The sting of seeing free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran sign with the Yankees is still fresh for the Royals as the Winter Meetings commence their four-day run Monday at a Disney resort.
All indications suggest general manager Dayton Moore might now be content to make only minor tweaks to the roster before the Royals convene in mid-February for spring training.
“There are a lot of different scenarios,” Moore said, “that would allow us to acquire another bat or even another pitcher going forward. We’re very open-minded. We don’t feel like our offseason is complete.
“But that being said, if we go into spring training today, I feel our team is improved with the signing of (pitcher) Jason Vargas and the trade for (outfielder) Nori (Aoki).”
The Royals are still seeking a second baseman in hopes of shifting Emilio Bonifacio to a utility role. They’ve been linked to veterans Mark Ellis, a former farmhand, and Omar Infante.
They are also likely to join the queue for Seattle’s Nick Franklin, who became surplus when the Mariners signed Robinson Cano.
Had the Royals signed Beltran, they were expected to shop designated hitter Billy Butler in order to clear payroll and allow Beltran (and others) access to occasional duty at DH.
“The only way you trade Billy,” one club official said, “is if you get the big boy (Beltran), because he’s going to have to DH. And then it depends on what you can get in return.”
With Beltran instead opting for pinstripes, the likelihood of trading Butler drops significantly, unless the Royals find a way to acquire another middle-of-the-order bat.
“They’re far and few (between), as you know,” Moore said. “That’s an area we’re trying to pursue, but let me say this: We definitely feel that all of our offensive players are still improving.
“Nori at the top of the lineup, putting pressure on the defense, certainly improves our offense.”
If Butler comes off the table, the Royals’ top trade chips are their surplus bullpen arms. They’ve already dealt lefty Will Smith, to Milwaukee for Aoki, but several other possibilities remain.
Moore indicated earlier this offseason that he’s willing to listen to offers for All-Star closer Greg Holland, who is in line for a major salary boost after gaining arbitration eligibility for the first time.
But the price for Holland would be enormous.
That’s not the case with right-hander Aaron Crow and lefty Tim Collins, who also just gained arbitration eligibility. The Royals have replacements ready for both in Louis Coleman, Francisley Bueno and Donnie Joseph.
The payroll bumps for Crow and Collins should be relatively minor — projections show the two should make roughly $3 million in combined salary — but the Royals are already bumping against their budgeted limit.
“It’s a factor,” one club official said, “especially when you have younger (and more affordable) guys ready to step in. No doubt about it.”
Lots of teams like right-hander Kelvin Herrera, who flashed closer-type form in 2012 before struggling last season through the early months. He finished strong, though, in compiling a 2.31 ERA in 23 outings after Aug. 1.
Herrera is also at least a year away from arbitration eligibility. That makes him attractive to other teams, but also valuable to the Royals. He won’t come cheap.
Milwaukee found Smith appealing because while he’s performed best as a reliever, he offers the option of shifting back to the rotation. The Royals have two more pitchers with that profile: Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis.
Hochevar blossomed last season in the bullpen and finished the year as Holland’s primary setup reliever. He could become the club’s closer if the Royals deal Holland or could fill that role for another club.
Davis revitalized his career as a reliever in 2012 at Tampa Bay before struggling last season when the Royals put him in the rotation. But he closed the season with seven strong relief outings.
Trading either one would, depending on the return, clear payroll. Hochevar is eligible for arbitration after making $4.56 million in 2013; Davis is under contract next season for $4.8 million with club options for 2015-17.
Moore is also willing to dip into the club’s farm system for the right deal.
“I think there will be some trade possibilities at the winter meetings,” he said. “We’ll be aggressive with our farm system with deals that make sense. We do feel like we’ve got some excess in some areas.”
So no Beltran-like blockbuster looms this week (although you never know), but Moore contends the Royals still have plenty to do.
“I can’t control what other players ultimately decide,” Moore said. “We’ve got to continue to move forward and build our team.”