LAS VEGAS – The Kansas City Royals are maneuvering to clear payroll so they can sign free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, with Orlando Cabrera the backup plan, according to a source with knowledge of the Royals' plans.
Ideally, Kansas City would like to unload outfielder Jose Guillen and the remaining $24 million on his contract to free up room for Furcal, whom general manager Dayton Moore covets from their years together in Atlanta. The source said interest in Guillen has been "almost nonexistent," even though the Royals are willing to eat a part of the contract in order to get rid of the volatile Guillen, who feuded with manager Trey Hillman while batting .264 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs last year.
Were the Royals unable to trade Guillen, they could clear payroll by trading or non-tendering arbitration-eligible players such as infielder/outfielder Mark Teahen, catcher John Buck and utilityman Esteban German. Whether that would be enough to satisfy owner David Glass, the source said, is doubtful.
Still, Kansas City has amped up discussions with Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer, in recent days, and believes it will take a four-year, $44 million deal to land the shortstop and leadoff hitter. The Royals, according to the source, hope the crowded corner outfield market – which still has Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu and Milton Bradley available – will flesh itself out before Furcal makes a decision, giving them a chance to deal Guillen.
Asked in the lobby of the Bellagio hotel Wednesday how many offers he had for Furcal, Kinzer held up four fingers and said all were for three or four years. The Royals are joined by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland and Toronto. Furcal played the last three seasons with the Dodgers, making $13 million a year, and the he already rejected a four-year offer by the A's for $35 million to $40 million. Baltimore, another team that had expressed interest, is closing in on a deal with shortstop Cesar Izturis.
Cabrera is the primary backup plan for Kansas City and others. He would come significantly cheaper – probably about $9 million a year – and would get at best a three-year deal.
Teams that lose out on both Furcal and Cabrera in the free-agent shortstop market can always trade for Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson, who is owed nearly $8 million next year, or settle for a bargain-basement signing such as 41-year-old Omar Vizquel or David Eckstein, who is better suited at second base at this point in his career.