If nothing changes on the roster between now and opening day, your starting outfield is some combination of Whit Merrifield (very good), Bubba Starling (struggles), Brett Phillips (struggles) and Jorge Soler (better as a DH). While I still believe in Phillips in so far as I think he could make a career being a defensive monster batting ninth on a good ball club, I don’t see his bat as a threat in the lineup. Bubba Starling also grades out very well defensively, but it really feels like the ship has likely sailed on him.
So the Royals could use a veteran presence in the outfield to allow the Royals to try to win games while rotating Bubba and Phillips in to give them their shot. If this outfielder could be flipped at the deadline when perhaps Khalil Lee or Nick Heath might be ready for a prospect return that would be great as well.
Several names jump to the mind with this years off season free-agents, and I wanted to spend a few minutes going over the ones I feel are realistic.
Puig may be one of the least likely of this group to be signed by the Royals, but it does make some sense. Once thought to be a potential future hall-of-famer, Puig has settled in after a massive 2014 season to be a good, if not great player. A career .277/.348/.475 hitter (124 wRC+), he has posted solid but not elite numbers each of the last five seasons.
MLBTradeRumors predicts he will land a one-year, $8 million dollar deal, putting him squarely in the Royals financial wheelhouse. The Royals could look to offer him a one-year deal in the hopes that he has another good season and can be traded at the deadline. Recent rumors say the Cubs are pursuing Puig, and it’s likely he would prefer to sign with a contender rather than the Royals.
Calhoun has spent all of his Major League career as an Angel. He’s had some very good seasons and a few not so great seasons, but has been a slightly better than league average hitter in his career. Going into his age-32 season there’s little reason to believe that he’s going to regress significantly from his most recent campaign, where he posted 2.5 fWAR, hung dong 33 times, and was about an average right-fielder.
MLBTraderumors predicts he will sign a one-year $6 million dollar deal with the Pirates, again placing him firmly in the Royals likely budget. His left-handed bat would settle nicely in the heart of the order to complement the right handed power from Salvy, Soler and Dozier. Calhoun is another player the Royals could look to flip at the deadline for a prospect return.
Dickerson is what passes for a “sexy” outfielder the Royals should be looking at. He had the highest wRC+ (127) of all free-agent outfielders this seasons, though his season was significantly shortened by injury (less than 300 PAs). He’s been a 17% above-average hitter over his career, and won a Gold Glove as recently as 2018, though the defensive metrics did not like him basically any other season of his career.
MLBTraderumors predicts a two-year, $15 million deal with the Padres, making him again affordable for the Royals if they were willing to take a multi-year approach with him. Another left-handed hitter with power, he would slot into the Royals lineup just as nicely as Calhoun.
There are other outfielders available who may be worth a look, but these are the three that jumped off the page to me. All could likely be had for relatively cheap, and the return in rrades could help the farm system if they are successful. Even Dickerson, if signed to a multi-year deal, could be tradeabel at the deadline if your minor leaguers force your hand into playing them.
All of this is contingent on Alex Gordon not returning to the Royals, however. If he is taking up left field for 140+ games next season the Royals won’t have room to carry another free agent signing in the outfield (or would be ill advised to - I would have said signing another first base-only hitter like Lucas Duda playing last season would have been a bad idea last season, too, but there you go).