The latest move in a busy Royals offseason brought veteran second baseman/left fielder Adam Frazier to Kansas City on a one-year deal. Though Frazier has a long track record as an everyday player, Kansas City general manager J.J. Picollo suggested following the signing that Michael Massey will still be the regular second baseman, with Frazier operating in more of a utility role (link via Jaylon Thompson of the Kansas City Star).
“[Massey] needs to be a big part of our team, and we shared that with [Frazier] last week,” Picollo stated. The second-year K.C. GM stressed the importance of being up-front with a veteran like Frazier about the role he’d likely be stepping into. That, it seems, won’t be an everyday one. Picollo noted that with his defensive versatility, Frazier “can protect us, so to speak, in a lot of ways.”
Massey, who’ll turn 26 in March, has logged significant big league time in each of the past two seasons but has yet to solidify himself as a productive big league hitter. Selected by the Royals in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, Massey breezed through the minors. He’s a .293/.355/.503 hitter in the minors overall, and he slashed an impressive .312/.371/.532 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2022 before getting his first call to the big leagues.
Unfortunately for both Massey and the Royals, that level of output hasn’t carried over to the big leagues. The lefty-swinging second baseman has appeared in 181 games over the past two seasons and turned in a middling .233/.284/.379 slash. Massey didn’t walk at prolific rates in the minors, but his 5.2% walk rate in 655 MLB plate appearances is clearly lacking. He’s popped 19 home runs and struck out at a slightly lower-than-average 21.5% clip, but his 88.8 mph exit velocity and 38.7% hard-hit rate are both a bit shy of league average.
To his credit, Massey improved down the stretch in 2023. His second-half batting line of .237/.271/.434 still sits well below average, but he cut his strikeout rate from a glaring 28.2% in 200 first-half plate appearances to 15.4% in 228 second-half trips to the plate. Massey reduced his chase rate on pitches off the plate, greatly improved his contact rate on pitches within the zone and generally swung through fewer pitches. The overall quality of his contact didn’t improve much, but the frequency of it did. Were it not for a .238 average on balls in play in that stretch of 228 plate appearances, the second half of his season would likely look a whole lot better.
The 2024 season will be an important one for Massey. He’s still relatively young, heading into his age-26 season, but with another year of comparable production to what he’s already displayed at the MLB level, it’ll be far more difficult for the Royals to continue with him in a prominent role. To that end, that’s one of the areas in which Frazier affords the team some of the “protection” mentioned by Picollo. Frazier’s own production has dropped off since his Pirates days, but last year’s .240/.300/.396 is better across the board than Massey’s was.
Frazier also offers some protection against an uncertain outfield group. MJ Melendez is another once-promising Royals farmhand who’s yet to hit in the big leagues. Free agent signee Hunter Renfroe hits lefties far better than righties. The hope is surely for him to patrol right field on an everyday basis, but if Renfroe struggles, Frazier does have nearly 400 career innings in right field. He also provides the Royals with injury depth for each of Massey, Melendez and Renfroe.