It’s been a wild week for me personally and professionally with teaching and graduate school. Hence, that is why this past week has not produced much on this blog. That being said, with things dying down slightly with the “end” of the election, not to mention the winding down of the school semester, I can turn my focus back to baseball and specifically the Royals. The good thing is that it hasn’t been too news-worthy in the Royals baseball world over the past week, with the exception of Salvador Perez earning his third Silver Slugger and Alex Gordon earning his eighth Gold Glove and second Platinum Glove.
With awards season pretty much at its close, the focus in baseball circles is now gearing toward free agency, as many clubs have already begun the process of deciding who is returning and who will not for the 2021 season. Even the Royals have been active when it comes to making roster decisions, as they have already let go of pitchers Mike Montgomery, Kevin McCarthy and Matt Harvey. However, while more roster cuts will inevitably announced over the course of the Winter, there also will be more buzz on free agents that the Royals could sign and bring to Kansas City for the 2021 campaign.
That being said, the Royals are not the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. The Royals are a small market team who typically build their roster through the farm system, and that produced success from 2013-2017. Dayton Moore and the Royals front office began that rebuilding process again in 2018, and are hoping that in 2021, the “Process 2.0” can bear some more fruit and debuts at the Major League level. Nonetheless, the Royals can’t win on farm-developed talent alone, and like any team, Moore will be looking for cheap, short-term free agents who could boost this Kansas City roster.
At this point, the outfield may be the most likely target for Moore when it comes to acquiring a free agent. Over the past two years, the Royals have not been too aggressive with free agent targets, opting for low-cost, one-year deals in lieu of longer-term, more expensive candidates. In 2019, that signing was Chris Owings, who burned out quickly in Kansas City, as he was released after roughly a month with the Royals. In 2020, Maikel Franco was the Royals’ “main” free agent signing, and he turned out to be a bargain, as he posted a 1.3 WAR and 106 wRC+ on a one-year, $3 million deal.
Thus, when I examined free agent targets, I referred to those deals as baselines. While I think Moore may be more open to signing a more expensive free agent this off-season (especially with Ian Kennedy’s contract coming off the books), I do not expect owner John Sherman to break the bank either, for it does seem like the Royals are a year away from making any serious ground in the AL Central. Hence, I looked for free agents who would fit the Royals’ needs in the outfield, while being reasonably-priced options as well.
So, let’s take a look at three possible free agent outfielders who could find their way to Kansas City this winter.
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com suggested Grossman as a potential fit for the Royals, as the former Athletic and Twin is a high OBP guy who could boost the OBP of a Royals lineup that has struggled in that category the past three seasons. Here is what Feinsand said about Grossman’s potential as a Royal:
Getting on base was an issue for the Royals, whose .309 on-base percentage ranked 12th in the AL. Only two everyday players (Salvador Perez and Hunter Dozier) topped the .330 OBP mark, while four were below .300. Grossman posted a .344 OBP last season, just shy of his .350 career mark. Alex Gordon’s retirement opens a spot in left field, creating a perfect fit for a player like Grossman“Each team’s perfect free agent to sign” by Mark Feinsand; MLB.com
Grossman is an interesting fit, especially considering he is coming off a season in which he posted a .241/.344/.482 slash, an OPS of 826, and an OPS+ of 130 in 51 games and 192 plate appearances with the A’s. Furthermore, he has a career BB/K ratio of 0.60, according to Fangraphs, and he hasn’t had a strikeout rate above 20 percent since 2016 (with the Twins), nor a BB rate below 10 percent since 2015 (with the Astros). While Grossman’s BB/K ratio did decrease from 2019 (0.69 to 0.55), he did make up for it with added power, as his .482 slugging was a career high.
Considering he only made $3.725 million last year in Oakland, it is possible that the Royals could get Grossman on a one to two-year deal worth $5-8 million per year, which would be a pay increase for Grossman, and not too strenuous on the Kansas City payroll. While Grossman is not an elite defender, he has showed improvement defensively the past couple of years, and he did post a 4 OAA in left field with the A’s in 2020, which ranked him in the 94th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. While Grossman would not a long-term option at 31 years old, he could bring some solid production in left field for Kansas City in the next two seasons, with Khalil Lee or Kyle Isbel taking over his spot in 2022 or 2023.
