The Royals have signed infielder/outfielder Chris Owings to a one-year, $3 million contract with incentives, according to MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan. The 27-year old was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks last week after hitting .206/.272/.302 with four home runs in 309 plate appearances last year.
The former first-round pick and top 100 prospect never quite lived up to expectations in Arizona, but he was a useful utility player for several seasons until a career-worst season in 2018, a season in which he was demoted to the minors late in the year. In just over five seasons in the big leagues, he hit .250/.291/.378. His best season came in 2016, when the right-handed hitter was a 1.5 WAR player and hit .277/.315/.416 with 21 steals and a league-leading 11 triples.
Owings won’t hit for average and has a relatively-high strikeout rate for a non-power hitter and doesn’t walk much, but he can run well and has a bit of power. According to Zach Buchanan at The Athletic, he was one of the unluckiest hitters last year.
It all adds up to Owings being one of the unluckier hitters in baseball this season. Statcast keeps a stat called xwOBA, calculating what a hitter’s wOBA is expected to be based on his quality of contact and batted ball data. Owings’ xwOBA is 44 points higher than his regular mark, making him the 25th-unluckiest hitter with at least 250 plate appearances this season. Look at his xwOBA against just fastballs, and he’s been robbed even more glaringly – only three other hitters have been less fortunate.
Owings is versatile, playing all over the field. Most of his action has come at shortstop, so he could provide a useful backup to Adalberto Mondesi, who has had some injury concerns. Dayton Moore recently said that finding a backup shortstop was a priority this off-season. The signing likely shuts the door on the return of Alcides Escobar to Kansas City. Owings has also played second base, third base, and all three outfield positions in his big league career.
New Royals utility man Chris Owings is an interesting defensive player— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) December 5, 2018
He was worth 10 Defensive Runs Saved in 448 innings in the outfield last season
And he cost his team 7 runs of defensive value at 2nd base and shortstop. https://t.co/6LV5om8BdZ
The signing of a versatile player like this may lead some to speculate that Whit Merrifield could be on the move, but don’t read that much into this signing. The Royals need some depth, and Owings is a youngish option who has a proven track record that can fill in anywhere they need.