SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — A dilemma as old as baseball is facing the offensively starved, defensively challenged Kansas City Royals.
Should offense be sacrificed for improved defense?
The question mark for the Royals is at second base, where Albert Callaspo in 155 games had a whopping 17 errors last season, tying for the major league lead among second basemen. His fielding percentage of .973 was the absolute worst. Some of his miscues — such as letting routine grounders skip under his glove into center field — were comical.
But the laughter stopped when Callaspo put down his glove and picked up his bat. Adding valuable heft to an offense burdened with one of the worst on-base percentages in the majors, he hit .300 and supplied plenty of pop. His 41 doubles, 11 home runs and 73 RBIs were second only to first baseman Billy Butler for the team's best power numbers.
But, oh, that defense. With Butler still learning the nuances of first base and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt also subject to turning a routine play into high drama, tightening up the infield defense has been one of Kansas City's top goals.
Enter Chris Getz, picked up by the Royals in a trade after hitting .261 last year with the Chicago White Sox. Without doubt, the slick-fielding Getz brings hope for better defense: In 107 games last year, he committed only seven errors and made some outstanding plays.
Getz has clearly been given the inside track at second, though Callaspo is determined to keep his job. He lost no time reminding everybody what he brings to the party, belting a home run in the first intrasquad game of the spring.
Manager Trey Hillman insists he has several options. Besides second, Callaspo might also see some time at third. But second is his best position. Sorting out what to do with Getz, Callaspo and outfielder/DH Jose Guillen could be key to Kansas City making any significant improvement from last year's last-place tie in the AL Central.
"Alberto had a great year last year offensively," said Getz, who also has speed on his resume. "He's working hard. I've just got to go out there and perform. I can't worry about what he's doing or approach anything differently. Just play it the way I've always played. Just execute the little things, play good defense, handle the bat, run the bases, and hopefully at the end of the day they'll want me at the position."
Another obvious option is moving Callaspo to designated hitter. But that might not be easy because Guillen, a career outfielder, was put there this spring when the Royals revamped their outfield.
Callaspo has no intentions of giving up anything without a fight, especially his job a second.
"I'm just going to try to do whatever they want. I'm going to be healthy and do everything they need from me," he said. "Let's see where they're going to use me."
What has Hillman told him?
"He hasn't told me nothing," Callaspo said.
Does he think he'll get a fair shot?
"We'll see. We'll see who's going to start," he said. "I'm going to try."
In the end, it might be Guillen who should worry. His status as a power hitter who is guaranteed $12 million in the third year of a $36 million contract will no doubt buttress his argument to be the full-time DH.
But it may not be the final argument.
"If we just go on recent history, his bat needs to be in the lineup. He was our second-most productive guy last year," Hillman said. "Alberto really doesn't have much preference of what position he plays. We've got him prioritized at second, at third and possibly at DH. We'll see where it goes. We'll get his bat in there."
While Callaspo's options are varied, Getz knows exactly what he has to do.
"Be a steady, solid infielder, make the plays that I'm supposed to make every single time, be very consistent on the double plays," he said. "You never want as an infielder to focus on making the spectacular plays. That stuff just happens. The plays you're supposed to make, you've got to make.
"That way, pitchers like having you out there and the manager likes having you out there."