An active offseason for the Royals continued Tuesday, as the team announced the signing of veteran second baseman/left fielder Adam Frazier to a one-year contract with a 2025 mutual option. Frazier, a client of McKinnis Sports, will reportedly be guaranteed $4.5MM in the form of a $2MM base salary in 2024 and a $2.5MM buyout on the 2025 option, which is valued at $8.5MM.
Frazier hit .240/.300/.396 over 445 plate appearances with the Orioles last season, after inking a one-year, $8MM contract back in December 2022. Brought in to provide some veteran leadership within a young Baltimore infield, Frazier got the bulk of starting second base duty, with Ramon Urias acting a platoon partner in the first half of the season and then Jordan Westburg stepping into the platoon after making his MLB debut. With Westburg tabbed for a bigger role and star prospect Jackson Holliday also on the verge of his Major League debut and joining Gunnar Henderson in the Baltimore infield in 2024, the Orioles seemed content with moving on from Frazier and turning things over to their impresssive young core.
In signing with Kansas City, Frazier is basically assuming the same role as an experienced big leaguer on an overall young team, even if the Royals have been aggressive in adding some veteran help. Most of their moves have come on the pitching end (i.e. Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, and a host of relievers), though the Royals also addressed their position-player mix by signing outfielder Hunter Renfroe to a two-year, $13MM pact and utilityman Garrett Hampson on a one-year, $2MM contract.
The platoon fit isn’t quite as clean in K.C. as it was in Baltimore, as presumptive second baseman Michael Massey is also a left-handed hitter. However, Massey has yet to show much against big league pitching, with only a .233/.284/.379 slash line to show over the small sample size of 655 career PA. The Royals obviously still want to see what they have in Massey, and Frazier’s ability to play the corner outfield also creates some room for both players to be in the lineup when a righty is on the mound.
It is also fair to wonder what the 32-year-old Frazier can deliver at the plate, given how his own numbers have been subpar for the better part of four seasons. Frazier has a .260/.323/.370 slash line and a 94 wRC+ over 1926 PA since the start of the 2020 season, and those numbers are buoyed by a great first half of the 2021 campaign. Frazier was even named to the 2021 All-Star Game based on that early showing, yet a hefty BABIP suggested that some regression was in order, and that downturn came after Frazier was dealt to the Padres at the trade deadline.
Frazier has been one of the better contact hitters in baseball over the course of his eight-year career, as only 22 qualified hitters have a lower strikeout rate than the 13% number Frazier has posted since debuting with Pittsburgh in 2016. The problem is that Frazier’s hard-contact and barrel rates are near the bottom of the league in that same period, and with a subpar 7.4% walk rate, Frazier’s offense has tended to wane unless the batted-ball luck is swinging in his favor.
Usually a very solid defensive second baseman, Frazier’s glovework tumbled last year in the view of public defensive metrics. His 0.2 UZR/150 was just slightly above average, while his -4 Defensive Runs Saved and -15 Outs Above Average painted a more dire picture. Frazier has been passable enough as an outfielder that he could get more looks in the corners if Massey hits well enough to draw regular work at the keystone, and he could complement Renfroe in right field or MJ Melendez (another left-handed bat) in left field.
While none of the Royals’ expenditures this offseason have individually counted as splurges, the club had already spent $101MM on free agents even before signing Frazier. K.C. is projected by Roster Resource for an $111.5MM payroll without Frazier’s still-unknown price tag added, so the Royals have topped their $91MM payroll from 2023 by a healthy margin. This tracks with general manager J.J. Picollo’s statement in early December that the Royals were going to increase their payroll around $30MM this winter, with some possible flexibility to spend even more in the right scenario.
After winning the World Series in 2015, Kansas City was a .500 team in 2016 and has now posted seven straight losing seasons. A rebuilding process has either yet to fully materialize or has stalled out entirely, given how the Royals’ 106 losses last season matched the highest total in franchise history. Picollo (who took over the front office late in the 2022 season) might have gotten some leeway in his first full year as GM because a lot of focus was placed on revamping the team’s developmental system, yet it is clear the Royals are aiming to be much more respectable on the field in 2024. Most of their offseason signings have been pretty short-term in nature, so if necessary, K.C. could pivot to trading any of these veterans at the deadline if the club again isn’t in contention.