With the hot stove finally heating up, the baseball world has seen a slew of recent transaction activity, even in the midst of tragedy (RIP Hank Aaron). However, on Friday, the Royals got a bit of bad news in regard to Jurickson Profar, a utility player that the Royals were seemingly in talks with earlier this Winter:
Of course, this was probably a move most Royals fans saw coming. Earlier this Winter, it seemed liked Kansas City was Profar’s best destination when it came to guaranteed playing time, especially with a possible opportunity in the outfield and maybe at second base, if Nicky Lopez doesn’t turn it around offensively. However, after early reports suggesting that Profar and the Royals were in talks, it seemed like things died down between both parties for weeks. I figured this was a sign that Profar may have been less eager to leave San Diego, and after Friday’s announcement, my inklings were confirmed.
For Royals fans looking to add a more proven talent, this is disappointing, but not heartbreaking, news. Yes, Profar is 28, a former top prospect in baseball, and can play multiple positions, which would benefit a Royals lineup that could need help at multiple spots in 2021. However, considering his deal with the Padres is for three-years, that may have been a year more than the Royals were willing to stomach, especially with Khalil Lee recently added to the 40-man roster, and Kyle Isbel and Bobby Witt, Jr. perhaps ready to make a jump to the Majors in the next year or two.
Thus, the Royals have seen the Profar ship sail, as well as Michael Brantley, who perhaps was a long shot to land in Kansas City anyways. Hence, with Spring Training rapidly approaching, are the Royals done when it comes to free agency? Or will Dayton Moore and the Royals acquire that desired left-handed bat that could temporarily boost the Royals lineup in 2021 (and maybe for part of 2022)?
Let’s take a look at the options out there currently on the free agent market, and what the Royals may choose to do to complete their roster this off-season.
Right now, according to Roster Resource’s Royals payroll information, the Royals are projected to have a payroll of around $87 million, which would be just two million less than their estimated 2020 “pro-rated” payroll. Unlike in previous off-seasons, the Royals have been much more aggressive, as they added Mike Minor and Carlos Santana to multi-year deals, a far cry from the conservative one-year contracts that were handed out to players looking to bounce back after rough campaigns. However, considering the Royals play in one of the smallest markets in the big leagues, and with the free agent market starting to slowly shrink, it is starting to seem more likely that the Royals may be done making splashes this off-season.
Of course, that is not to say that there aren’t options left on the free agent market. Royals Review suggested Cardinals utility infielder Brad Miller as a potential fit, which could be good insurance for Lopez, who hasn’t really proven himself at the plate the past two years (though his glove has been as good as advertised). In addition to Miller, Tommy La Stella could also be an option who could slide into Lopez’s second base spot, though La Stella could be a little more costly, and he doesn’t offer the positional versatility of Miller.
Lastly, the Royals could also go with former Twins Marwin Gonzalez or Eddie Rosario, though both come with their share of drawbacks. Gonzalez can play multiple positions, much like a Profar, but he’s 32 and his skills seem to be declining. As for Rosario, while he may be the the most impressive offensive option available, his projected high cost (he is expected to go in the $9-10 million AAV range) and rough defense don’t make him a likely Moore pickup, especially with Moore’s focus on improving defensively this off-season (i.e. the Taylor and Santana signings).
Also, this was mentioned today as a possibility in Kansas City, though he doesn’t necessarily fit into the Royals’ desire for a left-handed bat:
I decided to do some research on the best “left-handed” bats available (since Moore has made it know that they desire a left-handed bat in press conferences). Thus, I created a table via Fangraphs to easily compare all those “targets”, as well as other Royals candidates, for “open” OF or perhaps the 2B position (i.e. Franchy Cordero, Edward Olivares, and Lopez). I took into consideration data from 2018-2020, because I wanted to see an extended sample, rather than just a one-year 60-game season, which is barely a third of a normal season. I also included Profar in the data, as I wanted to see how these other options compare to the now recently-signed Padre.
Let’s take a look at the “value” data which analyzes offensive, defensive, baseruning, and WAR metrics:
As one can see, there aren’t any “perfect” fits outside the Royals organization or Profar. Rosario posted the highest Off (Offensive Runs Above Average, according to Fangraphs) at 21.3, but his Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) was the most atrocious at -16.9. Miller over three-year span also produced a poor Def (-9.6), though he made up for it with a pretty solid Off at 9.3. La Stella produced a solid Off at 10.5, but he has been a negative over the past three years when it comes to defense and baserunning, both traits that the Royals value highly. Lastly, Gonzalez wasn’t positive in any of the three qualities, and his Off at -11.4 was also the lowest of the “free agent” possibilities on the table.
As for the Royals options, it doesn’t look pretty at first glance. Lopez’s -36.2 Off is eye-popping and what is remarkable is that while he has played 43 fewer games than Miller, he only has ONE less plate appearance than the Cardinals infielder. And yet, despite the similar sample PA wise, Lopez has been 2.5 wins and 45.5 runs WORSE on a fWAR and Off basis. I still want to maintain hope that Lopez can be a Major Leaguer, especially with the Royals. However, those metrics unfortunately do scream “bench infielder,” not necessarily an “everyday” one.
