KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals won’t necessarily need to make a corresponding payroll cut in order to acquire another impact starting pitcher — or any roster upgrade for that matter — through a trade or free agency.
Owner David Glass confirmed Wednesday the club is operating with a $70 million soft cap for next season’s payroll but emphasized “nothing is set in stone” and reiterated a willingness to fund a deficit to bolster the team’s deficiencies.
“We don’t have a hard number on anything,” Glass said. “I would tell you that for us to break even, our payroll has to be in the $70 million range. But as we’ve discussed before, we will react based on what our opportunities are.”
Glass also disputed the notion, generally based on industry estimates by Forbes magazine, that he has pocketed more than $100 million in operating profit since purchasing the club in 2000 from the estate of Ewing Kauffman.
“From the time we’ve owned the team until now,” Glass said, “accumulatively we’ve done no better than break even. We’ve actually subsidized it slightly during that period of time.
“Look, you might have a $65-to-$70 million payroll, but then you go out and spend $25-$30 million in amateur bonuses. Everyone says, ‘Well, your payroll is less than some of the other teams,’ but those other teams were spending less than $10 million in amateur bonuses.
“In a number of those years, if you add what we’re spending on amateur bonuses to our (major-league) salaries, we’re spending a lot of money.”
The more immediate issue, with baseball’s winter meetings less than a week away, is whether the Royals have sufficient payroll to add another reliable arm to a rotation already bolstered by trading for Ervin Santana and re-signing free-agent Jeremy Guthrie.
The Royals checked on the availability of Boston left-hander Jon Lester and Tampa Bay righty James Shields. They also took a recent run at free agent Ryan Dempster and have been linked to several other veteran pitchers.
A major hurdle, in all cases, was available payroll.
Best estimates project the club’s roster, as currently constituted, around $67 million, which led general manager Dayton Moore to suggest that any major addition would likely require the club to shed payroll in other areas.
Not necessarily, it seems.
“The thing being discussed that borders on ridiculous is the $70 million payroll,” Glass said. “I’ve always said that whatever money the franchise generates, we’re willing to put it all back in — whether it’s in amateur bonuses or payroll or scouting.
“I’m even willing to go further and subsidize it at a time when we’ve got a chance to win our division or really be competitive. We’re at that time, so now you get to the point where it depends on what’s available.”
Glass agrees “one more impact pitcher would significantly improve our opportunity to compete” in 2013 but remains reluctant to compromise the club’s long-term approach.
“So now you get to the point where it depends on what’s available,” he said. “You say, ‘Go spend it.’ Well, what do you spend it on? Unless you get something that is going to help you beyond this year … I don’t want us to have a one-year approach.”
Even so, Glass said he is open to boosting the next season’s payroll to, say, $76 million if Moore makes the case that doing so would provide a significant short-term boost the club without compromising the future.
“I would consider whatever recommendation Dayton makes to me,” Glass said. “There is nothing set in stone. I think we have a responsibility to the fans to get better each year. As a fan, and I’m as much of a fan as an owner, I want to win.
“On the other hand, I want us to generally be prudent and try to live within our budget, but that doesn’t mean we won’t take advantage of opportunities.”
Glass said payrolls will rise in future years as the result of new TV contracts that take effect with the 2014 season. He also pointed to several promising pitchers near the top of the Royals’ farm system as an argument against a reckless short-term approach.
“What Dayton has to weigh,” Glass said, “is what the trade-off is in trying to be more competitive this year? I love our core of young players. I think they’re going to get better. I think we had the best bullpen in the American League this past year.
“Starting pitching is where we’re short. But do you disturb or damage other areas to get that starting pitching? Dayton has made a good start with Santana and Guthrie, and there are other things being discussed.”
KC gets two pitchers — The Royals acquired two young starting pitchers Wednesday from Pittsburgh in exchange for right-hander Vin Mazzaro and first baseman/designated hitter Clint Robinson.
Mazzaro and Robinson were designated for assignment last week, which signaled the Royals saw neither one as part of the club’s future.
Catcher Brayan Peña and right-handed pitcher Chris Volstad, who were also designated for assignment, chose to become free agents rather than accept outright assignments to the minors after clearing waivers.
The trade with Pittsburgh returned right-hander Luis Santos, 21, and lefty Luis Rico, who turns 19 on Thursday. Both pitched last season in the Dominican Summer League and were assigned to the Rookie Surprise roster.
Santos was 6-3 with a 2.44 ERA in 14 games in the Dominican, while striking out 74 in 62 2/3 innings and holding opponents to a .184 average. Rico was 0-1 with a 7.04 ERA in nine starts.
Mazzaro, 26, never evolved into the reliable rotation arm the Royals envisioned when they obtained him with minor-league lefty Justin Marks in a Nov. 10, 2010 trade from Oakland for outfielder David DeJesus. Mazzaro was a combined 5-4 with a 6.72 ERA over the last two seasons in 25 big-league appearances, including 10 starts. He spent much of his time at Triple-A Omaha.
Robinson, 27, put up big minor-league numbers in recent seasons but was blocked at the major-league level by first baseman Eric Hosmer and designated hitter Billy Butler. Robinson was hitless last season in four big-league at-bats.
Peña, 30, spent much of the last four seasons as the club’s backup catcher but batted just .236 last season with two homers and 25 RBIs in 62 games. His spot became at risk when the Royals claimed Brett Hayes on waivers from Miami.
The Royals acquired Volstad in an Oct. 26 waiver claim from the Chicago Cubs but deemed him expendable after acquiring Ervin Santana in a trade from the Angels and retaining free-agent Jeremy Guthrie.
Peña, Mazzaro, Robinson and Volstad were among seven players designated for assignment on Nov. 20, which provided the Royals with a 10-day window to trade them, release then or send them through waivers.
The others were pitchers Ryan Verdugo, catcher Adam Moore and outfielder Derrick Robinson.