Last winter, when the Royals traded Wil Myers for James Shields, it was decried as a short-sighted move by Dayton Moore. The Royals were more than one player away from contention! What would trading for Shields do for them in 2013 aside from making them maybe a .500 team? Well, the Royals had their best year since 1994, winning 86 games and finishing third in the AL Central behind a pair of playoff teams in the Tigers and Indians. Maybe, just maybe, this idea of contending wasn't so silly after all.
Kansas City has just a pair of significant free agents this winter: starting pitchers Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen. Santana figures to get a nice contract on the market, but the club might have some money to play with to retain Santana after excising Jeff Francoeur's disastrous contract from the books. Chen could come cheap after making $4.5 million last year, but a weak market could inflate his value slightly out of Kansas City's price range.
The Royals are in a tough spot with their needs because of injuries and youth – as always. Their rotation is headed up by Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, but there are a series of question marks after that. Is 22-year old Yordano Ventura ready for a full season in the bigs? Will Felipe Paulino be ready to roll following Tommy John *and* shoulder surgery? Can Danny Duffy throw 150 innings next year in his first full season back from Tommy John? Is Wade Davis best served staying in the bullpen? Can Kyle Zimmer join his 2012 draftmate Michael Wacha in the majors? Those question marks really will spur the attempted re-signings of Santana and Chen.
Wait, but what about the Royals offense? Don't even worry about it. Every starter from last year is still under team control through next season (and beyond, in the case of everyone but Emilio Bonifacio). Speaking of Bonifacio, the team is apparently considering adding a second baseman and moving Bonifacio to the super utility role he's thrived at in the past. Most of their players are excellent defensively (as the team's three Gold Gloves will attest to), which more than makes up for the offensive shortcomings of some (Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain). The club could use a solid bat in right field, but a platoon of David Lough and Justin Maxwell could probably get the job done.
The most palatable option for the Royals are to simply bring back Santana and Chen, taking all other variables out of the equation and sticking with what made them contenders in 2013. If Kansas City does want to explore other options, I wouldn't expect them to get fancy and jump into the Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez sweepstakes. Instead, someone like Dan Haren, Phil Hughes, or former Braves Paul Maholm and Tim Hudson could be options.
The club's offensive holes could be filled via trade, something Moore clearly isn't afraid to do, or via free agency, though the latter doesn't leave them much wiggle room. Omar Infante would fit right in with the team's defensive standouts, and Mark Ellis could also be a solid match (if the Dodgers decline his option). The right field situation is a different breed of animal, and someone like a Marlon Byrd or Tyler Colvin on a one or two year deal could be the best pairing for the team.
This is where the Royals can have some fun. Howie Kendrick has been put on the market by the Angels, and Kansas City would match up well with Los Angeles due to their surplus of young arms. The two matched up last offseason in the Santana deal, and it's not out of the realm of possibility to see it happen again. Kansas City also could make a move for David Price after last winter's trade for Shields, but the cost could be too prohibitive for the club.
The Royals are apparently willing to listen on Billy Butler, but as Moore notes, they're willing to listen on anyone. The club still has a solid farm system after the Shields trade, and can easily put together a competitive package for anyone they might have desires about. But the Royals might be able to cash in on their ridiculously good major league bullpen. In his first year as a reliever, Luke Hochevar had a 1.92 ERA and struck out 82 in 70 1/3 innings. While that's all fine and dandy, he'll be entering his fourth and final year of arbitration this winter and will be earning a raise on his $4.56 million salary. That's a lot to pay for a reliever, and another team might be more willing to pay that than Kansas City, who have guys like Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, and Kelvin Herrera all in their pen making worlds less than Hochevar and pitching just as well (or much better, in the case of Holland).
Speaking of Holland, why not float him on the trade market to see what teams are willing to pay for a top three closer with three years of control left? The Royals screwed up by not getting anything for Joakim Soria before he blew his elbow out, and making the same mistake with Holland would be disastrous. Over the last three years, only the immortal Craig Kimbrel has a higher fWAR among relievers than Holland. That's some lofty company, and in a free agent market really devoid of an elite reliever, the Royals could clean up in a Holland trade.