The Royals are open to the possibility of dealing center fielder Michael A. Taylor, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. They’ve also made corner infielder/outfielder Hunter Dozier available, Rosenthal writes, although Taylor’s the more appealing of that duo.
Taylor, who turns 32 shortly before Opening Day, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He hit .254/.313/.357 with nine home runs over 456 plate appearances in 2022. That offensive output is below-average but it was his best work at the plate since his 19-homer showing with the Nationals back in 2017.
The right-handed hitter has a .241/.296/.381 line in a little under 2800 plate appearances over parts of nine seasons. Strikeouts have been a consistent concern for much of that time, as he routinely fanned in over 30% of his trips to the plate during his time in Washington. Taylor has trimmed that swing-and-miss a bit in recent years, though, including a career-low 23.9% strikeout percentage this past season. That’s still a few points higher than average but hardly disastrous, and his .313 on-base percentage was also his best since that 2017 campaign.
Of course, Taylor’s greater appeal lies in his defensive acumen. He’s an excellent center fielder, one who routinely posts elite marks for his glove. Taylor has rated as 60 runs above average in just shy of 5500 career innings in center, by measure of Defensive Runs Saved. Statcast has pegged him at 37 runs above par since the start of the 2016 season. Even as he’s gotten into his 30’s, the former sixth-round pick has shown no signs of tailing off. DRS pegged him as the league’s most valuable defensive center fielder this year, rating him 19 runs above average. Statcast wasn’t quite so bullish, “only” crediting him at +5 runs.
Regardless of the precise value of Taylor’s defense, there’s little question he’s a plus on that side of the ball. He’s also quite affordable, due to a modest $4.5MM guarantee in the second season of a two-year contract extension. He’ll hit free agency at the end of next year, but he’d be a fine stopgap and/or a quality fourth outfielder on a contender.
That’s especially true given how shallow the center field market is. Free agency is essentially devoid of regulars at this point, highlighted by players like Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Ortega and Bradley Zimmer. There aren’t many obvious trade candidates either. Brian Reynolds is the most commonly speculated target after his trade request, but the Pirates have maintained an extremely high asking price. That’s also true of the Diamondbacks, who are seeking MLB-ready help in any deal that sees them ship off Daulton Varsho, Alex Thomas or Jake McCarthy. Players like Max Kepler and Ramón Laureano could change uniforms, although they’re each better suited for right field. Cedric Mullins, Trent Grisham and Dylan Carlson all seem longshots, at best, to move.
A number of teams could check in with Kansas City about Taylor, who’d come at a much lower asking price than any of the younger options with extended windows of remaining control. Rosenthal writes the Dodgers are scouring the trade market for center field help, although it’s unclear if they have any interest in Taylor specifically. Other speculative candidates for a center field addition include the Giants, Marlins, Red Sox and Rockies.
While Taylor should generate a few calls, Kansas City figures to have a harder time finding a taker for Dozier. The 31-year-old doesn’t have much defensive value. He’s limited to the corners and has rated very poorly at third base and in the outfield, with first base and designated hitter the better fits. Dozier hasn’t hit at commensurate levels for those positions over the past two seasons, though, carrying a combined .226/.289/.391 line in 1043 plate appearances. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference have each pegged his production below replacement level in both seasons.
The Royals inked Dozier to a contract extension headed into the 2021 season, guaranteeing him $25MM over four years. That’s one the organization likely wishes they could have back, as Dozier has never taken the expected step forward after hitting .279/.348/.522 with 26 homers in 2019. The former eighth overall pick is still due $17.25MM over the next two seasons (including a buyout on a 2025 club option), and the Royals would have to eat the majority of that tab or take back an undesirable deal in return to find a taker.
If Dozier does stick in Kansas City, Rosenthal suggests the Royals would likely move him back to third base. Vinnie Pasquantino has seized either the first base or designated hitter job, while former top prospect Nick Pratto should get another chance at the other spot. MJ Melendez looks like the favorite for left field playing time, while the club has a number of outfielders (Drew Waters, Edward Olivares and Kyle Isbell) who could jockey for reps in right field.
Moving Dozier back to the hot corner would cut into the playing time of both Nate Eatonwho finished the season fairly well as a 25-year-old rookie, and former top prospect Adalberto Mondesi. Mondesi and the Royals agreed to a $3.045MM salary for next year, buying out his final season of arbitration eligibility. He’s coming off another season mostly lost to injury, this time an April ACL tear in his left knee. Rosenthal suggests KC could explore trades involving Mondesi as well.
Mondesi, 27, has shown an enviable combination of power potential and athleticism at times. He’s stolen 133 bases and connected on 38 home runs in 358 MLB games, flashing the elite physical tools that made him such a tantalizing young talent. Yet he’s also shown an extremely aggressive offensive approach that has impacted his consistency, and he’s just a .244/.280/.408 career hitter. Mondesi has yet to reach 500 plate appearances in a season, with oblique, hamstring, shoulder, back and groin issues all impacting him even before this year’s ACL injury. He’s a difficult player to rely upon with that kind of track record, but he’s shown flashes of impact talent intermittently as a big leaguer.