Royals: Can old friend minor league free agents help KC?

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 03: Terrance Gore #0 of the Kansas City Royals in action during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on September 3, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 03: Terrance Gore #0 of the Kansas City Royals in action during the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium on September 3, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals /

A long-time fan favorite and candidate for reuniting with the Kansas City Royals is available as a minor league free agent.

No discussion of potential Kansas City free agent signings would be complete without mentioning perennial fan favorite Terrance Gore. Gore, technically an outfielder but really a pinch-runner, is as beloved by fans as any bit player in Royals’ history. His legendary speed earned him spots on   Royals’ rosters in five different seasons.

Gore’s primary value is pinch-running, a limited role rendering re-signing him questionable. He can still run, but his jump was inconsistent in 2019. He had only one hit in 16 big league at-bats before hitting a respectable .275 in 51 at-bats for KC in 2019. Although he’s played sparingly in the field, his glove is adequate but unspectacular and his arm is average at best.

The Royals sold Gore to the Yankees last July, likely conceding his limited value as a pinch-running specialist on a non-contending club. He went on to steal just three bases and hit .161 in 21 games for New York’s AAA affiliate.

The expansion of major league rosters to 26 players in 2020 may spur talk of reuniting Gore with KC, but such a reunion would be ill-advised: the Royals appear to have moved away from the narrow role of late-inning pinch-running specialist. Bringing Gore back again would devote a roster spot to a bit player whose base-stealing prowess might justify an occasional late-inning appearance, but whose limited offensive and average (at best) defensive skills shouldn’t merit depriving the club of another badly needed pitcher or more versatile utility player.

Billy Burns brought speed and defense to the Royals when they acquired him from Oakland in 2016. But he played in only 31 games for KC before spending all of 2018 at Omaha and all of 2019 in the Yankees’ system. Burns has 46 stolen bases in four big-league campaigns, including a career-high 26 with Oakland in 2015. His career slash is an adequate .270/.308/.353. His defense is major-league caliber.

Burns is serviceable at the plate and in the field, making him a viable fourth or fifth outfielder candidate for many clubs. The Royals, though, aren’t one of those teams: 2020 will be make-or-break seasons for Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips, making their Opening Day roster spots secure; Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler–and perhaps Hunter Dozier–will split time in right field, and Alex Gordon may well return for another season. Their specific positions may not be firmly established yet, but the Royals have plenty of outfielders. Adding Burns makes little sense unless the club sees him as a fit at AAA Omaha.

Elier Hernandez is an eight-season veteran of KC’s system who debuted in 2012. He’s hit at least .300 three times in the minors, but his progress has lagged behind the potential the Royals clearly saw in him when they gave him a multi-million dollar signing bonus–he didn’t advance to AAA until 2018, his sixth season in the minors, and has a .261 career batting average. He split 2018 between AA and AAA and hit a combined .285, but dropped considerably to .245 at Omaha last season.

Hernandez’s lack of power is glaring–he averages fewer than five home runs a season–and he has yet to realize the potential that motivated the Royals to make him a young millionaire. Hernandez’s time to prove himself is running short. But potential and the Royals’ considerable investment in him merit one more contract for Hernandez and another season at AAA. Without significant improvement, however, he won’t crack the Kauffman Stadium outfield.

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The Kansas City Royals should look at some of the minor league free agents Baseball America says are looking for work. Several former KC organization players are among those players and a few of those old friends might be able to help the Royals: Greg Holland (if his price is right), Bryan Brickhouse (if he’s healthy), Xavier Fernandez (if they deem it wise to have another potential backup for Salvador Perez), and Elier Hernandez (if they believe the potential they originally saw in him remains).