LAS VEGAS | The only item left for the Royals on their offseason shopping list is that impact middle infielder that once seemed little more than holiday dreaming.
General manager Dayton Moore and other club officials departed the winter meetings Thursday with a sense of accomplishment after signing two pitchers and moving close to a deal with a third.
Left-hander Horacio Ramirez returns to the Royals with the opportunity to win a job in the rotation, while right-handed relievers Doug Waechter and Kyle Farnsworth replenish a bullpen depleted by previous trades.
“Based on the opportunities that we had to acquire talent,” Moore said, “I think we were able to do what we needed to do. Horacio Ramirez and Doug Waechter are great make-up guys. We think there is still upside for both of those players.”
The Royals confirmed one-year agreements for Ramirez and Waechter but declined to comment on Farnsworth, although a two-year deal should be confirmed in the next few days.
The three additions boost the club’s projected payroll to more than $75 million -- some $5 million beyond the budgeted maximum. Ramirez gets $1.8 million; Waechter gets $640,000; and Farnsworth’s two-year deal is believed to be worth $9.25 million.
Moore’s promise of an offseason overhaul accelerated with the Oct. 30 acquisition of first baseman Mike Jacobs from Florida for reliever Leo Nuñez. On Nov. 19, the Royals acquired outfielder Coco Crisp from Boston for reliever Ramon Ramirez.
And now, against all odds, the Royals remain in the hunt for free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal. That still seems a long shot. Even Moore admits any major addition will require some serious financial canoodling.
But who knows?
This is one town that never laughs at a hot streak.
The Royals announced the deals with Ramirez and Waechter as the annual meetings drew to a close. Procedurally, the club immediately placed Waechter on the 40-man roster, which is now full.
Ramirez’s contract must be confirmed by Major League Baseball and the players’ union. That confirmation is expected Friday and will require the Royals to make a corresponding roster move.
The club must also make a roster move once the Farnsworth signing becomes official. Several moves are possible before Friday’s deadline for tendering contracts to all players.
Ramirez, 29, signed last May 21 with the Royals as a free agent and, after three minor-league starts, went 1-1 with a 2.59 ERA in 15 relief appearances.
He didn’t fare as well after an Aug. 9 trade sent him to the Chicago White Sox for minor-league outfielder Paulo Orlando. Ramirez was 0-3 in 17 relief outings while allowing 11 runs and 24 hits in 13 innings.
Even so, club officials are convinced Ramirez can be an effective starter and inject a left-handed element into their rotation. He was 38-29 with a 4.55 ERA in 104 starts from 2003-07 for Atlanta and Seattle.
“We expect Horacio Ramirez to be in our rotation next season,” Moore said. “He’s healthy, and some of our other guys have options. We like the idea of having at least one left-hander in our rotation.”
Gil Meche is the club’s only current starter with no options remaining, but Zack Greinke is a lock to remain in the rotation and Kyle Davies is well positioned after a strong September kick.
That seems to place Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar in competition with Ramirez for the final two spots.
Waechter, Farnsworth and Robinson Tejeda now project as right-handed setup relievers for closer Joakim Soria. Ramirez could serve as the bullpen’s swingman if he fails to win a job in the rotation.
Farnsworth, 32, was 2-3 with a 4.48 ERA last season in 61 games for the Yankees and Tigers but struck out 61 in 60 1/3 innings. He has 738 strikeouts in 735 innings in a 10-year career with four clubs.
Waechter, 27, pitched primarily as a starter for Tampa Bay from 2002-06 before missing most of 2007 because of a torn labrum. He shifted last season to the bullpen after signing with Florida and went 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 48 appearances.
“Doug Waechter has power to his game,” Moore said. “He’s primarily been a starter for his whole career. Last year was his first year in the bullpen and right-handers hit .216 against him. Our scouts feel he has better days ahead of him.”
A projected seven-man bullpen should include left-handers Ron Mahay, John Bale and Jimmy Gobble. That leaves little space for Joel Peralta, Brandon Duckworth, Carlos Rosa, Yasuhiko Yabuta, Devon Lowery and Franquelis Osoria.