Kansas City Royals Offseason Tracker: Hottest Trade Rumors, Free Agency News

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2013

Kansas City Royals Offseason Tracker: Hottest Trade Rumors, Free Agency News

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    Kansas City took some big steps in the right direction in 2013, finishing the season 10 games above .500 and managing to hang around in the playoff race until the last two weeks of the regular season.

    With that being said, additions need to be made if the Royals are going to take the next step and surge past teams like Cleveland and Detroit for the top spot in the AL Central, which leaves GM Dayton Moore with some difficult decisions to make this winter.

    Keep it here for the most up-to-the-minute rumblings about the Royals, along with analysis and everything else that comes with it. While the post date will always show as November 1, simply click to the next slide to see the latest from the rumor mill as the Royals put their roster together for the 2014 season. 

Kansas City's Free Agents and Done Deals

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    All the juicy rumors and analysis follow, but consider this your one-stop shop for all the comings and goings in Kansas City this winter, including the status of the team's own free agents.

     

    Royals Free Agents

    LHP Bruce Chen

    IF Irving Falu (Nov. 25: Released; Dec. 4: Signed minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers)

    2B Chris Getz (Dec. 2: Non-tendered by Royals)

    RHP Luis Mendoza (Nov. 11: Released; Nov. 13: Signed with Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters)

    RHP Felipe Paulino (Nov. 20: Rejected minor league assignment, opted for free agency; Dec. 9: Signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Chicago White Sox)

    1B Carlos Pena

    RHP Ervin Santana

    RHP James Shields ($13.5 million team option picked up Oct. 31, 2013)

    IF Miguel Tejada

     

    Done Deals

    Nov. 17: Signed C Francisco Pena to a one-year deal

    Nov. 21: Signed LHP Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million deal (Analysis)

    Nov. 26: Traded C George Kottaras to the Chicago Cubs for cash

    Dec. 5: Traded LHP Will Smith to Milwaukee for OF Norichika Aoki (Analysis)

    Dec. 13: Signed IF/OF Omar Infante to a four-year, $30 million deal (Analysis)

    Dec. 18: Traded OF David Lough to Baltimore for IF Danny Valencia

    Dec. 28: Signed IF Jason Donald and OF Melky Mesa to minor league deals

Ervin Santana: Royals Can't Afford a One-Year Deal?

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    Brad White/Getty Images

    Update: Thursday, Dec. 19 at 12:27 p.m. ET

    The Royals are at their payroll limit and would be hard-pressed to fit Ervin Santana into the budget even if his price dropped, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

    The money that the team had designated for Santana, Crasnick says, has already gone to Jason Vargas and Omar Infante.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 6:22 a.m. ET

    With the market for starting pitchers slow to develop, GM Dayton Moore is holding out hope that Ervin Santana's market never fully materializes, which could push the free agent back to Kansas City, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

    If that happens, Santana would likely only sign a one-year deal so that he can test free agency again in a year—and while such a scenario would set the Royals up to have their two best starters, Santana and James Shields, both hit the open market after the 2014 season—it seems to be a bridge that the Royals are willing to cross.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Thursday, Nov. 14 at 10:02 p.m. ET

    While the door remains open for Santana to return, GM Dayton Moore, in a conversation with Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star, certainly sounds resigned to the fact that he's headed elsewhere:

    I’m aware of (the package floated by Santana’s representatives),” Moore said, “but I haven’t studied it. Erv was a terrific pitcher for us, and we’re going to stay engaged. He’s agreed to stay engaged with us. We’ll see how it works. I hope he gets a great deal.

    To that end, Moore said that while the team wouldn't mind adding two starters this winter, they feel that they only need to add one, presumably to replace Santana.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Wednesday, Nov. 13 at 10:21 a.m. ET

    The New York Post's Joel Sherman reports that Santana's agents are seeking a five-year, $112 million deal and are comparing him to former Royals ace Zack Greinke.

