On the ground floor of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, Ben Zobrist strutted through the hallways with a blazer on his back and a Chicago Cubs cap atop his head. Several floors above, inside suites in this cavernous resort, baseball officials from the Royals continued to grind their way through the Winter Meetings.
The departure of Zobrist became official Wednesday as Chicago introduced him as the recipient of a four-year, $56 million contract. The potential departure of outfielder Alex Gordon could occur in the coming days, although he remains stuck in a log-jammed free-agent market as these meetings drift to a close.
After signing pitchers Chris Young and Joakim Soria, the Royals have continued their search for an additional starting pitcher and a corner outfielder. Yet it appeared unlikely, as of Wednesday, that the team could complete another maneuver. The lack of progress, after the initial one-two flurry, does not bother general manager Dayton Moore.
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“We’re a better team now than when we began the Winter Meetings,” Moore said from his hotel suite Wednesday afternoon. He was preparing to head to a banquet to honor the game’s best scouts, including a commendation for senior adviser Mike Arbuckle, who was honored as the Midwest Scout of the Year.
The award from Arbuckle interrupted another day spent talking with agents and palavering with clubs, all while the Royals waited for the outfield glut to disperse. In the view of multiple executives from teams with interest in Gordon, his market is unlikely to take shape until pricier players like Jason Heyward and Justin Upton sign.
Gordon will turn 32 in February, which dings him in comparison to younger players like those two. Even so, rival executives continue to believe his price will exceed any offer made by the Royals. Moore refused to rule out a reunion with Gordon, but he has not exactly struck an optimistic tone.
Asked whether the franchise possessed the financial capability to make a contract offer that Gordon would accept, Moore said, “I don’t know. We’ll see. Don’t know the answer to that yet.”
If Kansas City cannot sign Gordon, the team will turn to a more affordable tier of outfielders. But the competition for players like Gerardo Parra or Denard Span could drive the cost past the comfort zone of a team like the Royals. So the team could also pursue less expensive options like Austin Jackson or Travis Snider.
On Tuesday, Moore declared that Jarrod Dyson would occupy one of the corner outfield spots on a regular basis. A day later, he expressed his confidence that the team could survive without making any outfield additions, using Paulo Orlando plus a pool of minor-leaguers like Brett Eibner, Reymond Fuentes and Jose Martinez to fill the rest of the outfield void.
“We’re still in the market for a starting pitcher, and we do want to acquire an outfield bat,” Moore said. “But we also know this, that if we do nothing in the outfield, we’re going to be very good defensively. We’re going to have speed, and we’re going to have upside.”
It is unlikely the team stays quiet, but Moore did sound somewhat frustrated with the lack of movement on the free-agent front. The team has engaged in conversations with several starting pitchers, including southpaw Scott Kazmir, but found little reason for obvious external optimism.
The work will not end once these meetings conclude Thursday morning, but the Royals did close the book on one piece of business, as Zobrist made his exit official. The team acquired him in late July and installed him near the top of its lineup, where he catalyzed the offense all October. At 35, having missed time earlier in the season with knee surgery, Zobrist became too expensive for Kansas City’s tastes.
The Royals did engage him in preliminary conversations but quickly departed from the picture, Zobrist said. He chose the Cubs over the Mets and the Nationals, in part so he could stay close to his hometown in Illinois and his current home in Nashville.
“We really enjoyed our time in Kansas City, and being back in the middle part of the country really whet our appetite for staying somewhere near where I grew up,” Zobrist said.
The Royals will move forward without him. As this week draws to a close, Moore expressed his happiness with the work his front office has already accomplished, even as he acknowledged the work required to complete the winter.
“We like our team a great deal,” Moore said. “We trust in our players. We’re confident that we’re going to be able to make strong additions to this team, well-round additions to this team, as we move forward.”