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KC eyes postseason in possible last hurrah

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline looming, Royals general manager Dayton Moore has indicated he will evaluate his team's needs and look for ways to improve a team that appears ready to compete for another postseason.

But unlike 2015, when the Royals (44-43) went all-in and acquired Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto for numerous top pitching prospects, including Brandon Finnegan and Sean Manaea, it wouldn't appear that the Royals will have the ammo in terms of prospects to pull off any such blockbusters.

KANSAS CITY -- With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline looming, Royals general manager Dayton Moore has indicated he will evaluate his team's needs and look for ways to improve a team that appears ready to compete for another postseason.

But unlike 2015, when the Royals (44-43) went all-in and acquired Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto for numerous top pitching prospects, including Brandon Finnegan and Sean Manaea, it wouldn't appear that the Royals will have the ammo in terms of prospects to pull off any such blockbusters.

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The prize jewel of the farm system, shortstop Raul Mondesi, isn't going anywhere: He is insurance if the Royals lost shortstop Alcides Escobar to free agency.

Certainly, Moore will do what he can to make a deal, depending on the acquisition cost. In terms of financial flexibility, Moore has said that owner David Glass has "always been generous" to fill needs, regardless of financial cost.

Needs? Like everyone else, the Royals may seek pitching. Right-hander Nate Karns, who had been filling the No. 5 spot in the rotation admirably, could be out for these season, as he is being evaluated for thoracic outlet syndrome. Left-hander Travis Wood looked good in his one shot at the rotation recently, but Moore may look to upgrade.

Moore and his staff will continue to evaluate the designated hitter spot: Both Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler have struggled to fill the hole left when Kendrys Morales departed for Toronto.

Trade scenario
National columnists have speculated for months that Moore would deal some of his pending free agents, such as Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Mike Minor. Moore never has hinted he would go down that path. Not once. For one thing, Moore has maintained he will re-sign some of his free agents, citing familiarity as a huge advantage over other suitors.

The better question is who Moore might covet to improve the team: It likely would be some low-key acquisitions with expiring contracts, like a Jason Frasor or Josh Willingham type that Moore brought in to help in 2014.

Video: MIN@KC: Royals belt four home runs against the Twins

What are they playing for?
A third World Series appearance in four years. If this is it for those six free agents in Kansas City, they want to go out with a bang, not a whimper. To a man, everyone in the Royals clubhouse believes they can do it. As one player said recently, "How many times do we have to prove everyone wrong before they finally believe in this group?"

The road ahead
The Royals, three games behind the Indians, have 10 more games against the Tribe in the final two months, including four at Progressive Field in mid-September, which could be a lot of fun. And that series is the beginning of an 11-game, four-city trip through Cleveland, Toronto, Chicago and then back to New York for a makeup day game on Sept. 25. That could make or break the Royals' season. And what appeared to be a layup series against the Diamondbacks in the final weekend of the season at Kauffman Stadium now looms as a battle, considering Arizona's postseason dreams.

Key player
Cain. While we know what an impact Hosmer, Perez, and Moustakas can have, the loss of Cain for the final six weeks last season completely killed the Royals chances of a postseason berth. Cain must stay healthy and productive. Let's add Alex Gordon to this list: If Gordon, who has been hitting better lately, suddenly returns to his pre-2016 form, the Royals will be in good shape.

Video: KC@LAA: Cain connects for two solo home runs in win

Prospects to watch
One thing that has been missing slightly from this year's team has been the speed element. Sure, Whit Merrifield and Cain can still swipe a bag here and there. But it's not like the glory days of Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando and Terrance Gore terrorizing opponents on the bases. The Royals will get some of that back in September when Mondesi is called up along with Gore. That speed alone is worth three or four wins.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals