KANSAS CITY -- There's unfinished business pending for the Royals. Just how much can be finished during next week's Winter Meetings is the question.
One major piece of business was conducted last month with the signing of free-agent pitcher Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract. He's a left-handed fit for the rotation.
But still on the Kansas City list for the Santa of baseball are an impact hitter and another starting pitcher.
"We'd like to do everything we can to improve our offense," general manager Dayton Moore said. "I do expect this current group of players to continue to get better, and I think this offense will continue to grow and improve and be more productive. But we would like to inject another bat in there for sure."
He's not saying so publicly, but there's little doubt that his No. 1 heart's desire is outfielder Carlos Beltran, the free-agent prize from the Cardinals' World Series team and a postseason player of legendary proportions.
Beltran began his career with the Royals and of his five full seasons with them, four resulted in 100 or more RBIs (he was hurt the other year). When he was traded to Houston in midseason 2004, he totaled 104 RBIs for the Royals and Astros. Three times in his healthy full seasons with the Mets, he went over the 100-RBI mark.
For his part, Beltran has expressed interest in returning to Kansas City to embellish his credentials for what could very well be a Hall of Fame career. Going into the Hall of Fame with "KC" on his cap would be an incentive for both player and ballclub.
Beltran also wants to sign with a playoff-bound team, and the Royals are sure to base their sales pitch on their young, up-and-coming squad that made an American League Wild Card run in 2013. The opportunity to be a team leader is another appealing aspect for both parties.
Bottom line, of course, is the number of years and the amount of money the Royals are willing to offer. They know they can be outspent by, say, the Yankees or Rangers or other suitors, which is why their other talking points must hit home with Beltran's heart.
The Royals have given indications that, for the right player, the likely payroll budget of around $83 million could be stretched.
If the long shot hits and Beltran does return, the Royals see him as spending some time in the designated-hitter role as well as right field. That could prompt the trading of DH Billy Butler, because having his $8 million bat on the bench for 50 or 60 games does not seem economical.
Second base is another spot where a potent bat would fit in, although the Royals seemed content with Emilio Bonifacio's hitting and defense after he was acquired late in the season.
"We're open-minded, but I can't talk specifically about any player or players that we may or may not deal," is all Moore would say on the record.
While Vargas is likely to drop between James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, the rest of the rotation seems uncertain, although candidates are plentiful (Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, Will Smith, Luke Hochevar, Yordano Ventura and top prospect Kyle Zimmer among them).
Even so, Moore and his staff have their eyes peeled for a veteran starter.
"I like our pitching a great deal, but we'll look for a possibility to improve there. There's still a lot of high-quality pitchers out there that I think potentially can make us better," he said.
Tim Hudson, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson have already agreed to deals elsewhere. There are many other free-agent possibilities, of course.
"We're evaluating all those guys, and there's nothing that I expect in the next week or so," Moore said. "I think if we do anything with pitching, it'll be during the Winter Meetings or after the Winter Meetings."
If the Royals need trading pieces, they could dip into their deep and very effective bullpen.
"We do have depth. Any time you make a deal, you want to deal from a position of strength, but we're not in a hurry to do anything to break up our bullpen," Moore said. "I think opponents hit like .217 against the 'pen, which might have been the best ever in the history of the Royals. So I'm not looking to move anybody, I'm not shopping anybody, but there are always certain possibilities."
The four-day Winter Meetings officially open on Monday and close with the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 12, at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and Disney World.
Sometimes the great gathering of Major League moguls merely serves to lay the groundwork for later moves. That was the case last year when, on Dec. 6, the Royals left Nashville, Tenn., without the starting pitcher they sought. But three days later, they sprung the big trade that brought staff leader Shields and starter-reliever Davis to Kansas City and sent four players including AL Rookie of the Year-to-be Wil Myers to Tampa Bay.
The hunt is always on.
"We've got to get that bat, maybe another pitcher and do some trading, too," Moore said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.