In some interesting hot stove news, Boston Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom announced that Trevor Story had a UCL injury last season and that their star shortstop underwent a procedure this offseason to fix that issue.
As mentioned in the article, due to technological advances in medicine and rehabilitation, it’s not a guarantee that Story will be out for all of 2023. That being said, it’s very likely that the Red Sox will need to find someone who can play shortstop for most of the season, especially after Xander Boegarts signed with the San Diego Padres this offseason.
And one name mentioned is Adalberto Mondesi, the Royals’ talented, but oft-injured infielder in his last year of team control (he avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $3.045 million deal).
Granted, the talks have only been exploratory, and there are already other targets the Red Sox are looking at who could fill in Story’s place (Jose Iglesias, Elvis Andrus, and Josh Harrison were mentioned as possibilities by Jon Heyman). That being said, Mondesi could be an affordable, high-risk, high-upside option up the middle for Boston that won’t cost much in a trade (unlike Milwaukee’s Willy Adames, who also has been mentioned as a possible trade candidate for the Red Sox).
While the odds are low, should the Red Sox make such a deal for Mondesi? And if so, who could Kansas City receive in return, and does such a deal make sense in their current situation as a rebuilding ballclub in 2023?
When looking deeper into this possible trade situation, there is much to be excited about for both sides, if they should decide to pull the trigger on such a transaction.
Why Mondesi to Boston Makes Sense
The Red Sox finished in last place in the AL East last year with a 78-84 record, and as of now, the outlook doesn’t look good for them to move up in the AL East standings in 2023.
The Yankees and Blue Jays look to be the class of the AL East, Tampa Bay continues to be Tampa Bay (i.e. good on a budget), and Baltimore saw one of the biggest turnarounds in baseball by winning 83 games in 2022 after losing 110 games in 2021).
Thus, the expectations in Boston are low for this upcoming season, and the Red Sox should take a chance on high-upside players who could provide some long-term value. Mondesi is that kind of player, even though he has only played 50 games over the past two seasons.
For his career, Mondesi has generated an fWAR of 6.7, which spans over seven seasons. His best stretch of play came in 2018 and 2019, when he not only played a combined 177 games but also produced 23 home runs, scored 105 runs, stole 67 bases, and accumulated a 5.0 fWAR over that timespan as well.
At one point, there was hope that Mondesi could be the Royals’ star shortstop of the future, in the mold of Fernando Tatis, Jr., Javier Baez, or even Story. Yes, there have been concerns about Mondesi’s plate discipline and lack of consistent contact (which I talked about on this blog before during its early days). However, his offensive upside, combined with his defensive efficiency (has been 30.9 defensive runs above average over his career according to Fangraphs), gave him a profile that made him at one point in time an extension candidate for the Royals.
Two-injury-plagued seasons later though, it’s been a different story for Mondesi. Many Royals fans felt that JJ Picollo should have non-tendered Mondesi this offseason, especially with Bobby Witt, Jr. entrenched at shortstop, and other infield options like Nicky Lopez, Michael Massey, Nate Eaton, and Maikel Garcia on the 40-man roster.
That said, it will always be hard for the Royals, or any team to be frank, to pass up on a player like Mondesi with his credentials (he is somewhat proven after all, despite his injury history).
Byron Buxton of the Twins is a great example of an oft-injured franchise star who has produced when healthy and given enough patience by an organization. There is some hope that the same situation could be true for Mondesi, starting this season.
Bloom and the Red Sox should undoubtedly push the envelope if Picollo is willing to deal away Mondesi at this point in time. If Mondesi busts or continues to be an injury issue, they can let him go and Story will be back anyways at some point.
If Mondesi produces, the Red Sox will have a talented player who could fill in around the infield for years to come, and probably won’t put too much of a dent in the Red Sox’s massive budget.
After all, other than Story, it’s not like there are a whole lot of great options in the middle infield in the Red Sox system currently, according to their depth chart on Roster Resource.
Who Could the Royals Receive From Boston in Return?
I do not know much about the Red Sox system, and the prospects that I do know are most likely not going to be traded by Bloom in any deal for Mondesi. To be frank, I am not the biggest fan of their system, especially after former top prospect Jeter Downs, who was once the key piece in the Mookie Betts deal, was non-tendered this offseason (he is currently on the Nationals).
