With the final week of the Major League Baseball here, it appeared to be the final week of Michael A. Taylor‘s tenure with the Kansas City Royals. Instead, the Royals have agreed to a two-year, $9 million deal on Wednesday that will keep the outfielder in a Royals uniform through the 2023 season.
The 30-year-old Taylor was nearing the end of a one-year, $1.75 million deal that he signed on November 30, 2020.
Going into Wednesday’s game, Taylor has slashed an unimpressive .244/.298/.359 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs, good for a 77 OPS+ (with 100 being league-average). However, his defense has more than justified his spot in the lineup. Taylor ranks second in the American League in defensive WAR (2.4) while leading AL centerfielders in assists (11). All told, his 2.7 bWAR is tied with 2017 for the best total of his eight-year career.
Why Extend Taylor?
Throughout Dayton Moore’s tenure, one of the key building blocks in the Royals blueprint has been an athletic center fielder. Whether it be the long-term stability of Lorenzo Cain, or stopgaps such as Coco Crisp, Jon Jay, or Billy Hamilton, there is certainly a pattern.
Given the fact that Kauffman Stadium has the second-largest outfield in Major League Baseball (behind Coors Field), having outfielders that can cover a lot of ground is imperative for the Royals, especially with a young pitching staff coming up that is going to (and is currently going through) growing pains.
Defense is certainly the main inspiration for extending Taylor, due to his unimpressive offensive track record (his career OPS+ is 79). Another motivating factor may very well be the lack of obvious options in center field for 2022.
Additionally, the internal options don’t lend an obvious answer at center field either. Kyle Isbel played the most center field of anyone in Omaha this season, but MLB Pipeline believes that his future may be in a corner outfield slot:
Isbel has plus speed and can hold his own as an above-average defender in center field thanks to good jumps on balls. Some see him more as a left fielder, where his average arm strength is a fit and power potential profiles as an everyday player there. The Royals also value his defense more in left field because of the expansive outfield at Kauffman Stadium.
Meanwhile, in Double-A, Dairon Blanco had a strong season while seeing the most center field action of anyone on the Northwest Arkansas roster, but he is already 28 years old, meaning that his status as a true major league prospect is fringy at best.
So that brings us back to Taylor. While this is a signing that certainly won’t move the needle much among the fan base, it does still make sense. Plus, he’ll make only $4.5 million a year each of the next season, which quite frankly is a bargain for a Gold Glove-level defender who isn’t a total liability with the bat.
How Does This Affect the 2022 Royals?
The most obvious answer to this question is that there is no hole at a key position. This also allows the Royals to keep their strong defense up the middle (Salvador Perez, Whit Merrifield, Nicky Lopez, and Taylor) intact. Again, as the Royals bumper crop of young pitching gets acclimated to the major leagues, having four defenders playing at or near Gold Glove-level defense at arguably the four most important defensive spots on the diamond is very helpful.
Notably, with Taylor back in the fold, all seven Royals who accumulated over 500 plate appearances this season are scheduled to be back for next season. That group does not include Isbel or the enigmatic Adalberto Mondesi. Most importantly, top prospects MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and Bobby Witt Jr. are coming fast and will be getting at-bats early in 2022.
Before making a single acquisition in the offseason, the Royals 2022 roster is already shaping up to be very crowded. Moore and new GM JJ Picollo could choose to offload a veteran like Carlos Santana, or unload Hunter Dozier to free up the needed roster spots (and at-bats) for those MLB-ready hitters.
Even before re-upping Taylor, the Royals were already set for a shortstop conundrum before the season. One potential option was moving Mondesi or Witt to center field, though this will certainly eliminate any thought of that. If the Royals choose to jettison Dozier, then third base would be the place to play one of the extra shortstops on a normal basis, similar to what Mondesi has done this September.
There are certainly a lot of options as to how the Royals choose to fill out starting nine next year. With the way things are shaping up, Taylor’s re-signing helps clear up part of the picture, while further muddying other parts.
Regardless, the Royals proved again that they are not messing around to find excellent defense. What the Royals do in response is not so easy to agree upon.
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