Royals’ Moore looks for help at winter meetings

The Royals’ acquisition of right-hander Ervin Santana and their signing of right-hander Jeremy Guthrie merely whetted the appetite of Royals fans.

Royals fans are hungry for more, as in another arm to retool one of the worst rotations in baseball last season.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore understands that hunger.

But he has to be careful not to mortgage the team’s future for any short-term gain.

As Moore embarks on baseball’s annual winter meetings Monday in Nashville, Tenn., he undoubtedly will field many questions from other general managers about how willing he is to land another starting pitcher.

“It’s always a balancing act,” Moore said by phone. “You always have to determine your acquisition costs. Sure, you want a solid starting pitcher. Everyone does. Go up and down any team’s roster and they’re going to want another starter. It’s the commodity you have to have.

“But you have to keep the big picture in mind.”

And the big picture for the Royals is the program Moore and his staff have been building for years, a program that now, at least in terms of position players, is close to fruition.

Moore knows that to get a front-line starter to go with Santana and Guthrie, the asking price might be too high. Other general managers will ask about all members of Moore’s young nucleus, from Mike Moustakas to Eric Hosmer to Sal Perez.

And that may be what is required to land one of the front-line starters that the Royals have been linked to – James Shields of Tampa Bay, Jon Lester of Boston and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets.

But don’t assume Moore is ready to tinker yet with his young nucleus.

“You have to be careful about how aggressive you are,” Moore said. “Sure, we’re committed to putting the best team we possibly can for 2013. But we can’t just ignore what our team will look like in 2014 and 2015. That’s just as important. We’re building something for the long term.

“Our window is just beginning with this group. If you look at what we have, we have Billy Butler signed long-term, as well as Alex Gordon and Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar, and we have Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas under control for many years. The window is just starting and you have to be careful not to necessarily disrupt that.

“On the other hand, you can’t acquire a top-notch starter without sacrificing something. That’s what you have to balance and consider.”

The Royals could, of course, give up some minor-league talent – Wil Myers is obviously the best trade bait – to get that additional starter.

But Moore also has to weigh whether or not his minor-league system can withstand depletion by trade. Outside of Myers, it is a system not yet brimming with talent close to the major leagues.

And any subtractions from the big-league club would not be easily replaced.

Most experts agree that the next wave of Royals’ young talent is mostly in Class A and their rookie leagues, still two to three years away.

Moore could, however, move one or two pieces from the low levels of the farm system to land perhaps a fourth or fifth starter from another big-league team.

“When you think about it, there aren’t any No. 1 starters who really came into the league as No. 1 starters,” Moore said. “No. 1 starters are developed from maybe No. 4 or No. 5 starters. You can maybe find that four or five guy, or you may even have that four or five guy on your own team that you can develop.”