As his baseball operations department foraged for solutions to improving the Royals’ roster, general manager Dayton Moore sought to diminish expectations heading into Thursday’s non-waiver trading deadline.
“There’s only a few talent pools that exist right now,” Moore said before Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Twins. “There’s only a few ways to acquire talent. And there’s only a few teams willing to trade talent. There’s no group of players that’s going to come in and put this team over the top. It’s going to have to come from within.”
Yet the front office continued to work the phones. With a dearth of a dynamic hitters available, the Royals remained in active contact about pitchers on Wednesday, inquiring about Boston Red Sox starter John Lackey (11-7, 3.60 ERA), New York Mets starter Bartolo Colon (10-8, 3.88 ERA) and San Diego Padres starter Ian Kennedy (8-9, 3.66 ERA), among others, according to people familiar with the situation.
They also continued to look for bullpen help. Their quest for an upgrade in right field has left Texas outfielder Alex Rios looking like the best option. One league official described Rios as the most “attainable” of the bats on the market. Philadelphia outfielder Marlon Byrd is considered too pricey. Boston’s Jonny Gomes is a subpar defender.
The interest in bolstering the rotation does not tie directly into Jason Vargas’ recovery from an appendectomy, but there is still some concern about how he bounces back. Manager Ned Yost hopes Vargas can start in Oakland on Saturday, 24 days after his emergency operation. If not, Bruce Chen will take his place once again.
An additional starter would also protect against regression from Jeremy Guthrie. After an impressive June, Guthrie has stumbled. In his last four starts, Guthrie has allowed 22 earned runs in 19 2/3 innings.
Colon, Kennedy and Lackey share one quality: They are under contract through 2015. The Royals are reluctant to add salary for this season, but will likely need to add a starting pitcher in the offseason to fill the void created by James Shields’ expected departure.
Kennedy, 29, is arbitration-eligible again next season, and San Diego may be reluctant to deal him. The Padres are currently interviewing candidates for their vacant general manager position.
The Mets owe Colon another $11 million for 2015. At 41, he is two years removed from a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. There is a sense the Mets may want to retain Colon, for now, in hopes of contending next year.
Lackey, 35, presents the most intriguing case. When he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012, a unique contractual clause kicked in, and he became locked into a $500,000 option for 2015. Though there is a sense that number will be renegotiated, Boston is using it to inflate Lackey’s value as they listen to offers.
The Red Sox are seeking a power arm, according to people familiar with the situation. The Royals prize their prospects who fit that mold, pitchers like Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea and Miguel Almonte.
One stumbling block to the Royals making a deal, according to rival evaluators, is a succession of subpar seasons from some of their secondary farmhands. The upper echelon of the team’s farm system is still appealing to other clubs. But prospects like pitcher Jason Adam, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio and infielder Cheslor Cuthbert have seen their value shrink.