Buster Olney of ESPN reports the Royals have signed outfielder Billy Hamilton to a one-year deal worth $5.25 million with $1 million incentives. Jim Bowden of The Athletic first reported on Monday that the Royals were “close to agreement” on a deal. The 28-year old switch-hitter was non-tendered by the Reds last week after hitting .236/.299/.327 with 34 steals in 153 games. In just over five seasons with the Reds, Hamilton hit .245/.298/.333.
Hamilton has made his living through his legs, being the fastest basestealer in baseball over the last few seasons. No one in baseball has more steals since 2014 than his 264, and he has been successful over 81% of the time. He has been a very strong defender in centerfield, ranking as the fourth-best defensive centerfielder according to Fangraphs last year.
However Hamilton has been one of the worst hitters in baseball, by wRC+. He has a below-average walk rate of 6.9%, coupled with a low-batting average to give him a sub-.300 on-base percentage each season except for 2016, his best offensive season. He has the fifth-lowest hard-hit rate in baseball since his debut in 2014
MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan writes “there is a feeling with Royals officials that Hamilton’s skill set might play better at spacious Kauffman Stadium as opposed to the Reds’ band box of Great American Ball Park.” Hamilton was a much better hitter in his career at Great American Ball Park with a .674 OPS in contrast to his .591 OPS on the road.
Hamilton would be under club control through the 2019 season. Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin had been slated to compete for playing time in centerfield. Both are left-handed, and Hamilton is a slightly better hitter from the left-side as well. Phillips still has an option year remaining, as does corner outfielder Jorge Bonifacio.
Hamilton can’t get on base, and flies around the bases, so in many ways, he is the perfect fit for the Royals. Dayton Moore has long emphasized speed and defense up the middle, and with Hamilton in the fold, the Royals will boast two middle infielders and a centerfielder who are all capable of stealing 50+ bases this year - Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, and Hamilton.
Update at 11:15 am CT:
Dayton Moore comments: