KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Royals and third baseman Hunter Dozier have agreed to a $25 million, four-year contract that includes a fifth-year option, a person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal was pending a physical. ESPN.com was first to report the extension, which buys out two years of free agency and includes several escalators and bonuses.
“As I've said many times, we want to keep as many of our talented players as we possibly can,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said last week, when the team reported for full-squad workouts in Surprise, Arizona. “We'll always look to do that when the opportunity is right. There is a rhythm to that, there is a timing to all those decisions.”
The 29-year-old Dozier has long been considered a cornerstone of the Royals rebuild, especially after a breakthrough 2019 season in which he hit 26 homers, tied for the American League lead with 10 triples and drove in 84 runs. But he missed the start of last season with COVID-19 and wound up hitting just .228 with six homers and 12 RBIs in 44 games.
Still, the Royals believe Dozier will revert to form with a full spring training and 162-game season.
“I definitely don't think you throw it away,” he said. “It's a learning experience. It's a season we hopefully never have to go through again. I think it was the hardest mental season we've been through. I mean, 60 games — there's a lot of pressure in a 60-game season. Normally you play 162. You have time to go through slumps. A 60-game season, you don't have time for that, as a team and as an individual. So I'm definitely looking forward to a normal season.”
Dozier is also looking forward to a consistent spot in the everyday lineup. He has regularly moved between first base, third base and right field the past few years, but the signing of longtime Cleveland first baseman Carlos Santana coupled with a trade for Boston outfielder Andrew Benintendi means Dozier will primarily play third base this season.
Not to mention Santana and Benintendi should help Dozier see better pitches in a vastly improved batting order.
“They made some really good moves this offseason. We're really excited about it,” said Dozier, who was not in the starting lineup for the Royals' spring training opener against Texas on Sunday. “I think we have high expectations every season, (but) looking at this roster, you can't help but get excited and start thinking about winning a championship.”
Dozier was the eighth overall pick in the 2013 first-year player draft out of Stephen F. Austin. He made his big league debut three years later, then missed most of the 2017 season with an oblique injury and a broken bone in his wrist.
He finally became an everyday player in 2018, when he hit .229 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs in 102 games, then built on those numbers during his breakout 2019 season. Dozier increased his average to .279 while showing same power that made him a star in the minor leagues, and his defensive versatility made him a mainstay in the lineup.
Given his relatively bumpy road to this point, Dozier — and evidently the Royals — believe his best is yet to come.
“I feel like you have to think that,” he said. “You have to always get better, continue to get work and hopefully — I don't like to put a cap on anything or set any goals. Just keep working hard and let that play out like it is. But I definitely think there is another level. At least, I hope.”
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