KC expects to go shopping in offseason

KC expects to go shopping in offseason

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals have a new manager, a new sense of optimism, a new scoreboard going up and two old needs -- a power hitter and a starting pitcher.

Those needs were apparent last season, as the Royals, despite being unable to vacate last place in the American League Central, really looked like a club that was about to turn its fortunes around. Trey Hillman, the incoming skipper from Japan, will try to make that a reality in 2008.

With the free-agent market opening, the Royals will be among the eager shoppers. To get a right-handed bopper or a front-line starter -- or both -- this route seems to be the most logical for the Royals.

Not trades.

"Everybody wants all of our young players, and I don't see how you can part with them," general manager Dayton Moore said, "unless you just really get blown away with something that really makes sense.

"So I would see us trying to improve our team through free agency, which is a dangerous way to do it, because you end up overpaying. Always have, always will in free agency."

So who's available to possibly fulfill the Royals' needs?

They want a right-handed-slugging outfielder, which prompts mention of Torii Hunter, Jose Guillen, Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand.

Starting pitchers who might stir interest include Carlos Silva, Josh Fogg, Kris Benson, Kyle Lohse and, perhaps even, Bartolo Colon.

Owner David Glass allowed the Royals' salary to reach about $58 million last year, with other clubs picking up substantial pieces of player salaries (i.e. Odalis Perez), and Moore figures that's about the level it'll be for 2008.

But he has some money freed up, with designated hitter Mike Sweeney ($11 million annually), Perez, catcher Jason LaRue, outfielder Reggie Sanders and reliever David Riske among the Royals filing for free agency.

Even though the Royals were paying just $1.7 million of Perez's $7.75 million salary and $2.5 million of LaRue's $5.45 million, the two free agents represent about $22 million going off the books.

"The one thing to remember is, we've got 12 players eligible for arbitration, and they're all getting big raises, particularly [John] Buck and [Mark] Teahen. And [Jimmy] Gobble's going to get paid more, Zack [Greinke] is going to get paid more, [Esteban] German will get paid more," Moore said.

"Really, all of Sweeney's money that comes off, that stuff all goes away."

OK, so that $11 million is gobbled up, but there's still some money to spend.

Of those right-handed-hitting outfielders on the market, Guillen and Hunter seem like the two who would most interest the Royals.

Jones, who sagged badly last season, probably is headed from the Braves to one of the coasts. Rowand's power last season might be skewed by the Phillies' hitter-friendly ballpark; he hit 17 of his 27 homers at Citizens Bank Park.

In Hunter's case, he could be a very pricey commodity, perhaps out of the Royals' reach.

The interest in Guillen could be clouded by Tuesday's report that he purchased performance-enhancing drugs. Guillen had 23 homers, 99 RBIs and a .290 average last season and reportedly was looking for a three-year deal in the $30 million range. The Mariners declined to exercise a $9 million option on him.

Hot Stove

Moore declined to rule out a return by Sweeney, certainly a right-handed power hitter of consequence when he's healthy. That's been the problem. He played just 74 games last season -- not because of his old back problems, but because of a knee that required in-season surgery. In fact, Sweeney hasn't played a full season since 2001.

One drawback for Sweeney is hotshot Billy Butler, who took over the designated-hitter role and is now being prepped to play first base.

"Billy Butler and Mike Sweeney both profile the same, so that's something we've got to filter through as an organization and weigh it against other opportunities," Moore said.

"Mike has been a huge part of our organization and, at this point in time, he is one of those opportunities."

The Royals also still have outfielder Emil Brown, who has right-handed power but was downgraded to a part-time role in '07.

If the Royals' right-handed search falters, they could have some interest in Geoff Jenkins, a lefty free agent who's been a pretty consistent power hitter in 10 years with the Brewers.

Just which pitcher the Royals might pursue is not clear, although Silva could fit into the rotation somewhere. It's a thin crop of free-agent pitchers, but the Royals need to fill a hole. They spent last year to land right-hander Gil Meche, who signed for five years and $55 million and pitched well.

"If we had Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, I'm not sure we would have won our division," Moore said. "Because we need one more starting pitcher."

The Royals, though, at least have some in-hand options to back up Meche, which includes Brian Bannister and Greinke as well as Jorge De La Rosa, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, Billy Buckner, Brian Duckworth, John Bale and Colby Lewis.

Greinke's late-season move from relief back to the rotation left a bullpen void. If Riske departs, there'd be another significant hole in that effective unit.

That's why the Royals might try to retain Riske, even though he declined his $2.9 million option for 2008 and wants a multiyear deal.

And, just in case fans envision the Royals casting for really big fish, listen to Moore on a couple of other free agents.

A-Rod?

"No, I don't see that happening," he said.

Barry Bonds?

"No, I don't think so."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.