Even as they remain on the fringe of postseason contention, the Royals, as the calendar turns to September, are increasingly amping up their planning for next season.
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“You certainly try to add a player or two, but I think our offense has trended upward” in recent weeks, general manager Dayton Moore said. “I think it will continue to get better as we move forward.
“So I think the important thing is to make sure our pitching remains very strong and that our defense remains very strong. The expectation is the offense will continue to get better.”
The Royals lead the American League in earned-run average, but two of their five starters — Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen — are pending free agents.
In contrast, the Royals don’t have a single pending free agent among their core position players. They are, in effect, committed to the group that ranks 10th among the 15 AL clubs in runs scored per game will come from within.
“We’re not abandoning what we’ve started,” Moore said. “We’ve got a lot of talented young players on the field. I feel we’re in the beginning stages of a window where this team can win consistently for a period of time.
“You just want to make sure your pitching is as strong as it can be. You want to improve at every position, if you can, but you’re always going to look to make sure your pitching is strong.”
Off-season moves will hinge on whether the Royals believe Danny Duffy can achieve his potential, whether Wade Davis can develop into a reliable starter and their projected timetable for Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer.
Those evaluations, now proceeding, will dictate how the club approaches negotiations to retain Santana and/or Chen or possibly seeks help through trades or free agency.
Chen, 36, is a back-of-the-rotation veteran who should remain within the club’s salary structure, if Royals want to retain him, but holding onto Santana, 30, could be far more difficult.
While Santana says he is happy in Kansas City, and quite willing to stay, club officials don’t expect him to do so at a discount. That means the market will set the price — and Santana is positioned for a big payday.
Clubs will be armed with money from the new national TV contracts, and Santana and Texas’ Matt Garza are generally viewed as the top starters on the free-agent market.
“I think Erv likes it here,” Moore said. “We certainly like him. It’s just a matter of working hard and trying to make it work. We want him here, but it’s difficult to predict.
“We just have to focus on what we can do and make sure we have the best rotation possible.”
Moore said the Royals don’t yet have a firm payroll budget for next year from owner David Glass. Even so, because of the new TV money, it figures to increase from its current franchise-record level of roughly $82 million.
“It’s more about the players (you can get) than the money you have to spend,” Moore said. “Mr. Glass has always been willing to support us on what we felt was important or necessary to get the best players possible.
“It’s just a matter of making it work.”
Assists adding up
Left fielder Alex Gordon collected three assists in the weekend series against Toronto and now leads all major-league outfielders with 14.
Gordon topped the majors with a club-record 20 outfield assists in 2011 and finished second last year with 17 to then-teammate Jeff Francoeur, who had 19. Gordon was also a Gold Glove winner in both seasons.
“Absolutely, I think he will win it” again, Yost said. “I think he’ll win a bunch of them. He’s still getting better. Teams stop now. They respect his arm more.”
Gordon also is moving up the club’s all-time leaderboard with 53 career outfield assists. Amos Otis ranks first with 116 over 14 years from 1970-83, followed by Willie Wilson 72, Carlos Beltran 61 and Al Cowens 57.
In the house
As expected, catcher Brett Hayes and reliever Francisley Bueno joined the Royals prior to Sunday’s game from Class AAA Omaha. Sunday marked the first day that clubs can expand their rosters from 25 to 40 players.
Technically, the Royals recalled Bueno and selected Hayes’ contract. The latter move puts Hayes on the club’s 40-man roster, which now has no openings.
Hayes, 29, was three for 11 in three games earlier this year when a concussion forced Salvy Perez to the disabled list. Hayes batted .233 in 78 games at Omaha with 17 homers and 44 RBIs.
Bueno, 32, was 3-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 36 games at Omaha. He made one big-league appearance earlier this season — on Aug. 9, when he pitched 2⅓ scoreless innings against Boston.
The Royals are expected to recall right-handers Louis Coleman and Wade Davis from Hi-A Wilmington on Tuesday — one day after the Blue Rocks conclude their season.
Short-season Idaho Falls placed three players on the Pioneer League All-Star team: left-handed pitcher Patrick Conroy, catcher Zane Evans and second baseman Carlos Garcia.
Conroy, 21, is 5-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 12 games with 61 strikeouts in 66 innings. He was a 32nd-round pick in 2012.
Evans, 21, batted .352 with 22 extra-base hits and 31 RBIs in 41 games. He was a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft.
Garcia, 21, batted .329 with 49 runs, 14 extra-base hits and 33 RBIs in 59 games. A native Venezuelan, he was 16 when signed in 2008 as an undrafted free agent.
There soon might be further reinforcements from Omaha because a late-season collapse is threatening the Storm Chasers’ bid for a third straight division title in the Pacific Coast League.
The Storm Chasers held a five-game lead on Aug. 18 before going 3-10. They fell one game behind Memphis after blowing a late lead Saturday in a 5-4 loss to Round Rock.
Omaha must win its final two games Sunday night and Monday afternoon against Round Rock and hope Memphis loses twice at Oklahoma City. Memphis wins the tie-breaker if the teams finish with the same records.
The Chasers have eight players on the club’s 40-man roster, six pitchers (Maikel Cleto, Chris Dwyer, Donnie Joseph, John Lamb, Justin Marks and Everett Teaford) and two infielders (Irving Falu and Johnny Giavotella).
It was 27 years ago Monday — Sept. 2, 1986 — that Bo Jackson made his major-league debut for the Royals by going one for three in a 3-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox at then-Royals Stadium.
Jackson recorded an infield single to second in his first at-bat, which came against future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. Jackson grounded out to short and grounded into a double play in his other two at-bats.
• Jarrod Dyson has a streak of 13 straight successful steals after getting two in Sunday’s game. He is 29 for 33 overall.
• Emilio Bonifacio also stole two bases and is 11 for 11 in 18 games since joining the Royals in an Aug. 14 trade from Toronto.
• Eric Hosmer went two for four, which marked his 51st multi-hit game of the season. Mike Trout of the Angels and Adrian Beltre of the Rangers led the league with 51 prior to Sunday’s games.
• The Royals got their 10th shutout victory, which two shy of their 2012 total. The last time they had more than 12 was 1989, when they had 13.
• The Royals lowered the league-leading ERA to 3.45. Two scoreless innings from the bullpen dropped its league-leading mark to 2.54.
• James Shields, at 10-8, reached double figures in victories for a seventh straight year.
Royals’ career outfield assists leaders
Amos Otis (1970-83): 116
Willie Wilson (1976-90): 72
Carlos Beltran (1998-2004): 61
Al Cowens (1974-79): 57
Alex Gordon (2010-13): 53
David DeJesus (2003-10): 48
Jermaine Dye (1997-2001): 44
Lou Piniella (1969-73): 42
Bo Jackson (1986-90): 41
Jeff Francoeur (2011-13): 38