General manager Dayton Moore made one of the first deals this offseason by acquiring second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman Josh Fields from the White Sox in exchange for infielder-outfielder Mark Teahen.
"The areas of focus for us are to improve our catching, our bullpen, our outfield and, of course, you're always looking to add depth to your starting rotation," Moore said.
A year ago, the Royals went to Las Vegas on a quest for relief pitching, having traded Ramon Ramirez to the Red Sox for center fielder Coco Crisp and Leo Nunez to Marlins for first baseman Mike Jacobs. Moore emerged with relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Doug Waechter, both free agents.
Those signings, plus the subsequent addition of Juan Cruz and others, did not keep the Royals from having the worst bullpen ERA (5.02) in the American League. So it's back to the drawing board.
Even last season, it became apparent that the Royals wanted to stabilize their catching situation, where Miguel Olivo took over as No. 1 from John Buck. But now, the Royals have passed on their option on Olivo's contract and he's a free agent.
"We're remaining wide open, and catching is an area of focus for us and we'll look to improve there, if possible," Moore said. "Right now, we have Brayan Pena and John Buck on our 40-man roster and we are confident that that type of tandem will do a very good job, but we remain resolute in looking for other opportunities as well."
Olivo hit with power and threw well, but he let a lot of balls get through him. Buck blocked balls but he didn't throw well and didn't hit much. Pena is a project in progress.
The Royals are looking for a center fielder and are not ruling out Crisp, who made a good impression early last year before fading away with surgery on both shoulders. Passing on his $8 million option, the Royals remain open to bringing him back if his health and the money are right.
"We're open-minded to bringing all of our free agents back, but it's just a matter of evaluating their abilities with other potential players," Moore said.
Almost every club wants to beef up its rotation, and the Royals could use some more support behind Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. They would be particularly interested in a left-hander, something they haven't had as a regular starter in the last two seasons or since Odalis Perez and Jorge De La Rosa were around in 2006.
"Well, they're not growing on trees," Moore said.
So that's probably why former Mariners and Orioles lefty Erik Bedard's name popped up recently, even though he missed the last part of the '09 seaso because of shoulder surgery. Maybe he might come at a bargain rate. Or maybe not.
The last time the Royals had a lefty win in double digits was 2006, when Mark Redman went 11-10. At the Winter Meetings last year, the Royals were so hungry for a lefty starter that they signed Horacio Ramirez, a move that didn't work out.
Right fielder Jose Guillen's name also passed through the rumor mill not long ago, but he still has a $12 million contract remaining for 2010, not an easy sell by any means. Recently Guillen emphasized that he'd like to return to the Royals and give them their money's worth. Moore wouldn't object to that.
"I'm confident that Jose is going to come back and have a very good year," Moore said. "In 2008, he had 97 RBIs, and he's certainly capable of repeating that and going above and beyond that. So we expect him to be a very productive offensive player for us in 2010. He's battled through some injuries and some surgical procedures that will alleviate a lot of his pain and free him up to do very well."
Guillen had surgery on his left ankle and lower back, which he believes will help him regain his old sock in his "walk year."
Underlying all the Royals' planning is a burning desire to improve a defense that, somewhat surprisingly, finished last in the AL with 116 errors.
"Our defense certainly was one of the disappointing aspects of our team last year, and that's something that we ought to be performing at a much higher level," Moore said.
That's one reason that acquiring Getz could help at second base, where Alberto Callaspo's glove was sometimes suspect. Callaspo, coming off a .300 season with good power, might be an attraction for a club seeking a second and third baseman.
The Royals, with Getz and Fields arriving, do have some flexibility now in the infield, either as depth or trading chips, and that's something that manager Trey Hillman can appreciate.
"I've had the question several times -- is Getz going to start at second?" Hillman said. "There's a lot of time between now and Spring Training. I don't know. I know that it's his primary position and I like the addition of his speed and lateral range in the middle of the field if he's there. But we'll wait and see what how things shake out at the Winter Meetings."
Speed is another commodity that attracts the Royals these days. Once Crisp was shut down, their biggest base-stealing threat was versatile Willie Bloomquist (25).
This year, the Royals say they're tilting the Winter Meetings approach more to the trading route than the free-agent market.
As Hillman put it: "I think we'll attempt to do something, but what that'll be, I don't know."
Mystery. That's what makes the Winter Meetings such an intriguing Hot Stove event.