the big leagues to be his manager.

So, you know, as far as problems go, figuring out the 25th spot on this year’s roster isn’t so bad.

The bullpen will shake out, for better

or worse

, but the interesting drama left in camp is that last roster spot.

Basically, the Royals need to decide if they are really, actually, seriously, no takebacks, for real willing to open the season without a backup middle infielder. If they are — and so far they say they are — then the roster is fairly simple:

Starters: Nori Aoki, Omar Infante, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Sal Perez, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar.

Reserves: Brett Hayes, Jarrod Dyson, Justin Maxwell and Danny Valencia.

The problem with this is that

both starting middle infielders are banged up

. Spring training is when guys are supposed to build up strength, come out fresh and strong. Not nurse injuries. Even if you trust Escobar’s history of durability, Infante is 32 and has played more 118 games just twice since 2005.

My read on this is that at some point in the next week, the Royals are going to realize they need someone else on the big league roster who can play middle infield without coaches having to close their eyes. That would probably be Pedro Ciriaco (who is out of options) over Jason Donald (who is not on the 40-man roster).

In that case, the Royals are probably going to choose between two options.

1. Break camp with 11 pitchers, which they’ve said over and over is not an option.

2. Make a relatively hard decision about one of these position players.

You need a backup catcher, so Hayes is safe and the decision comes down to the other three reserves. Without being able to trust Lorenzo Cain to play a full season without injury, the Royals would like to take five outfielders. Dyson is one of the fastest players in baseball, and can play centerfield if and when Cain goes down. Maxwell has some power, especially against left-handed pitching, and there is an undercurrent thought that he could be the right fielder in 2015 if the Royals lose Aoki in free agency. Valencia is, basically, insurance against Moustakas having another terrible season.

To me, the decision comes down to Maxwell and Valencia. If the Royals are convinced that Moustakas is "fixed," then Valencia is expendable. There might be some hesitation since they just traded David Lough for Valencia, but Lough wasn’t going to make the team anyway and the Royals need to build the best roster possible regardless of appearances.

But Maxwell should be the odd man out here. A backup to Moustakas makes more sense than a fifth outfielder, and Valencia can provide most of the same power off the bench as Maxwell. The Royals really like Maxwell — he’s smart, charismatic, with very good tools — but he’s also 30 years old and has played more than 75 games in a season just once.

Either way, parting ways with Valencia or Maxwell makes more sense than opening the season with two banged up middle infielders and no backup.

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