Royals seeking dessert at Meetings
With big needs out of way, attention remains on relief
LAS VEGAS -- The Winter Meetings sometimes have been a feast for the Royals. Last year, for example, slugger Jose Guillen was served up. In 2006, they had a surprise dish in pitcher Gil Meche after trading for young starter Brian Bannister.
There's no predicting what the Winter Meetings will bring, but this year might be more of a buffet cruise-by for Kansas City.
The Royals already seem to have had the main courses on their winter menu -- trading for power-hitting first baseman Mike Jacobs and speedy center fielder Coco Crisp. Now, as the team's brass gathers here at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, their eyes are more on dessert -- relief pitching.
"I think that's going to be our primary focus," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
The reason is obvious. To get Jacobs, they had to send Leo Nunez to Florida. To get Crisp, they had to send Ramon Ramirez to Boston. Now there's a need for right-handed setup men to replace them.
General manager Dayton Moore said previously that signing free agents could be the most expeditious path for the Royals. Already, though, some pitchers of presumable interest have signed elsewhere -- Jorge Julio (Milwaukee), Bob Howry (San Francisco) and Doug Brocail (Houston).
The Royals' roster is thin on possible righty setup guys, although veteran Robinson Tejeda and rookie Carlos Rosa have promise. Two other right-handed vets, Brandon Duckworth and Joel Peralta, are seen more as long men.
"But I'm not counting anybody out in those roles," Hillman said. "It really depends on what kind of movement we have at the Winter Meetings."
From the left side, the Royals seem set with Ron Mahay, John Bale and Jimmy Gobble.
"Both Ronnie and Bale's strength is the ability of getting right-handers out as well as left-handers," Hillman said.
If the Royals go the trade route, the commodity with the most rumor power this winter has been outfielder-third baseman Mark Teahen. Most often, the pundits are punting him to the Chicago Cubs.
Hillman, though, has a warm spot (or spots) for Teahen.
"Mark's multi-faceted," he said. "I like him at third, I like him at first, I like him in right and I like him in left -- especially since I felt he kept getting better in the outfield. We're just going to have to take a look at it. We might end up mixing and matching a little bit and see how it goes."
The Royals have outfield depth with Teahen, Guillen, Crisp, David DeJesus, Joey Gathright and Mitch Maier, and first-base depth with Jacobs, Ross Gload, Billy Butler, Ryan Shealy, Kila Ka'aihue and Teahen, too.
With Bale staying in the bullpen next year after starting last April, the Royals wouldn't mind picking up a left-handed starter.
"A left-hander in the rotation would be nice," Hillman said. "The alluring thing about a left-handed starter is the division that we're in and the impact hitters that are left-handed. If there's something available out there, then that's something that we'd like to have."
Then there's the recurring idea that another nice thing would be a veteran middle infielder to go with Mike Aviles. That's something, though, that hasn't stirred much discussion recently, at least in public forums.
"I think we're going to explore it, but I don't know where it's going to go," Hillman said.
The second-year manager anticipates a lot of in-house jawboning in the next four days.
"[We'll have] continued meetings on making sure we feel like we're covered in case of injury, just from a depth standpoint. And [we'll] discuss a little bit more the possibilities on how we're going to utilize personnel," he said.
"All those things are on the agenda, but I think first and foremost, we're going to need to make sure our bullpen is squared away."
Going into the Winter Meetings, the Royals' roster stands at 39, one shy of the maximum. So that could mean a pick in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, the procedure that snagged Joakim Soria for them in 2006.
In other matters, outfielder Vada Pinson, who played two years (1974-75) for the Royals, and second baseman Joe Gordon, first manager of the Royals (1969), are among players being considered for the National Baseball Hall of Fame by two Veterans Committees. Results of the balloting will be announced here Monday at noon CT.
On Wednesday, there will be an announcement regarding the 2009 World Baseball Classic, which is expected to involve some Royals players next March.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.