The Royals have had a quiet off-season thus far, but that could change quickly as they embark on the Winter Meetings this week in San Diego. The Winter Meetings are where the Royals signed two of their biggest free agents ever in Gil Meche and Jose Guilen, and lay the framework for two of the biggest trades in franchise history - the Zack Greinke deal and the James Shields deal.
What are the Winter Meetings?
The Winter Meetings are essentially baseball's convention. Representatives from all thirty MLB teams convene, as well as representatives from minor league teams, baseball agents, media, occasionally ballplayers, and dozens of job-seekers looking to get their foot in the door of a career in professional baseball. It is where General Managers meet up, share cocktails, and work out trades.There have been legendary stories about players swapped over amaretto sours, and contracts signed over vodka tonics. The meetings have been held since 1876, although for a few years in the 1990s, MLB tried to de-emphasize them because they felt agents were overwhelming the proceedings. They finally wised up and determined that the media attention over the "Hot Stove League" was worth having agents crawling all over the convention hotel. The Winter Meetings begin on Monday and will conclude with the Rule 5 draft on Thursday.
Here are four things the Royals may try to accomplish at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.
1. Find a right-fielder
Last year's right-fielder and free agent Nori Aoki is considered a "fallback option" at this point by the Royals who will likely look for a right-handed bat that can hit with some pop. The club reportedly did not seriously pursue free agent Torii Hunter, but have been linked to Alex Rios and Melky Cabrera, as well as left-handed bat Colby Rasmus. Jeffrey Flanagan of Fox Sports Kansas City writes that a trade could be how the Royals fill the void in right-field, although the Royals farm system is not deep enough for them to part with many prospects.
2. Find a starting pitcher
James Shields is a free agent, and beat writer Andy McCullough of the Star says there is a "less than zero" percent chance Shields returns to Kansas City. Rookie left-hander Brandon Finnegan impressed in the post-season last year, but its not clear yet that he can make it as a starting pitcher, and he will likely begin next season in the minor leagues to find out. The Royals have been shopping in the "mid-tier" of starting pitchers with reports linking them to former Royals pitcher Ervin Santana as well as guys like Francisco Liriano, Brandon McCarthy, Jason Hammel, and Brett Anderson. ESPN's Jerry Crasnisk suggested that while the Royals may go for a higher dollar free agent for either the outfield or pitching staff, they likely won't spend enough money for both, leaving them to go bargain hunting for one of the needs.
3. Find a bench bat
Every indication is that the Royals plan to fill the hole at designated hitter left by departing free agent Billy Butler with a revolving door of hitters. The Royals favor flexibility at the designated hitter position, meaning they're not likely to sign a plodding DH-only bat, although they have been linked to Kendrys Morales. However, to give guys like Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon a rest at the designated hitter position means having a palatable replacement at their respective position in the field. The Royals had a woefully thin bench last year, which wasn't exposed too much thanks to terrific luck with player health. Kansas City could look to add another right-handed bat to replace Josh Willingham. They could also look for an infielder they are comfortable using at third base, as the club has concerns about the defense of utility infielder Christian Colon. The club may also seek an upgrade at backup catcher over Erik Kratz.
4. Trade Greg Holland or Wade Davis
The Royals are investing $26 million in their bullpen, a luxury a small-market team may find difficult to afford. They could free up some $7-9 million off the payroll by dealing one of their valuable relievers, and net a decent haul in return to address other needs. Both pitchers are 28-years old, but Davis is under club control through 2017, while Holland can be a free agent after 2016. Holland carries the mystique of being the closer, but Davis was actually the more valuable reliever last year with his historically dominating performance. The Royals likely won't push hard to move part of their valuable bullpen, but if the right trade offer comes along, they will likely jump on it to fill other holes.