As the MLB winter meetings near, let’s take a look at the Royals’ objectives there

Whit Merrifield on leading baseball in base hits

Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield discusses his hit streak and leading baseball in base hits.
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Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield discusses his hit streak and leading baseball in base hits.

During a span of 72 hours in a haven for those with a risk-seeking propensity, the top brass of 30 MLB teams will gather in a hotel and install, tweak and refine offseason blueprints. The league’s winter meetings, scheduled for Monday-Thursday in Las Vegas, annually produce some of the most lively maneuvering of the offseason. Trades. Free agency.

The Royals will take part in the conversation. But the likelihood is they won’t be leading them.

For a team in the midst of a rebuild — even if the front office has started to avoid that word — expect more remodeling than a tear-down, more tinkering than significant adjustments.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore previously expressed a desire to “get the payroll under control,” a motive that will drive the agenda in Vegas. The Royals stood at $103 million on opening day last year, and have already shed major salary with in-season trades and players they elected not to bring back for 2019.

“We have to get our major-league payroll under control (and) more manageable so we’re in a better position in 2020 and 2021 and beyond to do some things that we believe impact our major-league team in a more positive way and win more games,” Moore said after the season.

Even so, there are needs that will require addressing. The bullpen is priority No. 1 this winter. The Royals’ relief crew posted a 5.04 earned run average in 2018, worst in the American League.

Moore previously said an addition to the bullpen would likely come later in the free-agency window, but those plans are susceptible to change should the right deal present itself. The Royals’ recent addition of Chris Owings, a utility player who will serve as a backup middle infielder and outfielder, is a base for the type of moves the club will target. They could opt to provide more competition for the starting center field job, with Brian Goodwin and Brett Phillips the primary options currently on the roster. Billy Hamilton, a player the Royals previously liked, could be a fit after he was non-tendered last week by the Reds. Hamilton is a light hitter, but his top-line speed and defense could be better suited for the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium.

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The winter meetings will pit the league’s general managers within the same dwelling for three days, a position that often leads to the most active trade talks of the entire winter.

The Royals have trade assets. In fact, if they chose to make their full roster available, they’d have one of the top assets on the market.

Leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield led the majors in hits and steals this year, and he has four years of club control remaining. It makes him a desirable target. But Moore has voiced a preference to make Merrifield part of the club’s transition toward brighter days. And in the realm of ridding the organization of the term “rebuild,” trading Merrifield would be a difficult sell.