    The chances of Santana remaining with the Royals are now officially on life support.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Monday, Nov. 11 at 1:28 p.m. ET

    As expected, Santana has declined Kansas City's qualifying offer, according to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports and is now a free agent.

    The Royals will be compensated with a draft pick when he signs with another club.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Thursday, Nov. 7 at 7:53 p.m. ET

    In his latest column, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports that Santana is seeking a five-year deal in excess of $100 million. While it's hard to believe that there's a GM/owner combination that would agree to such a deal, if that is what he's seeking, Kansas City can all but kiss him goodbye.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Monday, Nov. 4 at 4:58 p.m. ET

    The Royals announced that they have extended a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer to Santana via the team's official Twitter account.

    --End of Update--

     

    Kansas City will extend a qualifying offer to Ervin Santana, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, ensuring at the very least that the team will receive draft pick compensation if it is unable to retain his services in 2014 and beyond.

    A major part of Kansas City's turnaround in 2013, the 30-year-old Santana is coming off a terrific campaign that saw him pitch to a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 32 starts but, more importantly, gave the Royals distance, tossing 211 innings during the regular season.

    With a lack of big-time starting pitching on the free agent market, Santana is sure to be one of the hotter names on the rumor mill this offseason, and bidding for his services could quickly exceed the levels that the Royals are comfortable—or willing—to go to in order to retain his services.

    That said, losing Santana would be a major setback for a team that stayed in contention until late September, and GM Dayton Moore is sure to do his best to try and keep the Royals blue on his uniform for the foreseeable future.

Aaron Crow and Tim Collins: No Longer Available?

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Update: Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 6:20 a.m. ET

    The Royals have already traded one reliever, left-hander Will Smith, and that seems to be the only bullpen piece that they'll unload, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.

    After adding the likes of Jason Vargas, Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante to the roster this offseason, Rosenthal says that GM Dayton Moore isn't looking to move anyone else from the roster—he'd like to keep adding, if the market makes it possible.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 2:20 p.m. ET

    Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star tweeted that the Colorado Rockies could be dangling center fielder Dexter Fowler in an effort to acquire either Tim Collins or Aaron Crow. 

    Fowler put up career numbers in 2012 for the Rockies, hitting .300 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI and a .389 on-base percentage. While his numbers dipped slightly last season, he was also bothered by hand and knee injuries that limited him to just 119 games. 

    --End of Update--

     

    While Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star says that the Royals would consider moving anyone from its bullpen in the right deal—including All-Star closer Greg Holland—rival executives tell him that LHP Tim Collins and RHP Aaron Crow are the two relievers that the team is dangling as trade bait:

    Those are the guys they’d like to trade because they’re going to start to make a little bit of money. But the key thing for them is they have a lot of other guys ready to step in…guys who might be even better.

    Collins and Crow are arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and both are expected to receive substantial raises from the $534,500 and $1.28 million that they made, respectively, in 2013.

    Collins, 24, pitched to a 3.54 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 66 relief appearances, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning while holding left-handed batters to a .212/.304/.333 slash line in 2013. Crow, 27, posted a 3.38 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 57 appearances last season.

    Moving Holland would obviously bring back the most substantial package of talent for the Royals, but the team would prefer to hold onto him, according to Dutton.

Billy Butler: No Longer on the Block?

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    Update: Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 6:18 a.m. ET

    The Royals are unlikely to move Butler at this point, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, who says that GM Dayton Moore isn't interested in weakening the team after adding the pieces that he has so far this offseason.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Thursday, Dec. 12 at 8:30 p.m. ET

    Sources tell The Globe & Mail's Jeff Blair that the Royals and Blue Jays have discussed a deal that would have sent Billy Butler and prospects to Toronto. Nothing is imminent, however, as Reid says things haven't moved past the discussion phase.

    While it's unknown what the Royals might be looking to get back from the Blue Jays, moving Butler's $8.5 million salary to free up some more cash for 2014 could be Kansas City's motivation.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Tuesday, Dec. 10 at 2:40 p.m. ET

    The Royals have not ruled out trading DH Billy Butler, according to a report from ESPN's Jayson Stark.

