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Royals sign Melky, proclaim him center fielder

Royals sign Melky, proclaim him center fielder

KANSAS CITY -- Write Melky Cabrera into the Royals' lineup as the starting center fielder.

That was manager Ned Yost's take after the Royals signed Cabrera to a one-year, $1.25 million contract for the 2011 season on Friday.

Cabrera, released after one season with Atlanta, joins another ex-Braves player, right fielder Jeff Francoeur, in the revamped Royals outfield.

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"The thing about these bounce-back players is you've got to give them the opportunity to play every day and get themselves going again, and so Melky will get the opportunity going into Spring Training as being the starting center fielder," Yost said.

Cabrera, after productive seasons with the New York Yankees, hit just .255 with four homers and 42 RBIs in 147 games last season for the Braves. Francoeur, who began his career with big years for the Braves, split last season between the New York Mets and Texas Rangers and batted .249 with 13 homers and 65 RBIs in 139 games.

General manager Dayton Moore and the Royals believe that the two 26-year-old players could rekindle their earlier successes.

"We targeted Jeff and Melky months ago as players that we felt were not even at the prime years of their career yet, haven't peaked out and there was an upside there -- guys that were going to play with energy, guys that were going to be enthusiastic," Moore said.

At this point, Cabrera and Francoeur figure as two-thirds of the starting outfield, with Alex Gordon as the left fielder.

Moore dismissed a suggestion that Cabrera, a switch-hitter, might platoon in left field with Gordon, a left-handed batter.

"I don't think so, I think Alex is an everyday player and both of those guys are everyday players, but we didn't acquire these players with the intent that Alex is going to be a part-time player," Moore said.

The addition of Cabrera also pushes Jarrod Dyson, Gregor Blanco and Mitch Maier down on the center-field depth chart. Maier, though, is an experienced backup player who can play all three outfield spots.

The prospective Gordon-Cabrera-Francoeur outfield represents a complete turnover from last season when the Royals opened with Scott Podsednik in left, Rick Ankiel in center and David DeJesus in right. All three of the latter trio have been traded.

"Things change," Yost said. "The whole thing is managing that change and making it work."

Yost said that Cabrera, along with Francoeur, will fit somewhere in the middle of the Royals' batting order.

"He's a run-producer, a guy that can balance the lineup," Yost said. "You don't have to worry about having three lefties in a row with him because he's a switch-hitter."

Cabrera set career highs with 13 homers and 28 doubles in 154 games and batted .274 in 2009 with the Yankees. That season he became just the 11th Yankee to hit for the cycle, on Aug. 2 against the White Sox. His season climaxed in the World Series as the Yankees won for the 27th time.

"We just feel like he's capable of playing more at that .270, .280 level and getting 10 to 15 home runs and playing solid defense," Moore said.

Cabrera's throwing arm has been a weapon. From 2006-09 with the Yankees, he had 38 outfield assists, third most in the American League. In '07, his 14 assists led all Major League center fielders.

"He's got a quick release," Moore said. "He's real short in the back and he gets to his release point real quickly."

Francoeur won a National League Gold Glove in 2008, and Cabrera has received Gold Glove votes during his career.

"He played 118 games for the world champions in center field one year and we know he can play center," Yost said. "We got good reports on the guy and some that weren't so glowing, but he's re-focused himself. ... It wasn't a money issue for him, he wanted to show people he could play."

Cabrera took a sizable cut from the $3.1 million he made last year with the Braves to the $1.25 million from the Royals. The deal also includes performance bonuses that could increase that to $1.5 million. Francoeur, who made $5 million in 2010, also took a cut to $2.5 million from the Royals, with possible bonuses that could raise his pay to $3 million.

Moore sees the two players as fitting well with Gordon, also 26, and the other youngsters coming along with the Royals.

"They're the perfect types of guys for us, vs. signing somebody who's 29 to 33 and on the downside of their career," he said.

Rene Francisco, a special assistant to Moore, went to the Dominican Republic to watch Cabrera work out and returned with good reports on his physical condition and attitude.

Seeking Cabrera was nothing new for the Royals.

"He's a guy -- we tried to acquire him early on, every year, and we could just never come to a deal, and he was a big part of what the Yankees were doing," Moore said.

Cabrera having World Series experience with the Yankees in 2009 and Francoeur being in the Fall Classic this year with the Rangers should be a benefit in Moore's view.

"Every player will tell you that the playoffs and World Series are a different stage than the regular season, and once you experience that stage, there's a craving to get back to it," Moore said.

"There's so much desire that comes out to get back to that level and regain that feeling of being part of the playoffs and the World Series. Once you've experienced that your team is not playing in October, it's a very hollow feeling professionally. Players that have experienced that have that motive, that desire and that hunger to get back."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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