Mondesi on the move
As the Royals get super transactional, the latest trade sees Adalberto Mondesi dealt to Boston for a left-handed reliever.
Can an era end if it never really begins?
It seems like Adalberto Mondesi has been in the Royals organization forever. From the highs of being a top prospect to making his debut in the World Series to the lows of a suspension for a performance-enhancing substance to the loss of his best friend to a never-ending carousel of injuries…Mondesi’s career in Kansas City will forever be one of disappointment and unfulfilled promise.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
It’s frustrating because his talent is obvious to even the most casual of observers. The numbers didn’t ever bear it out, but we’ve seen the flashes. The brilliance with the glove at short…The instincts combined with absolute turbo speed that make him so dangerous on the bases…The power he flashed hitting 14 bombs in 275 plate appearances in 2018…
We dream of the five-tool player. Mondesi has them all. He does. It’s just never come together on a major league field. As a parting gif, here’s Mondesi clubbing a three-run jack against his new team. Such an easy swing when it all comes together.
As Mondesi moves to Boston and works into part of the middle infield mix at Fenway, he’s so far removed from his promise as a prospect. Yet, with that promise comes disappointment. It was probably going to be impossible for Mondesi to live up to the hype. The fact that he didn’t really come close on a consistent basis is a huge letdown. If you had told me five years ago that the Royals would someday ship Mondesi somewhere for a left-handed reliever with back issues, I would’ve laughed in your face.
Prospects will break your heart.
I think about this chart from Baseball Savant a lot.
It paints an interesting, and not necessarily unusual, career arc given his age, experience and track record of injury. After his debut in the 2015 World Series, Mondesi got a call-up in late July 2016 (after serving his 50-game suspension) as a 20-year-old. He won a starting role out of spring training the next year. The chart illustrates a player who was overmatched in the majors in his first two seasons of action.
It looked like he turned a corner in 2018 as a 22-year-old. That was ultimately his finest season in Kansas City where he posted a .306 OBP and .498 slugging percentage, both career-bests. Same for his 115 OPS+.
He’s never come close to that kind of offensive production.
The shoulder injuries came in 2019. A slow start in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season dragged his production to new lows. He rebounded from there to go on a tear the second month of the season. He was primed for a massive 2021…until, yep, more time on the Injured List.
Hell, keeping track of Mondesi’s injury history practically qualify you for a medical degree.
He missed time due to:
Left shoulder impingement
Left shoulder subluxation
Left hamstring strain
Another left shoulder subluxation
The second left shoulder subluxation in 2019 and the ACL injury last season required surgeries. I had to bookmark WebMD a few years ago.
At this point, Mondesi could not be counted upon. A plus defender, he’s been passed on the shortstop depth chart by Bobby Witt Jr., another player with a major-league father but with even louder tools. Mondesi, a player who was garnering talk of earning a contract extension from the Royals following that 2018 season was on the fringes of the roster.
Mondesi is now on the move to Boston. The Red Sox, after failing to retain Xander Boegarts this winter and subsequently losing Trevor Story to an elbow injury, need help at shortstop. Mondesi fills that gap for them. He will rotate in the middle infield along with Kiké Hernández and Christian Arroyo.
While Mondesi couldn’t be counted on to regularly feature for the Royals, his departure still leaves something of a void. Who will play third base?
In-house candidates include Hunter Dozier, who frankly, shouldn’t be a candidate for the position at all. Nicky Lopez featured at third for 30 games last summer and can handle himself defensively wherever he plays around the horn. In a weird bit of timing, his name immediately cropped up in trade rumors today with the White Sox mentioned as a potential destination.
Lopez, of course, features more as a utility guy/defensive specialist/pinch bunter. Depth, as Rosenthal mentioned. The Royals can use that and Lopez is a solid clubhouse guy. Besides, it looks like the Royals plan to have Michael Massey at second. That would leave Nate Eaton as a strong candidate for the hot corner.
