On the first day of the 2018 Winter Meetings, amidst countless big-name rumors, the Kansas City Royals snuck in what may be their only headline of the event with the signing of center field speedster Billy Hamilton to a 1-year deal, where Hamilton will make $5.25 million with $1 million in incentives. The signing follows the decision by the Reds not to tender the 28-year-old Hamilton a contract entering his final year of arbitration, making him a free agent this offseason. The signing fills the center field position for the Royals, who had a myriad of players splitting time there last year with no true starter following the departure of Lorenzo Cain. With this, the Royals project to have a solid outfield defense, despite the presence of Jorge Soler or Jorge Bonifacio in right field, due to the speedy Hamilton in center and gold glover Alex Gordon in left. In this regard, the Royals are preserving the value of defense, which has always been a priority for the franchise (and was a major part of their playoff contention in 2014-15).
While the move projects to contribute to the Royals defensively, it makes less sense from an offensive perspective. The Royals lineup is currently led by Whit Merrifield, who projects to be one of the only Royals producing at a high level offensively in 2019. Merrifield has consistently produced historically, and quietly posted the most hits and stolen bases in the MLB in 2018. Beyond Merrifield, the lineup is filled primarily with younger hitters who have potential and limited success, but need to prove themselves over a longer period of time. Adalberto Mondesi and Ryan O’Hearn, for example, both put up big numbers in the later months of 2018, but are not sure bets to produce the same over an entire season moving forward.
Overall, the Royals lineup has the potential to produce much more than expected, but there is one stat where they are almost sure to pale in comparison to the rest of the league: On Base Percentage. Merrifield and O’Hearn put up acceptable OBP numbers in 2017, but with players such as Mondesi, Salvador Perez, and Soler making up the majority of the lineup, any Royals offensive upgrades should come in the form of players who get on base. So, how did they do here with the Hamilton signing then? It should be no surprise that Hamilton isn’t exactly an on base machine. His .299 OBP in 2018 was the more impressive constituent of his pitiful .626 OPS, making him an incredibly weak offensive addition for the Royals. His career 70 OPS+ indicates that he has been 30% worse than the league average hitter, and that this is a guy nobody is terribly eager to have on their team for hitting purposes.
It makes sense that Hamilton was in the sights of several contenders as a piece to add for next season, as speedy defensive replacements have proven to be highly valuable to playoff teams in recent years; most notably for the Royals, in fact, who employed Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore in this manner during their postseason runs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hamilton shopped for near big league ready prospects come July. However, Hamilton was set on a starting job for the 2019 season, and the Royals are one of a few teams who may extract value from his unique skill set. Ned Yost has become notorious for playing small ball, and for starting guys who can’t get on base if their life depends on it (see: Alcides Escobar). Additionally, his contract doesn’t break the bank for the Royals by any means. Ultimately, Hamilton projects to, at the very least, be the fast outfielder that the Royals brought him in to be, and while he may not be the offensive piece that is needed in Kansas City, there could be a lot of upside to this signing.
Featured Photo: Keith Allison