The Royals are “looking hard” at recently non-tendered center fielder Billy Hamilton, tweets Rustin Dodd of The Athletic. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan suggests interest on the Royals’ behalf in a column as well, noting that while GM Dayton Moore wouldn’t comment on any intrigue, there’s a general sense among Royals execs that the fleet-footed Hamilton’s skill set would fit Kauffman Stadium well.
Hamilton, who turned 28 in September, was arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter and had been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $5.9MM in 2019 before the Reds cut him loose last week. While he’s long been an offensive liability, Hamilton is among the game’s elite defensive outfielders and perhaps the best baserunner in the game, having swiped 50+ bases each season from 2014-17 and another 34 last year. Over the past three seasons, Hamilton has also been worth 28 Defensive Runs Saved, notched a 26.5 Ultimate Zone Rating and, per Statcast, converted a staggering 52 outs more than could be expected of an average defensive outfielder (based on Statcast’s catch probability data).
None of that was enough to outweight Hamilton’s anemic bat, however, it seems. The switch-hitter has posted a sub-.300 OBP in four of his five full Major League seasons, and while he showed some strides at the plate in 2016, he followed up that year’s .321 OBP with a pair of seasons in which he mustered a combined .242/.299/.331 batting line. Clearly, moving from the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park to the cavernous Kauffman Stadium won’t do his virtually nonexistent power numbers any favors, but there are few in the game better suited than Hamilton to cover all of the ground in Kansas City’s expansive outfield.
At present, Kansas City’s outfield will feature Alex Gordon in left field in the final season of a four-year, $72MM contract. The other two spots are less certain, with Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, Jorge Bonifacio and newly signed Chris Owings among the options to fill them. Designated hitter Jorge Soler, too, could see occasional time in right field. While that group is riddled with offensive question marks, and Hamilton would only bring more of the same, it’s also true that an alignment of Gordon, Hamilton and Phillips would be a superlative defensive unit. Adding Hamilton to a lineup that already features Whit Merrifield, he of consecutive AL stolen base crowns, and young speedster Adalberto Mondesi would surely serve to frustrate opposing pitchers and catchers as the trio ran amok on the basepaths, too.