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Royals acquire Aoki from Brewers for Smith Thursday, 5 December 2013, 3:26 pm

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals added to their outfield on Thursday. No, not with Carlos Beltran.

Norichika Aoki, who spent his two big league seasons with Milwaukee, was acquired from the Brewers in exchange for left-handed pitcher Will Smith.

Aoki, 31, a left-handed hitter from Japan, is expected to take over the leadoff spot in the Royals' lineup so that left fielder Alex Gordon can move permanently into the middle of the order. Aoki was the Brewers' right fielder, which is Beltran's position.

However, general manager Dayton Moore, who met with Beltran at Kauffman Stadium for most of the day on Tuesday, indicated the pursuit of the prized free agent isn't over because of the Aoki acquisition.

"This really is a move that we think that puts us in a position to have a true leadoff hitter, allows Gordo to perform in the middle of the order and the offseason still remains very fluid," Moore said. "We're going to continue to pursue talent to improve our team prior to Opening Day."

More immediately, that means next week during the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

This is the Royals' second big move of the offseason. Earlier, they signed left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32-million contract.

The Royals will have Aoki under control for just the 2014 season, after which he can become a free agent. But he comes at a bargain rate -- his contract is for $1.5 million, plus another possible $1.087 million based on games played and starts.

Primarily in the No. 1 spot in the Brewers' order last season, Aoki hit .286, scored 80 runs and had eight homers, 37 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 32 attempts. His on-base percentage was .356 and he ranked second in the Major Leagues with 40 infield hits and led the National League in singles, with 140.

"With Nori at the top of the lineup, putting pressure on the defense and getting on base certainly improves our offense," Moore said. "In our minds, he can score 100 runs."

Aoki didn't strike out much (just 40 times in 674 plate appearances) and hit left-handed pitchers better than any left-handed batter in the Majors, .339 (60-for-181).

Dale Sveum, the new Royals third-base coach and former Cubs manager, saw a lot of Aoki in the NL Central the last two seasons.

"[Sveum] likes him as a leadoff hitter and likes his ability to play right, but feels like he can play center as well," Moore said. "But the most important thing he does for us is he sets up our lineup to lead off and get on base, put the ball in play and steal bases. We think his success ratio on stolen bases can improve. We like his energy, we like his work ethic."

If Beltran were to sign with the Royals, the team is comfortable that Aoki could play center field, his primary position in eight seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in Japan.

"We like him as above-average in right field and feel like he can play center. His routes are very good, he plays pretty deep but he comes in on the ball very well, and we think that he has enough athleticism and experience to play center field," Moore said. "[His arm has a] quick release, on target, actually better that it appears when you watch him throw live. It plays up during the game and he's a smart, instinctive player."

Lorenzo Cain, one of five Royals nominated for a Gold Glove Award this year, is the incumbent center fielder. Just what this deal will mean for him and other outfielders such as David Lough, Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson likely will hinge on any future moves, most prominently where Beltran ends up.

Smith, 24, is expected to compete for a starting job with the Brewers. As a Royals rookie in 2012, he made 16 starts, posting a 6-9 record and a 5.32 ERA. But he spent most of last season in the bullpen after being moved from a starting role at Triple-A Omaha. For Kansas City, he was 2-1 with a 3.24 ERA in 19 games, including one start.

"I love a lot of things about Will," Moore said. "He's very competitive, he's very poised, he's got a lot of toughness, I think he's got the ability to start at the big league level. He was certainly very impactful for us last year as a reliever. All these deals come with a cost. You have to give up quality talent to obtain quality talent. We don't have a ton of depth with left-handed pitching, but we do have some. You never have enough, but we felt this was a move we had to make to improve our team."

In addition to Vargas, the Royals also have potential left-handed starters in Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and Everett Teaford.

Smith was obtained by the Royals in midseason 2010 from the Angels with right-hander Sean O'Sullivan in a trade for third baseman Alberto Callaspo.

Before signing a two-year contract with Milwaukee, Aoki's eight seasons in Japan resulted in a career average of .329 and three batting titles.

His departure means that Ryan Braun, returning from his suspension, will move from left field to right for the Brewers.

