The biggest free-agent splash the Kansas City Royals make this winter very well might be bringing back one of their own veteran players.
The Winter Meetings began this week with the front office personnel of all 30 Major League Baseball teams gathered in one place, which typically sets the stage for trades and big-name free-agent signings that will set the tone for the upcoming season.
Royals executive vice president and general manager J.J. Picollo wouldn’t mention any potential targets by name on Monday. However, it seemed clear that veteran right-hander Zack Greinke was the relatively-big fish the Royals hoped to reel in this winter.
“We’d like to have a veteran guy back,” Picollo said without naming Greinke.
The Royals have made clear their intentions to re-sign Greinke.
The 39-year-old former Cy Young Award winner signed a one-year free-agent deal worth $13 million and returned to KC, his original organization, after the conclusion of MLB lockout last spring training.
He provided stability among a talent-laden and inexperienced pitching staff.
Greinke had two separate stints on the injured list last season due to forearm ailments, but he was still the club’s second-best starter behind Brady Singer, who enjoyed a breakout season.
Greinke went 4-9 with a 3.68 ERA, 73 strikeouts, 27 walks, a 1.34 WHIP and a .286 opponent batting average in 26 starts (137 innings). He turned in nine quality starts for the season.
He finished the season strong with a 2.43 ERA (16 ER in 59 1/3 innings) in his final 11 starts after the All-Star break.
“There’s a couple other guys that we’re trying to target that are more swing guys, could start for you or could relieve,” Picollo said. “Trying to understand how Q is going to manage the pitching staff is important, but you’d like to go into the year with eight guys that can start.
“We’d like to add, really, two guys, one that’s clearly a starter and one that potentially could start for you. The dollars are going to be challenging.”
Greinke’s return would fit the bill as far as the clear starter, but starter/reliever candidates remain an open proposition.
The Royals do have other specific pitching targets on their radar. If they’re not able to secure any of those targets, then they’ll likely wait until closer to the start of spring training to add pitching depth.
“We are engaged with a couple guys right now that we think are just good fits for the team,” Picollo said. “If that doesn’t work out, then definitely it would be more of a later market.”
The Royals still hope to add another veteran bullpen pitcher who can pitch at the back-end but isn’t necessarily a closer.
Picollo described the ideal acquisition as someone who could “complement” Scott Barlow, who has been asked to close, set-up and pitch multiple-inning save situations while logging major innings the last two seasons.
Barlow was the lone relief pitcher in the majors last season with at least 70 innings, 20 saves and 5 wins.
The Royals’ offseason wish list also includes a veteran right-handed hitter, likely an infielder.
Picollo indicated that addition could take a while to materialize.
“It’s not a real deep class, especially for the dollars we want to spend,” Picollo said. “So I think it’s going to be a little bit later for us. There’s a couple names we’ve keyed in on, guys that have been in the big leagues, experienced guys that kind of know where they are in their careers.”
The Royals hope to have positional versatility in that right-handed veteran infielder. Ideally, the player would be able to play third base, but also give them a right-handed hitting option at second base where their projected options are left-handed hitters Nicky Lopez and Michael Massey.