For players on the Red Sox 40-man roster, there are two players I would be intrigued by and could be acquired in a one-to-one flip for Mondesi.
The first player is Bobby Dalbec, the Red Sox’s powerful, but inconsistent corner infielder.
With Rafael Devers signing a long-term extension, and current top prospect Triston Casas likely going to be the Red Sox’s Opening Day first baseman (they wouldn’t have released Eric Hosmer otherwise), there really isn’t a spot in Boston for Dalbec, who has hit 37 home runs over the past two seasons.
Dalbec does have swing-and-miss issues, as he sports a career 34.9 percent K rate and a career BB/K ratio of 0.21. However, there are few hitters in the league that make hard contact like Dalbec, which can be seen in the Statcast metric table listed below:
The other candidate who could be traded to Kansas City in a possible deal for Mondesi is center fielder Jarren Duran, who has had an up-and-down career thus far in his first 91 games in the Majors. Since debuting in 2021, Duran has not only had a career K rate of 30.7 percent and wRC+ of 68, but he also has accumulated an fWAR of -0.8.
A big contributor to his negative fWAR has been his lackluster defense, as he not only has a career DRS of -12 but he has also been known for miscues in the outfield like this below (at Kauffman Stadium nonetheless):
While Duran’s stock is low right now, he is still only 26 years old, and the Royals had success last year by turning around another former top outfield prospect in Drew Waters.
If Duran gets some work in with fielding guru Rusty Kuntz and director of hitting performance Drew Saylor and hitting coach Alec Zumwalt?
It’s possible that Duran could help make Kansas City sport one of the best young outfield trios in MLB in 2024 and beyond.
Does This Trade Make Sense for the Royals?
While Dalbec and Duran are intriguing possibilities for Mondesi, the fact of the matter is that some other dominoes would have to fall to make such deals realistic.
Hunter Dozier is likely penciled in to be that right-handed platoon bat who could fill in at DH or first base, which is the role Dalbec would have if traded to Kansas City (though Dalbec could be the Royals’ starting third baseman, as there is a hole at the hot corner currently). As for Duran, the Royals would need to trade Michael A. Taylor, especially with a glut of outfielders on the 40-man roster and depth chart.
Dozier doesn’t seem to be going anywhere as of now, especially with him being owed $16.75 million over the next two years, according to Roster Resource payroll data. And while Taylor’s name has been active in trade talks, his age (nearly 32) and inconsistent hitting ability have seemed to scare away opposing teams from making a potential deal at this time.
So those are two big factors working against the Royals trading away Mondesi, at least for now.
Furthermore, it’s not out of the question to think Mondesi could find a long-term role in Kansas City beyond 2023, especially if he can stay healthy, and he can agree to a multi-year extension in that $3-5 million AAV range over a three to four-year span.
Mondesi’s arguably one of the best defensive infielders on the Royals roster (he has the fourth-best OAA of Royals fielders since 2020 despite a lack of games compared to other Royals players). He also could thrive at third or in a utility role if he stays off the injured list. His offensive upside is much higher than Lopez, who has proven to be simply a contact hitter who may struggle in 2023, even with the change in shift rules.
While Lopez has out-produced Mondesi on an fWAR end since 2020 (7.3 to 2.4), the Statcast batted ball data favors Mondesi in considerable fashion, as Royals fans can see below:
With no clear option at third, could Mondesi be the Royals’ third baseman for the future, finally having that Buxton-Esque breakout?
And even if he doesn’t stick at third, he could be that rotating infielder who can fill in and not only offer stellar defensive ability, but speed on the basepaths and potential pop with the bat, especially from the right side (Mondesi’s splits against LHP have been considerably better over his career).
After all, it’s easy to root for him when he produces at-bats like this one against Cleveland in the second game of the 2022 season:
Picollo will certainly have an interesting choice when it comes to Mondesi’s future, especially considering the Red Sox’s need at the shortstop position temporarily in 2023 in the wake of the Story injury.
But something would have to happen to Taylor and/or Dozier first before any kind of Mondesi trade becomes a reality.
Photo Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports