What will be Dayton Moore’s next big acquisition?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Last year at this time, Royals general manager Dayton Moore already had acquired right-hander Ervin Santana in a trade with the Angels, and he was one day away from announcing that right-hander Jeremy Guthrie had signed a three-year, $25 million deal.

Moore and his staff also were beginning to debate the pros and cons of the upcoming blockbuster James Shields trade.

This off-season has been much more quiet, though Moore has indicated he expects trade and free-agent activity to pick up dramatically when the Winter Meetings commence early next month.

Still, the Royals have been linked in recent weeks to several free agents, not to mention other players in potential trades.

Here’s a look at some of the more prominent names:

Carlos Beltran
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We all know what a great story it would be if Beltran could return to the Royals, the team that drafted and developed him. And that certainly remains a possibility as the Royals have shown interest.

But if there is hesitation from the Royals’ end it is based on Beltran’s age (37 next April) and his desire to seek a three-year deal likely in the $40-45 million range. That’s perhaps too much of a commitment on the Royals’ end, though his production (.296/.339/.491 with 24 homers, 84 RBIs) certainly trumps the potential platoon of David Lough and Justin Maxwell.

Beltran’s defensive skills are fading, which is a concern. Also, the Royals certainly can’t win a bidding war if the Yankees and Red Sox get involved. But hey, it’s a nice dream.

Corey Hart
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The 6-foot-6, right-handed-hitting outfielder would be an intriguing signing. The free agent missed all of last season because of surgery on both knees, but he reportedly has cleared recent medical tests and appears fit to play for 2014.

When healthy, Hart has been productive, and he’s exactly what the Royals would need offensively. He hit .270 in 2012 with a .334 on-base percentage, along with 30 homers and 83 RBIs.

Hart’s heart, though, may still be in Milwaukee, where he has played his entire career. He already has stated publicly he would give the Brewers a home-town discount from the $10 million he made last year while sitting out.

Still, Hart would be the type of low-risk, high-reward player Moore often seeks, especially if they got him at a discounted rate, too.

Phil Hughes
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The right-hander is coming off a horrible year in which he went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA. And the Yankees have agreed it’s time for him to get a fresh start elsewhere.

Hughes is another low-risk, high-reward free-agent candidate who made $7.15 million last year and could find his mojo again with Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was his coach with the Yankees in 2010, when Hughes went 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA.

Hughes is still only 27, and one would think he has plenty of good years ahead. And industry insiders think his main issue last season was simply ballpark related: He gave up 17 homers at Yankee Stadium, where opponents also hit .317 against him.

A fly-ball pitcher, Hughes could benefit from the spaciousness of The K.
 

Josh Johnson
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The minute rumors started flying about potential Royals interest in Johnson, a 29-year-old right-hander, Jeremy Guthrie got a bit excited, sending out a recent tweet that suggested the Royals could “solve the puzzle” by signing him.

There’s plenty of interest from several teams in Johnson, a 6-7, 250-pounder who made $13.75 million last year in a horrible season for the Blue Jays (6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP). Johnson also underwent elbow surgery last month.

The intrigue is there because Johnson was one of the better starters in baseball just a few years ago, and in eight seasons with the Marlins he had a 3.15 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. He also averaged over eight strikeouts per nine innings.

But a recent report suggested that Johnson’s preference would be to sign with a West Coast team, perhaps the Padres or Giants.

Brandon Phillips
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OK, the Royals would like to upgrade at second base — though Moore has said it’s not a priority — and the Reds appear to be fed up with Phillips.

Bingo. There’s the connection that has led to speculation that the Royals have interest in Phillips.

Acquiring Phillips would certainly represent a huge upgrade for the Royals’ offense. Though 32, Phillips remains highly productive — he has hit 18 homers in each of the last four seasons, though that figure would drop if he’s playing half his games at The K.

But Phillips also drove in 103 runs last season, and the Royals can use all the run producers they can get their hands on.

Getting Phillips in a Royals uniform, though, would be costly in terms of having to most likely give up a pitching prospect (ugh). It wouldn’t be cheap financially, either: Phillips is signed through 2017, with $50 million still left on his contract.

Joba Chamberlain
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The Royals have talked about this free-agent Yankee as well, and, of course, there is another Eiland connection. Eiland had him earlier in his career, including the last time (2009) when Chamberlain was a starter. That season, Chamberlain started 31 games and finished 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA.

Converting Chamberlain back to the rotation may be the appeal to the Royals, who are preparing to fill the void if Ervin Santana signs elsewhere (a strong possibility).

Chamberlain is affordable — he made $1.875 million last year — and he is young at 28. He also is a former teammate of Alex Gordon’s at Nebraska.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com
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