Royals still shopping but looking for safe investments

It’s easy to get caught up in the buzz of the holiday shopping season even as the baseball industry begins dispersing today from its annual Winter Meetings.

That includes the Royals, even with their limited payroll flexibility. They remained linked to several free agents, including infielder Omar Infante and right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel.

“We’re trying to find that one pitcher or player who really helps us,” general manager Dayton Moore agreed. “We’re certainly going to look for ways to improve, but we’re not close to anything.”

Even so, those efforts don’t stop this morning when the meetings conclude after the Rule 5 Draft at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort.

It was, remember, just a few days after last year’s meetings that Moore executed a seven-player trade that netted veteran pitcher James Shields from Tampa Bay for outfield prospect Wil Myers.

Nothing so dramatic is expected this time, but…

“Oftentimes,” Moore said, “(the meetings) are a precursor to another deal or an opportunity to make a deal. More than anything else, you’re able to dissect your team and get a good evaluation of the other 29 teams.”

One thing to keep in mind, though, as rumors continue to percolate in coming days off the Hot Stove:

The Royals can’t afford long-term deals that, effectively, produce dead money in the closing years. (Can Seattle, for example, really expect Robinson Cano to be worth $24 million a year at age 39, 40 and 41?)

“We just can’t do that,” Moore said. “For us, players have to be able to produce over the entire length of the contract.”

Square that with the Royals’ interest in Infante, who turns 32 later this month and is seeking a four-year deal in excess of $8 million a year.

Teams appear disinclined to meet Infante’s demands. The Royals show no signs of doing so.

“I don’t know,” one club official said. “Emilio Bonifacio is just like Infante and (Placido) Polanco before they started to get regular playing time. Those guys got better when they got regular playing time.”

The Royals control Bonifacio, 28, for one more season through arbitration. Industry projections suggest he’s in line for a raise from $2.6 million to roughly $3.3 million.

That’s a lot easier to swallow, if the Royals see similarities between Bonifacio and Infante, than $8 million a year for multiple seasons for a player who is more than three years older.

The Royals earlier wrestled with the risks of offering a three-year deal to free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran. When they did, they seemed positioned to sign him until the Yankees upped their bid to three years.

But the offer to Beltran came with the realization that, for the Royals to maximize his value, they needed to clear space at designated hitter, which meant seeking a trade for Billy Butler.

Even now, a trade involving Butler is possible. The Royals have All-Star catcher Salvy Perez under control through 2019 but are already seeking ways to keep him in the lineup when he isn’t behind the plate.

“Before too long,” a club official said, “the DH spot has to be a rotating position for us. It really does.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a rotating position next season, but it seems increasingly unlikely that Butler, whose contract contains a club option for 2015, gets an extension.

A Butler trade might still happen this winter — provided the Royals think the net result is a beefed-up attack. Or they might just bank the dollars for the future.

“Any team that leaves spring training, that is going to win,” Moore said, “is going to have to make moves along the way. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we don’t have any flexibility.”

Related stories from Kansas City Star