The waiting lasted days, the anxiousness simmering to a slow boil. The future was uncertain, so Christian Colon spelled out the reality to his wife and family.
In the final week of spring training, Colon had been notified by Royals manager Ned Yost that he was competing with utilityman Whit Merrifield for a final roster spot. Raul Mondesi had locked up the starting job at second base, an unexpected development. The club was likely to keep outfielder Terrance Gore as a pinch runner. And this left Colon in a strange limbo.
With no options remaining, Colon had to make the 25-man roster or be placed on waivers, where he could be claimed by another team. He prepared his family for any scenario.
“I was getting ready for whatever,” Colon said. “Maybe be with another club, or clear (waivers) and go to Omaha, or make the team. So my family and I were just ready for anything that was going to happen.”
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In the end, the Royals opted to keep Colon and option Merrifield to Class AAA Omaha. The decision was made easier by the fact that Merrifield did possess options. He could be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. The Royals could preserve inventory, keeping both players in the organization.
“It really came down to waiting out,” Colon said on Sunday, one day before the Royals’ 7-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Opening Day. “It’s a sense of relief for sure that I’m here and that I can help this team win. And that I’m part of the group.”
The situation illustrates the razor-thin margins for players on the fringe of a roster. Yet it also raises questions about Colon’s long-term future. He is 27 years old now. He is in his eighth season in the Royals’ organization. He was at the heart of two of the most dramatic moments in franchise history, scoring the winning run in the 2014 Wild Card Game and recording the go-ahead RBI in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series. But to this point, full-time duty has remained elusive.
The reality has tested Colon’s patience and resolve. But as he prepared to start another season as a reserve infielder, he remained committed to being, in his words, “a good teammate.”
“I think I can play every day,” Colon said. “But with that being said, I’ve always said this is a role I’m doing right now. This is what I’m doing here. And I’ll put my ego aside and just help the team win. Because that’s what it’s about.”
Colon will begin the season as Mondesi’s primary backup at second base. He can also handle third base and shortstop, but in all likelihood, barring injury, his role could be limited. The Royals have Cheslor Cuthbert to fill in for Mike Moustakas at third, while shortstop Alcides Escobar has played 162 games in two of the last three seasons.
For now, the Royals appear committed to playing the 21-year-old Mondesi, one of the club’s top young players, on an every-day basis. Merrifield, meanwhile, remains an option down in Omaha. The season is long, of course, so the calculus could change. Colon said he is prepared for anything.
“Be ready for whatever,” Colon said. “Play third, short, second, maybe first, too. Just be ready for whatever.”
For Colon, the role is a familiar one after three seasons with the Royals. He saw sporadic playing time in 2014 and 2015. He saw much of the same last season. Colon made a career-high 54 appearances, including 29 starts at second base. But at different times, he looked up to Omar Infante, Merrifield and Mondesi on the depth chart at second base.
In spurts, Colon has profiled as a useful offensive player for his position. But his power has never surfaced in any meaningful way. In 329 career plate appearances at the major-league level, he’s batted .268 with a .328 on-base percentage. In the same span, he’s notched just one homer and 16 doubles.
For now, he remains a member of the Royals, the only organization he has ever known. On some level, this is a positive. The roster questions could follow him, of course. He still remains out of options. But as the season begins, Colon will put his focus on being a productive presence in the clubhouse.
“You have to be positive,” Colon said. “Just be a good teammate. I think that’s the main thing. Just come in here and do your work, have a smile on your face, help your other teammates, encourage them and just be part of it.”