Greetings. We’re back in Kansas City after 11 days on the road. It’s Tuesday morning, there is coffee, and the Royals are in the midst of a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City has won three straight, which came after they lost eight in a row, which came after they won six in a row, which means there is a lot going on here, so let’s just get to the mailbag. The podcast recommendation is the guys from “Hang Up and Listen” remembering Muhammad Ali. The random album endorsement is Fourth of July’s “Before Our Hearts Explode”.
The answer to this specific question, as it always is in questions like this one, is simple: It depends.
The Royals don’t know what their roster will look like in a week — there could be another injury, they may need 13 pitchers for depth purposes, and on and on. But here are a couple of things about the Infante situation.
▪ The Royals will always err on the side of keeping inventory — that is, keeping as many players in their possession as possible.
▪ Infante is owed around $12.5 million through the 2017 season, including a $2 million buyout on an option year in 2018.
▪ Infante is now essentially a backup second baseman who hasn’t started in the Royals’ last 11 games. He has started just twice in the last 16 games. He hasn’t played since committing a costly error in Cleveland at the beginning of an eight-game losing streak.
Royals manager Ned Yost said he would have attempted to play Infante this past weekend in Chicago, but Infante had a poor track record against Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. So Yost used Christian Colon twice at second base. And, yes, you can see where this is going. At some point, the Royals will have to make a decision on Infante and his future with the club. For now, they haven’t reached that point.
With Whit Merrifield on the roster, the Royals essentially have an extra outfielder and an extra infielder. Yost rarely uses his bench anyway, so Infante’s presence is not as crippling as it might be in another situation. At some point, the Royals may want to go with 13 pitchers again. They will also have decisions to make when Brett Eibner and Alex Gordon return from the disabled list. For now, here’s Yost on Infante’s role:
“He’s just part of our team,” Yost said on Monday. “If I need an infielder, he’s played short, and he’s played third, and he’s played first in his career. He hasn’t done it for us. But he provides protection in the infield, if we need it.”
OK, some of these Merrifield tweets are from early June. He cooled off for a bit after his hot start — and then he went to the leadoff spot and started piling up hits again.
So here are some Whit Merrifield facts:
▪ In his first 22 career games, Merrifield is batting .330/.344/.484 with a 119 OPS-plus.
▪ In 22 games, he has racked up 1.0 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, which is tied for second among AL rookies. Only Texas’ Nomar Mazara (1.7) has been more valuable — and he’s played in 55 games. Seattle’s Dae-Ho Lee has also been worth 1.0 WAR.
▪ He has reached safely in 20 of his first 21 career starts, including his first 18, which set a Royals record
▪ Before Monday, his 28 hits were the most by a Royals player through his first 21 career games, surpassing Johnny Damon’s mark of 27, set in 1995.
And now, we’ll take an opportunity to plug this story on Merrifield and his family from earlier this month. A month ago, Merrifield was worried about dropping $500 on a round of golf. Today, he is starting at second base — and sometimes left field — for the defending world champions.
Two other thoughts on Whit, including one funny thing that didn’t make the story. Earlier this month, I asked Merrifield’s father Bill about the origins of his son’s first name. Merrifield’s given name is Whitley, and according to Bill, it is both the name of an old family friend, as well as a name that Whit’s mother Kissy just liked.
Bill laughed when I asked him about it, though. Apparently the family has seen some of the funnier Twitter jokes about the name — specifically that the name sounds like some combination of a 1920s baseball player and an ACC Lacrosse player.
“I told my wife she has to get off that Twitter,” Bill Merrifield said.
This anecdote didn’t make the story, either, but when Whit was called up, reliever Scott Alexander, who played with him for three years in the minors, began telling teammates that he thought Merrifield could be even better in the majors than he was in the minors.
“I told people: I would not be surprised if he played better up here,” Alexander said. “Just because that’s his personality. He’s just a gamer.”
There is no official date set. But it will likely be later this summer, likely in July. The off day after the Baltimore series last week did not work because of the draft. The Royals also have two off days next week around the Mets series, but it won’t be then, either.
Minor remains here in Kansas City, throwing on the side after he was shut down during his rehab assignment. He experienced some inflammation in his rotator cuff during his rehab stint at Class AAA Omaha. At some point — and the timeline is fluid — he’ll head back out and re-start his rehab assignment.
In short: He’s a ways away from being ready to contribute.
This is kind of a weird question, because I’ve covered the Royals, in some form or another, for seven years. But the three most memorable moments so far this season?
2. Lorenzo Cain hitting three homers at Yankee Stadium … in a loss.
1. The historic comeback against the White Sox. That was pure absurdity.
Earlier today, Sam answered a question in his Mellinger Minutes thing about a projected Royals lineup in 2018:
Alex Gordon, LF
Whit Merrifield, 2B
Lorenzo Cain, CF
Sal Perez, C
Raul Mondesi, SS
Brett Eibner, RF
Jorge Bonifacio, DH
Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B
Hunter Dozier, 1B
There are a hundred reasons why that lineup won’t be all that close to the real one* but, well, whatever.
* I would actually bet against the Royals signing Cain, Hosmer, OR Moustakas, but would probably ask for odds.
Sam pointed this out, of course, but he’s right. This won’t be particularly close to what the lineup looks like. For one, the Royals will presumably sign some outside free agents in the coming years, to go along with his home-grown group.
We’ll see about Lorenzo Cain, but age could play against him re-signing in Kansas City. He’s already 30, and he will command a long-term deal. With Gordon already under contract, the Royals could be hesitant to commit long-term money to two outfielders on the other side of the 30. But perhaps the equation looks a little different after 2017.
At first base, Ryan O’Hearn is another rising prospect to keep an eye on. There’s also Bubba Starling, who remains at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He’s having another tough season at the plate, and his stock has declined since he was selected No. 5 overall in the 2011 draft. He will also turn 24 in August.
But if you’re looking for hope, you can remember that Cain didn’t play a full season in the big leagues until he was 27. That was, in part, because of injuries, but also because Cain, like Starling, did not start focusing on baseball full time until later in life.
Sam also didn’t mention the pitchers. So just a reminder: Yordano Ventura is under club control through the same year. Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria are under club control through 2018. Ian Kennedy is signed through 2020 — unless he triggers an opt-out clause after 2017, the second season of a five-year, $70 million deal.
And, of course, Ned Yost is also signed through 2018. So there’s that.