KANSAS CITY -- As expected, the Royals have moved on from third baseman Maikel Franco, who signed a one-year deal for 2020 but was non-tendered a contract for 2021 ahead of Wednesday's deadline.
Finances were at the core of the decision to non-tender Franco, who signed for $2.95 million last offseason and was expected to get a sizeable increase through arbitration, at least doubling that salary.
Also non-tendered were outfielder Bubba Starling, infielder Jeison Guzman and utility man Erick Mejia. It is entirely possible, even likely, that the Royals bring back those three players before Spring Training, according to sources.
The Royals’ 40-man roster now sits at 36, giving them some wiggle room to acquire a middle-of-the-order bat, which general manager Dayton Moore is coveting, and to be active in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10.
Franco had a bounce-back season with the Royals in 2020, leading the club in doubles with 16 and RBIs with 38. And Franco was well-liked in the clubhouse.
“It was a difficult decision,” Moore told MLB.com of Franco’s non-tender. “He really did a great job for us. But going forward we felt we had internal options at third base, including Hunter Dozier, [prospects Kelvin] Gutierrez and [Emmanuel] Rivera.”
Dozier, who signed a one-year deal earlier in the day for $2.72 million, finished the season at first base. He was drafted as a shortstop but has played mostly third base in his Royals career. He also started last season in right field.
The Royals, like most teams under some fiscal restraints after financial losses in 2020 due to the pandemic, had to make some tough roster decisions, something Moore has been forewarning for weeks.
And the Royals opted to use whatever financial flexibility they had to bolster their rotation as they signed left-hander Mike Minor to a two-year, $18 million deal. They also signed speedy outfielder Michael Taylor (one year, $1.7 million), presumably to play center field.
Those signings, in addition to those of arbitration-eligible players such as Dozier, Jakob Junis, Jesse Hahn, Jorge Soler and Franchy Cordeo, further limited their chances of being able to afford Franco.
The Royals are still in the market for a cost-efficient bat for the middle of their order, and sources told MLB.com that they will be scouring the list of non-tenders around the league for bargains. The Royals also are hoping to re-sign closer Greg Holland, and perhaps another affordable starting pitcher or reliever.
Without Franco and with Dozier’s flexibility, the Royals can search for a corner infielder to fill that role as a middle-of-the-order bat.
“The situation we have this offseason is very fluid,” Moore said. “We are confident there will be opportunities to make our team better in the coming weeks.”