LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Royals manager Ned Yost sees a double-edged advantage to the addition of right fielder Norichika Aoki to the lineup in 2014. Aoki gives him a true leadoff batter and ...
"It allows us to put Alex Gordon back in the middle of our lineup somewhere," Yost said.
Yost, talking to reporters at the Winter Meetings on Monday afternoon, sees Emilio Bonifacio as the possible No. 2 hitter behind Aoki, followed by Eric Hosmer in the third spot, and then, in no set order, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and Gordon.
Gordon did a good job of getting on base as a leadoff batter last season -- .323 on-base percentage in 119 games -- but he also knocked 16 homers and had 63 RBIs from that spot.
"We also felt that Alex was a middle-of-the-order bat, a guy that's a run producer," Yost said.
"Gordy's going to be in that four-five-six spot, somewhere in there, because Hoz is pretty much going to nail down the three-spot, as we sit today. We've got two months left, a lot of time to see what happens."
For a few days last week, the Royals thought they had a shot at putting another name into the middle of that order: Carlos Beltran. He would have fit as "another bat" the Royals have often mentioned wanting for next season.
"It was disappointing, I think, and quite frankly we were close with the money he ended up signing for. But he wanted to be a Yankee," Yost said.
But, in the atmosphere of this busy market place, the search continues.
"We're talking about a lot of things. We'll see how things work out," Yost said. "It's like Beltran. You think you've got a shot at him and then, boom, he's gone. So you don't know."
But at least they have Aoki, the first true leadoff batter the Royals have had in a while, giving Yost a sense of anticipation.
"It gives us a bona fide leadoff guy, a guy that plays with energy, that's athletic, that can run, that fits our defensive profile," Yost said. "Does a nice job in the outfield, can play right field and can play some center field. He's an on-base guy, a table-setter, somebody that we look to get on base for our run producers and score some runs."
Aoki, in two years with the Brewers after arriving from Japan, was the leadoff batter in 234 games, hitting .291 with a .360 on-base percentage. He didn't strike out much -- 73 times in 1,076 plate appearances -- but didn't draw a lot of walks either -- 87.
"We feel like he's going to work the count, get on base and our ballpark is wide and expansive with a lot of ground out there. He can hit the ball to left, up the middle, can pull the ball to right field," Yost said. "He's got a lot of spots where he can find holes and set the table for our big run producers and score more runs."
Another effective weapon that Yost hopes to have in his lineup is Mike Moustakas, the third baseman who struggled last season. Moustakas is playing winter ball in Venezuela for a team managed by Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol.
"He's doing fine," Yost said. "It was good for him to go down and continue some work with Pedro. Moose puts a lot of expectations on himself and he doesn't want to stop getting better and he doesn't take anything for granted. And it's very impressive that while guys are still home doing their weight programs, he's in Venezuela working on his swing for six weeks with Pedro."
In his first four games for Cardenales de Lara, Moustakas is 4-for-17 (.235) with a home run, a double and six RBIs.
On the pitching side, a new asset that Yost will have when Spring Training opens is left-handed starting pitcher Jason Vargas, who signed a four-year contract with K.C. Essentially, he arrives from Los Angeles as the replacement for another ex-Angels hurler, still-unsigned free agent Ervin Santana.
"The thing that Erv gave us is stability in 200 innings, and I think that Vargas is going to do the same thing. Vargas is going be a very solid competitor," Yost said. "He competes, he gives you innings, a lot like Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie's stuff doesn't knock your eyes out, but he keeps you in just about every ballgame he pitches in, and I think that Vargas is going to do the same thing."
Even without adding another rotation pitcher to Vargas, Guthrie and James Shields -- "The cost of starting pitching is very high," Yost noted -- the manager seems content with picking the back end of his five from the inventory on hand. That includes Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and perhaps prospect Kyle Zimmer.
After four years of middling success as a starter, Hochevar's big first season in the bullpen (1.92 ERA, five wins and two saves in 58 games) made a big impression.
"He was dynamic for us all year long," Yost said. "When we put him in the 'pen last year, that might have gotten him over the hump. We think that he can still be a very productive starter."