The KC Royals characteristically made no earth-shattering free agent signings or blockbuster trades this offseason. But a seemingly middle-of-the-road signing significantly impacted the lineup.
Hunter Dozier did just about everything he could last season to land the KC Royals’ everyday third base job. After hitting .229 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs over 102 games in 2018, Dozier broke out with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 26 homers, 84 RBIs, a .279/.348/.522 slash and 125 OPS+. Although he can play elsewhere, and despite the club’s continuing concerns about his defense, third base appeared to be his.
But a late December trade intervened and shook the Royals’ lineup–the club signed Maikel Franco, Philadelphia’s veteran third baseman, to a free agent contract worth an approximately $3 million base on December 27, spoiling Dozier’s third base chances and sending him to the outfield.
The move was specifically tailored for third base and settles, at least for the time being, the Royals’ concerns about hot corner defense; although Franco’s hitting has become suspect, the club is obviously more comfortable with his glove than Dozier’s. But the deal’s ramifications extend beyond third base and right field, where Dozier’s presence may spell the end to the uncertainty that has plagued the position.
Now, the club wants Whit Merrifield, its undisputed jack-of-all-trades, to settle into one primary position and man center field, the Kauffman Stadium expanse upon which Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips were expected to continue their battle for a regular outfield spot. It’s a contest some thought would now shift to left, but Alex Gordon‘s return sets the outfield with him, Merrifield and Dozier, leaving Phillips and Starling (and perhaps Nick Heath) to contend for a backup role. Heath is close to being ready, but KC seems committed to give Starling and Phillips one more chance.
Those position changes may not, however, mark the limit of the Franco deal’s impact on the lineup. Combined with the impending expansion of major league rosters to 26 players, Merrifield’s center field assignment means the Royals may need another player with his versatility. Signing a proven utility player like Wilmer Flores would be a direct result of Franco’s signing.
The acquisition of a single player without superstar credentials, a characteristic incremental offseason move for the KC Royals, typically doesn’t shake up a club. But bringing Maikel Franco aboard has done just that and KC may be a better club for it.