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Royals to sign Billy Hamilton to one-year, $5.25 million deal, per report

One of baseball’s most exciting players is headed to Kansas City.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Cincinnati Reds Photo by Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are close to an agreement with former Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton on a one-year, $5.25 million contract that includes $1 million in potential incentives. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden was the first to report the news on Monday morning, and ESPN’s Buster Olney followed up with the details:

Hamilton closely fits the profile of the outfielders such as Alex Gordon, Terrance Gore, and Paulo Orlando — and to a lesser extent Lorenzo Cain — that helped the Royals reach two straight World Series in 2014-15, winning the ‘15 Fall Classic. He’s not much of a hitter, having posted a .245 career batting average and an OPS of .631. He’s never hit more than six homers in a season — which he did in his first full season, 2014, and has never done again — and though he can work a walk, his on-base skills arguably aren’t good enough to negate his inability to consistently hit for contact, as he has a .298 career OBP and has exceeded the .300 mark in that category just once over a full season.

Fortunately for the 28-year-old Mississippi native, he has elite speed and defensive ability. He ranked as the fifth-fastest player in baseball in 2018 according to Statcast’s sprint speed metric, and he’s stolen 56 or more bases in four of his five full seasons, though he stole a career-low 34 in 2018. He also had a defensive WAR below 1.0 (per Baseball Reference) for the first full season of his career this year, perhaps indicating an overall downward turn, but he was still pretty good relative to the competition — he ranked fourth among qualifying major-league center fielders with a 6.0 UZR/150, and he ranked seventh among that group with four defensive runs saved.

Hamilton likely will flank Gordon and Jorge Soler as part of the Royals’ primary starting outfield in 2019, though he could transition to more of a bench role as the year progresses if guys like Brett Phillips, Jorge Bonifacio, and Nicky Lopez (who could start at second base and push Whit Merrifield to center field) prove themselves to be worthy of more playing time. Additionally, Brian Goodwin could serve as an alternative at the position if Hamilton slumps severely at the plate at any point.

With Merrifield (first, 45), Hamilton (tied for fifth with 34), and Adalberto Mondesi (eighth, 32), the Royals will head into 2019 with three of baseball’s most prolific base stealers, perhaps setting Ned Yost to have a three-headed leadoff monster if he leads off with Merrifield, hits Mondesi second, and hits Hamilton ninth.