Here’s a clear sign of how things have changed in the Royals’ thinking following their best season since 1989: They are willing to surrender their first-round draft pick in order to sign an impact free agent.
“It’s part of the evaluation process,” general manager Dayton Moore said, “but if a player really makes sense and can help us win, we’re not going to be overly concerned with that.”
That approach puts several players who rejected qualifying offers from their former clubs on the Royals’ offseason shopping list — particularly in the outfield, where they’d like to add some pop.
Royals expatriate Carlos Beltran tops that list, but Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz are possible fits. Signing any of the three would force the Royals to forfeit their first-round pick in next June’s draft as a penalty.
Moore declined to discuss specifics but acknowledged “true, I agree,” at the suggestion some players who received qualifying offers could fill one of the club’s identified areas of need.
Those close to Beltran say he is open to returning to Kansas City, where he was the Rookie of the Year in 1999 and produced four seasons with 100 or more runs and RBIs before a June 2004 trade sent him to Houston.
But Beltran, who wants a deal of two to three years, is also drawing heavy interest from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. That could quickly push the financial bidding beyond the Royals’ comfort zone.
The Royals are, at this point, unwilling to go beyond three years for any free agent, which effectively eliminates outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo from consideration.
It might also kill their chance to retain pitcher Ervin Santana, who wants $100 million over five years. Even if his price drops, as many in the industry suspect, to $60 million over four years, the Royals are still likely to pass.
For deals of three years or less, however, Moore appears to possess sufficient payroll flexibility to add two significant contracts of, say, $15 million per year.
One of those deals, if the Royals stick to their stated priorities, will be a starting pitcher, i.e, either retaining Santana or finding a replacement such as Tim Hudson, Phil Hughes or Josh Johnson.
They’d like the other one to be an outfielder who represents a significant upgrade over a David Lough/Justin Maxwell platoon.
The Royals’ willingness to give up their first-round pick stems in part to their position in the draft; currently they have the No. 19 overall pick. They haven’t picked that low in the first round since 1995.
Further, they will receive a compensation pick after the first round if Santana signs elsewhere, and they are already ensured of a pick in the competitive-balance round that follows the compensation round.
Moore admitted the likelihood of receiving a compensation pick for Santana would ease the sting of losing the first-round pick.
“Sure,” he said. “Draft picks are very important, but we’ve got a competitive-balance pick as well. We want as many picks as possible, but we’re not going to be overly concerned with that.”
The Santana pick projects to be about No. 30 overall, and the competitive-balance pick should be around No. 40.
If the Royals retain Santana, the competitive-balance selection would be their first pick in the draft.