The Kansas City Royals are pushing hard to contend in 2013, considering almost every option to upgrade their pitching staff. And that includes trading the best hitting prospect in baseball.
In their search for a top-of-the-rotation starter, the Royals have dangled outfielder Wil Myers, the consensus 2012 minor league player of the year, two sources told Yahoo! Sports.
While the Royals have designated Myers off-limits for anything other than pitching, teams with frontline starters understand Kansas City is desperate to add another pitcher after re-signing Jeremy Guthrie and trading for Ervin Santana. With the returns of Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino from Tommy John surgery, plus the arrival of prospect Jake Odorizzi, an overhaul of the Royals' rotation could thrust them into contention in the AL Central – especially with a pitcher like Tampa Bay's James Shields, whom the Royals covet at the top of the rotation but are loath to trade for because only two years remain on his deal and he has thrown the second-most regular-season innings of any pitcher the last two seasons.
The Royals' payroll commitments are around $69 million, leaving them two options to stay within their expected payroll around $73 million: They can pursue a young starter with a cheap contract but not as much experience as the Royals want; or deal for a veteran with a higher salary whose cost would cause them to deal a veteran, such as Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar, the underachieving starter who also would be a non-tender candidate.
With a dominant bullpen and lineup full of young position players, the Royals are in a position to win now and in the foreseeable future, hastening their desire for another pitcher. The franchise's internal belief is that team success would accelerate the growth of its young core, one of baseball's best and the likely source of another starter, considering how prohibitive the free agent market for owners unwilling to stretch the budget.
While 22-year-old catcher Salvador Perez is near-untradeable – executives consider his four-year, $6.25 million contract (with three option years for $14.75 million total) the best in the game – and shortstop Alcides Escobar close to the same because of his team-friendly deal, plenty of Royals beyond Myers can be had for the right price.
From veterans like designated hitter Billy Butler to left fielder Alex Gordon to youngsters like first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, the Royals aren't limiting themselves in their search for a pitcher. Butler and Gordon come with track records of production – and contracts to match. Butler is owed $16 million over the next two years, with a $12.5 million club option in 2015. Gordon will make $31.5 million through '15 and has a player option at $12.5 million for 2016.
Hosmer's and Moustakas' similarities go beyond their ages (23 and 24) and service time (one year-plus). Both struggled at the plate last season. Scouts consider both well-above-average at their corner-infield positions. And both are represented by Scott Boras, which makes pre-free agency contract extensions less likely.
Because of their inconsistencies at the big league level and Butler's and Gordon's cost, the focus often turns to Myers, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed hitter who last year played mostly center field and third base but profiles best as a right fielder. He hit .314 with 37 home runs and slugged .600 between Double-A and Triple-A, and while it would take a big spring for him to crack the Royals' opening-day roster, Kansas City expects his arrival by May at latest – if he's still with the team.
In addition to the Rays, sources said the Royals have discussed deals with Arizona, Seattle and Oakland, all teams with a plethora of young starters in or near the major leagues.
Teams looking for a center fielder in the trade market are finding it stagnant like free agency, with the price in prospects just as prohibitive as that in money.
After years of waiting for Dexter Fowler to develop, Colorado is using his emergence to ask for a huge return – "Absurd," one executive mused – in a deal for him. Minnesota has taken the same tack with Denard Span, and even with its outfield surplus, Arizona has held tight onto Gerardo Parra, who won a Gold Glove in left but could play center.
The most surprising part: Center field actually looks like a buyer's market. While another executive warned "it will shake out," the number of center fielders ostensibly available – the three aforementioned, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino in free agency, plus Curtis Granderson for teams that don't necessarily want a multiyear commitment – doesn't exactly dovetail with the number of teams that need a center fielder.
Atlanta, Philadelphia and San Francisco will almost certainly land three of the above. Seattle could use one. And beyond that, the need – and willingness to commit – is iffy.
Texas may divert its money elsewhere, with Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin available. Carlos Gomez earned another shot for Milwaukee. And Bryce Harper's evolution into a bona fide center fielder might save the Nationals from making an unnecessary $80 million investment.
That's what Bourn wants, even if the Phillies are the only team in position to dole out such money and prefer Upton. The fight for him – between Philadelphia and rival Atlanta – is the one to watch as the Winter Meetings approach from Dec. 3-6.
Another iffy market: shortstop, where the Indians are shopping Asdrubal Cabrera ("not at Black Friday prices, either," one executive said), the Astros Jed Lowrie and the Marlins Yunel Escobar, with Stephen Drew and Hiroyuki Nakajima drawing free agent interest from favorite Arizona and Oakland.
The reason the Indians want so much for Cabrera (and the Rangers similar for Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar): Shortstop is a pretty dreadful offensive position right now. Unlike the halcyon days of the mid-'90s, the best hitting shortstop in baseball last year was … drum roll, please … Ian Desmond? Indeed, among the 29 shortstops with at least 200 at-bats last year, Desmond was the only one with an OPS over .800.
Second: Derek Jeter at .791. Lowrie was fifth (.769), Cabrera sixth (.762) and Andrus 10th (.727).
A few interesting pitching names to keep an eye on …
• One executive, on Anibal Sanchez's desire for a six-year, $90 million contract: "He's crazy. And he's probably going to get it."
• After passing his latest tests to return from a gruesome comebacker, right-hander Brandon McCarthy is expected to start throwing in December. Despite the brain surgery that ended his season, the greater worry among teams with McCarthy concerns his troublesome shoulder. If McCarthy's medicals pass muster, one executive believes McCarthy could receive a multiyear contract.
• Right-hander Kevin Slowey is back from a misdiagnosed fractured rib that hindered him throughout 2012 and will start pitching next week for the Toros del Este in the Dominican Winter League. While the interest in Slowey for a minor league deal is strong, a good showing in the D.R. should get him a major league contract.
• With Jeremy Affeldt off the market, J.P. Howell may be the best free agent left-handed reliever remaining. And considering Affeldt's deal (three years, $18 million) and the teams that need a good lefty – St. Louis, Arizona and the Los Angeles Dodgers chief among them – Howell's market should be strong. He expects to sign sometime in December.
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