Aoki will be the first Japanese-born position player on the Royals' roster. The previous three players from that country were pitchers -- Mac Suzuki (1999-2002), Yasuhiko Yabuta (2008-09) and Hideo Nomo ('08).

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Japanese talent and Japanese players," Moore said" "They're fundamentally sound, they're very prepared, they're smart, they love to play and we're proud to have Nori as a part of the organization."

Meantime, the Beltran situation remains in limbo.

"There's really nothing I can say about that. ... I can't control what other players decide," Moore said. "We've just got to continue to move forward and build our team, and that's what we've done today."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Source: KC Homepage News KC Homepage News | Dick Kaegel

Next year's Draft deeper, packed with pitchers Wednesday, 4 December 2013, 3:43 pm

The talent in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft will be more abundant than it was in 2012 and '13. There's a clear favorite for the No. 1 overall pick, something that hasn't recently existed, and there will be more depth than in any Draft since 2011.

"Last year was one of the weakest Drafts I can remember," a scouting director with a National League team said. "Last year was really weak in high school pitching, and this year there's some really good-looking high school pitchers. Last year was the weakest year I've ever seen in shortstops, and this year there are shortstops. It's better in almost everything."

When the 2014 Draft begins on June 5, the Astros will make the first selection for an unprecedented third straight year. In 2012, they chose shortstop Carlos Correa over right-hander Mark Appel and outfielder Byron Buxton. Last June, Houston opted for Appel over third baseman Kris Bryant and right-hander Jonathan Gray.

Though the Astros still have seven months to determine whom they'll take at No. 1, North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon has established himself as the front-runner. Owner of a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, Rodon topped NCAA Division I with 184 strikeouts last spring and led the Wolfpack to their first College World Series appearance in 45 years.

"He's the guy right now," an NL club official said. "Rodon is the best college left-hander since David Price."

Pitchers stand out in the 2014 Draft class, especially the right-handers. If anyone is going to knock Rodon out of the top spot, it likely will be East Carolina righty Jeff Hoffman, who devastated Cape Cod League hitters with his mid-90s fastball and his curveball the past two summers. Other college right-handers of note include Vanderbilt's Tyler Beede (a Blue Jays unsigned first-round pick out of high school in 2011), Louisiana State's Aaron Nola, Nevada-Las Vegas' Erick Fedde, Florida State's Luke Weaver and San Diego State's Michael Cederoth.

A half-dozen or more high school right-handers could factor into the first round, starting with Tyler Kolek of Shepherd High School in Texas and Touki Toussaint of Christian Academy in Coral Springs, Fla. Both need polish, but Kolek already hits 99 mph and Toussaint has the best fastball/curveball combination among prepsters. Luis Ortiz (Sanger High, Calif.), Grant Holmes (Conway High, S.C.) and Dylan Cease (Milton, Ga.) all can reach 97 mph with their heaters, while Cobi Johnson (Mitchell High in Trinity, Fla.) is more advanced than most high schoolers.

Teams seeking left-handers will have plenty to choose from beyond Rodon. Brady Aiken of Cathedral High in San Diego is as polished as just about any pitcher available, including the collegians. Hartford's Sean Newcomb, Texas Christian's Brandon Finnegan and Evansville's Kyle Freeland all boosted their stock with strong Cape Cod League performances. Kodi Medeiros of Waiakea High in Hilo, Hawaii, is six feet tall and throws from a low arm slot, but all of his pitches dance.

"If you look at the high school pitchers," an American League scouting director said, "you've got 10 or 15 who could be in the top 35-40 picks."

While pitchers claim 18 of the first 30 slots on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects list, scouts also are pleased with the quality of everyday players available. The first position player to go off the board could be Rodon's teammate Trea Turner, a speedster with offensive potential plus the quickness and arm to remain at shortstop.

If it's not Turner, the first position player drafted could be Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High catcher Alex Jackson or Clovis (Calif.) High shortstop Jacob Gatewood. Jackson offers plus right-handed power along with hitting ability and arm strength. Gatewood has the best raw power in the Draft, though there are questions about his bat and his size likely will dictate a move to third base.

In addition to Jackson and Gatewood, several other power hitters could slug their way into the first round. Roberson High (Asheville, N.C.) outfielder Braxton Davidson hit a 500-foot homer at the Tournament of Stars this summer. Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber, Virginia outfielder Derek Fisher, Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto and Cal State-Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman have established themselves as bona fides at top college programs.

