The idea of a Major League Baseball club without a solidified everyday player at shortstop goes against the grain. But the Kansas City Royals, out of necessity, will approach the position differently heading into 2022.
Starting shortstop Adalberto Mondesi is expected to play again this season. He could even start a minor-league rehab assignment within the next week.
But Mondesi’s inability to remain on the field this season — he has missed 94 of 104 games because of a pair of oblique injuries as well as a hamstring injury — has forced general manager Dayton Moore to change his thinking about how he builds the roster for next season.
The shortstop position will likely become more of a shared responsibility than a one-man job next season.
Mondesi will certainly still factor into the mix, but he’ll be subject to regular days off and load management similar to the trend in the NBA in recent years. Moore will build the roster with the guiding principle that the Royals must have at least two players capable of starting at shortstop.
Moore said bluntly and honestly in a radio interview Monday morning, “Fescoe In The Morning” on KSCP (610 AM), that the Royals “can’t obviously count on him as an everyday player.”
“No one is losing hope in Adalberto Mondesi,” Moore said when reached by The Kansas City Star on Monday. “No one is abandoning him. We’re not going to release him. We’re not going to trade him. But we are going to put our team together with a lot of depth at the shortstop position.”
During their two postseason runs in 2014 and 2015, the Kansas City Royals penciled in Alcides Escobar as the starting shortstop for 310 of 324 regular-season games.
Of the six current division leaders in MLB entering Monday, four had shortstops who’d played 86 games or more — despite three having had stints on the injured list — with nearly two months remaining.
Those other two teams? Tampa Bay and Milwaukee. Tampa Bay traded its starting shortstop to Milwaukee in May.
Meanwhile, Mondesi set his career high for games played in the majors with 102 in 2019. Only once in his professional career had he played more than 110 games in a season, and that came at the Low-A level of the minors in 2013 (125 games).
The 102 games Mondesi played in 2019 were interrupted by a two-week stint on the injured list with groin strain in late June, but then he partially dislocated his shoulder diving for a fly ball in foul territory at Kauffman Stadium in the middle of July.
He rehabbed the injury and returned to the lineup and played until he re-injured the shoulder diving for a ball in the field. The injury required offseason surgery.
The freak nature of the shoulder injury and the fact that he rehabbed in-season then returned and played regularly, gave the Royals optimism in Mondesi ability to handle the daily grind.
This season has changed the club’s view.
“We have to put our team together with as much depth as possible because unfortunately Adalberto Mondesi has not been able to stay on the field, no fault of his own,” Moore said. “He works extremely hard. His body just has broken down from time to time.
“So we have to put together our team with multiple options at the shortstop position. We’re fortunate that it’s a 26-man roster. If Adalberto Mondesi is your 26th man, that’s pretty good.”
In 10 games this season, Mondesi has slashed .361/.378/.833 with four home runs, nine RBIs, five doubles and six runs scored.
In the days leading up to his latest IL stint, he hit the fourth-longest home run by a Royals player since Statcast data began tracking home run distance. He also homered in three consecutive games.
Nicky Lopez went from the projected starting second baseman to having been demoted to the minors, and he ultimately has played the bulk of the innings at shortstop this season. He entered Monday’s off day batting .278 with a .356 on-base percentage and 42 runs scored in 94 games.
In an ideal scenario, the Royals may have once envisioned a double play combination of Mondesi and Lopez as shortstop and second base every day with Witt breaking into the majors at third base.
Now, the need to manage Mondesi’s workload likely eliminates that possibility. It also virtually assures that the Royals will enter this offseason planning for a lineup of interchangeable parts with manager Mike Matheny and his staff using players like All-Star infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier, Lopez and Witt (whenever he arrives) in multiple positions on a regular basis.
Moore has made plain that the club has moved on from the idea of building around the idea of Mondesi playing any more than 100 games, at best, as their shortstop in an 162-game season.
“We’re going to work extremely hard with Mondi to put him in a position to be on the field as much as possible in 2022,” Moore said. “We understand that we’re going to have to manage his workloads to keep him out there as much as possible.”