As the General Manager Meetings wound down on Wednesday afternoon, a group of high-ranked Royals officials departed the Arizona Biltmore and prepared for a flight to the Dominican Republic.
The trip was planned in advance for organizational meetings at the team’s academy. But the agenda also could include an item more pressing for Kansas City’s fortunes in 2015: A visit to a workout for Cuban free-agent slugger Yasmani Tomas.
No viewing of Tomas, the 24-year-old outfielder, was officially locked into place. Team officials framed their schedule as fluid. But the Royals have already expressed interest in Tomas, who could fetch a contract larger than Rusney Castillo’s seven-year, $72.5 million pact with Boston. They met with his agent, Jay Alou, earlier this week.
Never before has Kansas City doled out a contract at that value. But Tomas possesses enough talent to force them to consider the prospect. He represents an unpredictable but tantalizing commodity. His upside, rival officials speculate, is far greater than targets on the free-agent market like Torii Hunter, Melky Cabrera and Billy Butler.
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During the past three days here, general manager Dayton Moore and his cohorts conducted a flurry of meetings with agents and held a bevy of discussions with opposing clubs. This event allows teams to set their agendas for the winter. Moore continues to stress the importance of acquiring a starting pitcher, but the lineup still lacks a right fielder and a designated hitter.
“Right now, we’re focused on who the players are that make the most sense for us,” Moore said.
He added, “If they significantly upgrade our team, we’ll handle the financial aspect at the appropriate time.”
The team’s payroll is expected to surpass $100 million for the first time in franchise history. The Royals appear to possess the resources for one major expenditure. That player could be former Royal Ervin Santana. It could be Cabrera.
Or it could be Tomas. He defected to Haiti in June. Scouts from across the league flocked to his workouts in the Dominican Republic in recent months. Tomas conducted private workouts for Royals assistant general manager Rene Francisco.
Tomas profiles as a lesser prospect than either White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu or Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig due to his less athletic body and potential struggle to hit for average, rival scouts say. He likely will end up in right field. His 6-1, 230-pound frame still flashes tremendous power, a quality lacking in the Kansas City lineup. With Butler able to sign elsewhere, the Royals would like a right-handed complement for the left-handed hitters in the middle of their order.
The risk is that Tomas has never competed against upper-level competition on an extended basis. In cases like this, teams must trust their judgment.
“It’s more of the old-school scouting side of it, with less information about the background of the player or the personalities involved,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “That’s a harder task. And the price tags are obviously through the roof.”
In the past five years, the salaries on the Cuban market have exploded. Cincinnati signed Aroldis Chapman on a six-year, $30.25 million contract. Yoenis Cespedes topped him with a four-year, $36 million deal. Puig exceeded that with a seven-year, $42 million pact — only to see Abreu accept a $68 million package last winter. And Castillo topped them all.
In this particular case, the Royals could be aided by a philosophical quirk of Tomas’ representatives. Tomas may prefer a shorter deal, as few as four years, in order to hit the market again as a 28-year-old in his prime, according to people familiar with the situation.
To hear team officials tell it, they still consider themselves an underdog for Tomas’ services. Moore has never shied away from admitting his club lacks the financial wherewithal to compete for high-priced free agents. It is one reason the team is unlikely to re-sign James Shields.
But with Tomas, the Royals will at least explore the option. They could get a front-row seat for his talents this week.