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KC has needs as market opens

Royals not seeking free-agent cures

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KANSAS CITY -- When Royals general manager Dayton Moore looks ahead to the 2010 season, he's obligated to steal a look backwards, too. And the bottom line on 2009 reads 97 losses and a fourth-place tie in the American League Central.

So Moore promises not to be shy about making some changes. He's vowed to be aggressive, particularly in pursuing trades if not so much chasing after free agents, the market on which opens at 11 p.m. CT on Thursday.

The Royals' prime areas of concern are catching, the bullpen and defense.

"We're open to bringing all of our free agents back in some type of role," Moore said. "It's just a matter of how it fits in. There are a lot of potential opportunities right now, and we're a team that won 65 games. We've got to look for the very best opportunities that we can."

The players who elected free agency from the Royals are catcher Miguel Olivo, center fielder Coco Crisp and pitchers Jamey Wright and Bruce Chen. The Royals declined a mutual option on Olivo and their club option on Crisp.

Olivo is an interesting case. He led the Royals in home runs and gained distinction by being Zack Greinke's personal catcher in his Cy Young season. But the Royals passed on his $3.3 million contract, and Olivo is shopping.

"Our catching is an area of focus for us," Moore said. "It's an obvious area where we need to improve. We were last in baseball in passed balls and wild pitches and we have to be open-minded to every opportunity."

"Miguel performed very well for us. He hit 23 home runs and did a nice job on caught-stealing percentage, and he's also someone who's going to evaluate his opportunities as well through free agency."

Olivo, with a strong arm, was credited with throwing out 17 baserunners in 77 attempts, a rather modest 23 percent, but Moore said that compared favorably against other free-agent catchers. In addition, Olivo had 10 of the Royals' 14 passed balls (the club also had 89 wild pitches, for a total of 103 balls skipping away).

Crisp's $8 million option was too much to pick up after he'd missed most of the season after having surgery on both shoulders. Although Moore isn't saying so, it's logical that the Royals could discuss bringing him back at a lower base salary plus incentives based on playing time. Medical reports, of course, will play into that.

"Obviously he had two shoulder surgeries and we've just got to wait and see how everything unfolds," Moore said.

Wright, a bullpen workhorse, and Chen, a left-hander bouncing back from surgery, remain possibilities, according to Moore. Not so Yasuhiko Yabuta, who elected free agency and plans to return to the Japan League.

It's not likely that the Royals will be among the big spenders in the free-agent market as they were in the past with pitcher Gil Meche or outfielder Jose Guillen.

"Obviously the preferred way for us is internally and through the trade market," Moore said. "Those are the two most important talent pools for us to consider at this point."

"I feel we've got more than enough flexibility with our payroll. But, as I've said before, we're going to give ourselves the most flexibility during the season, so where we start may not be where we finish in payroll."

But it's the trade route that most interests Moore, and with the influx of second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman and the pending return of shortstop Mike Aviles, he has pieces to add to last year's infield of Alex Gordon at third, Yuniesky Betancourt at short, Alberto Callaspo at second and Billy Butler at first. Willie Bloomquist also was a frequent infield occupant.

"We definitely need to improve defensively, and I feel like we will, especially on the interior part of the diamond," Moore said.

Now that there are extra pieces, Moore has some trading chips available.

"I think with the addition of Getz [we'll have more flexibility], and Alex is going to be better, and Betancourt with a full season at short [should be better] and Aviles will be in the mix as well," Moore said. "I just think we have the talent there in the interior part that will shore us up and allow us to be consistent defensively."

Callaspo, who showed some holes defensively, could be coveted by teams looking for a .300 switch-hitter who can knock in runs.

The Royals were last in AL fielding and also relief pitching, a department in which the team felt well-protected when last season began. But high-priced additions Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz faltered.

"We had some very talented pitchers in our bullpen and they had off years," Moore said. "They're more than capable of coming back and performing well."

The Royals' front office is trying to determine which Minor League players need to be added to the 40-man roster and protected from the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10. The deadline for rosters is 11 p.m. CT on Friday.

"We're filtering through, we've got some candidates internally that need to be protected," Moore said. "We've been in meetings all week and we'll continue through Friday morning."

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

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