After Maikel Franco’s departure, two seasoned infielders might catch the KC Royals’ eye.
The Royals probably saved money Wednesday (at least temporarily) when they non-tendered Maikel Franco, but they recreated a problem Franco seemed to have solved in 2020.
Who will play third base?
Hunter Dozier is, of course, the most immediate solution. He won the job in 2019 only to lose it when Franco came aboard last December; he moved to right field and then first base, and appeared to have won the latter job for 2021. Now, however, Franco’s non-tender may force him back to third.
Dozier can stay at first if the Royals find someone to take over third, at least until the infield reshuffle Bobby Witt Jr.’s debut will require occurs. Toronto free agents offer two possibilities.
Jonathan Villar is a speedy eight-year veteran who, entering his age-30 season, likely has a few solid campaigns left. He led the majors in stolen bases with 62 in 2016, stole 40 in 2019 and 35 in 2018, and averages 27.25 per year. He has power, as his 24 homers in 2019, 19 in 2016 and 14 in 2018 prove. (Villar’s combined .232/.301/.292 with Miami and Toronto in 2020 is concerning but, as the product of a short season, not disqualifying).
Villar is also versatile—although he’s primarily a shortstop, he’s played 358 games at second, 54 at third, and has time in left and center fields. The ability to move around the diamond is a commodity Villar has and the Royals don’t like to turn down, but he just doesn’t have enough time at third to play their every day.
The bigger problem with Villar, though, is his defense. He’s a below average defender everywhere but third, where his small sample fielding percentage (1.000 in five games) means little. Especially troublesome is his .877 at third. Defense matters to the Royals, and Villar’s glove in the lineup is probably too much to risk.
Joe Panik, a career .269 hitter with a smattering of power (he’s hit 10 homers twice) also offers versatility, although not nearly as much as Villar. Most of his seven years have been spent at second, but he has limited time at third, short and first, where he’s played a combined 27 games. The Royals already have Nicky Lopez at second and Panik’s inexperience at the other infield positions don’t commend him to a full-time utility role.
So, Villar and Panik aren’t viable options at third base. And Kansas City already has Kelvin Gutierrez to fill in around the infield. The Royals can get by without Villar or Panik.