Given the current roster, here’s how I would surmise a potential regular defensive alignment:
C - Salvador Perez
1B - Nick Pratto
2B - Michael Massey
SS - Bobby Witt Jr.
3B - Nate Eaton
LF - MJ Melendez
CF - Drew Waters
RF - Edward Olivares
DH - Vinnie Pasquantino
UTIL - Nicky Lopez
4th OF - Kyle Isbel
There are so many potential variations of that alignment with those names. Perez is going to need to DH. Pratto isn’t a sure thing to break camp with the club. Eaton can work in the outfield with Olivares. Lopez and Isbel could feature just as frequently as my starting nine. Here’s something for you…I think Maikel Garcia is a huge wild card in this mix. General Manager JJ Picollo said on Tuesday that Witt is the Royals’ shortstop. “Bobby is clearly our shortstop. And this paves the way for him to play as much as he can at shortstop.”
Could Garcia force Witt back to the hot corner? Could Garcia, who Baseball America rated as the Royals’ top minor league defender, slide over to third?
There’s still a ton of uncertainty around roles within this roster. If anything, this spring training should be one of the more interesting camps in recent memory.
All this discussion about Mondesi heading to Fenway, but nothing about the return? What gives with this newsletter?
Fine! Left-handed reliever Josh Taylor is heading to Kansas City. He has twice thrown 47 innings in a season out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. In 2019 he posted a 0.9 fWAR. In 2021 he finished with a 1.0 fWAR. In both seasons he punched out north of 11 per nine and had around a 3.7 BB/9 on average. And he keeps the ball in the yard for the most part. Taylor arrives in Kansas City with three years of club control remaining.
It’s a solid reliever profile. Except I haven’t mentioned 2022. Why’s that? It’s because a back injury sidelined him for all but 12 minor league innings last year. That…could be an issue.
He opened last year on the IL with what was termed a lower back strain. He made a handful of rehab appearances in Triple-A at the end of April and his back locked up again, derailing his return to the majors. He made rehab appearances in Double-A in June, but was again shut down after it was obvious the back was still an issue.
Clearly, the Royals are fine with the medical reports. Yet back injuries can be tricky. And chronic.
Oh! The Royals are also sending a player to be named later. With a year of club control, an injury history that’s as extensive as Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ and an underwhelming track record, Mondesi’s value has absolutely cratered.
Picollo addressed the timing of the deal. From Rogers at MLB.com:
The Royals debated internally whether to trade Mondesi now or wait to see if his value would increase if he stayed on the field. They also recognized that they’ve waited before, only to find Mondesi on the injured list. This was a chance to add a reliever with three years of control in exchange for a player who will be a free agent at year’s end.
“We can debate, ‘When is their highest value?’” Picollo said. “It could be now, it could be at the [Trade] Deadline. You just don’t know.”
At this point, the Royals bullpen looks fairly balanced. I’ll take a similar stab at the bullpen as I did for the defensive alignment.
There’s a ton of flux in that group. The Royals are still lurking on the trade market and that could mean one or two of the above could be on the move. Barlow is probably the current Royal on the block who would net the best return. If Picollo is looking to get transactional, that’s a great place to go. New acquisition Ryan Yarbrough could land here as well, depending on how the battle for the rotation shakes out in Surprise.
Did I mention that spring training is going to be interesting?
Despite the Royals slumbering through the first half of the offseason, their own hot stove finally seems to be lit. Picollo said his roster was “still a work in progress.” The moves of the last couple of days have trimmed about $2.75 million from the payroll (accounting for the removal of Taylor at $4.5 million and Mondesi at just over $3 million with the additions of Chapman at $3.75 million and Taylor the reliever at a bit over $1 million). According to Picollo, the club is planning on a payroll of around $85 to $90 million. Their current projected payroll is just under $80 million.
That leaves room for a reunion with Zack Greinke if desired. Or another trade where they actually add salary. To be at this point in the offseason with around $10 million to spend offers some opportunity, although it may be limited. Still, it’s good to see the team finally making some moves to mold a roster.
After a slow December, things are picking up in January.