    Moving Butler, Stark opines, could open the door for the Royals to get in on the bidding for free agent slugger Nelson Cruz, who has been linked to the Mariners, Orioles and Rangers.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Saturday, Dec. 7 at 7:13 p.m. ET

    The Tacoma News Tribune's Bob Dutton, formerly of the Kansas City Star, says that the Royals are unlikely to trade Butler after losing in the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes. 

    --End of Update--

     

    Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says that a trade involving Billy Butler remained a possibility, despite the team's denials, before the Royals traded for Norichika Aoki.

    Now that Aoki is in the mix, Rosenthal believes that a Butler trade appears more likely now—especially if Kansas City signs Carlos Beltran.

    --End of Update--

     

    Update: Thursday, Nov. 14 at 10:05 p.m. ET

    While GM Dayton Moore didn't directly address trade rumors surrounding Butler in his chat with The Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton, another club official did:

    Do the math. We’re looking to add offense. If we trade Butler, we’d have to add a lot of offense. It would have to be a series of moves to do that, and that’s hard to do. Plus, there’s just not that much available offense out there.

    It's safe to say that, unless the team is presented with an offer that it simply can't refuse, Butler is going to remain Kansas City's DH and in the middle of the team's lineup.

    --End of Update--

     

    According to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Royals are willing to listen to offers for DH Billy Butler, due $20 million through the 2015 season.

    Before Royals fans go berserk at the thought of the team moving its most consistent offensive weapon, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reminds us that this is par for the course with GM Dayton Moore:

    “You’ve got to look at all of your options,” Moore said. “We’ve got to be open-minded to everything.”

    Butler, 27, had his worst season in years in 2013, hitting .289 with 15 home runs, 82 RBI and a .787 OPS—the first time since 2008 that he posted an OPS under .822. However, it's not like those are bad numbers by any stretch of the imagination, and his salary shouldn't be prohibitive to putting a deal together. 

Dec. 13: Signed IF/OF Omar Infante

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Bats: S

    2013 Stats: .318/.345/.450, 10 HR, 51 RBI, 5-for-7 SB

    Contract Status: Four years, $30 million

     

    After losing out to the Yankees on Carlos Beltran, the Royals exacted their revenge by signing Omar Infante, who New York was looking at as a replacement for Robinson Cano.

    Coming off one of the best years of his career for Detroit in 2013, Infante is versatile enough to play second base, third base or a corner outfield spot, though he's going to be Kansas City's everyday starter at second.

    This move allows the team to keep Emilio Bonifacio on the bench as a valuable, versatile reserve, and prospect Christian Colon down on the farm where he can continue to develop—or GM Dayton Moore could use them both as trade chips to bolster another area of the roster.

    Infante is familiar with the American League and the AL Central, specifically, and he's always done well at Kauffman Stadium, boasting a career .303 average, 14 extra-base hits (three home runs) and an .808 OPS in 169 career plate appearances.

    ESPN's Buster Olney lays out what the Royals lineup might look like in 2014 with Infante on board—and on paper, at least—it looks pretty good:

    1. Aoki (RF)

    2. Infante (2B)

    3. Gordon (LF)

    4. Butler (DH)

    5. Hosmer (1B)

    6. Perez (C)

    7. Cain (CF)

    8. Moustakas (3B)

    9. Escobar (SS)

    All of a sudden, the Royals have a lineup that, heading into the season, has to be considered one of the better ones in the American League.

Dee Gordon: Royals Interested in Dodgers Speedy Infielder?

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Thursday, Dec. 12 at 11:52 p.m. ET

    ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon says that he's been told that there is no truth to the Gordon-for-Maxwell rumor that was reported earlier.

    --End of Update--

     

    Thursday, Dec. 12 at 11:53 a.m. ET

    The Royals and Dodgers are discussing a deal that would send OF Justin Maxwell to Los Angeles in exchange for IF Dee Gordon, according to Bob Dutton from the Tacoma News Tribune.

