Picking on the Royals

As you know, I like to find fault with the Kansas City Royals. It’s a hobby and because the Royals provide so much ammunition, I can’t see myself giving it up soon.

There’s just so much.

Today, I’m not going to rap on the Royals for their 4-7 start. I’m not going to mention their .239 team

Emilio Bonifacio is off to a quick start with the Chicago Cubs this season.

Emilio Bonifacio is off to a quick start with the Chicago Cubs this season.

batting average or the fact that only one player, Alex Gordon, has driven in more than four runs.

I’m not even going to discuss the team’s abysmal power so far – just one home run. I’m not going to point out that Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer – so important to the team’s offensive success – have combined for no homers, seven RBIs and are batting well below .200 as a group.

Nope, I’m not going to mention any of that.

Instead, I’m going to focus on three players: current Royals left-hander Bruce Chen and former Royals utility player Emilio Bonifacio (now with the Chicago Cubs) and left-handed pitcher Will Smith (currently with the Milwaukee Brewers).

And what I’m about to point out is another example of the kind of mismanagement that has plagued the Royals for many years. And it’s a reason why I’m suspect when it comes to Kansas City mounting a challenge in the American League Central this season.

Last season, on Aug. 14, the Royals picked up utility player Emilio Bonifacio from the Toronto Blue Jays for cash.

Bonifacio was in the midst of an off season in Toronto after a couple of productive seasons with the Marlins, one of which (2012) was cut short because of an injury.

Bonifacio is a speedy player and a decent defender. He isn’t a bad hitter, either, and he gave the Royals exactly what they were looking for. In 42 games with KC, he batted .285 and stole 16 bases. He looked like he might even be more than just a short-term answer at second base.

But on Feb. 10 of this year, the Royals placed Bonifacio on waivers for the purpose of giving him an unconditional release. That was just nine days after the Royals and Bonifacio had agreed on a one-year, $3.5 million deal to avoid arbitration.

But losing that contract allowed the Royals to bring back the veteran Chen for $3 million. Because when you think your team might be in the hunt for its first postseason in 29 years, there’s nothing like pinching pennies.

Anyway, the Royals went out and signed Omar Infante, who previously had played for Detroit, to a four-year, $30.25 million contract, even though, at 32, Infante is four years older than Bonifacio.

OK, so the Royals have Chen and Infante but don’t have Bonifacio, who signed with the Chicago Cubs.

The Royals also had Smith, a young left-hander with promise as a starter, long reliever, left-handed specialist or late-inning reliever. In other words, Smith has a versatile bullpen arm.

In 33.1 innings with Kansas City last season, Smith allowed only 24 hits and seven walks while striking out 43.

But Smith was the bait the Royals used in a trade for Milwaukee right fielder Nori Aoki, who is in the final year of a three-year deal that pays him about $1.6 million per season.

Smith, who makes the big-league minimum of $502,000, has appeared in seven games for the Brewers so far this season and hasn’t given up a run. He’s struck out nine in 6.1 innings and has helped solidify Milwaukee’s bullpen.

My point here is that the Royals are spending a lot more to have Chen, Infante and Aoki on their roster than they would have spent by having Bonifacio and Smith.

Oh, by the way, Bonifacio is off to a torrid start with the Cubs, batting .392 with seven stolen bases.

With an apparent choice of Bonifacio or Chen, the Royals took the veteran pitcher. Chen has undoubtedly given Kansas City some good productive, but he’s nothing more than a back-of-the-rotation starter and long man out of the bullpen.

Bonifacio has a history of top-of-the-order production and it’s not like the Royals had to break the bank to keep him. He’s not going to continue to hit .392, but he could hit .290 and steal 40 bases.

And Smith is a better version of Chen. He’s much younger, he throws a lot harder and he has a lot more promise. The Royals picked him up in 2010 from the Angels for Sean O’Sullivan and Alberto Callaspo. He’s probably going to have a nice career.

The point is: I don’t understand what the Royals are thinking. Infante is fine, but is he worth four years and more than $30 million. And does Aoki really plug the hole at the top of the order?

To review:

The Royals released Bonifacio so they could fit Chen into the budget.

They traded Smith, who is a better version of Chen and makes one-sixth of what Chen makes.

They spent big to bring in Infante, who may or may not be more productive than Bonifacio.

And in the Smith trade they landed Aoki to bat leadoff, where Bonifacio has excelled in the past.

In so doing, they spent $34.6 million when they could have retained Bonifacio and Smith for $4 million.

That’s the Royals for you.