KANSAS CITY -- Would the Royals, in their quest for another top-quality starting pitcher, trade their hottest power-hitting prospect, Wil Myers?
We'll find out at the Winter Meetings which officially get under way on Monday at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.
Myers, 22, popped a total of 37 home runs with 109 RBIs and a .314 average this year combined in Triple-A and Double-A. He was named the Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today, Baseball America and Topps. He's ranked No. 3 in the nation in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects.
The Royals have interest in Rays right-hander James Shields, who has beat them regularly (7-2 in 10 starts), and Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who has a great fan in Royals manager Ned Yost. The Royals want another front-of-the-rotation type to go with Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, their prime offseason acquisitions so far.
General manager Dayton Moore is reluctant to trade any of his Major League regulars, but after six years of upgrading the organizational talent, he believes there's enough depth to use Minor League prospects as trading chips. There's no bigger prospect than Myers, who is ranked first in the organization by MLB.com.
The Royals didn't bring up Myers in September, not wanting to expend a 40-man roster spot, but is he ready for the Majors?
"I think that he's certainly earned an opportunity to compete for a job, that's for sure," Moore said. "I don't know if anybody knows 100 percent if anybody's ready for the Major Leagues, because there's no Major League model in the Minor Leagues. There's a big difference. But Wil had a terrific year. He was Minor League Player of the Year by several publications, and he's a terrific talent."
The problem with obtaining Shields or Lester, or another pitcher of that stature, is the substantial salary. The Royals already are approaching the area of their likely payroll level, roughly $70 million, although owner David Glass says he's willing to spend more if convinced a deal would be of benefit over the long term. In that regard, a point to consider is that Shields and Lester each could become a free agent after two years while the Royals would have Myers for six years.
Here's a brief overview of the Royals' Winter Meetings situation:
Starting pitchers: A woefully deficient rotation last season got a lift when Guthrie was obtained in a trade for Jonathan Sanchez on July 20. Guthrie did so well that he was re-signed by the Royals for three years at $25 million. That came after a trade with the Angels for Santana, a starter who fell on hard times in 2012 but whose previous past was encouraging. However, Moore is exploring even more depth in this department.
Right-handed bat: Young first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas have run into lengthy slumps in their brief careers and both are left-handed hitters. Therefore, a right-handed power hitter who could back up at either corner would be a nice addition -- just in case.
Outfield depth: Alex Gordon has been a rock in left field, but center fielder Lorenzo Cain's 2012 was limited by three leg injuries and right fielder Jeff Francoeur's plate production slipped. Jarrod Dyson and David Lough are on the roster, but more depth would be a plus. Moore is thinking of adding at the Minor League level, however.
Who they can or need to trade
RF Jeff Francoeur: While his throwing arm was again a great weapon, Frenchy's offensive production fell off from his born-again season of 2011. He's under contract for $6.75 million and the Royals have an attractive alternative in Myers.
LHP Bruce Chen: The team's top winner for the last three years, Chen might be an attractive fit for a contender needing a reliable left-hander. He's got a $4.5 million contract for 2013 and he's 35. Might be a trading piece for a young starter.
Myers is the premier prospect. A right-handed hitter with power, he was drafted as a catcher but has adapted well to center and right field. He started last season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas and had 13 homers, 30 RBIs and a .343 average in 35 games. Promoted to Triple-A Omaha, Myers' numbers were 24/79/.304 in 99 games.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi was 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA in seven starts in Double-A and then 11-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 19 games in Triple-A. He might need more time with Omaha, but he's the only prospect thought to have a chance at breaking into the rotation right now. He's ranked No. 30 in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects (Myers is No. 3).
Right-handers Kyle Zimmer, No. 61, and Yordano Ventura, No. 95, are on a fast track, but more Minor League seasoning looms for them. The Royals still have hopes for left-handers Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer despite their recent struggles.
Rule 5 Draft
The Royals, if they get down to below 40 on the roster, are likely to shop here. They picked up right-hander Nate Adcock, a long reliever/starter on their roster, from the Pirates two years ago. Their most famous recent grab was closer Joakim Soria from the Padres in 2006.
Big contracts they might unload
Francoeur's $6.75 million or Chen's $4.5 million could come off the books with a trade. But there are no real wasteful whoppers clogging up the payroll.
RHP Luke Hochevar ($3.51 million in 2012); 2B Chris Getz ($967,500).
The Royals' payroll, which jumped from about $38 million in 2011 to about $64 million last year, is expected to settle at around $70 million this year unless Glass approves a deal that would add salary. The biggest number is Santana's $13 million, of which the Angels are paying $1 million.