The Kansas City Royals have been very active this offseason. It seems the team is ready to contend and general manager Dayton Moore is building around his core players to do just that. The 2014 season looks very promising.
That does not mean the Royals are done building their team. As the new year has arrived, so have rumors about the Royals' interest in players that would help improve the club.
From the depths of the snow and ice in the Midwest, here's a look at four rumors surrounding the Royals right now.
Statistics in the following slides are sourced form Baseball-Reference
Contract information is sourced from Cot's Baseball Contracts
Throughout the offseason, the Royals have been linked to various players who may provide an upgrade at the designated hitter position. They have also been rumored to be shopping current DH Billy Butler in an effort to shed some salary while upgrading the team.
According to Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio, the Royals are a "sleeper team interested in (Kendrys) Morales." He goes on to note that he would "love that lineup with him in the middle of it."
Upgrading a position is one thing. Making a move for the sake of making a move is another. Morales does not provide a large enough upgrade over Butler, especially for the cost. Morales is tied to draft-pick compensation and would cost the Royals their first-round pick. In addition, he seems to be set to sign a contract far greater than the contract Butler is currently on.
The issue with signing Morales is that he and Butler have been similar players to this point in their careers. Both are hitters capable of hitting around .300 in a season. Both have averaged nearly 20 home runs and 90 runs batted in during their careers. Both project as full-time designated hitters with limited time at first base.
The major difference comes in durability. Butler has lead a relatively injury-free career. Morales, on the other hand, missed all of 2011 and most of 2012 after a freak injury during a home run celebration. While he has been productive and healthy since his return, Morales may not offer the stability the Royals need in the lineup.
Signing Morales would show that the Royals were pressured into making a move. He does not provide a clear upgrade over their current player and would come at a hefty cost.
This is a rumor that the Royals should simply let die.
The Royals traded Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers in December 2010. As a part of that deal, Alcides Escobar was sent to Kansas City and became their starting shortstop.
Escobar is often viewed as a great defender who is learning his way offensively at the big league level. The Royals have upgraded in the outfield and at second base this season, leaving a lot of focus on Escobar and third baseman Mike Moustakas to realize their potential.
Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors compiled a list of shortstops, based on projections from FanGraphs, that Stephen Drew would be considered a clear upgrade over. Dierkes points out that Drew is ranked high enough to be considered an upgrade over just six shortstops in the big leagues, with Escobar being one of them.
Drew would provide an offensive upgrade without sacrificing a lot of defense for the Royals. He would bring additional veteran leadership to the team. He is a player with playoff experience and is well-known for his scrappy playing style, which earned him the nickname "Dirt."
Signing Drew would send a message that the Royals have given up on the development of Escobar. Once viewed as a player who would evolve into an offensive threat, Escobar has many critics wondering if he will ever find his way at the plate.
Again, this is a player tied to draft-pick compensation that would require the Royals to sacrifice their first-round pick in order to sign him. In addition, the money it would take to attract Drew would be substantially more than the $3 million owed to Escobar this season.
Ultimately, even Dierkes notes that the Royals have little interest in Drew: "The Royals have spent big on free agents Omar Infante and Jason Vargas this winter, but don't seem interested in upgrading on Escobar even if they could afford Drew."
The Royals seem willing to upgrade while remaining smart about it. Drew is likely out of their price range and not enough of an upgrade to warrant a serious discussion.
Ervin Santana rebuilt his value during his 2013 campaign as a member of the Royals' starting rotation. Now the 31-year-old right-hander finds himself tied to draft-pick compensation and searching for a team willing to reward him for his work.
Santana is another player who seems to be falling victim to the system that ties players to draft-pick compensation after declining a qualifying offer from their previous teams. The Royals stand to gain a draft pick when he signs with another club. The Royals also find themselves in a good position to offer Santana another one-year contract and a second chance at free agency after the 2014 season.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com and Baseball America noted in December that the Royals may not have the payroll to bring Santana back at this point. That said, the Royals have continued to show up as rumored players in other negotiations, suggesting that they may have enough room in the payroll for one more addition.
Santana would likely agree to return to the team as long as his contract ensured that he would not be the recipient of another qualifying offer after the season. Such an agreement would give the Royals another year of his production while allowing Santana to return to the open market without the concern of costing his new team a draft pick.
It is quite likely that Santana finds a multi-year deal from a team in the near future. However, the longer he goes without finding a suitor, the more attractive a return to Kansas City becomes. Pitchers and catchers will report to spring training just over a month from now and Santana might find himself still looking for a home at that time.
The closer we get to the start of spring training, the more likely a Royals-Santana reunion becomes.
The hottest name on the hot stove right now, Masahiro Tanaka is looking for a new home in Major League Baseball after being posted by his former team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. The young star is now free to negotiate a contract with any MLB team of his choosing.
In the past, the Royals have not been heavily involved in the posting process. However, due to the new agreement between MLB and Nippon, the team that agrees to sign a posted player would pay the posting team a maximum of $20 million, which could be paid in installments.
That would suggest teams similar to the Royals in payroll and budget would be able to be more involved in the discussions. The Royals seem interested in the Japanese right-hander, but general manager Dayton Moore is not willing to comment on it any further.
According to Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star, Moore dodged the question of the Royals' interest in Tanaka:
That’s nothing I’d really say about that, because it doesn’t benefit the Royals in any way to announce what we’re doing or what we’re not doing. There’s nothing I can really say about that. It’s a private negotiation.
Tanaka would shore up the Royals rotation and bring a level of excitement to the club that it has not seen in recent years. The addition of Norichika Aoki has already produced a new level of international excitement around the club and Tanaka would simply increase that.
Tanaka is well worth the interest the Royals will show in him. His asking price may make the team uncomfortable and many would be surprised if the team was willing to pay enough to lure him to Kansas City. But if they can, and rumors suggest they are willing to try, the baseball world will be forced to recognize the Royals' arrival as contenders in the American League.
The Royals seem poised to make a run at the division title in 2014. Their moves thus far in the offseason suggest that they are prepared to contend. The rumors that continue to surround the club suggest that they are still open to improving.
They may not need to do any more right now, though. Dayton Moore has done a great job of upgrading the team already. He seems, again according to Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star, content to enter 2014 with his current roster:
I would look for us to go into spring training with what we have at this point, but I don’t know. The climate changes day by day and we’re always looking for ways to improve our team.
The players with whom the Royals are being connected are interesting and provide some level of improvement. Some do not make much sense, while others are intriguing and could reveal the future intentions of the team.
Ultimately, the Royals seem to have achieved something already that has eluded them for a long time: They are perceived to be relevant again.
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