Dayton Moore and the decision-makers in his front office embark for Phoenix on Sunday for baseball’s annual general managers’ meetings, held all week at the Arizona Biltmore.
The GM Meetings serve as a table-setter for the offseason and next month’s Winter Meetings. Few players are signed and few trades are consummated. But executives often set the agenda for the coming weeks at these sessions.
For Moore and the Royals, there is much to accomplish. The team features three gaping holes on its roster: designated hitter, right fielder and starting pitcher. Moore has prioritized finding a pitcher who could replace James Shields, even as the club monitors Shields in free agency.
Even if the Royals do not accomplish anything concrete this week, they will be plenty busy, assembling a club they hope can return to the World Series.
Questions to answer
▪ 1. What’s the market for Greg Holland? The Royals are not itching to trade the two-time All-Star closer. But his salary could top $9 million in arbitration. The Royals are already paying Wade Davis a $7 million salary for next season. The team must, at the very least, explore the market for Holland. His value may never be higher.
▪ 2. How high will the payroll rise? The Royals set another franchise record when their payroll topped $94 million in 2014. It should approach nine figures for the first time. But with raises due for so many of their core players, how much will the team be able to spend on new ones?
▪ 3. Do players want to come to KC now? Moore was aggressive in recent years to sign pitchers Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas. He gave both contracts in November. With a pennant on their resume now, do the Royals become more attractive to free agents? One imagines pitchers on the market would love the chance to play with this defense behind them.
Position to fill: designated hitter
▪ 1. Billy Butler: No team knows him better. A divorce appeared so likely during the summer, but a solid second half allowed Butler the hope of reconciliation. He plans on testing the market, even though he has expressed his desire to stay a Royal.
▪ 2. Michael Morse: His power is enticing, but his history of injuries is not. Like Butler, Morse is not much of a fielder. And his price figures to jump from a $6 million salary after a solid bounce-back year with the Giants.
▪ 3. Adam LaRoche: He’s a Kansas native, but he may be more interested in staying in the National League, where he can still play first base. Dayton Moore was in Atlanta when the Braves drafted LaRoche in 2000.
Position to fill: right field
▪ 1. Torii Hunter: He makes sense on several levels: He’s a leader, a veteran with experience in the division and a credible No. 2 hitter. Hunter turned 39 in July and his OPS did dip to .765 — which still would have been second-highest on the Royals.
▪ 2. Nick Markakis: He provides a solid bit of on-base skill for the top of the lineup. But Markakis won’t be cheap, and he most likely is headed for a new deal with the Orioles.
▪ 3. Alex Rios: Like Marlon Byrd, who the Royals could pursue again this winter, the team attempted to acquire Rios in a trade in July. He hit only four homers in 2014. He might not even be an offensive upgrade over Aoki. The market here is barren.
Position to fill: starting pitcher
▪ 1. Ervin Santana: He is open to returning to Kansas City, but it will take a multi-year contract to land him. The Royals can be more patient this winter, so they might not jump out early on players as they have in years past. They can hang back and let the market come to them.
▪ 2. Brandon McCarthy: The good news: He’s young, relatively affordable and he delivers a package of groundballs and few walks. The bad news: His right shoulder has hounded him throughout his career. The worst news: The Yankees apparently want him back, and they like to win these negotiations.
▪ 3. Brett Anderson: He might be the best bargain on the market — if he can somehow stay healthy. Anderson looked like a budding star in Oakland before Tommy John surgery in 2012 wiped him out. He made only eight starts for Colorado in 2014.