Royals, Hunter Dozier Agree on Four-Year Extension

The Royals and corner infielder Hunter Dozier agreed to terms over the weekend on a four-year contract that guarantees him $25 million along with a fifth-year option that could bring the total value to $35 million. The deal starts immediately, tearing up the one-year deal worth $2.72 million that was signed back in December in order to avoid an arbitration hearing.

Dozier’s deal buys out at least two years of free agency (and possibly three). It would be a mistake to think of this in the same kinds of terms as other players with two or three years of service time signing similar contracts: Dozier is not young, nor is he a budding star. It may feel like he’s young given his short history in the majors, but he’ll also be 30 by the end of the 2021 season, which saps his long-term value. Let’s start with the five-year projection for Dozier, with an important caveat that we’ll talk about below.

ZiPS Projection – Hunter Dozier
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2021 .251 .330 .458 498 71 125 27 5 22 66 58 142 7 112 -7 1.8
2022 .252 .331 .463 473 67 119 27 5 21 63 55 130 6 114 -8 1.7
2023 .248 .328 .451 455 63 113 25 5 19 59 53 123 5 110 -9 1.3
2024 .247 .324 .437 437 58 108 24 4 17 55 49 113 4 106 -10 0.8
2025 .245 .320 .422 417 53 102 21 4 15 49 45 103 4 100 -11 0.3

 

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Hunter Dozier
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ WAR
90% .262 .352 .532 489 77 128 31 7 29 77 67 119 12 137 3.5
80% .258 .343 .499 493 74 127 29 6 26 72 63 127 9 126 2.8
70% .255 .339 .478 494 73 126 28 5 24 69 62 132 8 120 2.3
60% .254 .334 .469 497 72 126 28 5 23 68 59 138 7 116 2.1
50% .251 .330 .458 498 71 125 27 5 22 66 58 142 7 112 1.8
40% .248 .327 .453 499 70 124 26 5 22 65 57 146 6 110 1.7
30% .246 .323 .438 500 69 123 25 4 21 64 56 152 6 105 1.4
20% .243 .316 .419 503 68 122 24 4 19 62 53 156 5 99 0.9
10% .239 .309 .397 506 67 121 23 3 17 58 50 168 3 91 0.4

Dozier split time at first base and right field in 2020, but with Maikel Franco non-tendered over the winter, returning to the hot corner seems like an easy decision. Perhaps this could change in the future if expected designated hitter Jorge Soler leaves Kansas City in free agency, but with Soler, Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi, and Whit Merrifield at the corners, first, and DH, there’s no other logical home for Dozier right now. And it would be rather odd for a team to sign a player to a four-year contract right before benching them!

At least if the projections are to be believed, Dozier didn’t do too badly. For all the grief I give the Royals about many things, they’ve always done a relatively good job at not using the team’s leverage to squeeze every last dollar out of their players. When teams were cutting minor leaguers last spring, the Royals were one of the first to commit to paying them for the rest of the 2020 season. Similarly, if there’s a way to make a deal with a local favorite, the Royals will try to keep them on the roster, even if it doesn’t make complete baseball sense. A lot of teams in their position would go into full-on Sherman tank mode, but they are at least putting an interesting team on the field in 2021. I think they’re still a long shot to make the playoffs, but at least fans can still see Merrifield and Salvador Perez in Royal blue.

Dozier’s projection is also a bit more difficult because of the presence of 2020’s supervillain, COVID-19. We still don’t know for certain how the virus affects people long-term — even those who appear, on the surface, to have asymptomatic cases. The fact that Dozier had the second-largest drop-off in exit velocity after Yoán Moncada, another player who was diagnosed with COVID-19, at least makes one think.

Exit Velocity Decliners, 2019-2020
Player 2020 2019 Change
Yoán Moncada 87.8 93.1 -5.3
Hunter Dozier 86.4 91.1 -4.7
Carlos Santana 88.0 91.8 -3.8
Renato Núñez 86.3 89.9 -3.6
Marcus Semien 86.2 88.9 -2.7
Brian Anderson 87.4 89.9 -2.5
Jeff McNeil 86.6 89.0 -2.4
Jonathan Villar 86.7 88.9 -2.2
Nelson Cruz 91.6 93.7 -2.1
Hanser Alberto 82.3 84.4 -2.1
Avisaíl García 87.4 89.5 -2.1
Bryan Reynolds 87.5 89.5 -2.0
Cody Bellinger 89.3 91.2 -1.9
Ryan McMahon 90.1 91.9 -1.8
J.D. Martinez 89.5 91.3 -1.8
Jackie Bradley Jr. 88.3 90.1 -1.8
Charlie Blackmon 86.9 88.7 -1.8
Eddie Rosario 87.5 89.2 -1.7
Javier Báez 89.4 91.1 -1.7
Nolan Arenado 87.8 89.4 -1.6

That’s not to say that this is the cause of Dozier’s struggles in 2020. The performance of a post-COVID player is not so clear-cut. I went back and looked at the projections for all players who were identified as testing positive after their returns and did not find conclusive evidence either way. The median COVID-positive player performed at their 48th percentile upon their returns. Given the tiny sample size of players with a minuscule sample size of playing time, this isn’t the slightest bit meaningful. It is unlikely it would have been unless the results had been extreme, like everyone playing at their 10th percentile or something along those lines. But for every player who struggled after COVID-19, there’s someone like Freddie Freeman or Perez who seemingly shrugged it off (and Freeman was symptomatic!).

So we don’t know why Dozier lost power conclusively, but we can’t summarily reject the possibility that COVID had something to do with it. And if COVID did have something to do with it, Dozier’s 2021–25 projection after 2019 might be interesting.

ZiPS Projection – Hunter Dozier (pre-2020)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2021 .264 .330 .481 497 67 131 31 4 23 74 49 139 4 118 -7 2.0
2022 .264 .330 .483 484 65 128 29 4 23 73 47 130 4 119 -8 1.9
2023 .262 .328 .474 466 61 122 28 4 21 68 45 122 3 115 -9 1.5
2024 .261 .327 .462 448 57 117 25 4 19 63 43 112 3 112 -10 1.1
2025 .258 .321 .444 426 52 110 23 4 16 57 39 102 2 106 -11 0.6

That’s not a whole lot better — ZiPS is already suspicious of 2020 for everyone — but it shades his projections a few runs better. From a team construction standpoint, it also puts Dozier’s offensive stats more comfortably into the area where the team could feel better about eventually moving him to designated hitter, likely his best defensive position.

The Royals still look more likely to finish below .500 than above in 2021, but at least if they fall short, they’ll fall short with their guys. Whether the contract works out from the team’s point-of-view in the end, it’s an admirable ambition.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Brendan O'Connor
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Brendan O'Connor

If “Sherman tank mode” was a pun on the name of the Royals’ new owner, I’m deeply impressed