News around Major League Baseball has not been lacking in recent days. Last week, it seemed like every team was making at least one major move in free agency or through trades, and the Royals were not left out, acquiring Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for Will Smith. Even though so many player transactions went down last week, this week’s Winter Meetings shouldn’t be lacking any excitement. There are still some premier free agents on the market, including Ervin Santana, who could look to sign with a team. Some other big-time players, such as David Price, may be moving to different teams as well, via trade. The Royals should be right in the thick of everything in Orlando this week, so here are some questions we may have answers to in the next 5 days.
Will the Royals trade Billy Butler?
With Carlos Beltran signing with the Yankees, it may seem like Butler’s future in Kansas City is secure. However, the Royals could still look to deal him in exchange for a player or players who could help the team in 2014. The Mariners have reportedly coveted Butler for some time now, and after agreeing to terms with Robinson Cano, they have a surplus of middle infielders who could take hold of the second base spot in Kansas City. Nick Franklin is the name thrown around the most, but Brad Miller and Dustin Ackley are two other players the Royals’ front office could ask about in a Butler trade.
Other teams who could make a move for Butler include Baltimore, Texas, and possibly Tampa Bay, though it’s tough to predict the market for Butler because so many teams have gone away from having a single designated hitter on the roster (although the teams who have a full-time DH get better production from that spot than teams who rotate the position between multiple players). I’d prefer if the Royals kept Butler, but I can see an argument for trading him if the return is strong enough to give the team the boost it needs in 2014.
Will the Royals acquire a new 2nd baseman?
The organization has been rumored to be looking for someone to man the keystone for the next year or so. As mentioned, the Mariners could fit as a trade partner, but there are other possibilities as well. The Angels’ may be dangling Howie Kendrick as trade bait, and he would certainly be an upgrade over what the Royals have had in recent years. Kendrick is signed through 2015 for less than $19 million, and has put up 11.4 fWAR in the last three seasons. The Angels would likely want young starting pitching in return for the 30 year old second baseman, so I’m guessing it would take one of Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, or Kyle Zimmer, along with other pieces, to acquire him.
In addition to Kendrick, the Royals may be interested in free agent Omar Infante. Infante is a very good defender at second and is coming off his best offensive season in which he posted a .318/.345/.450 line with the Tigers. He certainly comes with some risk, as he’ll be 32 years old when next season starts, and his low walk rate means that a dropoff in batting average would be very detrimental, because that holds a lot of his offensive value. Plus, the Yankees are also interested in Infante, meaning his cost could escalate beyond what the Royals could be comfortable paying.
Will any Royals’ prospects be taken in the Rule 5 Draft?
When the deadline came to add minor leaguers to the 40 man roster, the Royals chose to leave several players unprotected, meaning guys like Brian Fletcher, Brett Eibner, and Buddy Baumann will be available to teams in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Fletcher has seemingly gotten the most attention in regards to the upcoming draft, and a team may choose to take a chance on his power. Despite being a patient and powerful hitter himself, Eibner is still pretty raw, so he seems like the least likely prospect to be chosen, although stranger things have happened. As for Baumann, I’m probably biased based on the small sample of innings I watched him pitch, but he seems like a perfect guy for a team to gamble on. He’s a lefty with basically average stuff but has gotten excellent results, so I could definitely see someone stashing him on a roster as a LOOGY for 2014.
The Winter Meetings are always an exciting time in the offseason. While there have already been a ton of other signings and trades, I still expect to see general managers wheeling and dealing all week. And even though the Royals have made some moves themselves, Dayton Moore may not (and should not) be done building this roster into a playoff contender for next season.