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Royals not settling, have eyes on more upgrades

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals warmed up for the Winter Meetings in aggressive style.

On Thursday, they acquired outfielder Norichika Aoki to be their leadoff man, and two days before that, they romanced free-agent prize Carlos Beltran at Kauffman Stadium.

Busy guys, these Royals. They extended manager Ned Yost's contract through 2015 and general manager Dayton Moore's deal through '16 and also signed free-agent pitcher Jason Vargas for the rotation.

While Beltran reportedly agreed to a three-year, $45 million deal with the Yankees on Friday night, the Royals await the opening of the Winter Meetings on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

All along, the Royals' brass has quietly but consistently pointed to 2014 as the club's breakout year, the season when all of the farm system refurbishing, the infusion of young players and the retooling of the veteran layer of the team would come to fruition.

Kansas City fans have been waiting a long time. The team hasn't added to its outfield flag collection since 1985, when the Royals beat the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series. That was the seventh postseason for 32-year-old third baseman George Brett. And Brett, now a 60-year-old Hall of Famer and team vice president, hasn't seen the Royals in one since.

They made a run at an American League Wild Card spot last season, and after the Aoki trade, Moore made it clear he's eager for more.

"There are a lot of different scenarios that would allow us to acquire another bat or even another pitcher going forward. We're very open-minded, and we don't feel like that our offseason is complete," Moore said.

"But that being said, if we go into the season today, I feel like our team is improved with the signing of Jason Vargas and the trade for Nori, knowing full well that we're going to have to continue to improve if we're going to win a world championship. So we still have work to do, and I don't view this move as us being complete."

Club needs

Offense: While the pitching and defense were excellent most of the season, the ability to score runs actually diminished a bit. Aoki gives the club a true leadoff batter for the first time in years. But an RBI bat is being sought, preferably one who would fit into the outfield or second base. Beltran was the prime target before his agreement with the Yankees.

Rotation: Vargas was brought in on a four-year, $32 million deal, but another veteran to go with him, James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie is being sought. Failing that would not be disastrous, however, because there are at least four or five solid in-house candidates who could fill out the rotation.

Who they can trade if necessary

Relief pitchers: One thing the Royals have is an abundance of younger hard throwers who made up the best bullpen in franchise history and arguably the best in the Majors last season. It might seem foolhardy to deal sensational closer Greg Holland, but setup types like Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins or Louis Coleman could be attractive in the market place.

Designated hitter Billy Butler: A one-dimensional player -- although excellent in that dimension -- with an $8 million contract would be expendable only if another bat was obtained.

Starter-reliever Wade Davis: Although he struggled at times in his first Kansas City season, Davis is a hard-throwing right-hander with great stuff. He was a solid starter in his Rays days.

Top prospects

Only two of the Royals' top 10 prospects are expected to have a shot at surfacing in the Majors this season: No. 1 Kyle Zimmer and No. 2 Yordano Ventura, both right-handed starting pitchers. Behind them, in order, are outfielder Bubba Starling, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, left-hander Sean Manaea, third baseman Hunter Dozier, shortstop Orlando Calixte, third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert and right-hander Miguel Almonte.

Rule 5 Draft

Added to the roster to protect them from the Draft were Cuthbert, second baseman Christian Colon (ranked 17th among Royals prospects), outfielder Lane Adams and pitcher Michael Mariot. The Royals are always looking to make a pick like closer Joakim Soria in 2006. Last year, their roster was at the 40-man limit, and they couldn't choose anyone in the Major League phase.

Big contracts they might unload

The Royals are hanging on to their top earners because they're crucial pieces. If Butler becomes expendable because of an influx of offense -- he's at $8 million in 2014, with a $12.5 million club option for '15 -- and that's $20.5 million that could be freed up. Hochevar, who made $4.56 million this past season, is up for arbitration and in line for a sizable raise. If he's a starter or setup guy, that might fly, but not as a middle reliever. But that won't be determined until Spring Training.

Payroll summary

Although GM Moore indicated early in the offseason that the Royals would probably stay around their $81 million-plus payroll of 2013, there also has been the background hint that it could go higher -- for the right player or players. So the Glass family ownership is prone to giving him some flexibility.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for

Kansas City Royals