The Royals lost the first game of the road trip 4-2 against the Minnesota Twins on Monday, even though they certainly had their chances to take the first game in the series against the Central division rival. The Royals are certainly coming off a successful homestand, which is not only highlighted by a 7-4 record, but AL Player of the Week honors for first baseman/DH Vinnie Pasquantino as well.
With the Royals sitting 48-69 for the year, much of the chatter among Royals fans and content creators revolves around the “future” of this Royals franchise. That doesn’t just mean for 2023, but after the next season as well.
And Cody Tapp of the “Cody and Gold” show on 610 AM radio brought up a very interesting question for Royals fans to ponder on for next season.
Mondesi is a polarizing case among Royals fans, as I have written about before on this blog.
While there is no question about his talent and potential, injuries over the past three seasons (2020-2022) have pretty much sapped Mondesi of any long-term value. He just turned 27 years old in July and has only played 109 games since 2020 (which includes only 50 games in 2021 and 2022).
For a player that the Royals thought could be a “superstar” back in 2018, it’s certainly been a disappointing recent stretch for Mondesi, especially as he enters his last year of arbitration with the Royals.
And to make matters worse, it’s pretty crowded currently on the active roster when it comes to infielders.
Not only would Mondesi have to compete with Bobby Witt, Jr., Nicky Lopez, Michael Massey, and Maikel Garcia for spots in the infield next Spring Training, but there could be other prospects on the way who may need spots on the active (Drew Waters) or 40-man roster (Tyler Gentry) as well.
Therefore, would the Royals be better off cutting Mondesi loose, even if he is under team control in 2023? Or should the Royals give Mondesi at least one more year, with the idea that he can either contribute or better yet, perhaps generate some trade value at next year’s deadline?
Let’s take a look at both ends of Mondesi’s situation.
The Case to Non-Tender Mondesi
Right now, this is what the Royals’ active roster depth chart looks like, according to Roster Resource on Fangraphs.
If Mondesi is just planning on playing the infield again (whether it’s shortstop or third base), he’s going to have a lot of competition. Michael Massey is slowly solidifying himself as a starter not just for 2023, but for the remainder of 2022 at the keystone position. And though Garcia had his defensive issues to begin the year, at the very least he’s shown that he can handle MLB pitching somewhat (even if he doesn’t have a whole lot of power).
Add Lopez and Witt to the mix, and a crowded infield in Kansas City in 2023 makes a Mondesi return to the Royals next Spring nearly impossible.
Now, can Mondesi move to the outfield?
Perhaps. Mondesi is certainly athletic enough to handle the position, and maybe less action in the outfield will help preserve his health (even though I’m skeptical about that hypothesis and I’m not alone in my disagreement either).
But even then, the outfield situation in Kansas City isn’t exactly bare either.
Currently, the Royals have a Gold Glover in Michael A. Taylor, who appears to be set on maybe returning in 2023 (though he could be an offseason trade candidate). Kyle Isbel has looked better with more at-bats lately, and Nate Eaton is also a dynamic player who can play every outfield position (and third base in a pinch as well).
Here’s an example of Eaton putting his defensive skills on display against the Twins on Monday night:
To make matters worse for Mondesi, the Royals also have future outfielder Drew Waters, who’s been on a tear since coming to the Royals organization from Atlanta, as well as Brewer Hicklen and Dairon Blanco in Omaha, who at the very least are proven defensive outfielders (even if their bats are questionable). Mondesi wouldn’t just be handed an outfield position from the Royals, despite his athleticism and skill set.
Therefore, there’s no real place for Mondesi in Kansas City, whether it’s in the infield or outfield.
The Royals will also need to make some tough roster decisions as well in order to protect guys from the Rule 5 Draft, including candidates such as Alec Marsh and TJ Sikkema, promising pitching prospects who will need to be added to the 40-man roster this Winter to protect them from the draft.
Non-tendering Mondesi seems like a logical choice to clear roster space, especially since he pretty much has no trade value at this point as he recovers from knee surgery.
The Case to Keep Mondesi
The issue with non-tendering Mondesi is that they would essentially just be flushing a lottery ticket down the drain. Maybe that lottery ticket, like most lottery tickets (including those 50-50 ones at Kauffman Stadium), turns out to be a bust. But then again, there’s also that slight hope that the lottery ticket turns into a winner.
