Outfielder Jose Guillen now becomes the indisputable No. 1 on the Royals’ list of off-season targets following Torii Hunter’s decision late Wednesday to sign with the Los Angeles Angels.
The Royals have long viewed Hunter and Guillen as the only free agents available capable of filling their need for a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder _ unless Andruw Jones significantly lowers his asking price.
“Obviously, our objective remains the same,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “We do want to acquire a right-handed bat to hit in the middle of our order, and we’ll keep working through every opportunity imaginable.”
The Royals are believed to have offered Hunter, 32, a five-year deal for more than $70 million and were prepared to go higher. But the Angels, who didn’t enter the bidding until this week, blew away all competitors by offering $90 million over five years.
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“They shocked me,” Hunter admitted in a late Wednesday teleconference. “They shocked the world.”
The Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers also pursued Hunter, who spent his entire 11-year career with Minnesota before becoming a free agent. He batted .287 last season with 28 homers and a career-high 107 RBIs in 160 games.
“We went hard (after Hunter),” Moore said. “We were aggressive. Ownership was very supportive. Everybody got involved in this process of trying to get Torii. We did everything we could. Now, we’ve just got to move on.”
Guillen, 31, figures to be a much-cheaper alternative, although his value is tough to gauge in light of recent allegations that he purchased steroids and human growth hormore between May 2002 and June 2005.
Those claims, if substantiated, are likely to result in Guillen being suspended for a portion of next season. The maximum ban would be 50 games, although that would be subject to appeal.
Moore previously indicated the possibility of a suspension would not prevent the Royals from pursuing Guillen, who batted .290 last season at Seattle with 23 homers and 99 RBIs in 153 games.
Failing to sign Hunter offers one potential benefit: The Royals, if willing to spend $70 million, have sufficient funds to pursue Guillen and make a strong push for a starting pitcher with right-handers Carlos Silva and Hiroki Kuroda atop their wish list.
Guillen was seeking a three-year contract for about $30 million before the San Francisco Chronicle, citing unidentified sources, claimed it had records proving he purchased steroids and HGH.
The White Sox and Rangers are expected to pursue Aaron Rowand as an alternative to Hunter. The Royals show scant interest in Rowand but continue to monitor Jones to see if he shows any willingness to accept a three-year deal or less.
Silva, 28, wants a four-year contract for $40 million-plus after going 13-14 with a 4.19 ERA last season in 33 starts for the Twins. The Mets, Phillies and Tigers have also expressed interest.
Kuroda, 32, is seeking a similar deal and is generally viewed as the top available Japanese starter. He is also a true free agent and, unlike Boston right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka a year ago, not subject to the posting system to reimburse his former club.
The Mariners and Dodgers are viewed as heavy favorites to land Kuroda, who has indicated a desire to play on the West Coast.
But the Royals are making a push. They already have an agreement in place with Japanese reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta and believe new manager Trey Hillman’s five years in Japan offers a further enticement.
Kuroda spent the last 11 years with the Hiroshima Carp and was 12-8 last season with a 3.56 ERA in 27 games.
The Royals expect to confirm their signing of Yabuta within a few days _ once he arrives in the United States and takes a physical examination. The two-year deal is believed to be valued at about $5 million to $6 million but includes performance bonuses and a club option for 2010.