SAN DIEGO -- On the first full day of the 2019 Winter Meetings, Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his staff continued to scour the market, primarily for cost-efficient bullpen help.
"We’re probably having more discussions with agents than we ever have in the past," Moore said while sitting in his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel. "There’s a lot of players out there. The last couple of years there has been a lot of players."
It’s no secret that the Royals’ bullpen is Moore’s No. 1 concern, a bullpen that was next-to-worst in the American League with a 5.07 ERA.
"Our bullpen has been one of the underperforming aspects of our team the last couple years," Moore said.
Bullpen help also conceivably could come via trade. But while rumors persisted here that the Royals are receiving offers for several players, including super-utility man Whit Merrifield and left-handed reliever Tim Hill (one rumor had the A’s calling about Hill), Moore didn’t seem too interested in trading either.
As for Hill, Moore said, "We're trying to add to our bullpen not detract from our bullpen."
Trade interest in Merrifield, perhaps the Royals’ most attractive trade chip, has been a hot topic for two years. But Moore has maintained his stance that he would have to be overwhelmed with an offer to trade Merrifield, who has led the Major Leagues in hits each of the past two seasons.
"I've always believed that you have to have strong examples of how to conduct yourself as a Major League Baseball player," Moore said. "Whit Merrifield provides that example. You can't necessarily quantify what that means to the future of the team. But when you know you're going to be transitioning a lot of young players to your 26-man roster over the next few years, guys like Whit Merrifield are important to help establishing winning.
"That being said, there's no player on this roster, there's no player in this organization that is untouchable if you get the right type of deal. You have to be open-minded and responsible to the process."
Left-hander Danny Duffy -- who is owed more than $30 million the next two years -- also has been the subject of trade rumors recently.
Again, Moore downplayed those rumors.
"We want to make good baseball deals," Moore said. "When it comes to eating money, we're just not prepared to do that right now. We want to make good baseball deals like everybody else. We believe in Danny Duffy. We believe Danny is in a really good spot and is going to be more consistent over the next year or two."
While Moore and his staff have been engaged in conversations with numerous agents, they are not actively in any trade talks.
"We're just not having a ton of discussions with other teams right now," Moore said. "We're not, because we're holding onto our guys."
Moore said it was entirely possible that the Royals leave San Diego this week without any free-agent signings.
"Any free agents we sign will be in January or February," Moore said. "Something may surprise me. And that doesn’t mean we won’t make an offer or two prior to then. But at the level we’ll be committing, I think there’s very little chance we sign a free agent before we leave San Diego. But we’ll have discussions ...
"Those value-based signings historically occur in the end of January, first part of February or even during Spring Training. I think one of the best deals we've ever made since we've been here was Chris Young. That was done 10-15 days into Spring Training."
Moore also touched on several other pressing issues:
• On Alex Gordon, a free agent who has yet to decide where he will play in 2020: "We plan on meeting with Alex’s representation while we’re here to see where we stand. That’s a priority for us, to see if we can get Alex back. But we haven’t talked to his people yet and I’ve had a couple of conversations with Alex this offseason."
• On a possible contract extension for DH/outfielder Jorge Soler, who likely will file for salary arbitration next month: "We’ve discussed it internally. We haven’t engaged any of his people yet. But we’ve looked at it internally and what would be the right type of deal for us. We’ll know rather quickly if we have a shot, and if not, we’ll go year to year."
• On his budget for 2020 under new owner John Sherman: "I think we'll push it maybe a little higher [than the projected $80 million payroll]. I don't see us moving much beyond that at this point in time. The market is moving strong right now, for not only impact players like you saw today in [Stephen] Strasburg, but some of the guys that would historically work within our budget have moved off quickly as well."
• On their interest in reclamation project Trevor Rosenthal, whom they signed to a Minor League deal on Saturday: "We actually tried to sign him before he signed with Washington [one year, $7 million prior to last season]. But it was out of our comfort level, dollars-wise. And we were on him the minute he got released by Washington. We’ve been consistent, trying to sign him for over a year. You stay persistent, and players understand that and appreciate it."