Managing payroll key for Moore at Meetings

Managing payroll key for Moore at Meetings

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Winter Meetings hadn't even officially started last December when the Royals jumped in and agreed to sign reliever Joakim Soria to a three-year, $25 million deal the Sunday before.

It would seem highly unlikely that Kansas City leaps into the free-agent market again so quickly this time because of severe payroll restrictions. But general manager Dayton Moore has made it clear he will listen to any and all potential trade offers, which could make the next four days very interesting for Royals fans.

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 8 a.m. CT.

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The Royals' primary focus in the offseason so far has been to tend to payroll concerns. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales (Blue Jays) and right-hander Edinson Volquez (Marlins) signed elsewhere, and Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen are free agents. Those developments shaved about $31 million off the payroll.

But because of pending arbitration cases and back-loaded contracts, the Royals' projected payroll for 2017 still could be a franchise-high, in the $142-143 million range, which is why the budget-wary Moore will be listening to trade offers. His most marketable asset likely is closer Wade Davis, but there are no untouchables, meaning outfielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas -- all potential free agents after '17 -- could be up for grabs.

"Whatever we do, however, will have to make us better now and into the future," Moore said. "We're not making deals for the sake of making deals. I've said this before, but we're not in a hurry to break up this team."

The core of the Royals' 25-man roster has been to two of the past three World Series, winning it all in 2015. Moore's expectations are simple: A return to the postseason in '17 with visions of another title.

"Our players know what it takes to win it all," Moore said. "I fully expect our players to come back healthy in 2017 and energized to make another run."

The Royals certainly have needs. They need a fifth starter to complement Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy and Jason Vargas in the rotation. Moore's stated offseason priority is to restore his bullpen to shutdown status, which makes trading Davis potentially the trickiest balancing act. And the Royals may explore finding a full-time designated hitter to replace Morales.

But again, any moves will have to be made with payroll limitations in mind. As one club official put it: The Royals likely will be bottom-feeding on the free-agent market.

The Royals did make a Minor League deal on Thursday, sending right-hander Brooks Pounders to the Angels for right-hander Jared Ruxer. That freed up a spot on the 40-man roster, and it will enable the Royals to possibly participate in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.