The White Sox have expressed interest in acquiring Royals infielder Nicky Lopez, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (Twitter link). There’s no indication discussions have gained traction, as Rosenthal notes that Kansas City isn’t anxious to deal the Creighton product.
Lopez, 28 in March, has spent his entire career with the Royals. He reached the majors in 2019, hitting .240/.276/.325 in 103 games as a rookie. He had a similarly rough offensive showing during his second season but earned elite marks for his second base work. Lopez’s +9 defensive runs saved during the shortened season tied for the league lead at the position, earning him another look in 2021.
The left-handed hitter looked to have taken a step forward offensively that season, at least on the surface. He posted a .300/.365/.378 line over 565 trips to the plate, with that offense checking in a hair above league average. That required a lofty .347 batting average on balls in play which he never seemed likely to sustain, and his batted ball metrics weren’t much different than those of his first two seasons. Lopez’s production indeed fell back last season, as he hit .227/.281/.273 without a home run in 480 trips to the plate.
Lopez was one of two hitters (Myles Straw being the other) who tallied 450+ plate appearances without connecting on a home run. He and Straw tied for the game’s second-lowest slugging output, narrowly topping that of Geraldo Perdomo, while ranking in the bottom 10 in hard contact. That lack of power makes him very reliant on turning grounders into singles to drive his offensive profile. That happened in 2021, but his overall .252/.309/.321 career line checks in 27 percentage points below league average as measured by wRC+.
The White Sox, of course, are eying Lopez for other reasons. While he has only slightly above-average pure speed, he’s an instinctive baserunner who has successfully stolen 36 bags in 40 attempts over the past two seasons. That skillset could take on a bit more value in 2023, as the league is introducing limits on the number of pickoff attempts/step-offs a pitcher can deploy in an at-bat.
More importantly, Lopez has shown the potential for excellent infield defense. DRS bizarrely graded him as eight runs below average at second base in 2022, but that’s an anomaly compared to his strong career marks. Statcast estimated him as three runs above average at the keystone and 5 runs above par through 406 innings of shortstop work last season. Both metrics pegged him as a quality defender at each middle infield spot in previous years.
Chicago obviously views Lopez as a potential target for their uncertain second base mix. Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada will cover the left side of the infield. Second base is far less settled. Romy González and Lenyn Sosa look the present favorites for reps, with veteran utilityman Leury García also in the mix. Lopez doesn’t bring a ton of offensive upside but would raise the floor with his glove and baserunning.
The Royals have a somewhat questionable second base mix of their own, though, apparently lessening their desire to part with Lopez. Michael Massey is the top option after hitting .243/.307/.376 over 52 games as a rookie. That was a fine but hardly overwhelming debut showing, leaving the possibility that K.C. pivots back to Lopez if Massey scuffles. The Royals already thinned out their overall infield depth this morning by dealing Adalberto Mondesi to the Red Sox.
Lopez and the Royals agreed to a $3.7MM salary to avoid arbitration earlier this offseason. He’s under club control for three years, including the upcoming campaign.