Want athletes? There will be plenty of those available, too.

Gainesville (Ga.) High outfielder Michael Gettys has the best all-around tools in this Draft, and Olympia High's (Orlando, Fla.) Nick Gordon is a pure shortstop with speed and a nice left-handed swing -- and they both throw in the low 90s off the mound. San Francisco's Bradley Zimmer and Lee's Summit (Mo.) West High's Monte Harrison are two more outfielders with all-around tools.

The one area where the 2014 Draft pales in comparison to 2013 is catcher. Most scouts believe Schwarber will wind up at first base or left field, and Jackson could shift to right field in order to expedite his bat, a la Bryce Harper and Wil Myers. There is one obvious standout behind the plate, however: Kennesaw State's Max Pentecost, who has average or better tools across the board and won Cape Cod League MVP honors this summer.

"This Draft is pretty good," the AL scouting director said. "I'm excited. I think the pitching is a little ahead of the hitting, but it's actually a really athletic Draft with the high school kids and there's a pretty strong crop of power bats from college. I can't remember a time when there was this much power available."

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Source: KC Homepage News KC Homepage News | Jim Callis

Beltran returns to Kansas City during free-agent tour Tuesday, 3 December 2013, 9:32 pm

KANSAS CITY -- If Royals fans doubted that the Glass family would make a strong push to sign Carlos Beltran, that was put to rest on Tuesday, when the coveted free-agent outfielder was at Kauffman Stadium to meet with team officials.

Beltran acknowledged the meeting after he left late in the afternoon after a lengthy session with team president Dan Glass, general manager Dayton Moore and other team officials.

"I met with Dayton and ownership, and everything was good," Beltran texted.

Moore confirmed the meeting with Beltran and his representatives through team spokesman Mike Swanson, but said he'd have no further comment.

The New York Post first reported the Beltran visit, part of a tour that he's making that will include other clubs. Several teams have expressed strong interest in him, and things are heating up with the approach of the Winter Meetings, which open Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

At the same time, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that an unidentified club has made a three-year, $48 million offer, but there's no indication that it was the Royals.

New York sources, however, believe the Royals are willing to go three years in an effort to out-do the Yankees in terms of contract length.

Beltran, in an interview with MLB.com last month, indicated his health -- including his previously troublesome right knee -- is good and said he felt good enough to play another 10 years. At 36, that's not likely, but he's eager to add to his credentials for possible entry into the Hall of Fame.

He's made no secret of his interest in returning to Kansas City.

"I think it would be a great story, if it happens for me to go back," he said last month.

His history with the Royals is certainly a rich one.

A second-round Draft pick out of Manati, Puerto Rico, in 1995, Beltran jumped from Class A Wilmington to Double-A Wichita to Kansas City during the 1998 season. He played 14 games in September of that year, and in 1999 was the Royals' center fielder and the American League's Rookie of the Year. He got the news while on a honeymoon cruise with his bride, Jessica.

He began the '99 season as the leadoff batter but eventually became the No. 3 hitter and finished with 108 RBIs, 22 home runs, seven triples, 27 doubles and a .293 average. He also scored 112 runs, and he was on his way, but not without a road bump.

His 2000 season started with a slow April. Things picked up, but on July 4, he went on the disabled list with a bone bruise in his right knee. Later, he showed his independence by insisting on rehabbing with the Major League club instead of at the team's Florida training facility and was suspended by then-general manager Allaird Baird for 18 days. He finally returned to the lineup on Sept. 4 and finished with a career-low .247 average.

But happy days returned in 2001, when he was voted Royals Player of the Year after leading the club with a .306 average, 106 runs, 101 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. He also had 68 extra-base hits, 24 of them homers. At age 24, he was the youngest player to win the award since George Brett in 1976.

In 2002, he played all 162 games and while his average slipped to .273, he led the Royals in virtually every other offensive category, including 29 homers, 105 RBIs and 35 stolen bases.

