KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When this season is put to rest and general manager Dayton Moore and the front office evaluate what’s missing from the Royals, it shouldn’t take them long to determine the team’s primary need:
More offense. The Royals obviously need another weapon on offense, perhaps even two.
If the Royals get lucky, and Emilio Bonifacio successfully passes his audition at second base, Moore and Co. may not have to beg owner David Glass for a ton of money to go free-agent shopping.
If Bonifacio becomes the player he was two years ago with the Marlins, it’s possible that Moore will have to fill only the hole in right field.
That would be especially comforting because the free-agent market for second basemen is frightfully thin, unless you think Robinson Cano is aching to play in Kansas City or that Glass would be willing to throw $30 million a year Cano’s way.
Chase Utley, the other coveted second baseman, is no longer on the market after signing a contract extension with the Phillies.
The rest of the potential second baseman crop: Mark Ellis, Alexi Casilla, Mike Fontenot, Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, Nick Punto, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Skip Schumaker.
Not all that appealing.
The free-agent class for outfielders in 2014 is better, though predictably it will cost plenty to land a star. Here are some of the potentially available outfielders:
Beltran is 36 but has indicated he wants to play another three or four years, perhaps to build his case for the Hall of Fame. He remains in great shape and a return to Kansas City, where he started, would make for a huge off-season splash around here. He’s coming off a two-year, $26 million deal with the Cardinals, so it might not take much more than that to lure him back. And now that the Royals seem on the verge of contending, he might be interested.
Prying him away from the Red Sox seems highly unlikely. Ellsbury, 29, is making $9 million in his final year of arbitration this season but should command double that in a multi-year deal. He stole 70 bases in 2009 and has 47 this year with a .351 on-base percentage. He would be everything the Royals dreamed of at the top of the batting order. But getting ownership to commit that much money is likely a dream, too, especially if the Royals have any visions of re-signing Ervin Santana.
A very popular player in San Francisco, Pence, 30, is not only a proven player on the field, but also a vocal leader in the clubhouse — definitely Moore’s type of player. It’s surprising that the Giants haven’t anted up and locked Pence in yet. He is making $13.8 million in his final year of arbitration this year and so again, the price would be steep, likely too high for the Royals. But he’d be worth the investment: He’s an excellent defender and is hitting .278 with 16 homers, 66 RBIs and 19 steals this year. If the Giants tender him, any suitor would have to give up a first-round draft pick, too — if that suitor has a record among the top 20 in baseball, which the Royals will (we think).
OK, another dream. It’s unlikely that the Yankees will let him walk and they’ll at least tender him an offer, projected to be around $13.8 million. But he is coming off an injury-filled 2013 — he suffered a fractured forearm after being hit by a pitch and he just returned to the Yanks this month. He also will be 33 in March. Hmmm. He hit 43 homers last year and 41 the year before, though those numbers would diminish playing at Kauffman Stadium. He certainly would fill a two-year gap while the Royals wait on outfield prospect Jorge Bonifacio to emerge.
This would classify as bargain shopping. Morse has missed much of this season with the Mariners due to a quad strain. But we know he has big-time power — he hit 31 homers and drove in 95 runs for the Nationals two years ago. In just 76 games this year he has 13 homers and 27 RBIs. He’s 31 and will make a budget-friendly $6.75 million this year. He won’t command that much more on the open market. Definitely within the Royals’ financial reach.
Another potential bargain. Hart will have missed the entire 2012 season for the Brewers going into free agency after having surgery on both knees. He just finished a three-year, $26.5 million deal but won’t command anything near that after being out of baseball for a year. Before the surgery, he did demonstrate power — he hit 30 homers in 2012, and in 2010 he had 31 homers and 102 RBIs. It’s the type of risk the Royals could manage financially, and the reward could be great for two years.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.