Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I have been super busy with the end of the semester over the past week, culminating with my testing positive for COVID over the weekend. Merry Christmas, I guess, but at least I can settle down and get a post done, even though I expect this to be brief.
Thankfully, even in the midst of my sickness, there hasn’t been a lot of Royals-focused news.
That has not exactly eased a fanbase that ranges from lukewarm to frustrated over the current lack of transactions from this club compared to other organizations this winter.
After the Ryan Yarbrough signing nearly a week ago, it seemed like a slam dunk that Zack Greinke would follow suit. However, it appears that Greinke’s team may be asking for more money, which is making Greinke’s return to Kansas City a lot hazier, as of now.
The Greinke news is a bit deflating, and I will probably dig into that complicated situation at a different time when I’m feeling much better and not as foggy due to COVID. The same goes with the Hunter Dozier and Adalberto Mondesi news, as I am intrigued about what the Royals can do with the pair even though their market value is not really all that high at this moment.
On the other hand, Michael A. Taylor is a much easier subject to break down, as he is currently the Royals’ most “realistic” trade asset as of this moment.
Hence, let’s take a look at why Taylor could be traded, who the possible teams could be, and what the time frame for Taylor’s deal could look like for Royals fans waiting for some major moves before Spring Training.
Why Taylor is Likely to Be Traded at Some Point
The Royals certainly like Taylor, and rightfully so: he’s been one of the better free-agent success stories the Royals have signed since 2020, even if he hasn’t produced the gaudiest numbers.
Going into 2021, the Royals signed Taylor to a pretty paltry one-year, $1.75 million deal. To compare that season (via Cot’s Contracts), Taylor was making the same amount as journeyman reliever Jesse Hahn only $100,000 more than utility infielder Hanser Alberto and $250,000 more than backup outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
The expectations for a guy making less than $2 million on an AAV are usually low, and I believe a lot of Royals fans were not hoping for much from a guy who had played himself out of the starting lineup in Washington despite being a top prospect in their system and having some postseason success as a National.
Taylor’s bat left a little to be desired in his first season in Kansas City, as he posted a 76 wRC+ and .289 wOBA in 528 plate appearances. On the other hand, Taylor was elite defensively, as he generated a DRS of 19 and OAA of 16 in CF that season. That sterling performance in nearly every metrical category helped Taylor earn the first Gold Glove of his career.
As a result of his surprising first season in Kansas City, the Royals inked him to a two-year extension toward the end of the 2021 season (before he even won his Gold Glove).
In his first season under the new extension, Taylor regressed a little in some other defensive metrics (particularly OAA and UZR), but he still produced a 19 DRS, which was identical to his 2021 mark in CF. Even though he fell short, Taylor still ended up being named a finalist for the Gold Glove award in CF and was the Royals’ lone finalist last season as well.
While the Gold Glove nomination was nice, it was more promising to see Taylor get better at the plate in 2022.
Taylor improved on a wRC+ end (90), wOBA (.297), and even BB/K ratio end, as his 2022 mark (0.32) was 10 points higher than his ratio in his first season in Kansas City (0.22). Taylor didn’t just hit for a better average, but he walked more and struck out less (though his strikeout rate was still a tad high at 23.9 percent).
So why would the Royals want to trade Taylor if he’s coming off one of the better offensive seasons in his career?
Because at 32 years old, I am not sure he fits this rebuilding squad, especially with a glut of outfielders who can handle centerfield in Kansas City on an offensive and defensive end.
Drew Waters had a breakout in the Royals system after being traded over from Atlanta, and it isn’t out of the question to think that he could handle everyday centerfield responsibilities as soon as 2023. And even if the Royals are not totally sold that Waters is 100 percent ready, Kyle Isbel could certainly slide in the fold, especially on a defensive end. On an OAA end, Isbel actually was six outs better in the outfield than Taylor in 2022. That shows that Isbel could handle the everyday duties in centerfield at Kauffman Stadium until Waters is fully ready.
