SURPRISE, Ariz. —Manager Ned Yost offered up a timetable Tuesday on the opportunities extended by the Kansas City Royals to Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur as their starting outfield.
"We made a commitment to Melky and Francoeur to give them a shot," Yost acknowledged, "and we'll give them a good two-, two-and-a-half to three-months shot. We have to give them a legitimate shot because we made that commitment."
Francoeur and Cabrera were free agents in the offseason who agreed to one-year deals in part because the Royals promised the regular duty necessary to reverse recent career slides.
"Alex is a step ahead of everybody right now," Yost said. "We made a commitment last year to Alex to make him an outfielder, and he's made great strides with his defense. He's a very solid defender in left field.
"All Alex has to do is take it and run with it. He's done his part (so far). He's worked hard on completely revamping his swing to get to the point where he can make more consistent contact and more power contact."
Sense a "but" coming?
"But he still needs to go out on the field and produce," Yost said. "We'll get to the point where production is very important. There comes a time, when guys start pushing you, that if your production numbers aren't what you need....
"You've got to have an offensive player in the corners."
The Royals believe they have viable alternatives if any of their three starters fail to meet expectations, and they intend to explore those possibilities throughout spring training.
"Mitch (Maier) can play all three positions," Yost said. "(Jarrod) Dyson is coming. (Gregor) Blanco is out there. (Lorenzo) Cain is coming. Where do they all fit? If they push the envelope, then we've got decisions to make."
Yost confirmed the versatility of several infielders should permit the Royals to break camp with five outfielders. That positions Maier and Blanco as the likely backups because both are out of options.
Club officials believe Maier and Blanco are unlikely to pass unclaimed through waivers. In contrast, Dyson, Cain and Derrick Robinson have options remaining, which means they can be sent to the minors without the need to pass through waivers.
"So," Yost admitted, "they're going to have to really push our hand (to risk losing another player)."
That push accelerated Tuesday when Cabrera and Francoeur got the day off in a 4-3 victory over San Diego. Cain ended the game with a diving catch that saved at least one run — and did so after starting the winning rally with a two-out double in the eighth inning.
Maier had an RBI double, and Dyson flashed his speed by stealing a base.
"There's a crowd," Yost said. "We're trying to figure out how to get guys in there every day or every other day, and it's tough. We're going to start moving guys around now because we've got so many center fielders who we want to take a look at.
"We still have no idea of how our outfield situation is going to unfold, so we've got to make sure we've seen them all at all of the positions. That way, when the smoke rises, we'll have figured out who needs to be where."
Just in case.