Billy Butler faces the pull of dueling poles as his first foray into free-agency begins.
The first force is the attraction of continuing his career with the Royals, his employers for the last decade. The second force is the allure of added dollars and extra years of stability offered by other teams.
It is a common conundrum for free agents, and Butler may feel that acute strain as he receives pitches from the rest of the league in the coming week. The Royals were expected to sit down with Butler’s representatives for Butler on Tuesday afternoon at the general managers’ meetings.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore has declined to discuss meeting with agents for specific players, but acknowledged the situation on Tuesday afternoon.
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“We need to replace Billy Butler for sure,” Moore said. “If not bring Billy back.”
The potential departure of Butler creates a hole in the middle of the team’s batting order. The Royals could plug that hole with one of the most intriguing players on the market. They have shown interest in Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas, a 24-year-old slugger who has wowed observers at recent workouts in the Dominican Republic and drawn comparisons to his countryman, White Sox first baseman and American League Rookie of the Year José Abreu.
The Royals would still consider a reunion with Butler, who posted the weakest offensive season of his career in 2014, and may even match his $8 million salary from last season. But they are wary of offering longer than a two-year contract, according to people familiar with the situation, and rumors flew Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore about Butler receiving a three-year offer from an unnamed club.
MLB.com reported Tuesday afternoon that a source had indicated that team was the Baltimore Orioles.
When the Royals declined a $12.5 million option on Butler earlier this month, Butler lamented he might be placed in an uncomfortable position by a sizable offer from a rival club. The coming weeks will tell if this scenario unfolds. Until then, Kansas City must prepare for life without its longtime designated hitter.
Early in the offseason, with most of their attention still trained toward pitching, the Royals’ top offensive target appears to be 39-year-old outfielder Torii Hunter. They will also consider a reunion with either Nori Aoki or Melky Cabrera.
In years past, the Royals felt they lacked the resources to compete for top-flight Cuban free agents such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. But Tomas is now on their radar.
The team met with Jay Alou, who represents both Tomas and starter Ervin Santana, earlier this week. Tomas could merit a contract larger than Abreu’s six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox and Rusney Castillo’s seven-year, $72.5 million pact with Boston.
The Royals have never before given out a contract at that level, but they have not shut the door on the possibility.
During this four-day junket, the Royals have also entered preliminary discussions with opposing clubs about potential trades. As a rule, Moore prefers to avoid acquiring players through free agency. The standard mode of operation for filling a vacancy involves first a canvassing of internal options, then exhausting available scenarios on the trade market, and then — and only then — hunting for free agents.
These talks with other teams are widespread and perfunctory. One rumor sprouted this week when USA Today reported the Royals have pondered pursuing fading Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. Team officials downplayed their level of interest in Howard and repeated their interest in acquiring pitching.
Howard turns 35 later this month. He led the National League in strikeouts as he finished with a career-worst .690 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Philadelphia owes him $60 million through 2016. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro indicated his club is willing to absorb salary in order to move players.
Howard would add an element of raw strength missing from the Royals’ current roster. Yet he would be another left-handed hitter in a lineup already dominated by lefties such as Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Like Hunter, Butler is a right-handed hitter. His representatives from The Legacy Group were expected to meet with Moore and his lieutenants on Tuesday.
The group also represents Brett Anderson, an intriguing but injury-prone starting pitcher. The Royals have interest as well in more expensive assets like Santana and left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Anderson possesses impressive talent with an unreliable frame. After an encouraging rookie campaign with Oakland in 2009, he began to experience chronic arm issues. He made only 19 starts in 2010 due to elbow injuries. He underwent Tommy John surgery the following June. Since then, Anderson has made only 19 starts in the majors.
The Athletics dealt Anderson to Colorado last winter. He pitched in eight games for the Rockies. He fractured a finger while batting in April and missed three months. In August, he required surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back.
Moore indicated the injury history for a player like Anderson or Brandon McCarthy, who has had a series of shoulder problems, would not necessarily preclude the Royals from pursuing them.
“Every player has an expectation of how many years they want,” Moore said. “Our medical people are going to say yay or nay. Our scouting people are going to say yay or nay. Our analytical people are going to say yay or nay.
“We can usually agree on, especially at the upper tier, who we need to go get. I’ve just got to listen to everybody’s opinion. And then you move forward.”