It’s been a quiet offseason for the Royals on the whole, but they’ve taken up a prominent position on the trade market in the past few days, shipping center fielder Michael A. Taylor to the division-rival Twins in exchange for relief prospects Evan Sisk and Steven Cruz, and flipping infielder Adalberto Mondesi to the Red Sox in exchange for reliever Josh Taylor the following day.
Those might not be the only trades in store for general manager J.J. Picollo in his first offseason atop the team’s baseball operations hierarchy.
The Royals have reportedly discussed infielder Nicky Lopez with the White Sox in what would be a second intra-division swap. More broadly, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Tuesday that Kansas City still had “a couple more deals” that they’re in the process of “lining up.”
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look at some of the names the Royals could potentially ship out in the days and weeks leading up to spring training.
First and foremost, it should be pointed out that both Taylor and Mondesi were a year away from reaching the open market. They represented short-term assets for a Royals team that knows itself to be, at best, a long shot to contend in 2023.
Lopez is more of of a mid-range player in terms of remaining club control, as he’s arbitration-eligible through the 2025 season.
Presumably, the Royals won’t want to surrender much more team control than that. Players like Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto are all controllable through at least the 2028 season; it’s unlikely the Royals would give much consideration to moving anyone from that group.
Onto some more plausible names, beginning with the focus of Tuesday’s White Sox rumors …
Nicky Lopez, 2B/SS | Age: 27 (28 in March) | Contract: Signed for $3.7M, arb-eligible through 2025
Lopez has been an all-glove player outside a 2021 season that currently looks anomalous in nature. He posted a .300/.365/.378 batting line in 565 plate appearances that season but did so with a .347 batting average on balls in play that’s 53 points higher than his career mark of .294.
Lopez is a career .252/.309/.321 hitter in more than 1600 plate appearances. To say he doesn’t hit the ball hard would be an understatement; Lopez ranked 246th of 252 qualified hitters with an 84.9 MPH average exit velocity and 250th with a 22.9% hard-hit rate.
Statcast ranked him in the third percentile of MLB hitters in terms of “expected” slugging percentage.
That’s not a ringing endorsement of Lopez by any stretch, but he has plenty of positive attributes: namely his bat-to-ball skills and prodigious defensive prowess.
Lopez fanned in just 13.1% of his plate appearances in each of the past two seasons, exhibiting strong contact skills. He doesn’t take especially lengthy at-bats (average 3.66 pitcher per plate appearance, compared to the league-average 3.9), but Lopez puts the ball in play and runs fairly well, ranking in the 58th percentile of MLB players in terms of sprint speed, per Statcast.
Defensively, there are few better players in the game — at least in the estimation of Statcast. He’s been an above-average but not elite defender by measure of Defensive Runs Saved, but Statcast’s Outs Above Average credits Lopez with excellent marks at second base (12) and particularly at shortstop (31) in his career.
The sure-handed Lopez has made just 20 errors as a big leaguer and shown aptitude at both middle infield slots as well as in briefer sessions at the hot corner.
With three more years of club control remaining, there’s no urgency to trade Lopez. However, the Royals have Witt at shortstop and want to give 24-year-old Michael Massey a chance to claim the second base job.