Royals still looking for run producer as Winter Meetings begin

As the Royals pursue a run producer at the Winter Meetings, Billy Butler -- one of the team's few players with pop in his bat -- figures to stay put.

Rick Osentoski/Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Having missed out on the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes, the Royals find themselves still in need of adding a run producer as baseball’s Winter Meetings begin today.
General manager Dayton Moore made that clear last week.
“We’re still looking for a middle-of-the-order bat,” Moore said. “… We don’t feel like our off-season is complete.”
While the Royals tried to woo Beltran into coming back to the organization that drafted and developed him, Beltran instead opted for a deal with the Yankees. Interestingly, that deal — three years for $45 million — was less than a reported three-year deal worth $48 million that Beltran was offered earlier from an unknown club.
It is not believed that $48 million offer came from the Royals, who, however, were willing to offer a three-year deal for Beltran, likely in the $40 million range.
Regardless, the Royals are still in the market for someone with Beltran’s production numbers.
Moore did make a deal last week to upgrade the offense, acquiring Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for left-hander Will Smith. For now, Aoki seems likely to take the right field spot and hit leadoff for the Royals.
But the Royals still could pursue a right fielder with home-run pop and simply shift Aoki to center field in place of the oft-injured Lorenzo Cain.
“There are a lot of different scenarios out there,” Moore said. “We will stay open-minded.”
The market for power hitters, though, is dwindling.
Corey Hart is a possibility if the Royals were to offer an incentive-laden contract. Hart was a productive hitter for the Brewers — he averaged nearly 24 homers per season over six years — before sitting out all of 2013 after having surgery on both knees.
Hart has indicated recently that he has received medical clearance to resume full baseball activities, but it might be risky to expect him to play a full season in the outfield. The Brewers are considering signing him as a first baseman.
Michael Morse is a free-agent outfielder who hit 31 homers for Washington in 2011. But he has been injury-prone and unproductive for the last two seasons.
Then, of course, there is Nelson Cruz, who has averaged 27 homers per season over the last five years. But Cruz would be pricey — more so than Beltran, perhaps — and there are some drawbacks to Cruz’s game.
Cruz, 33, is generally regarded as a below-average outfielder. He also has just a .327 career on-base percentage.
And it’s uncertain whether the Royals would take another shot at a player with performance-enhancing drug issues, especially after the Miguel Tejada episode last season. Cruz served a 50-game suspension last year with the Rangers for a PED violation.
Another option for Moore to upgrade the offense is at second base.
Former Tiger Omar Infante is a free agent who hit .318 with a .345 on-base percentage. Signing Infante would allow Emilio Bonifacio to play a utility role, which some in the Royals’ organization think he is best suited for.
One move unlikely to happen now is a trade of Billy Butler. Had the Royals acquired Beltran, there was speculation that the Royals then would have moved Butler so Beltran could serve as a DH.
But that speculation has diminished and as one club official said recently, “If you trade Billy, the first thing you need to acquire is another hitter just like Billy. There aren’t many out there.”
And even with Butler, the Royals continue to search for another run producer for an offense that finished last in the league in home runs (112) and 11th in runs scored (648).
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email