Dayton Moore is in as difficult a situation as any general manager in the major leagues.
His Kansas City Royals entered the offseason with seven key players eligible for free agency at the end of the 2017 season.
Two years removed from winning the World Series, the Royals want to be competitive again this year. However, they can’t afford to allow all of their players on expiring contracts to walk away and not receive any compensation.
“It’s really, really tough when every other GM knows that you have to get rid of guys,” said an executive from a National League team. “It just kills you’re leverage. It’s a tough spot to be in but I think Dayton has done pretty well so far this winter under the circumstances.”
The Royals have traded two of their would-be free agents, shipping closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler during the Winter Meetings last month then dealing outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Nate Karns last Friday.
Soler and Karns are not sure things, but both have a certain amount of upside.
Soler, 24, hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs in 211 games over the last three seasons with the Cubs. However, he was ranked as the No. 12 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2015 season.
What makes Soler particularly attractive is that he is under club control quite affordably through 2020; he has four years and $17.67 million remaining on the nine-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Cubs in 2012 following his defection from Cuba.
“He’s been inconsistent and injury-prone but I still think he has a chance to be special,” a scout from an NL team said. “The tools are all there. He could still be a star. He’s a great upside play.”
At 29, it is doubtful Karns will become a star. He is 14-9 with a 4.41 ERA in 54 games over four seasons with averages of 9.2 strikeouts and 3.8 walks per nine innings.
“For me, he’s a back-end guy in a rotation,” a scout from American League team. “His stuff is really good but he’s never been able to throw strikes consistently and I don’t think that’s going to change at this stage of his career. Still, with an arm like that, you never know.”
Karns doesn’t become eligible for arbitration until after next season and cannot become a free agent until following the 2020 season.
“What we need to do is continue to add players we control beyond 2017,” Moore said. “Pitching, as we know, is so important. Power pitching is hard to get. Power pitchers you can control is very hard to acquire, as well.”
The Baltimore Orioles are still on the lookout for outfielders after acquiring Seth Smith from the Mariners last Friday in a trade for right-hander Yovani Gallardo.
While Adam Jones is cemented in center field, the Orioles would like to find platoon partners for Smith in right field and fellow left-handed hitter Hyun Soo Kim in left field. Smith has just a .594 OPS against lefties over his 10-year career, compared to an .827 mark against right-handers.
“Smith is one of those quietly underrated guys,” a scout from an AL team said. “He doesn’t do anything that dazzles you but you look up at the end of the year and he’s hit his fair share of home runs and drawn some walks. He’s learned to drive the ball the last few years and that adds value.”
Though Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer has opted out of playing for the United States in the World Baseball Classic because of an injured ring finger on his pitching hand, Team USA manager Jim Leyland believes his team will have enough pitching depth to be very competitive.
“One of the things we want to do is get as much quality pitching as possible,” Leyland said. “It’ll be early in the year and guys aren’t going to be able to pitch a lot of innings. We want to be in a position to have enough pitching that we can swap guys on and off the roster between rounds if necessary to keep everyone fresh.”
Five pitchers have committed to pitch for the Americans — the Tampa Bay Rays’ Chris Archer, the Orioles’ Mychal Givens, the Houston Astros’ Luke Gregerson, the Cleveland Indians’ Andrew Miller and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman.
Leyland is hopeful that ace left-handers Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants will also participate.
Manny Ramirez signed with the Kochi Fighting Dogs of Japan’s independent Shikoku Island League last weekend.
This about as far away from the major leagues as a player can get. The league consists of just four teams, is based on the smallest and least populous of Japan’s four main islands and is not affiliated with Nippon Professional Baseball.
So why would a 44-year-old with 555 career home runs in the major leagues sign on to be a Fighting Dog?
“Because he’s Manny,” a former teammate said. “There’s no other explanation. He’s just different. I will say this, though, he does love to play the game.”