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Royals favor internal improvement over free-agent help

Kansas City likely to lose Santana, but return promising young core

KANSAS CITY -- Don't expect a lot of feverish free-agent traffic on the part of the Royals. It just hasn't been in their DNA. Not in recent years, anyway.

Take last year, when Kansas City signed one pitcher, a more-than-willing returnee in Jeremy Guthrie for three years at $25 million, hardly a break-the-bank episode these days. It worked out pretty well, because Guthrie led the club with a 15-12 record.

That was it. The big offseason acquisitions came in trades -- pitchers Ervin Santana from the Angels and James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays. Now a free agent, Santana certainly is a person of interest, but that's not likely to happen at a high, long-term cost.

"We're not going to be an organization that's going to be excited about going real long term with older players," general manager Dayton Moore said. "We are about developing our own. We're about young players. We're about doing everything we can to keep this core group of players strong. We'll just see where the market takes us."

One place like that is expected to be a one-year qualifying offer to Santana within five days of the World Series' conclusion. Santana could accept it or more likely reject it, but the procedure would compel any team that signs him to lose a Draft pick, boosting the cost. That could scare off some teams.

"We're just really proud of what he accomplished, and he helped our rotation a great deal. So, we'll see how the market treats him and us," Moore said.

Moore pointed out that not many folks outside the organization were overly excited about the addition of Santana -- until they saw him pitch a few times. While Moore figures Kansas City and Kauffman Stadium are nice fits for Santana, he added: "I think this is an exciting opportunity for every pitcher in baseball that is available. Great ballpark, great defense, it's an attractive place."

Certainly staff ace Shields' $12-million option will be picked up, and left-hander Bruce Chen, who split time effectively between the bullpen and the rotation, is also on the free-agent list and is a candidate to return.

So, there you are. Moore is not going to be a one-stop shopper, and he's not limited to the marketplace.

"We've got to rely on internally first, as we always do," he said. "And then we're going to look to possibly make a trade or two that makes sense and then we'll look at the free-agent market. There are only so many talent pools from which you can acquire players."

As was the priority last winter, the Royals have a nose for starting pitchers -- they need eight Major League quality starters, they figure -- and they also mention, tantalizingly, an impact bat for the lineup.

"We've got to maybe acquire another bat in the lineup and make sure our rotation remains very strong. What position that player plays, who knows?" Moore said.

Indeed, that's hard to figure, although second base has been an offensive outpost of late.

Actually, after making a late-season bid for a postseason berth, Moore and re-hired manager Ned Yost are aiming toward a World Series. Certainly, Moore seems happy with most of the roster.

"When I look at our roster, I believe that all of our players that are signed long term or are under control, are all going to get better, and that's a comforting feeling. Is it just going to happen? No, they're going to have to continue to work out, continue to apply instructions, make adjustments, continue to commit to be great players," Moore said.

"It looks like they will, they're passionate guys, they love playing together. These guys had another month in them. These guys were not ready to shut it down. They had more baseball in them. It wasn't just in their performance, it was in their energy, their action, their preparation. These guys enjoyed being around each other."

Players can sign as free agents on the sixth day after the World Series ends.

Contract Issues

Arbitration eligible: LHP Tim Collins, RHP Aaron Crow, RHP Luke Hochevar, RHP Greg Holland, RHP Luis Mendoza, RHP Felipe Paulino, C Brett Hayes, C George Kottaras, 1B Eric Hosmer (likely Super Two), 2B Emilio Bonifacio, 2B Chris Getz, OF Justin Maxwell.

Potential free agents: LHP Bruce Chen, RHP Ervin Santana.

Club option: RHP James Shields ($12 million, could go to $13.5 million).

Non-tender candidates: None.

Areas of Need

Rotation: This would be a much smaller area of concern if Santana or, to a lesser extent, Chen returns via free agency. Solid horses are needed to go along with Shields and Guthrie.

Possibilities include lefties Danny Duffy and Will Smith, righty phenoms Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer, and/or the possibility of bringing back Luis Mendoza, Luke Hochevar or Davis from bullpen duty. Or perhaps another trade.

Second base: This is the logical place to park the mysterious additional bat, although Emilio Bonifacio emerged from Toronto in mid-August to make a switch-hitting, speed impression with good defense.

Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella have been the recent claimants, but Getz has been often hurt and Giavotella often not hitting.

Third base: "Mooooose!" fans will boo, but Mike Moustakas has, in fact, struggled for a good portion of his two-plus years with the Royals. His figures this year included just .233 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs. Yost and Moore express faith in Moustakas, but you never know when a head could get turned into another direction. After all, more offense is a major concern.

Outfield: While well stocked, the Royals wouldn't mind alternatives to run with left fielder Alex Gordon because center fielder Lorenzo Cain has been injury prone and backup Jarrod Dyson is still burnishing his game, and right fielders Justin Maxwell and David Lough are unproven.

Right field could be that spot for a big bat that's being bandied about.

2014 Payroll: Cot's Baseball Contracts pegs the Royals' 2013 payroll at exactly $81,871,725. That's more or less in the neighborhood, depending on who is splitting dollar signs. It could range up to $85 million.

"It'll probably be about the same," Moore said. "I'm not as concerned about the payroll, it's more about more who the players are than the actual payroll itself. I've never felt restricted in a way that we couldn't make a decision, make a trade or acquire a player that made sense for us. I've never felt restricted with the payroll and I don't anticipate it going down, that's for sure."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for
Read More: Kansas City Royals, Ervin Santana, Bruce Chen