    Gordon, 25, has a career .256/.301/.312 slash line over parts of three seasons with the Dodgers. His primary asset is his speed, able to cause chaos when he gets on base, evidenced by his nearly 78 percent success rate on stolen base attempts (66-for-85).

    His major issue, unfortunately, is that he struggles to get on base with any consistency, and for a player with little-to-no power, his 5.5 percent career walk rate and 16.8 percent career strikeout rate (via FanGraphs) are troubling.

    That said, Gordon could serve as a low-cost, short-term option for the Royals at second base, allowing the team to use Emilio Bonifacio as a utility player and give prospect Christian Colon more time to develop in the minor leagues before the team needs to rely on him.

Dec. 5: Acquire OF Norichika Aoki

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Bats: L

    2013 Stats: .286/.356/.370, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 20-for-32 SB

    Contract Status: One year, $1.95 million remaining

     

    Kansas City got itself a leadoff hitter while upgrading its defense in right field with the acquisition of soon-to-be 32-year-old Norichika Aoki from the Brewers.

    A disciplined batter who walks more than he strikes out, Aoki allows the Royals to drop Alex Gordon in the lineup, something that GM Dayton Moore says was a priority for the team: "We wanted to acquire a leadoff hitter so we could move Gordo more to the middle of the lineup."

    An above-average defender in right field, Aoki now gives the Royals one of the best defensive outfields in the game, with Gordon in left field and Lorenzo Cain in center.

    CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says that despite this move, the Royals are still "very much interested" in signing Carlos Beltran.

Nov. 21: Signed SP Jason Vargas

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Throws: L

    2013 Stats: 9-8, 4.02 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 150 IP, 2.8 BB/9, 6.5 K/9

    Contract Status: Four years, $32 million

     

    If you're having flashbacks to 2006 when the Royals signed Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million deal, it's understandable.

    While the team's decision to give Jason Vargas a four-year, $32 million deal isn't quite as head-scratching as the Meche signing was, it is, at the very least, a bit of an eyebrow-raising move. Not so much for the $8 million a year that Vargas will earn, but for the four-year term of the deal.

    While Vargas is a veteran left-handed starter that effectively replaces Bruce Chen in the team's rotation, there's a reason that he's quickly becoming a journeyman, now on his third team in as many seasons.

    Yes, it's true that Vargas averaged more than 200 innings a season from 2010 to 2012—and likely would have done so again in 2013 had he not missed a chunk of the year due to a blood clot in his armpit.

    It's also true that Vargas is equally effective against batters from both sides of the plate, with left-handers hitting .257 with a .701 OPS against him, right-handers .263 with a .754 OPS.

    That said, Vargas is, at best, a solid mid-rotation starter. While he'll keep the Royals in games, he isn't going to have an Ervin Santana-like impact and shut down the opposition, leaving the Royals still searching for a legitimate No. 2 starter after James Shields.

    If the Royals are going to take the next step and return to the playoffs, the team needed to aim higher than Jason Vargas this offseason.

Brandon Phillips: Trade Target?

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    Thursday, Nov. 14 at 11:13 p.m. ET

    ESPN's Jim Bowden tweets that Royals manager Ned Yost and GM Dayton Moore have spent hours talking about potential acquisitions this offseason, including Cincinnati's All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips.

    While the pair has discussed potentially trying to acquire Phillips, the 32-year-old is owed a guaranteed $50 million through 2017. With the Royals looking to add multiple pieces this season, it's hard to see how they'd be able to fit Phillips' salary into the budget.

    Also, as Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star reminds us, Moore told reporters that “second base is not a huge priority for us" while at the GM meetings in Orlando.

    While that may not entirely be true (second base is clearly a position that would benefit from an upgrade), there are simply too many obstacles to get past in order for a Phillips trade to move from the rumor stage to a real possibility.