The Royals have agreed to a four-year, $25 million deal with third baseman Hunter Dozier, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The deal begins this year, and would potentially buy out two years of free agency. He also reports the deal includes a $10 million option, and that Dozier can make up to $49 million with bonuses and escalators.
The 29-year old Dozier was due to become eligible for free agency after the 2023 season. but this deal will now keep him under contract through 2024, and possibly through 2025 with the option. Dozier had signed a one-year contract worth $2.72 million for the 2021 season, but that deal will be replaced by this one.
Dozier was originally a first-round pick by the Royals in 2013. His career faced some setbacks in the minors, particularly after a hamate bone injury in 2017. He put up an underwhelming rookie season in 2018, but exploded in 2019, hitting .279/.348/.522 with 26 home runs and a league-leading 10 triples. He missed the first two weeks of last season after a positive COVID-19 test, and his numbers regressed to .228/.344/.392. He did put up his best walk numbers, with a rate of 14.5 percent.
Few players have signed contract extensions during the pandemic, and the weird nature of last year makes it difficult to evaluate such a deal. If last year was an anomaly and Dozier bounces back to his 2019 performance, the Royals are getting a huge bargain. Even if Dozier performs like he did in 2020, he was a league-average hitter due to his walk rate, and the Royals would still be getting a pretty good deal.
On the other hand, Dozier is quite old for a player with several years of pre-free agency control left. Based on past studies of player aging curves, Dozier has likely already peaked at age 29 and is likely to decline from this point on. If it is a slow decline, he could still be a very valuable player. If it is a sharp decline, the Royals may be stuck with a player who can’t hit and is a below-average defender.
Still, it seems like a reasonable bet for both sides to make. The deal continues an off-season where the Royals have invested in their players, counter to trends around baseball. This could be just one of several long-term deals, with Brad Keller, Adalberto Mondesi, and possibly even Brady Singer being candidates.