So far I’ve examined some under-the-radar free agents the Royals could look at this offseason, first with pitchers, then with infielders. Now I’m turning my attention to the outfield, where the Royals could be described as, to put it lightly, quite dreadful at the plate. With a wRC+ of just 92, only 3 AL teams had outfields with worse offensive production. Granted, the combination of Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, David Lough, Justin Maxwell, and Jarrod Dyson provided excellent defense, which brought their combined fWAR to 10.7, the 3rd best total in the league. However, the 2014 Royals are going to need more offense from their outfielders if they have real hopes of competing.
Gordon should bounce back, but the offense the team can expect from center and right field is a bit of a question mark at this time. Luckily for Dayton Moore, there are plenty of options to pursue to upgrade the offense in the outfield. Aaron Reese at KC Kingdom gave a pretty good breakdown of several free agents on the market here. My gut feeling is that the Royals will sign one of those top few guys. With that many different targets out there, plus the influx of new television money coming in, the front office should have enough payroll flexibility to add a much-needed impact bat. If, however, Moore misses out on the first tier options, he could decide to stick with the current roster, using a platoon of Justin Maxwell and either Jarrod Dyson or David Lough in right field.
I’m a big fan of Maxwell, primarily for his ability to hit for power and draw walks. I also love Dyson’s speed, defense (I realize he has his misplays, but he’s still a good defender), and his ability to get on base. I don’t know if I’d like him getting the majority of the plate appearances in a true platoon, though. As for Lough, I’m very happy with what he provided this season. His fWAR of 2.4 was tied for first among rookie AL outfielders. (The player he tied with, by the way, was some guy named Wil Myers.) Lough’s value came almost exclusively from his defense, where the metrics rated him very highly. His offense was a bit below average, but I have some serious doubts about him duplicating even that kind of offensive success in the future. Lough isn’t a guy who will draw many walks (BB% of just 3 in 335 plate appearances this season), and he doesn’t have a ton of power, meaning his offensive value is very contact-dependent. He’s also going to be 28 next season, so he likely won’t be making any drastic improvements at the plate. You can do worse than giving Lough 400 plate appearances. The Royals actually did much worse than that in 2012. But if you can find a player with more upside than Lough, you have to go after him.
With all that being said, here are a couple of players not receiving much buzz who could contribute to the 2014 Royals.
Murphy is the ideal “buy low” candidate. He’s coming off a season in Texas in which he posted a line of .220/.282/.374 in 476 plate appearances. To put it kindly, Murphy had a terrible offensive season. However, there are reasons to think he could bounce back in 2014. Murphy’s BABIP in 2013 was .227, which was, by far, the lowest of his career. That low BABIP wasn’t associated with drastic changes in his batted ball percentages either, as his line drive, fly ball, and ground ball rates were all roughly near his career averages. This suggests he was the victim of some bad luck on balls in play. Murphy’s walk rate was a somewhat respectable 7.8%, and his career rate is 8.7%. As a left-handed bat, Murphy would be a perfect complement to Maxwell in a platoon situation. Against righties in his career, he has an .816 OPS, compared to just a .657 OPS against lefties. The one downside to Murphy, however, is he is primarily a left fielder. He only played 8 innings in right in 2013, and just over 1300 innings there in his career. Fangraphs rates him as an above average left fielder, but not quite average as a right fielder defensively, according to Defensive Runs Saved. In my opinion, sacrificing a bit of defense in right field could be worth the potential offensive upgrade Murphy may provide. If Moore is unable to land one of the big fish this winter, Murphy could likely be signed for a relatively cheap amount since he’s coming off a poor season.
I should preface this section by saying DeJesus has a $6.5 million option that the Rays may pick up. If that happens, feel free to disregard the following.
Royals fans may remember DeJesus. If you don’t, you are either 3 years old (in which case, kudos for reading this), or just have a very short memory. DeJesus spent the bulk of his major league career in Kansas City from 2003-2010, posting an OPS+ of 108 and amassing 19 fWAR, placing him 10th on the list of all-time Royals’ batters. Since that time, DeJesus has maintained his solid-yet-unspectacular level of play, although he has become mostly a platoon player. In his career, DeJesus has an OPS of .812 against right-handed pitching, but just an OPS of .663 facing lefties. That split has become even more drastic in recent years, with a 305 point platoon difference in OPS in 2013, and a 388 point difference in 2012. DeJesus still has excellent patience at the plate, posting walk rates of at least 8.9% in each of the last three seasons. And again, he would be perfect if paired with a right-handed hitter like Maxwell, since lefties now make DeJesus look like Alcides Escobar with the bat. Despite nearing his 34th birthday, DeJesus has been able to stay relatively healthy throughout his career, so the injury risk is minimal. If the Rays decline his option, I’d expect DeJesus to have a few offers out on the table, but I don’t believe his cost would prevent Moore from pursuing any other necessary free agents.
As I said before, I think the Royals should be able to land one of their primary targets in free agency, so hopefully they won’t have to rely on a platoon for right field, especially since carrying an extra outfielder causes a bit of a roster crunch that I’m sure Moore would like to avoid. But even if those big names sign elsewhere, it’s nice to know that there are still useful players available who could be beneficial in a very important upcoming season.