Of course, Isbel’s offense was a work in progress in 2022, as he only posted a 67 wRC+ and .265 wOBA in 278 plate appearances last year. On the other hand, Isbel was much better in 2021 in a limited sample (108 wRC+ and .333 wOBA in 88 plate appearances), and he showed glimpses of flexing more power, especially down the stretch in 2022.
At the very least, the Royals could have a younger, cheaper, and better long-term fit in Isbel and Waters in centerfield. With Taylor being a free agent after 2023, it makes sense to cash in on Taylor now while his stock is pretty high.
What Is a Possible Destination for Taylor?
One destination I particularly like is San Francisco, which is looking to trot Mike Yastrzemski out in centerfield, with Mitch Haniger in right and LaMonte Wade, Jr. in left field, according to Roster Resource. Yaz certainly is capable of handling the position on an offensive end, but his defensive season was simply “okay” in 2022.
Now, at the surface level, Yaz was three outs above average at centerfield and two overall, according to Baseball Savant data (he was an out below average in right field). On the other hand, the Giants were the third-worst team in the league in total OAA, according to Savant, and here is how their fielders rated individually last year on an OAA basis.
While Yaz and Austin Slater were above average, the Giants had seven outfielders in 2022 post negative OAA marks, including Joc Pederson, who was 11 outs below average for the Giants in the outfield. While Pederson is expected to get more DH duties, they will need to find opportunities in the outfield to give hitters days off from the field. Keeping him out of centerfield would be best for the Giants defensively.
And that’s where Taylor fits in nicely for the Giants.
Not only could Taylor help Yaz get more games in left field, where he would be able to conserve himself a little more, but Taylor could also handle the spacious right-center field grounds as well, which pretty much requires a CF-type of outfielder defensively. The Giants have failed to get that recently as Wade, Heliot Ramos, and Luis Gonzalez all struggled to produce in right field in 2022 on an OAA end.
It’s not a surprise that San Francisco’s decline in their record also corresponded with their decline in team OAA. The Giants know that they need to improve overall defensively, especially in the outfield, if they want to keep up with San Diego and Los Angeles next season.
Taylor doesn’t need to be an everyday player for San Francisco. But he can be a defensive-first outfielder who can improve their defense immediately and give them more flexibility to ensure that the Giants’ best bats are in the lineup on a more regular basis.
Which will be needed in a division as tough as the NL West in 2023.
What Could Prevent a Trade of Taylor Before Opening Day?
The only thing I think that could prevent the Royals from trading away Taylor this offseason is that the Royals may not believe Waters is totally ready, which would require them to hold onto Taylor for at least a couple of months to ensure consistent defense in center field to begin the 2023 season.
The former Braves’ top prospect certainly has more power potential than Taylor and his glove was highly rated in the Minors. Additionally, Waters impressed the Royals with his bat in his limited rookie stint, posting a 125 wRC+ and .347 wOBA, highlighted by five home runs, including this one below:
Unfortunately on the defensive end, the metrics produced a more “mixed” result. Waters was two outs below average in his rookie debut last season, according to Savant. In fact, his OAA was the fourth-worst mark of Royals outfielders over the past two years, as evidenced in the table below.
Waters still has been considerably better than Jorge Soler and Dozier, and he’s slightly better than Edward Olivares which is a promising sign (though Olivares’ struggles seemed more tied to instincts than athleticism). On the other hand, he had the same OAA as MJ Melendez (who didn’t play much outfield in the Minors) and Ryan O’Hearn, who also was a recent convert to the outfield.
Was it a bad sample? Or are there more glaring issues with Waters that could make him closer to Olivares than Taylor?
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Picollo and the Royals wait things out and see how Spring Training and April and May go for Waters in the outfield, be it in Omaha or in the corners in Kansas City, before making a move with Taylor.
Because make no mistake…when the Royals trade Taylor, they will essentially be handing the position off to Waters for the long term (with an Isbel-Waters platoon also being realistic in the short term).
So a lot of Taylor’s trade value doesn’t just depend on other teams (like the Giants), but on Waters and his offseason defensive development as well.
Photo Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports