The Royals left the Winter Meetings on Thursday without capturing their primary prey -- a starting pitcher that could lead their rotation.
Perhaps that pitcher can be obtained through a free-agent signing or a trade. But, even if not, general manager Dayton Moore believes the Royals can be competitive in the American League Central in 2013.
"Yes, we feel like that we can compete every single night ... and be in a position to do well," Moore said. "The Tigers are obviously very, very good, the White Sox are very talented, Minnesota always does well and Cleveland has very talented players as well. I don't know how we're going to end up in our division because it's a tough division and Detroit is the American League champion, and they've improved their team."
Leaving the Winter Meetings with things on the back burner has become more and more common through the years. Gone are the days when the annual gathering brought a frenzy of big trades and, later on, a flurry of rich free-agent signings.
Take 2010 at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., when the meetings were dominated by the Royals' efforts to make a deal for pitcher Zack Greinke. A trade eventually was made with Milwaukee but not until Dec. 19 -- 10 days after the conventioneers had headed home. It turned out pretty well for the Royals, too, because they still have shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and promising pitcher Jake Odorizzi.
Greinke helped get the Brewers to the 2011 playoffs but was traded this year and is now at the top of the free-agent market. And, no, the Royals aren't in that super-rich derby.
As they were with Greinke, the Royals are being patient and willing to wait in their pitching safari. Perhaps when Greinke does sign, the herd will start moving.
"We did the Greinke deal. We felt we were close multiple times on certain deals in December of 2010, and we did that deal a couple of weeks after the Winter Meetings," Moore said. "What happens a lot of times is you get into this environment with 29 other teams and everybody is pushing in different directions and you get a lot of opinions and a lot of different ideas, and sometimes that can paralyze the decision-making, because there are a lot of different scenarios and you want to give all of them their due."
Further study and contemplation is in order.
"You filter through those that have legs, and sometimes those continue to move forward when you get back in a more natural environment in your office," Moore said. "Let things settle a little bit and think through things."
Agent Scott Boras represents free-agent starter Kyle Lohse, and he noted that player agents often want to take their time sifting through offers from teams and make sure all bids are in.
"So to have the market complete, you certainly want to hear from everybody that you know is a candidate," Boras said. "So patience often proves a wise path to get an understanding of what the market is."
This was the second straight Winter Meetings in which the Royals made no significant moves. In Moore's first meetings as GM, in 2006, he signed Gil Meche, traded for another starter in Brian Bannister, and signed closer Octavio Dotel. His Rule 5 Draft choice that year, Joakim Soria, replaced Dotel the next season.
Then came a succession of free-agent signings: in 2007, outfielder Jose Guillen; in 2008, relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Doug Waechter and starter Horacio Ramirez; in 2009, catcher Jason Kendall, and in 2010, outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. Last year there was one minor trade.
A summary of the Royals' 2012 Meetings:
Deals done: None.
Rule 5 activity: The Royals were at their roster limit and could make no selections in the Major League phase. They didn't lose any players either. However, in the Triple-A phase, they lost five players including four pitchers off the Double-A Northwest Arkansas roster.
Goals accomplished: A foundation was laid for possible future moves. "Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make," Moore said. "It's been very busy for us, developing different kinds of scenarios. We have a very clear vision of how many organizations view our players, our level of talent. So you learn from that, you build from that and you continue to look for ways to capitalize on that information. You've got four months, or whatever it is, before Opening Day."
Unfinished business: Getting a pitcher capable of being the No. 1 or No. 2 starter remains a priority. Also on the radar is a veteran backup infielder that can play shortstop, and a right-handed-hitting corner infielder that could spell first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Team's bottom line: "We trust this group of players and we're very confident that this team, on paper, is better today than it was a year ago at this time. So we'll continue to always try to make it better." -- Moore
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.