Dayton Moore saw his name connected to a front office opening in Atlanta for most of October. Two months later, as Moore seeks to refurbish his American League champion Royals, discussions with the Braves, his professional home for a dozen years, could lead to significant additions to his current roster.
The Royals are one of several clubs to express continued interest in Atlanta sluggers Justin Upton and Evan Gattis, according to people familiar with the situation. Kansas City has cast a wide net here at the Manchester Grand Hyatt as they attempt to find an additional starting pitcher and at least one hitter. They remain in the mix for free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera and starter Ervin Santana, but may find more success through deals with other clubs.
“We’re, very candidly, pursuing some different trades,” Moore said, without commenting on specific players. “And maybe some lower-risk (free-agent) options for us.”
He added, “We’re optimistic about some things, on the trade front and through free agency. We’re looking to improve our team in both avenues.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Royals have been dogged but fruitless in their search for players here, according to people familiar with the situation. They’ve shown a willingness to move second baseman Omar Infante. They’ve talked to the Mets about starter Dillon Gee. They continue to listen to offers for relievers Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera — and they remain reticent to fracture the trio.
Yet in order to upgrade via trades, Kansas City may have little other choice. They do not possess a plethora of hitters. Their pool of pitching prospects is solid, but Moore has spoken about his concern for replenishing the talent base. He views the team will be handicapped by rules in the collective-bargaining agreement that place caps on spending in the draft and on the amateur international market.
Thus the relievers form a surplus. During the initial conversations between Kansas City and Atlanta, according to people familiar with the situation, the Braves asked about young starters Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. The Royals consider these two vital for both their present and their future. Moore insists no player on his roster is untouchable, but his team would prefer to retain the duo. As discussions have moved along, the Braves have broadened their pool of players they covet.
One league official speculated Atlanta seeks one of Kansas City’s three premier relievers — Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera — to pair with four-time All Star closer Craig Kimbrel. The Royals theoretically could build around a package around one of the relievers and a top prospect like Brandon Finnegan or Kyle Zimmer — if the club is willing to sacrifice as much.
Upton fills a variety of Kansas City’s needs. He is an explosive right-handed hitter who plays right field. He has averaged 26 homers, 31 doubles and an .835 on-base plus slugging percentage these past four seasons. At 27, he resides in the middle of his prime seasons.
Yet the cost to attain him will be sizable, and his stay in Kansas City would be brief. A nine-figure payday awaits Upton in free agency after 2015. The Royals would be forced to gamble on both the immediate return of a one-year rental and the ability of their player development staff to rebuild the team’s prospect base.
The situation somewhat mirrors the team’s acquisition of James Shields before the 2013 season. Moore declines to discuss any ongoing talks during the offseason, but spoke in general about the various factors involved in a trade of this nature.
“When you make deals like that, usually it’s for players where you’re comfortable with their health and you’re comfortable with their track record,” Moore said. “You feel good about what you’re going to get. You can look at the numbers and the productivity and pretty much pencil it in for the following year.
“We know who we are. And we have to use our farm system to make things happen. We’ll continue with that. It’s never easy to deal your homegrown players. But at the same time, it’s part of the game and how we have to operate. We’d love to go out and out-spend everybody. But it’s not how we operate.”
Gattis is an intriguing option, but also a confounding one. His primary position in Kansas City would be designated hitter. He cannot handle right field, and his catching would be limited by the presence of Salvador Perez. The Royals would prefer to rotate players through the DH spot in 2015.
Yet Gattis thumped 22 homers in 401 plate appearances last season. Like Upton, he bats right-handed. He is also under team control for another four seasons.
If the Royals miss out on Cabrera, they may be forced to acquire a hitter through a trade. The market for bats is bleak. The team has had discussions with options like Alex Rios, Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, but the group of available players is marred with flaws.
Far more pitchers are available. With Jon Lester headed to the Cubs, movement in the market should accelerate. Shields should move into the vacuum created by Lester’s agreement and the negotiating tactics of Scott Boras, the agent for Max Scherzer. Boras strategizes by stalling, waiting for clubs to cave and meet his price. The Royals intend to stay in contact with Shields’ representatives, but only a tiny chance for a reunion exists.
Moore and his front office will leave San Diego after the Rule 5 draft on Thursday morning. It appears unlikely they will depart the California sunshine without any players. But he feels these days have been productive.
“Even if we don’t get anything done here, I’m optimistic that we’ll land some quality players that enhance the abilities of our current group and blend in well with our current group,” Moore said. “It may not happen here in San Diego. But we’ll be able to execute that at some point in time.”