Nearly four months ago, shortstop Alcides Escobar walked into the media room on the basement floor of Kauffman Stadium, flanked by three other members of the franchise’s core players. They sat on the dais after the 2017 season ended, reminisced on a seven-year chapter in Royals history and said goodbye to Kansas City, the town that saw pennants raised for the first time in 30 years because of their efforts.
It didn’t seem guaranteed any of them would be back.
But as the free-agent market crashed and teams chose to improve via trades, a window opened for the Royals to bring at least one of the four back.
Exactly 120 days after that last news conference, they announced Monday that Escobar would return to Kansas City on a one-year contract.
Escobar sauntered back into the same room Monday afternoon and put on his No. 2 jersey over a long-sleeved T-shirt. As he carefully buttoned his uniform, he made a seemingly offhand comment about the Royals’ colors being his favorite. General manager Dayton Moore said, “You wear it well,” then pulled his longtime shortstop into a hug.
“It’s important for me because I’ve been here like seven years,” said Escobar, who fielded a similar offer from another team, but nothing long-term. “I feel at home here in Kansas City. My teammates, Dayton and everybody I like over here, that’s why I’m coming back.”
The Royals didn’t anticipate this reunion but were comfortable paying Escobar up to $4 million. The base of his contract is worth $2.5 million, with up to $1.5 million more in bonuses if he reaches 600 plate appearances, according to a source.
Escobar made $6.5 million in 2017, the final year of a six-year contract.
“We didn’t expect to be in this situation because of several different events that have taken place,” Moore said. “We stayed in contact with Alcides. It was just the right thing to do based on where we are together, what we need, where he is in this process.
“Alcides is family. We love everything about him.”
Escobar has played 1,105 regular-season games in a Royals uniform, an average of 157.9 games per year since 2011. In three of the last four seasons, he’s played all 162 regular-season games.
It’s likely Escobar, one of the most durable shortstops in the major leagues, could add another 162 games to that total in 2018. He will be the team’s starting shortstop for an eighth year.
That leaves prospect Raul Mondesi, who turns 23 years old in July, likely headed to the minors to start the season, giving him at least one more year to mature his game.
The Royals, however, won’t shut the door on a potentially longer affiliation with Escobar, who turned 31 in December.
Although his .262 career batting average with the Royals doesn’t sparkle, he has proven himself irreplaceable at shortstop for the near future. Escobar has played the most games of any shortstop in the majors since 2011, with the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus close behind at 1,086.
“He’s been crucial to our success,” Moore said. “You can’t win championships unless you have a consistent-performing shortstop day in and day out. … You look at the demands of that position, what it takes physically and mentally to prepare and perform each and every day — it takes a special talent.”
The Star’s Rustin Dodd contributed to this report