On the other hand, Cordero and Olivares have more positive outlooks, even if they may not appear so initially. For Cordero, he looks more impressive when Royals fans take a look at power metrics, which I organized in the table below:
Notice how Cordero not only leads in exit velocity of batted balls of those listed, but he also ranks third in ISO (Isolated Slugging). Furthermore, he is pretty competitive in wOBA and wRC+, even though he only has 216 career plate appearances on his resume. While health will be a factor to watch, if Cordero does stay in the lineup and avoids major injury, he could end up being the impact “left-handed” bat the club needs in 2021.
As for Olivares, there are some concerning signs, as he ranks last in exit velocity (82.7) and ranks only above Lopez in terms of wRC+. However, Olivares’ sample is pretty tiny, as he only has 101 plate appearances so far in the big leagues. That being said, the former Padre, who was acquired in the Trevor Rosenthal deal, was much better after being traded to Kansas City (87 wRC+ with Royals in comparison to 40 wRC+ with Padres), so his overall numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. Furthermore, Nate Handy of Pitcher List did his Top 50 Kansas City Royals prospect rankings, and though his list is geared more toward fantasy purposes, he had some interesting things to say about Olivares, whom he ranked 6th on his list. Here’s what he said in his piece:
A 2014 J2 signing of the Blue Jays in 2014, the young Venezuelan may have found a place to become a major leaguer after his second trade. The Royals acquired him for Trevor Rosenthal from the Padres last August and Olivares made the most of his opportunity, hitting .274/.342/.440 with 2 HR in 62 MLB at-bats.
Olivares has continued to overperform, initially not highly touted, he has gotten better every step of the way. In 2019, Olivares slashed .283/.349/.453 with 18 HR and 35 SB during his first AA try. Pitch recognition struggles lead to some high K rates, but he may be showing improvement there at the big league level.
Once considered a defensively below-average corner outfielder type, the 6’2″ 185 lb Olivares is now capable of manning all three spots well. Olivares may be proving he can fill a nice fourth outfielder role for a big-league team, but his MO has always been taking his game to another level.“Kansas City Royals’ 2021 Pre-Season Top 50 Prospects” by Nate Handy; Pitcher List
I have talked on this blog before about Olivares as a potential option in the starting outfield (though that seems less likely now after the Taylor signing). A lot of Royals fans have been down on him as an option and for some reason, even Roster Resources is conservative on him, as they list him starting out the year in Triple-A, according to their projected Royals Depth Chart for 2021. However, I do think he could be a fourth-outfielder type in the Paulo Orlando-mold at the very least, which should at least earn him a spot on the 26-man roster in 2021, should the Royals stay pat for the remainder of the off-season.
I have not mentioned Puig as an option, and though I know Kansas City was floated as a possible home in 2021, it’s hard to see it happening. Roster Resource’s payroll free agent tracker projects Puig to command a contract in the AAV range of $11 million, and that just seems outside the Royals’ price range. Furthermore, Moore and the Royals value “high character” players, and Puig is far from that. It’s not necessarily his “showmanship” that is worrisome (the Royals certainly had guys like that during their 2013-2017 run), but rather his history of “clubhouse” issues as well as a sexual assault allegation that happened not too long ago. Moore has gotten burned before in the past for taking risks on players with questionable reputations (Jose Guillen and Kyle Farnsworth come to mind), and it’s hard to imagine that Moore, with so much young talent either up or on their way to KC soon, would jeopardize that with a guy who could poison the atmosphere in the clubhouse.
And thus, the Royals may be better off standing pat for the remainder of this Winter when it comes to free agency. Rosario and La Stella would definitely boost the lineup, but it’s hard to see them come to Kansas City without the Royals overpaying. Miller would probably be the best option, but the Royals may be better off just moving Whit to second if they do not believe in Lopez handling the position everyday and consequently go with Olivares or even Nick Heath in right. As least that way, the Royals would have better defense and speed on the basepaths with Olivares or Heath in the starting outfield. Furthermore, Royals fans shouldn’t forget about Lee, who could emerge as a possible option with a solid Spring Training or start in Triple-A Omaha.
Moore still has some flexibility in the roster (there’s still one spot left on the 40-man roster), and it’s not out of the question to think that he will sign a left-handed bat sometime in the next week or two. That being said, hopefully the Royals do not overspend on a free agent bat, even if the temptation may be to do so, especially after the Royals’ aggressive moves early this Winter. Yes, the Royals are ready to take a step up. However, it would be better for the Royals to explore what they have with their younger players in their system rather than spend money on a 30-plus year old veteran who probably won’t be in Kansas City beyond 2021.
The Royals are looking to improve in the Central standings, and to see them “go for it” more this off-season in comparison to previous Winters is nice to see for Royals fans. That being said, Moore and the Royals front office need to be smart, and they do not need to jeopardize their future roster and financial flexibility for a deal that won’t provide long-term value.
After all, the Royals found success from 2013-2017 with position players coming from within, not necessarily through free agency.
Let’s hope Moore remembers that as we enter the final month before Spring Training begins.