Just hours after reportedly signing a starting pitcher, the KC Royals acquired a veteran big league outfielder.
Before the weekend, the KC Royals hadn’t made major offseason news. But that changed Sunday evening with reports that Kansas City was bringing back veteran starting pitcher Mike Minor; less than 24 hours later, the club has announced the signing of Washington Nationals free agent Michael Taylor.
Bringing Taylor aboard a team in need of middle-of-the-order pop seems, at least at first blush, an odd move. Taylor has 53 home runs in a seven-year major league career, hit 19 in 2017 and 14 in 2015, but hasn’t reached double digits in any other season.
What is perhaps more curious, especially given how much the Royals covet their players’ ability to get on base, is Taylor’s subpar On Base Percentage. It’s .291 for his career and he’s exceeded .300 only twice—first in 2017 with .320, then in 2019 at .305. Given those OBP numbers, it isn’t surprising that his career average is a lowly .237, with a career-best .271 in 2017. His .250 in 2019 ranks second.
And Taylor’s career OPS+ is only 80.
So, what prompted the Royals to spend a reported $1.75 million (with $1 million in incentives) on Taylor, a player who disappointed in 2020 with a .196/.253/.424 slash in 38 games? Speed and defense, apparently.
Taylor makes good use of the occasions when he reaches base: he stole 24 bases in 2018, 17 in 2017, 16 in 2015 and 14 in 2016. Improved hitting, if that can be accomplished, will only boost those numbers on a KC Royals club managed by Mike Matheny, a fan of the stolen base.
The righthanded hitting and throwing 29-year old (he’ll be 30 in March) is also a more than adequate defender, boasting an above average .990 fielding percentage in 507 big league games in the outfield. He’s primarily a center fielder but has experience in the corners; he also played a game at first base.
Fortunately for the Nationals, the postseason version of Taylor was much different at the plate, slashing .316/.395/.632with four home runs in three playoff series, including a homer in his only at-bat in the 2019 World Series and a grand slam against the Cubs in the 2017 National League Division Series.
And speaking of grand slams, he has two in regular season play.
But how will the KC Royals utilize Taylor’s speed and defense? That is the big, unanswered question for a club packed with fast, young outfielders. The club acquired Franchy Cordero and Edward Olivares in 2020; both impressed in their relatively short Kansas City debuts, and can’t be counted out of the outfield mix for 2021. Waiting in the wings are prospects Nick Heath and Khalil Lee, not to mention Seuly Matias, who the Royals left unprotected for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. If Matias goes undrafted, he’ll add to the crowded KC outfield.
Bubba Starling remains on the 40-man roster, but for how long is anyone’s guess. And Whit Merrifield, who isn’t going anywhere, is a lock for one of the outfield positions.
The Royals, then, may or may not be projecting Taylor as a starter. His OBP alone seems to eliminate him from consideration for an everyday role; perhaps his one-year, relatively inexpensive contract signals a part-time role as an occasional starter, late-inning defensive replacement, and pinch runner.
Kansas City made roster room for Taylor by designating pitcher Foster Griffin for assignment. The move probably won’t impact Griffin’s long-term future with the club—because he’ll spend at least most of 2021 recovering and rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, he’ll likely escape any waiver claims. He’s a good candidate to ultimately be outrighted to a KC minor league affiliate.
Where will Michael Taylor fit in with the KC Royals? Time will tell, and all eyes will be on him come spring training.