I don’t trust a general manager who doesn’t think he can use Emilio Bonifacio.
Bonifacio has as many warts as a player with a seven-year career can have. He has zero power. He strikes out too much for a player who can’t put the ball over the fence. His plate discipline waffles back and forth. And he doesn’t appear to play any positions, infield or outfield, particularly well.
Those reasons are why Bonifacio finds himself designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals this week. Those reasons are why Bonifacio has been traded away four times, either as a throw-in or for unimpressive packages of talent.
But of course, for all his flaws, Bonifacio has also been traded for four times. And although he sits in DFA limbo, he does so with a $3.5 million contract attached and significant trade interest attached to his name. Chances are, some team — whether the Dodgers, Mets, or anybody else lacking middle infield talent — picks up Bonifacio along with his multi-million dollar contract, and they may even have to throw in some talent of their own to finish the deal.
Bonifacio’s strengths pale in comparison to his weaknesses, but they cannot be ignored. Bonifacio can play all over the diamond — he has at least 180 innings at six positions (all three outfield positions, second base, shortstop and third base) and has at least 400 innings at five. And, more importantly, he is one of the fastest players in the major leagues, and one of the best at translating that speed into results on the field.
Over his seven-year career, Bonifacio has a 79 percent stolen base success rate despite taking off nearly four times more often than the average player. He has taken the extra base — advanced two bases or more on a single or three bases on a double — 58 percent of the time in a league that does so at a 40 percent rate. The result is, according to FanGraphs, a player who has been 29 runs above average on the bases in just 2299 plate appearances — or about 7.5 runs per 600 plate appearances.
What an asset for a manager! He could pinch run in any key situation, and unlike the Herb Washington speed-only player, he can be trusted to stay in the game and not be a wasted roster spot should his run fail to score. Players like Bonifacio — poor in the aggregate, but great in the correct situation — are the the optimist’s dream. Leveraged correctly, Bonifacio can provide far more value than players considered similarly talented on the whole.
And there’s the rub. With a 25-man roster, how well can you leverage a talent like Bonifacio? We really haven’t seen him in an ideal situation yet — he spent most of his career with the Marlins, with stints on poor Nationals and Blue Jays teams as well.
We may have seen a glimpse of what Bonifacio could do if deployed correctly last year with Kansas City — he stole 16 bases in just 42 games and 179 plate appearances with Kansas City. He was 3.6 runs above average just from his baserunning, in large part because the Royals let him run wild. According to Baseball-Reference, Bonifacio attempted a steal 18 times in just 67 opportunities, a 26.9 percent attempt rate nearly five times the MLB average. He was caught just twice.
But he’s still just a .262/.322/.340 career hitter, and just .248/.308/.325 (73 OPS+) over the past two seasons. With a 25-man roster — a small roster, considering how many spots are left for relief pitchers and how the nicks and bruises of a 162-game schedule will ultimately leave players unavailable — can you keep Bonifacio from hitting in enough important spots, whether a tie game in the fourth inning or down by two in the eighth? Can the trump card Bonifacio serves as a baserunner off the bench be worth the plate appearances he ultimately must take as part of his roster duties?
With how much Bonifacio can add with his speed, I don’t trust a single general manager who doesn’t think he can find a way to turn the 28-year-old into a part of a winning team. But it has proved a difficult task thus far. Perhaps the most trustworthy general manager is the one who realizes what Bonifacio can give, but that his team is not the one that can squeeze it all out.