KANSAS CITY -- The Royals will enter the Winter Meetings on Monday in full rebuild mode, and with a need to strengthen the bullpen -- their weakest area in 2018.Kansas City is excited about the potential of Raul Mondesi's first full season as the starting shortstop in 2019 (14 homers
KANSAS CITY -- The Royals will enter the Winter Meetings on Monday in full rebuild mode, and with a need to strengthen the bullpen -- their weakest area in 2018.
Kansas City is excited about the potential of Raul Mondesi's first full season as the starting shortstop in 2019 (14 homers and 32 steals in just 75 games this past season), and the return of second baseman Whit Merrifield, a rising star who led the Majors in hits and stolen bases in 2018.
General manager Dayton Moore signed utility man Chris Owings to a one-year deal on Wednesday, providing a veteran backup for Mondesi and Merrifield up the middle. The Royals re-signed closer Wily Peralta earlier this offseason, but they likely still will be on the lookout for setup help.
In preparation of the Winter Meetings and Thursday's Rule 5 Draft (which landed them stellar right-hander Brad Keller last year), the Royals non-tendered four players (Jason Adam, Samir Duenez, Bubba Starling and Andres Machado), and they have plenty of maneuverability with a 40-man roster set at 37 with the addition of Owings.
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Mondesi proved durable down the stretch, but the Royals still need a viable backup at shortstop and at second base. The rotation seems deep with several young starters like Keller, Heath Fillmyer and Jorge Lopez emerging as candidates, but the Royals still need help in the back of the bullpen. Brian Flynn was re-signed, and Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill are there to set up Peralta, but it seems likely that Moore will search for veteran additions to the bullpen and the rotation.
Whom might they trade?
There will be a lot of rumors about Merrifield, no doubt. But the same reasons Merrifield is attractive to other teams (he is under club control through 2022) are the same reasons he is attractive to the Royals. The Royals have prospect Nicky Lopez (No. 7 per MLB Pipeline) waiting in the wings at second base, but he doesn't have to go on the 40-man roster until next fall. The other case for not trading Merrifield is his leadership role in the clubhouse, which is vital during a rebuild. Expect there to be some tongue-wagging about the Royals dealing catcher Salvador Perez (signed through '21) as well. But Moore has made it clear over the last year he doubts he would ever get enough in return to trade Perez.
Prospects to know
The Royals went heavy with college pitching in last year's Draft, and four of them immediately surged into their Top 10 prospects list: Brady Singer (No. 1), Jackson Kowar (No. 4), Daniel Lynch (No. 8) and Kris Bubic (No. 9). Keep an eye on outfielders Khalil Lee (No. 2) and Seuly Matias (No. 3) as they advance through the system in 2019. The club will not be dealing prospects in this rebuild, but if it were to trade (yes, unlikely) someone like Merrifield or Perez, look for Moore to add prospects.
Rule 5 Draft
The Royals hit it big at last year's Rule 5 Draft when they picked up Keller, who emerged as their best starter. They also took Burch Smith in the Rule 5 Draft, though he was recently designated for assignment. The Royals have four open spots on the 40-man, so look for them to again be active participants.
The Royals will continue to pare payroll in this rebuild, banking money for when they expect to be competitive again (2020 or '21). Right now, the payroll sits at around $83-85 million. Moore has indicated his goal is to cap that around $90 million for this season. Not a ton of money to play with, but for the right player or two, Moore likely can exceed that limit.
Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.