Frazier joins 'hard-nosed' Royals on one-year deal

January 30th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals and second baseman/outfielder finalized a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2025, the club announced on Tuesday.

The team did not disclose the terms, but a source told that it's worth a guaranteed $4.5 million. Frazier will make $2 million in 2024, and the deal includes an $8.5 million mutual option in '25, with a $2.5 million buyout.

Kansas City is bringing in the versatile defender to give manager Matt Quatraro another left-handed option in the infield and outfield while adding depth to the lineup. That’s been a need since the beginning of the offseason, and Frazier was near the top of the Royals’ list. A conversation last week between Frazier, Quatraro and general manager J.J. Picollo led to the deal, as the Royals confirmed Frazier’s willingness to move around the field and come to Kansas City.

“I know it didn’t look right in the wins and loss columns last year for the Royals, but they really are a hard-nosed team and a tough team to compete against,” Frazier said. “You see the young talent that’s on this team and how tough they are to play against, it’s something I was interested in joining -- to go with the opportunity to be able to play a lot of second base, some corner outfield. With the offseason signings they’ve already had, I think this team is in a great position to compete. That was something I wanted to be a part of.”

The Royals traded second baseman and outfielder Samad Taylor to the Mariners for cash considerations or a player to be named in order to free up a spot on the 40-man roster for Frazier. Picollo mentioned that the club wanted to protect its pitching when considering what player to move, and Frazier's acquisition gave Kansas City added depth in Taylor's position.

The 32-year-old Frazier spent 2023 with the American League East champion Orioles, and he hit .240/.300/.396 with 21 doubles, a career-high 13 home runs and a 93 wRC+. He bounced back some from the previous two years with Seattle (.612 OPS in ‘22) and San Diego (.662 OPS after being traded from Pittsburgh at the ‘21 Trade Deadline).

A contact-oriented hitter, Frazier doesn’t strike out much, with a 13% strikeout rate for his career and a 6.5% swinging strike rate. He had a 14.9% strikeout rate last year, along with a 7% walk rate. His 8.6% swinging-strike rate last year was a career high, and even that mark tied for 59th in baseball out of 212 players with 400 or more plate appearances.

“I take pride in putting the ball in play,” Frazier said. “I feel like you don’t do the team any good if you go up there and strike out. … Keep the pitcher in the zone, you’re going to make good contact.”

Frazier appeared in 130 games at second base last year and just 10 in the outfield, but the Royals will likely move him around more. Defensive metrics like defensive runs saved and Outs Above Average didn’t favor him at second base the past two seasons like they did when he was with Pittsburgh; he posted -4 DRS and -15 OAA last year, compared to 11 DRS and -5 OAA for his career.

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Mississippi State, Frazier spent the first 5 1/2 seasons of his big league career in Pittsburgh, where he hit .283/.346/.420. He made his lone All-Star team in ‘21 and was one of the most sought-after players on the trade market at the Deadline -- he was having a career year and offered defensive versatility as well as a contact-first bat.

The Royals had been searching for another left-handed infielder with versatility following their moves last month that bolstered the pitching staff and added a big bat to the lineup in Hunter Renfroe. How much playing time Frazier will get, as well as where he’ll fit in the field, is still to be determined. And it’s unclear who will give way in the starting lineup. The Royals will still want to get second baseman Michael Massey, also a lefty, at-bats, as well as rookie Nick Loftin, who can play all over the field.

But Kansas City has been focused on adding veteran players this offseason, knowing Quatraro will mix and match the lineup based on a myriad of factors each night, including the opposing pitchers and recent workload for position players.

Picollo mentioned that the Royals were looking to have five lefty bats on their roster, so pushing Massey out of the equation “defeats that purpose.” Along with Frazier and Massey, the club will have first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, center fielder Kyle Isbel and left fielder MJ Melendez as its lefties, among other guys on the 40-man competing for spots.

“Having five guys who are left-handed was important to us,” Picollo said. “So there’s a way to make this all work. The season’s going to bring a lot of bumps in the road, and the big one that I think about is injury. You lose somebody for a month, that month may be the difference of you getting in the playoffs or not. We were short left-handed, and having the ability to put the lineups out night in and night out that match up well, we needed another left-handed bat. Again, the versatility was important in this case.”

The Royals have now committed $109.5 million to seven free agents this offseason. It’s clear their goals were to upgrade the roster and increase depth, which leads to better competition in Spring Training.

“If you’re a good team and you're deep, you’re going to have those battles,” Picollo said. “… We’re in a spot now that if we were to suffer an injury, we’ll be able to cover for it, and cover it with a good player.”