Opinion

Royals mailbag: What happens when Nori Aoki returns? Will Salvador Perez start the All-Star Game?

Salvador Perez: All-Star in 2014?
Salvador Perez: All-Star in 2014? The Kansas City Star

The Royals made their biggest addition of the season earlier this week when they inked veteran Raul Ibanez to a deal for the big-league minimum. Ibanez delivered some production right away. He has three hits in two games, including a homer in Wednesday’s series finale over the Twins.

The Royals are still treading water, although they’ve at least began to inch upward once more. They have a chance to do damage during this road trip, in which they face three teams with losing records.

As always, there are issues to discuss. Let’s get to them.

You guys are off to a rip-roaring start.

We got a lot of questions like this. The one below best capsulized the issue.

I asked Dayton Moore this question on Thursday afternoon.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Me neither,” I replied.

“Yeah,” he said. “You’ve just got to evaluate it as it comes. I’m not sure when he’s going to be back. You make decisions, obviously, when you have to. Until then, it doesn’t do any good. Because there’s a lot that’s going to happen on our baseball team between now and then.”

When is then? The good news, I suppose, is the Royals continue to say Aoki is not close to returning. Yost said he won’t he back on this road trip. Aoki himself sounded dubious about coming back soon. But Moore indicated he could start a rehabilitation assignment in the near-future.

It is a real quandary, one with no simple solution. With Ibanez in the fold, there are five outfielders, and all feel vital. Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain are thriving (even with Gordon caught in another slump). Jarrod Dyson has a career-best .708 on-base plus slugging percentage (better than both Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler), and when he plays center field and Cain plays right, the defense is close to impenetrable. Danny Valencia has an .835 OPS against lefties, and that’s what the club brought him here to do.

So that leaves Ibanez and Aoki. Ibanez will be given a chance over the next couple of weeks. Aoki could be expendable. His deal expires after 2014, and he will make $1.95 million this season. That’s a sunk cost, at this point. If the team decides to cut ties with him, it would not be a huge financial hit. But Aoki can still run a bit, and he can hit lefties. Neither Dyson nor Ibanez has much success against southpaws.

So, again: It’s a quandary.

Because of an injury, Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters, the leader in fan voting, won’t play. So Perez has a shot. But politics may complicate the situation. The Twins host the game. It would be nice for the club to have one of their players start said game. Kurt Suzuki is having himself a fine offensive season (.336 wOBA), and might fill that void.

But Perez has been the most valuable catcher in the American League, at least according to FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement. Which, at the end of the day, is more important than when he gets into the game.

Besides: He didn’t start last year’s game. And he experienced a pretty cool moment that night, as I recall.

An aside: I missed last year’s All-Star Game because I was in Reading, Pa., covering Alex Rodriguez’s rehab games. I miss that guy.

As we’ve reported before, Dayton Moore insisted the club is able to add payroll if necessary. But he also emphasized the team expected to roll with the group they’ve already assembled. Ibanez is a low-cost upgrade over Aoki, if he can continue to hit.

The biggest part of the equation is how Ibanez performs. If he can recapture a semblance of his form from the first half of 2013 – .267/.314/.578, 24 home runs – he fills the void in right field. He has three hits, including a home run, in two games thus far. It’s a tiny sample. But the Royals intend to give him an opportunity to prove he can still mash right-handed pitchers.

The hope is that the team fills its holes from within. Christian Colon could be an upgrade over Pedro Ciriaco. Besides finding a better backup catcher than Brett Hayes, which isn’t a pressing concern, there isn’t much to do to improve the bench.

When Louis Coleman was sent down, the Royals told him to sharpen his slider and concentrate on locating his two-seam fastball. Upon his return, he was still throwing a looping breaking ball and a four-seamer.

The Royals seem to think so. Which is all that matters, in this case.

If you and I notice, I imagine other baseball teams have noticed, too. I’ve heard this lament from various readers, and it lacks logic. Why would opposing teams trade useful assets for players in decline? Especially when both can be free agents after this season? A deal involving either player would be stunning.

Publishing this mailbag on July 4, 2014. I spent last year’s July 4 with the Yankees at Target Field, so I’m sure I ate a scrumptious sandwich from the Turkey To Go kiosk. That’s probably No. 2.

I’m almost blind, man. I wore Rec Specs when I played football in high school.

“Hook” by Blues Traveler. Feels so American.

Could you imagine Bobby Heenan’s post-game pressers? All the reporters would be “humanoids.” He would nickname his pitching coach “Monsoon.” And he would also probably offend everyone.

The Aaron West record is devastating. Dan Campbell emotes so well. I hope he keeps making these records, although I’m not sure how feasible that is, considering the traveling schedule of The Wonder Years.

Hence, the trouble with side projects.

My five favorite side projects:

1. The New Amsterdams: My favorite Get Up Kids record is “On A Wire,” which features the most influence from Matt Pryor’s side project. I still listen to “Worse For the Wear.”

2. Reggie and The Full Effect: Perhaps you are sensing a pattern.

3. Bad Books: Enough. The time has come. This can go on no longer. There is no reason for Manchester Orchestra and Kevin Devine to not unite as one for good. I decided this after listening to “Bubblegum/Bulldozer” last year and “Cope” this year. All three records fall well short, in my humble estimation, of “II” from 2012. Bad Books crafts hooks with ease, and there’s enough space for both Devine and Andy Hull to do their little acoustic songs, too.

4. Divine Fits: Better than Spoon.

5. Shone: Sometimes I worry Brand New will never make a record ever again, you guys.

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar.

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