In 2003, Beltran missed the first 14 games because of a Spring Training oblique injury, but he recorded his fourth season with at least 100 runs and 100 RBIs. With a .307 average, he belted 26 homers and had a career-best 41 steals. Among other things, he had the Royals' first inside-the-park homer at Boston's Fenway Park.

Things were going well but time was flying by. Free agency was approaching after the 2004 season. Fearful the Royals wouldn't be able to afford Beltran, who was up to $9 million in salary, Baird decided to get what he could through a trade. On June 23, 2004, Beltran was sent to Houston in a three-team deal that netted the Royals catcher John Buck (from the Astros), third baseman Mark Teahen and pitcher Mike Wood (from the A's).

Strangely, though he was voted onto the American League All-Star team by AL players that year as a Royal, when the game came around, he played for the National League in an Astros uniform. Fittingly, the game was in Houston.

It was during the 2004 playoffs with the Astros that Beltran blazed into postseason history, hitting eight homers with 14 RBIs and 21 runs scored in the Astros' 12 games. In one stretch, he homered in five straight games. That helped him secure a rich contract with the Mets -- $119 million over seven years.

His Mets years included three straight years of triple-digit RBIs, including 116 along with a career-high 41 homers in 2006, when the team made the playoffs but lost in the NL Championship Series to the Cardinals. Knee problems hampered his 2009-10 seasons with the Mets and, recovered in 2011, he was traded at midseason to the Giants.

Then came a two-year deal with St. Louis that helped put the Cardinals into the postseason twice, including Beltran's first World Series this season. When he emerged from the loss to the Red Sox, in 51 postseason games for the Astros, Mets and Cardinals, he had 16 homers, a .333 average and a .445 on-base percentage.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Source: KC Homepage News KC Homepage News | Dick Kaegel

KC's Meetings wish list includes big bat, pitching Tuesday, 3 December 2013, 4:00 pm

KANSAS CITY -- There's unfinished business pending for the Royals. Just how much can be finished during next week's Winter Meetings is the question.

One major piece of business was conducted last month with the signing of free-agent pitcher Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract. He's a left-handed fit for the rotation.

But still on the Kansas City list for the Santa of baseball are an impact hitter and another starting pitcher.

"We'd like to do everything we can to improve our offense," general manager Dayton Moore said. "I do expect this current group of players to continue to get better, and I think this offense will continue to grow and improve and be more productive. But we would like to inject another bat in there for sure."

He's not saying so publicly, but there's little doubt that his No. 1 heart's desire is outfielder Carlos Beltran, the free-agent prize from the Cardinals' World Series team and a postseason player of legendary proportions.

Beltran began his career with the Royals and of his five full seasons with them, four resulted in 100 or more RBIs (he was hurt the other year). When he was traded to Houston in midseason 2004, he totaled 104 RBIs for the Royals and Astros. Three times in his healthy full seasons with the Mets, he went over the 100-RBI mark.

For his part, Beltran has expressed interest in returning to Kansas City to embellish his credentials for what could very well be a Hall of Fame career. Going into the Hall of Fame with "KC" on his cap would be an incentive for both player and ballclub.

Beltran also wants to sign with a playoff-bound team, and the Royals are sure to base their sales pitch on their young, up-and-coming squad that made an American League Wild Card run in 2013. The opportunity to be a team leader is another appealing aspect for both parties.

Bottom line, of course, is the number of years and the amount of money the Royals are willing to offer. They know they can be outspent by, say, the Yankees or Rangers or other suitors, which is why their other talking points must hit home with Beltran's heart.

The Royals have given indications that, for the right player, the likely payroll budget of around $83 million could be stretched.

If the long shot hits and Beltran does return, the Royals see him as spending some time in the designated-hitter role as well as right field. That could prompt the trading of DH Billy Butler, because having his $8 million bat on the bench for 50 or 60 games does not seem economical.

Second base is another spot where a potent bat would fit in, although the Royals seemed content with Emilio Bonifacio's hitting and defense after he was acquired late in the season.

"We're open-minded, but I can't talk specifically about any player or players that we may or may not deal," is all Moore would say on the record.

While Vargas is likely to drop between James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, the rest of the rotation seems uncertain, although candidates are plentiful (Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, Will Smith, Luke Hochevar, Yordano Ventura and top prospect Kyle Zimmer among them).