Pillar is 31-years-old, and has played for four teams in two seasons. On the surface, Pillar doesn’t make much sense for the Royals: he has a career OBP of .299 and BB/K ratio of 0.26, which are all Royals-esque metrics (that’s not good). However, if Royals fans look deeper into his profile, then Pillar may be a better fit than they may initially believe.
First off, Pillar would be a one-year deal, which is what the Royals need with Lee and Isbel waiting in the wings. Pillar made $4.25 million last year, and he probably would merit something similar, if not less (perhaps garner something in the $3-4 million range). This is mostly true in a down market this off-season where teams will be less likely to splurge on free agents after a lost year of ballpark revenue due to COVID. Thus, I do not see many teams competing for Pillar’s services, especially since he will be 32-years-old in 2021.
However, Pillar could be a great stopgap solution for the Royals, especially if they believe that Lee and Isbel are close to being Major-League ready in 2022. Pillar improved his BB/K ratio 0.32, his best mark since 2017, when he played with the Blue Jays. Furthermore, his ISO (isolated slugging) has been .174, .173, and .173 the past three seasons, which shows that he could provide some much needed pop for the Royals, especially toward the bottom of the lineup. Lastly, he can play multiple positions in the outfield, and the Royals may need that defensive flexibility with options like Franchy Cordero, Edward Olivares, and Whit Merrifield all vying for time in Kauffman’s spacious grounds.
As stated before, if the Royals do pursue Pillar, they probably offer him a one-year deal. Thus, a possible Pillar deal would fit the mold of what Moore did with Owings and Franco the past two seasons. However, if Pillar could have a solid campaign like Franco, then the Royals would find Pillar as a worthy short-term pickup who could hold serve in the outfield until Lee or Isbel is ready.
One of the key indicators of how this off-season will be economically could rest on players like Profar. In most seasons, a 28-year-old former top prospect who is a good, but not great, player would merit a 3-4 year deal worth $10 million per year. The former top Rangers prospect, in a non-COVID year, would probably merit in free agency something close to what Mike Moustakas did with this Reds last off-season.
Unfortunately, COVID has affected the baseball landscape, and it is highly possible that teams who normally would spend on a player like Profar may hold back. Profar is a great on-base guy, as he posted a .343 OBP in 202 plate appearances with the Padres in 2020. Furthermore, Profar can play multiple positions in the infield and outfield, which gives him utility that could satisfy a variety of team needs. That being said, Profar hasn’t really lived up to his massive prospect hype, and his career 90 wRC+ may make teams shy to pull the trigger on him in free agency, especially considering how cash-strapped many clubs may be.
That being said, Profar may be an intriguing free agent for Moore and the Royals to pursue. While Profar may warrant a multi-year deal, he only made $5.7 million last season, and it is possible that the Royals could get Profar on a two-year deal worth $8-10 million per year, which would be more than reasonable for a player of his caliber. Profar is still relatively young, as he is still 28, and he has started to develop as a hitter and overall player the past three seasons in Texas, Oakland, and San Diego, respectively. His first few seasons were rough and inconsistent with the Rangers, but last season in San Diego proved that Profar can be at least an everyday player at the MLB level, if not more, with the right opportunity or situation (which he hasn’t really gotten so far in his career).
Of the three, Profar may be the most expensive option, not to mention biggest reach. However, he would be a great fit for the Royals, as he could be a utility player that could fill in as needed, whether it is in the infield or outfield. He could also be an option at third, should the Royals decide not to bring Franco back (they may non-tender or trade him, especially since he may earn almost $8 million in arbitration). Thus, while he may come at a higher price tag than free agents the Royals have signed the past three years, Profar’s combination of age and position flexibility make him a player worth pursuing by Moore and the Royals front office.