The Adalberto Mondesi saga in Kansas City took another turn in the wrong direction today, as Royals manager Mike Matheny in his pre-game conference announced this news prior to the start of Sunday’s series finale against the Cardinals:
The news is another disappointing setback for all parties involved.
For the Royals, it is a rough update for a club that is currently 49-67 (last place in the AL Central), and in need of offensive production. For Royals fans, it is another frustrating addition to a laundry list of items in relation to Mondesi that has plagued him since debuting in 2016, and has worn the patience of Royals fans nearly to elimination. And for Mondesi himself, it is another set-back in a once promising career that will not only effect his long-term development on the field, but most likely will cost him money, especially as he enters his second year of arbitration.
The positive Royals fan may look at this and think “well, maybe they can figure it out and he will return and at least play for a few weeks in September.” That being said, even the most positive Royals fan has had a hard time staying patient with Mondesi this year, especially after he has only played 10 games total in 2021. And if the lack of positive enthusiasm among Royals is not bad enough, it also seems like Dayton Moore and the Royals front office have grown pessimistic with Mondesi’s ability to return to the field not just this year, but next season as well.
So what does this mean for Mondesi and the Royals, and not just for the remainder of the season, but over the next two seasons, as Mondesi will be a free agent after the 2023 season?
Because honestly, the Royals can still get something out of Mondesi over the next two seasons…but it may be time for them to start thinking outside the box.
There’s no question that Mondesi still has value to the Royals, and could be valuable in 2022 and 2023 if healthy. This season, despite only playing in 10 games, Mondesi still posted a fWAR of 0.7. In 59 games in 2020, Mondesi posted a 1.4 fWAR, which was actually second-best of Royals hitters. In 2019, despite only playing in 102 games, he posted a 2.4 fWAR, which was fourth-best of Royals hitters that season. And for further context, he was only 0.5 fWAR lower than Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier, who both played 60 and 37 more games than Mondesi, respectively.
When it comes to overall value, there has been no Royal more dynamic than Mondesi, especially since becoming a more full-time player in the second-half of the 2018 season.
That being said, staying on the field is part of the equation when it comes to what constitutes a successful baseball player, and Mondesi, since incurring injury in the second half of 2019, has failed to do so on a consistent basis. Mondesi is a player who relies so much on his tremendous athleticism and tools to be successful. He’s one of the best base stealers in the league as he has accumulated 114 stolen bases in only 318 games. He has proven to be an above-average defensive player at shortstop when healthy. He has natural power that was starting to come to fruition this year (.472 ISO this season which is insane). I mean, take a look at this bomb that he hit off of Nick Pivetta of the Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium (and he did this while not 100 percent).
The tools are so tantalizing, and without a doubt, if Mondesi was at least somewhat healthy this year (i.e. played in more than 10 games), then it is possible that the Royals would not be in last place and wouldn’t be 18 games under .500 either at this point in the year.
Unfortunately, the reality is the opposite, and with the season pretty much lost, the Royals need to focus on shutting Mondesi down for good and really get him on a training regimen that will help him not just recover from this injury in time for Spring Training in 2022, but also help him better handle and avoid such injuries as well. Moore and the Royals seem still intent on competing in 2022. In order for that to happen in any form, the Royals will need at least a somewhat healthy Mondesi. Maybe “healthy” means 80-100 games next year. But if Mondesi can have an impact on the Royals in 10 games in 2021, it is interesting to think what he could do 70 to 90 more games next season.
Of course, the expectations are, and honestly should be, tempered for Mondesi in 2022 and 2023. For starters, it is probably likely that Mondesi may not be in Kansas City for more than two more years. The Royals failed to come to an agreement with him on an extension this past Winter in his first year of arbitration, which was surprising considering they were able to do so with Hunter Dozier, who is older and has value that is way more reliant on one tool (i.e. offense). And after this year, with Bobby Witt, Jr. knocking on the door to be Kansas City’s starting shortstop of the future, it seems unlikely that Moore will offer an extension to Mondesi this Winter either.
While Mondesi should still have some value to the Royals in 2022 and 2023, it may be time to re-think what Mondesi’s role will be. If Witt does debut, either this year or next, he should be the Royals starting shortstop, or at least at third base, with Nicky Lopez manning shortstop and Whit Merrifield at second base. Lopez has demonstrated that he can handle the shortstop position admirably, as he is posting a 12 OAA at shortstop this year, which places him in the 99th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. And as for Whit, this is the first year in a while he has posted positive defensive metrics, and that has been primarily due to him playing a majority of innings at the keystone position.
Hence, if the Royals are looking to contend, and think that Witt, Lopez, and Whit are key to that ability to contend, Mondesi should not be guaranteed a position in the infield, especially since he hasn’t produced on the field for an extended time. The Royals have seen some defensive gains in the infield this year, and that is a credit to the work Lopez and Whit did in 2021. Yes, Mondesi may have more upside, but there are a lot of question marks in terms of what he can do long-term in the infield, especially if he can’t stay healthy.
And that’s why a move to the outfield needs to be strongly considered this Winter and in preparation for Spring Training.
Of course, Mondesi has never played outfield in his time as a professional, and Alex Duvall of Royals Farm Report was also pessimistic about it perhaps lowering his injury risk, which is understandable:
That being said, the whole point of moving to Mondesi should not be “health-focused”. For Alex is right: the outfield would require some exertion as well that could also re-aggravate Mondesi’s injuries, especially considering Kauffman Stadium’s spacious grounds. On the other hand, the move has less to do with “preserving” Mondesi’s health, and more about him not blocking a path to Witt, Lopez, and Whit in the infield. The Royals do not have a clear cut center field prospect in Double or Triple-A, and it seems like the Royals don’t think Edward Olivares will be a part of their outfield long-term, especially after Olivares was demoted again, despite doing well at the plate in his return to Kansas City recently.
Thus, with Mondesi’s athleticism, and the logjam in the middle infield, it would make sense for the Royals to move Mondesi to the outfield this Spring. By being shut down for the remainder of 2021, he would get a chance to get some work in before Winter workouts begin.
And honestly, a move may work. After all, look at what the Padres are doing with Fernando Tatis, the Padres’ franchise player who is now playing in right field:
Now, Mondesi is not Tatis, but he’s a similarly dynamic player with a recent history of injury issues. The Padres are thinking outside of the box with him, and the Royals need to do the same with Mondesi, especially if they want to get anything of value from him over the next two years.
Right now, some Royals fans may be ready to give up on Mondesi and think that trading him this off-season may be the answer. The thing is, that would be a mistake. Mondesi wouldn’t net anything of value in a trade, especially after a season where he played only 10 games. Look at the Twins low-balling Byron Buxton in negotiations. Organizations like players with Mondesi’s skill sets, but they won’t give up anything of value for a guy who isn’t guaranteed to play more than 80 games a year, and will be a free agent after 2023.
The Royals need to continue to give Mondesi a chance and see if he can catch lightning in a bottle and do something on the field for the Royals, even if it is only for a 80-100 game stint. The Royals do not need him to be a superstar or even a dependable regular player, especially in 2022. They just need his impact in the lineup, on the basepaths and in the field, and they need to do all they can to keep him healthy and ready for Spring Training in 2022.
And maybe if he bounces back and produces a 2.5-3 fWAR season in 2022? Maybe they can look to trade him then…
But Moore and the Royals have to give him a chance…and they have to do something different…
Or else 2022 with Mondesi is going to look really similar to 2021…
And let’s just say that won’t help the Royals’ playoff chances or Moore’s jobs security.
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports