The Kansas City Royals and speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton have agreed to a $5.25 million contract for next season that includes up to $1 million in incentives, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on Monday.
The Royals hope that spacious Kauffman Stadium will allow Hamilton to better use his speed than the bandbox of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where he spent his first six seasons with the Reds. The person who confirmed the deal spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because the deal was pending a physical.
The 28-year-old Hamilton made his big league debut in 2013, then proceeded to have four consecutive seasons in which he stole at least 50 bases. That number dipped to 34 last season, when the switch-hitting Hamilton hit .236 with four homers and 29 RBIs as the Reds' everyday center fielder.
The Reds ultimately did not tender Hamilton a contract after paying him $4.6 million in the second year of arbitration. The Royals now control him through the 2019 season and Kansas City now has three of the top eight base-stealers in the majors last season.
The Royals were poised to head to spring training with Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin competing for the centerfield job, and both of them will still have that opportunity with Hamilton in the mix.
Phillips was acquired last season in the trade that sent third baseman Mike Moustakas to Milwaukee for the stretch run. Much like Hamilton, the 24-year-old Phillips is an elite defensive player, but he has yet to prove much at the plate. He hit just .188 in 36 games after arriving in Kansas City. The 28-year-old Goodwin is more accomplished offensively, hitting .266 in 27 games after the Royals acquired him in a trade with Washington.
The Royals are in the midst of a massive rebuilding project after going to back-to-back World Series and winning the championship in 2015. It appears part of that rebuild involves returning to the speed-and-defense style that first allowed the long-suffering organization to return to respectability.
Second baseman Whit Merrifield led the majors with 45 steals last season, while shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was eighth with 32 steals, despite getting time in the minors and only 275 big league at-bats.