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Royals sign Billy Hamilton to 1-year deal

Speedy outfielder is expected to start in center field
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

LAS VEGAS -- The Royals made the signing of former Reds free-agent outfielder Billy Hamilton official, inking him to a one-year deal on Tuesday afternoon.

A source told MLB.com that Hamilton's deal has a base salary of $4.25 million for 2019 with $1 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances that start at 325 and work in intervals of 25. There is also a $7.5 million mutual option for '20 with a $1 million buyout, guaranteeing Hamilton $5.25 million in the deal.

LAS VEGAS -- The Royals made the signing of former Reds free-agent outfielder Billy Hamilton official, inking him to a one-year deal on Tuesday afternoon.

A source told MLB.com that Hamilton's deal has a base salary of $4.25 million for 2019 with $1 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances that start at 325 and work in intervals of 25. There is also a $7.5 million mutual option for '20 with a $1 million buyout, guaranteeing Hamilton $5.25 million in the deal.

Hamilton, 28, was non-tendered by the Reds in November.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore said the decision to sign Hamilton was predicated on the notion the club had to get more athletic offensively and especially defensively. The loss of center fielder Lorenzo Cain to free agency prior to the 2018 season was felt, Moore said.

"We knew going in to last season that it was going to be problematic for us," Moore said from his suite at Mandalay Bay. "I think [lack of a strong defensive center fielder] also affects the confidence of the pitching staff. It puts more pressure on the wing outfielders, more pressure on the pitchers. We knew it was an area [this offseason] we wanted to improve upon."

Video: CLE@CIN: Hamilton robs Lindor and celebrates in style

Tied into the equation was the Royals, as they continue their rebuild, will be going with younger pitchers, who could be more vulnerable to shabby defense.

"Our message to pitchers is always to attack hitters, and throw strikes and compete," Moore said, "and one of the ways you back that up is to say, 'If the ball goes in the air, it will get caught, so throw strikes, work quick, let the other guys play.' If you have elite defenders, and certainly Billy Hamilton is an elite defender, it just brings credence and credibility to that message to the pitching staff."

Offensively, Hamilton, 28, certainly is a weapon on the bases, though after averaging almost 58 steals a season for four straight years, his stolen-base total dipped to 34 in 2018.

Video: Flanagan discusses Hamilton's impact on Royals

"I think teams probably did an admirable job of focusing on him and shutting him down a little bit," Moore said. "Some teams are more successful than others at doing that. I'm sure he had the green light most of the time. I've not asked that question to him.

"But [coaches] Rusty [Kuntz] and Mitch [Maier] are excellent at preparing [baserunners]. We met with Rusty and Mitch at Kauffman Stadium recently for ways to improve our basestealing and ways [free-agent signing] Chris Owings can help that, and if we signed Billy Hamilton, how that would help."

Video: Yost on adding speedy Hamilton to roster

The other concern with Hamilton has been his low on-base percentage, which was .299 over the last two seasons. But Moore said Hamilton's ability to cover the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield trumped that concern.

"Elite defense overcame that," Moore said. "We're aware of all the offensive stuff, but it's all in context of the team. If we can play elite defense and have an elite base stealing team, that can separate us. You don't want to be average at a bunch of things. I think we were at times average at things over the last year."

Hamilton will grab the center-field spot in what will become a crowded outfield.

Six-time American League Gold Glove Award winner Alex Gordon will patrol left field. The right-field job will be an open competition among Jorge Soler, Jorge Bonifacio, Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin.

Phillips and Bonifacio each have one year of options left.

"It's a good problem to have," Moore said of a potentially crowded outfield situation. "You need a lot of good players to compete over 162 games. We'll manage that as it comes."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Billy Hamilton