The Royals agreed to a two-year deal with pitcher Mike Minor and finalized a $1.75 million, one-year contract with outfielder Michael Taylor as they work to piece together a roster.
The deal with the 32-year-old Minor was reached late Sunday and requires him to pass a physical before it can be completed. Taylor’s deal, announced Monday, includes up to $1 million in incentives.
The Royals have not had a winning season since 2015, when they reached the second of back-to-back World Series and won their first championship in 30 years. The core from that season became free agents and general manager Dayton Moore began to rebuild through the draft, and after a couple of seasons near .500 came back-to-back 100-loss campaigns.
But there were signs during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that the rebuild was on track. Young pitchers such as Brady Singer and Kris Bubic got their first taste of the big leagues, veterans Danny Duffy and Brad Keller anchored a vastly improved starting rotation, and a bullpen that was historically bad the previous season returned significant gains.
Still, there remain plenty of holes in the roster. Minor and Taylor fill two of them.
Minor resurrected his career three years ago in Kansas City, when he had a 2.55 ERA in 65 games and went 6 for 6 in save opportunities. But eager to return to a starting rotation, the left-hander signed a three-year deal with Texas that offseason, and he went 14-10 with a 3.59 ERA in 2019 before he was traded to Oakland for the stretch run last season.
Minor’s versatility will come in handy, providing the Royals with starting depth but also help in the back end of the bullpen.
“There’s not a whole lot I’m going to say about that because there’s more things that need to be buttoned up, if you will, before we can officially make any type of announcement,” Moore said, “but we are looking for more depth with our starting pitching experience in that role, especially with the young starters we have on the horizon.
“We don’t want to put the workload entirely on a young group,” Moore added. “We’re looking for guys that can give us possibly 200 innings or so, especially in this current climate we’re in, so we’re going to continue to be aggressive.”
The 29-year-old Taylor hit just .196 in 38 games with the Nationals last season, then became a free agent Oct. 15 when he refused an outright assignment to the minor leagues. The Royals believe he can bounce back at the plate while providing a defensive presence in centerfield in spacious Kauffman Stadium. Taylor was a finalist for the Gold Glove in 2017, when he also hit a career-best .271 with 19 homers in just 113 games and earned a World Series ring.
“We’ve had our eyes on him and fits kind of what we look for in center field, and the ability to impact that position,” Moore explained during a Zoom interview Monday. “There are very few teams that show up in here for 81 dates that can cover this center field and we understand the importance of that. So a guy like Michael, yes, he’s been on our radar.”
Moore said that Taylor will be given the opportunity to play every day, especially after longtime left fielder Alex Gordon retired to open up a spot in the outfield. That also could mean Whit Merrifield plays less in center and more in right, and that Hunter Dozier would continue to play first base rather than split time in the outfield.
“I talked to a few teams,” Taylor said, “but after I spoke to Dayton on the phone, and Mike (Matheny), I just knew this was a place I wanted to be, and if I got an opportunity I was going to sign, and I was lucky to be able to do that.”
The Royals likely aren’t done this offseason, either. They have less than $64 million in payroll for 2021, and only Merrifield is signed beyond next season. So while the Royals continue their rebuild by pushing their young players from the minors to the big leagues, Moore acknowledged the need to fortify the lineup with an impact bat.
“One of the criticisms we receive, and I receive, and I understand it is we’re not as transactional as we need to be,” Moore said. “We’ve been hesitant to do that at times. We believe in our players. I understand that. I’m not making excuses for that. I’m not sure how much will change, but perhaps we will be a little more transactional over this next one- to five-year period, but the players have to force our hand.”