Royals designate respected vet Dozier for assignment

May 22nd, 2023

KANSAS CITY – In a move brewing for several weeks now, the Royals designated for assignment Monday afternoon and brought back infielder Nicky Lopez from his rehab assignment.

Dozier’s performance over the last three seasons has not lived up to the four-year contract extension he signed with the Royals in 2021, one that is paying him a guaranteed $25 million and includes a club option for a fifth year.

Given the Royals’ emphasis on youth in 2023 and their desire to evaluate the young talent they have on the roster, the 31-year-old Dozier blocked a roster spot and playing time, even as those opportunities decreased over the last couple of weeks. With Lopez returning from appendicitis, the Royals needed a way to keep the versatile infielder and 23-year-old Maikel Garcia on the roster.

“That was definitely part of it,” Royals general manager JJ Picollo said. “With Maikel coming up when Nicky got hurt, it created an opportunity for Maikel to play. We like what we’re seeing out of him. We know we like him defensively. So now, with Nicky coming back, it forced our decision. Those two are certainly part of what we’re doing.”

The Royals’ first-round pick (No. 8 overall) out of Stephen F. Austin in 2013, Dozier enjoyed his best season in 2019, when he was worth 2.8 WAR, per FanGraphs, and hit 26 home runs while slashing .279/.348/.522.

Since then, it’s been a steady decline for the Dallas native, who has been worth -2.3 fWAR and posted a .670 OPS over the last three seasons. Fresh off his extension in the spring of 2021, Dozier suffered a thumb injury in the first game of that season, and he never fully got his swing back. He posted an 81 wRC+ in ‘21 with a 28.4% strikeout rate, then a 90 wRC+ in ‘22 – well below the 100 league-average mark.

The Royals hoped that the Dozier of 2019 would return in 2023 as a veteran leader in a clubhouse full of young hitters. His contract was not a massive one and could be justified with league-average play for a rebuilding club.

“It’s a tough one to answer,” Piccollo said when asked about Dozier’s offensive regression since 2019. “If we knew that, I think we would have been able to address it and fix it. You get in a little bit of a mental game. It’s a hard one to pinpoint.”

Dozier spent last offseason revamping his swing and showed strides in Spring Training, working with Royals hitting coaches and earning the starting third base job on Opening Day, as that was the position where he would be able to see the most playing time.

“This game is really difficult,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “Especially the hitting aspect of it.”

Instead of continuing the traction he enjoyed in spring, Dozier struck out at a 31.9% clip and posted a 50 wRC+ in 29 games. The Royals have opted to play Garcia at the hot corner more often now, and Lopez will continue to get playing time there now, too.

Dozier’s seven-year tenure with the Royals – during which he slashed .238/.305/.420 with 73 homers – is likely over. He will go through waivers over the next week, giving another team a chance to pick up his contract. Otherwise, the Royals will be responsible for picking up the remaining $16.75 million he’s due.

“With the support of ownership, we were able to make this decision and move on,” Picollo said. “We just have to look forward to what’s happening in the coming years.”

Although the Dozier extension didn’t work out the way both sides would have hoped, Picollo noted that the club will not be dissuaded from trying to extend young players moving forward if the organization feels it is in the best interest of the club.

“I think we would be incorrect if we said we’re not going to look to extend players,” Picollo said. “I think it always has to be part of our everyday discussions.”

While first baseman ’s name has come up as a possible extension candidate, Picollo stressed that any extension discussions regarding Pasquantino or any player would remain private.

Robert Falkoff contributed to this report.

Lopez got the start at third base on Monday after missing 20 games due to appendicitis. The return was bittersweet for Lopez because of his close relationship with Dozier.

“He’s my closest friend on the team,” Lopez said of Dozier. “Maybe this is something that happens along his journey and will be kind of a fresh start. I’m always rooting for him. I know he’ll be all right.”

Robert Falkoff contributed to this report.