Following the 2020 season, the Kansas City Royals made the uncommon decision to extend a player after some success with the club. However, extending infielder Hunter Dozier quickly backfired, and the Royals are literally still paying for that decision.
After Dozier’s 2019 season, keeping him in Kansas City was the logical move. He had slugged 26 home runs and 84 RBI in 2019, ending the season with 2.8 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Those are not franchise-changing numbers, but Dozier’s production seemed like a positive change. After ranking among the team’s top five WAR producers in 2019 and 2020, the Royals kept Dozier on what seemed like a team-friendly deal. That deal is the team’s worst contract entering the 2023 season, and will run through 2025. But the Royals have made some minor moves to facilitate moving on from Dozier ahead of Opening Day. According to reports, they are already trying to find a taker for him.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that “the Royals have spoken with teams” about Dozier last week, after the team dealt infielder Adalberto Mondesi and center fielder Michael A. Taylor. It is hard to imagine teams lining up for Dozer, a player owed $17 million over the next two seasons with no positive impacts offensively or defensively. But maybe there is a team desperate for Dozier, a versatile veteran who’s rarely unavailable. No teams come to mind immediately, but this writer is far from any MLB front office position.
It is worth pointing out that if the Royals somehow traded Dozier, they would have a sizable hole to fill. FanGraphs projects that Dozier will play in 112 games in 2023, with 483 plate appearances. Yes, another year of using Dozier that much would drive many Royals fans batty. Dozier’s ability to somewhat fill in at multiple different positions facilitates him seeing the field more than some would like. This season, the Royals seem to have solid depth options at those defensive positions, as well as ones more promising at the plate.
First off, the Royals already have plenty of outfield options without considering Dozier. The Royals used him in the outfield in 44 games in 2022, and that was 44 times too many. Thankfully, Kansas City has younger players like Nate Eaton, Edward Olivares, and Drew Waters ready and waiting for opportunities in the outfield. All three of those players are younger and more talented defensively, while their offensive production remains to be seen for substantial stretches. The Royals need to establish a baseline for these young players, and sporadically playing Dozier in the outfield only interrupts that process.
Dozier’s useful spot in Kansas City is either at first or third. In 2022, he appeared in 65 games at one of those two positions, and third base is a position Dozier could potentially start on Opening Day. It is not an outstanding endorsement for his fit there, but rather that Kansas City lacks a true third baseman on this roster and might have a platoon approach at that position in 2023. They already had that approach in 2022, with six different players logging starts at third. Emmanuel Rivera is gone, and Kansas City shelved moving Bobby Witt Jr. to third, an ill-advised move. But the Royals did add two Matts, er, players, that could help the trouble at third: Matt Beaty and Matt Duffy.
Both players signed minor-league contracts with Kansas City this offseason, but have Spring Training invites to try and earn a spot. Both are not sure things to break camp with the Royals, but both have proven track records at the major league level and could rationally replace Dozier. Duffy is the most likely, despite Beaty’s link to Kansas City dating back to 2011. All three were negative WAR players in 2022, but Duffy only had -0.1 compared to Dozier’s -1.0. Duffy keeps a right-handed bat in reserve and surpasses Dozier in all defensive metrics. Beaty is a longer shot to stay with the major league club, but his experience at first and performance in 2021 would make for an interesting bench bat. All that to say this: the Royals have two solid options to not only replace Dozier but to improve upon his role.
One of the underlying fan motives against Dozier is the fact that 2023 is not his final contract year. His current contract keeps him in Kansas City through the 2024 season, which the Royals’ leadership has publicly called a pivotal year. At least with Duffy and Beaty, fans know they are not going to be back if they don’t meet expectations. Meanwhile, Dozier could struggle in 2023 and then return to the club as if nothing had happened.
I would feel remiss if I did not say this: I am not advocating for a man to lose his job and his contract. The ideal situation is that the Royals find that trade partner, keeping Dozier employed elsewhere and still providing. But, I think he has cashed enough paychecks coming from Kauffman Stadium. If the Royals are serious about improving this season or the season after, they should evaluate Duffy and Beaty as Dozier’s replacements during Spring Training.