The bottom line? One can never know until they see that drawing.
And the Royals aren’t quite there yet with Mondesi, as he will still have one year left of arbitration after this season.
Furthermore, it wouldn’t take an exorbitant amount to keep him in 2023.
This past season, Mondesi made $3 million in arbitration. That number would at the very least stay around the same mark for 2023, which would be a considerable steal, especially if he could come anywhere close to the 2.5 fWAR marks he produced in 2018 and 2019 or 1.5 fWAR mark in 2020.
Of course, the issue is that Mondesi’s recent performance over the past two years hasn’t been great in Kansas City. Not only has he only accumulated a 1.1 fWAR over 2021 and 2022, but here’s how his advanced numbers look over that 190 plate appearance time span as well.
That being said, Mondesi has actually performed a lot better when hitting from the right side against left-handed pitchers over that same frame of play. Let’s take a look at what Mondesi’s right-handed hitter splits look like over the past two injury-plagued seasons.
The walks are still low and the strikeout percentage is still high, but Mondesi at the very least has hit for more power from the right side in 2021 and 2022. Not only is his OPS 77 points higher against lefties, but he also is seeing an ISO difference of 77 points as well (which ultimately contributes to the 17-point difference in wRC+ as well).
Here’s an example of Mondesi flashing his right-handed power against Detroit’s Tarik Skubal in a June game at Kauffman back in 2021.
In addition to his potential as a platoon hitter off the bench, Mondesi also can help improve this Royals infield defense, which now ranks 13th in outs above average in 2022 after ranking 5th in 2021. Here’s a look at how Royals infielders currently rank on an OAA basis, according to Savant, and notice where Mondesi ranks, despite only playing in 15 games this year.
Mondesi still ranks second in infield OAA, despite having much fewer attempts than other Royals infielders on this list. That even includes rookies Massey (-2 OAA) and Witt (-8 OAA).
While Massey and Witt should get a bulk of the innings in 2023 in the infield, Mondesi could come in and be a nice platoon guy who could give Massey or Lopez a day off against lefties.
That is worth $3 million on the Royals’ end. In addition, it limits Mondesi’s innings, which preserves his health, and thus makes the possibility of him finishing the season even more likely, which would be a huge victory for Mondesi and the Royals organization.
And who knows? If he’s healthy and is producing at the plate (against lefties), in the field, and on the basepaths? Maybe he can produce the Royals some kind of return on the trade market at next year’s Trade Deadline.
What Should the Royals Do with Mondesi?
The easy, and honestly, likely, choice for the Royals may be to non-tender Mondesi this Winter. The last two years with Mondesi have been frustrating not just for Royals fans, but the Royals as well, who made him the Opening Day shortstop with the hope that they could have an elite infield defense with Witt at third and Nicky at second.
Unfortunately, that scenario only lasted 15 games in 2022.
It seems easy to just point to “sunk cost fallacy” and just part ways with Mondesi and mercifully end his tenure in Kansas City, which has been honestly a disappointment since being named the Royals’ top prospect in 2015 and 2016, according to Baseball America.
That said, the Royals should not be so quick to part with Mondesi, especially if he can produce a trade return during the season in 2023.
A trade for him won’t happen now. He’s too damaged goods as it is, and no team would be in the right mind to acquire him unless it was on a Minor League contract.
But the Royals can hold onto him, for a pretty paltry deal comparatively (and it’s not out of the question to think that he may sign for less, based on how this last season went). If he gets hot, Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo can flip him in June or July for a couple of prospects, much like Carlos Santana this season.
And if Mondesi struggles in April and May, they can part ways with him in June. After all, his best role would be as a platoon infielder off the bench who would hit against left-handed pitchers. Garcia may need more time to develop his power in Triple-A before he can assume that role. However, by August of 2023, he could fit in, especially if Mondesi is traded (or DFA’d away).
The Royals should at least hold onto Mondesi a little longer, even if that may be tough for some Royals fans to stomach.
He can still produce something in a limited role and be a solid trade candidate next Summer. As long as he can stay healthy of course…
Which is a phrase Royals fans are quite familiar with when it comes to Mondesi.
Photo Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports