Royals will lay groundwork at Winter Meetings
KANSAS CITY -- If Royals fans have learned anything about how general manager Dayton Moore treats the offseason, they know he views it far beyond just the scope of the Winter Meetings, which are in Nashville, Tenn., from Monday through Thursday.
Moore and his staff often plant some seeds during the Winter Meetings, but tend to finalize the majority of their deals throughout the offseason and right up until Opening Day.
Last year, the Royals signed right-handers Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen, outfielder Alex Rios and designated hitter Kendrys Morales in mid to late December. They picked up left-hander Franklin Morales and right-hander Chris Young during Spring Training. All contributed to the Royals' run to a World Series title.
"The roster is constantly fluctuating," Moore said. "And sometimes you find your best deals at the best value in February and March."
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 10 a.m. CT and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. CT.
Rotation: If the season started now, the Royals would go with Volquez, right-hander Yordano Ventura, left-hander Danny Duffy and Medlen, with a fifth starter to be determined. The Royals have had positive dialogue with Young and he could be brought back for the rotation, or the Royals could try to find a mid-level starter through free agency, though finances may be an issue. The only internal candidates would be right-handed prospects Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte; Zimmer probably will start at Triple-A and Almonte may be viewed more as a bullpen addition.
Bullpen: Moore values a shutdown bullpen probably more than any other GM in the game, which is why the Royals' bullpen has been the envy of baseball the past three years. And it will be a challenge this year to keep it among baseball's elite. Luke Hochevar and Kelvin Herrera figure to set up closer Wade Davis, but the Royals will need to find a way to absorb the loss of Greg Holland, who is out for the 2016 season because of Tommy John surgery and was non-tendered (they are open to bringing him back). Left-hander Tim Collins was tendered a contract but probably won't be ready to join the 25-man roster until May as he spent 2015 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. In other words, there are holes to fill.
Corner outfielders: Alex Gordon, the face of the franchise, is testing the free-agent market and it's very iffy if the Royals will even be able to make a serious pitch to bring him back. Rios also is a free agent after an injury-plagued 2015. The Royals could platoon Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in right, but they need a solid defender in left to possibly replace Gordon, a four-time Gold Glover. Again, finances probably will restrict a big dive into the free-agent pool. Ben Zobrist was a big fan favorite and could man left field, but he is drawing interest from multiple teams and likely will be out of the Royals' price range.
Who they can trade if necessary:
The Royals are too thin in the rotation to consider trading someone like Duffy, who was moved to the bullpen late in the year. They gave up five of their top pitching prospects to land Johnny Cueto and Zobrist, a shrewd move by Moore that catapulted the Royals to their championship. There are still some top prospects who could be moved, but the bulk of the next wave of young studs is in the lower Minor League levels.
Per MLBPipeline.com, the Royals' Top 10 prospects are shortstop Raul Mondesi, right-handers Ashe Russell, Zimmer and Almonte, outfielders Bubba Starling and Jorge Bonifacio, right-hander Scott Blewett, left-hander Foster Griffin, catcher Chase Vallot and right-hander Nolan Watson.
Mondesi, Zimmer, Almonte and Starling are likely hands-off when it comes to a potential trade. All four could see time on the big league roster this season.
Rule 5 Draft:
The Royals' 40-man roster is at 38 players, freeing them up to make a Rule 5 Draft pick if they desire. And this might be a way the Royals fill a bullpen spot, especially a pitcher who could be a long man and thus protected for the season.
Big contracts they might unload:
None. At the moment the Royals don't even have a $10 million player. But they'll have a roster full of players in their prime who have salaries just below that which combined will bump the payroll near its threshold.
The Royals' Opening Day payroll last season was around $113 million, a franchise record, but through buyouts and bonuses, that figure ballooned significantly by season's end. Granted, a nearly 800,000 spike in attendance and another long run through the playoffs should provide more revenue. And owner David Glass has always vowed to return whatever profits the team makes back into the team. Payroll seems bound to go up, but by how much remains uncertain. But Moore and his staff have found a way to work through the small-market limitations the past three seasons and return the Royals to their winning ways. Expect no different this time around.