LAS VEGAS | The search for right-handed relievers remains the Royals’ over-riding priority this week as the baseball industry circulates through the twisting configuration of the massive Bellagio hotel and casino.
So what happens?
The club’s first personnel move Monday at the winter meetings was the departure of a right-handed reliever when the Houston Astros claimed Jeff Fulchino on waivers.
“I’m happy for Jeff,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “He’s getting an opportunity. We signed him as a six-year free agent, and he was willing to go to Double-A. He made the most of his opportunity and got back to the big leagues.”
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Even so, Fulchino, 29, was never more than a long shot to fill either vacancy created by the trades earlier this off-season that sent Leo Nuñez went to Florida for first baseman Mike Jacobs or Ramon Ramirez went to Boston for outfielder Coco Crisp.
So nothing changes, really.
The Royals appear ready to take a hard look at veterans Kyle Farnsworth and Russ Springer and, possibly, Brandon Lyon.
“We’ve literally spoken to the majority of the right-handed bullpen arms,” Moore said. “It’s a thin market. There’s a reason we were able to move Nuñez and Ramirez for two everyday position players.
“Other people recognize the market as well. We knew that before we made (those trades), but we felt it was important to get two everyday players and improve our offense.”
Farnsworth, 32, and Springer, 40, each fit the profile of a hard-throwing righty capable of capable of serving in a set-up role for All-Star closer Joakim Soria. Lyon, 29, is less-favorable fit because he relies less on power and wants to be a closer.
The problem surrounding all three is cost.
Farnsworth made $5.5 million last season in completing a three-year deal for $17 million when he signed with Detroit as a free agent. Springer made $3.5 million on a one-year deal as a free agent.
Lyon made $3.125 million in his final year before gaining free-agent eligibility.
The Royals don’t appear to have the available payroll to afford any of the three without making cuts in other areas. The current payroll already projects to roughly $70 million, which Moore previously acknowledged as the likely maximum.
“There’s flexibility with our payroll,” Moore argued, “although it’s decreasing. The bottom line is we have to be aggressive in adding some bullpen arms. We have to do that. It’s very important.”
Farnsworth and Springer have each averaged nearly a strikeout per inning over extended careers. The Royals see that as an important quality currently lacking in their collection of right-handers reliever.
“We’ve got to get some power from the right side.” Moore said. “In this league, you’ve got to get somebody who can strike somebody out. (Robinson) Tejeda has some power, but we’ve got to get another guy with some power.”
Farnsworth is a Wichita native and a 10-year veteran. He was 2-3 with a 4.48 ERA last season in 61 games for the Yankees and Tigers. He also struck out 61 in 60 1/3 innings.
His performance was in line with his career averages: 30-48 with a 4.47 ERA in 612 games with 738 strikeouts in 735 innings.
Springer is a 16-year veteran who has 716 strikeouts in 797 2/3 innings. He spent the last two seasons in St. Louis, where he went 10-2 with a 2.24 ERA in 146 games.
Lyon, in contrast, averaged on 5.67 strikeouts in 309 appearances in his seven-year career. He was 3-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 61 games last season at Arizona with 26 saves in 31 opportunities.
Moore said prospects Carlos Rosa and Julio Pimentel could emerge as power right-handed relievers but stressed the “need to be aggressive outside of our organization” in seeking to replace Nuñez and Ramirez.
“Guys like that are very difficult to trade for,” Moore said. “So I would look for it to come from the free-agent market. We’ve got to get a guy or two. One of our strengths is Joakim Soria. We’ve got to get to Joakim Soria.”