The brain trust of the Royals baseball operations department gathered inside their Kauffman Stadium offices on Tuesday. The organizational meetings adjourned around 5 p.m., in time for the executives to fan out across the home dugout to watch their players take batting practice, huddle with members of the coaching staff and break away to check messages on their phones from around Major League Baseball.
The nonwaiver trading deadline expires at 3 p.m. local time on Thursday, and general manager Dayton Moore has instructed his operatives to cast a wide net in search of upgrades. According to conversations with multiple team officials and executives from rival clubs, the team has inquired, or at least had internal discussions, about a variety of players across the diamond.
The list includes outfielders (Rangers right fielder Alex Rios), starting pitchers (Boston’s John Lackey, San Diego’s Ian Kennedy) and relievers (Philadelphia lefty Antonio Bastardo, Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller). The team pondered picking the bones of the Phillies — with tepid interest in players like outfielder Marlon Byrd, starter A.J. Burnett, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley — but appears to have backed off.
Heading into Thursday, the Royals have already made a series of lower-level maneuvers. They added a right-handed reliever in Jason Frasor. They altered the composition of their bench by acquiring backup catcher Erik Kratz, shipping third baseman Danny Valencia to Toronto and promoting utility infielder Christian Colon.
Yet no major acquisition has occurred, and the team may pass the deadline without doing so, opting for less seismic maneuvers before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline.
There are multifold hurdles in between interest in a trade and completion of a deal. The prospects sought by other clubs are not surprising, but for an organization invested in player development, they are considered pricey. The Royals have received interest in farmhands like 22-year-old third baseman Hunter Dozier, 18-year-old shortstop Raul Mondesi, 21-year-old right-hander Miguel Almonte and 22-year-old left-hander Sean Manaea.
Teams have even asked about Kyle Zimmer, the team’s injured top pitching prospect, who has spent his summer rehabbing a strained latissimus dorsi muscle. The value of Zimmer is nebulous, but the Royals are reticent to part with a pitcher they consider capable of headlining their starting rotation.
Then there are the financial considerations for any deal.
Though the Royals insist they can absorb more salary, rival executives remain dubious. This is murky business, as the reticence of Kansas City to take on money could be seen as either a negotiating tactic or a literal lack of spending capability.
Money is a critical component in dealing with the two top outfielders on the market. Both Byrd and Rios feature no-trade provisions allowing them to block trades to Kansas City. Byrd, 36, would likely require the Royals to guarantee his vesting option for 2016, locking them into a two-year, $16 million deal past 2014 for a player two years removed from a .488 on-base plus slugging percentage and a drug suspension.
Rios, a 33-year-old due $12.5 million total for 2014, is considered more attainable, according to people familiar with the situation. His contract includes a $13.5 team option for next season, which the Royals would hope to buy out rather than guarantee. Still, Rios is far from a superstar, with only four home runs this season, and just one since May.
Right field remains the organization’s most obvious area to improve, and the one the team has attacked with the most zeal. But they are pondering ways to tweak their rotation, too.
Officials with knowledge of the situation confirmed the team’s interest in Lackey, which was first reported by ESPN Boston. A contractual quirk means Lackey, a 35-year-old righty, will pitch for the big-league minimum of $500,000 next season, which adds to his appeal. Of course, it also increases both his value for the Red Sox.
In his two-year return from Tommy John surgery, Lackey owns a 3.55 ERA in 50 starts. Boston does not intend to give him away for cheap. One person familiar with the team’s thought process stressed it would take “something real” in order to pry him away.
“They want a lot,” another league official said.
These are just a few of the hurdles facing the Royals as attempt to fortify their club. It is unclear how the team will handle the coming days, but the deadline is approaching — and fast.