Royals' acquisition of Maikel Franco gives Kansas City a potential trade chip elsewhere on the roster
Kelvin Gutierrez is a smart target for teams who believe in their coaching ability
The Kansas City Royals on a one-year deal worth $3 million with free-agent third baseman Maikel Franco, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. According to Passan the Royals plan to use Franco, who was non-tendered earlier this winter by the Philadelphia Phillies, as their everyday third baseman. Manager Mike Matheny has been open about his willingness to have incumbent third baseman Hunter Dozier play first base or the corner-outfield, however, and it stands to reason the Royals might envision a lineup containing Franco and Dozier, with Jorge Soler confined to DH.
If that is the case, then other teams should dial up Royals general manager Dayton Moore and ask what it would take to acquire Kelvin Gutierrez, who is one of the league's more compelling downmarket third-base options. You might recall Gutierrez's deal from our Royals prospect list. Here's what we wrote:
Two "Kelvins" are likely to appear in the majors in 2019: Herrera and Gutierrez. Oddly, they were included in the same trade at the 2018 deadline involving the Royals and Nationals. Gutierrez appeared in 20 big-league games this season, and would have added to that total were it not for a fractured toe. He's an above-average defender at the hot corner, complete with a strong arm. Offensively, he's a less certain quantity. He has good bat speed and shows a willingness to take a walk, but his swing isn't conducive to slugging. In a small sample at the big-league level, for instance, he averaged a -2-degree launch angle -- the second-lowest figure among the 462 hitters with at least 50 batted balls. Gutierrez is said to have improved his minor-league launch angle in recent years. Some team who believes in his ability to do the same at the big-league level could try to free him from the Royals, who have Hunter Dozier in place.
The elevator pitch, then, is this: Gutierrez possesses innate physical characteristics that are often present in good hitters: a solid eye, good bat speed, apparent strength, and so on. (His one big-league home run to date saw him make contact with the ball after it had crossed the plate.) Gutierrez's swing needs to be tweaked in order for him to improve his attack angle, thereby enabling his production to match his potential.
It's not a given that Gutierrez will be able to make those adjustments, of course. But teams are more and more willing to take these gambles. The Tampa Bay Rays did it last year with Yandy Diaz, the Milwaukee Brewers just signed Avisail Garcia to a multi-year deal because he hits the ball hard (albeit on the ground often), and so on. Gutierrez is similar to both in that his problem isn't the quantity or quality of contact generated by his swing, so much as the trajectory it imparts on the ball. The difference is that Gutierrez can legitimately play third base, giving him more defensive value than Diaz or Garcia.
A team like … well, the Rays or the Brewers (neither of whom have a reliable third baseman) could be drawn to Gutierrez as a low-risk, high-reward addition. The Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins would make sense, too -- after all, the Twins helped a slew of hitters learn to lift-and-separate just last season -- as well as the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals (though the Nationals were Gutierrez's original team).
Obviously Gutierrez isn't going to serve as a priority for anyone right now. Josh Donaldson remains a free agent and both Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado are on the trading block. But, for the teams who lose out on those options, Gutierrez could prove to be a savvy target.
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