Even so, Moore and his staff have their eyes peeled for a veteran starter.

"I like our pitching a great deal, but we'll look for a possibility to improve there. There's still a lot of high-quality pitchers out there that I think potentially can make us better," he said.

Tim Hudson, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson have already agreed to deals elsewhere. There are many other free-agent possibilities, of course.

"We're evaluating all those guys, and there's nothing that I expect in the next week or so," Moore said. "I think if we do anything with pitching, it'll be during the Winter Meetings or after the Winter Meetings."

If the Royals need trading pieces, they could dip into their deep and very effective bullpen.

"We do have depth. Any time you make a deal, you want to deal from a position of strength, but we're not in a hurry to do anything to break up our bullpen," Moore said. "I think opponents hit like .217 against the 'pen, which might have been the best ever in the history of the Royals. So I'm not looking to move anybody, I'm not shopping anybody, but there are always certain possibilities."

The four-day Winter Meetings officially open on Monday and close with the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 12, at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and Disney World.

Sometimes the great gathering of Major League moguls merely serves to lay the groundwork for later moves. That was the case last year when, on Dec. 6, the Royals left Nashville, Tenn., without the starting pitcher they sought. But three days later, they sprung the big trade that brought staff leader Shields and starter-reliever Davis to Kansas City and sent four players including AL Rookie of the Year-to-be Wil Myers to Tampa Bay.

The hunt is always on.

"We've got to get that bat, maybe another pitcher and do some trading, too," Moore said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Source: KC Homepage News KC Homepage News | Dick Kaegel

Moore has Royals pointed in right direction Monday, 2 December 2013, 6:47 pm

If you congratulate Royals general manager Dayton Moore on his two-year contract extension, he'll shift the conversation to others.

Moore will tell you how his bosses, team owner David Glass and team president Dan Glass, have been so supportive in giving him both the resources and the time to build a first-rate baseball operation.

At a time when almost no one is patient anymore, in fact, at a time when patience has become something of a dirty word in sports, David Glass has allowed Moore to execute his vision of what the Royals could be.

Glass understood that with a lower payroll and a dependence on player development, the Royals weren't going to be transformed overnight. He also understood that when the Royals were good again, they'd have a chance to be good for a long time.

That time seems to be now. That's what last season's 86-76 record announced. The Royals didn't make the playoffs, but their best record in 24 years was a significant step in that direction.

They had the American League's best record after the All-Star break (43-27), and with a young, homegrown nucleus built around Eric Hosmer, Greg Holland, Salvador Perez and others, the Royals are really, really close.

Kansas City led the Major Leagues in ERA and stolen bases and had the AL's best bullpen in 23 years. The Royals will go to Spring Training confident that some of their homegrown starting pitchers -- Danny Duffy, Kyle Zimmer, Yordano Ventura -- are about to force their way onto the roster.

The Royals' signing of veteran left-hander Jason Vargas and pursuit of free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran indicate that Moore is pushing his chips onto the table for 2014. He moved in that direction last offseason with the trade of top prospect Wil Myers for James Shields and Wade Davis.

Beltran is being pursued by the Yankees and others, so the bidding may go beyond what the Royals are comfortable with. On the other hand, does returning to the team with which he began his career hold some appeal?

That's the interesting call. If Beltran looks around, he'll barely recognize the organization he left in a trade to the Astros midway through the 2004 season. From the moment Moore was hired two years after that trade, things began to change and dramatically.

The Royals aren't better than the Tigers in the AL Central at the moment, but things can change quickly. They're a club still counting on a bunch of young players continuing to progress, and that kind of thing can go both ways.

But the Royals are in a great spot. After Moore watched his team lose at least 90 games in six of his first seven seasons, he must have had trouble seeing progress at times. In the lowest times, he simply returned to his core beliefs that he had surrounded himself with competent people and that sometimes progress comes an inch at a time.

What Glass saw was that he had a general manager of wisdom and integrity, a general manager who would eventually get it right. Sometimes, the toughest thing in the world is not to make changes and to ignore the noise from outside.

Moore did that himself last summer when he refused all those calls to dismiss manager Ned Yost. There's a time in baseball to change the voice the players are hearing, but as long as they're playing hard and as long as there's a cohesive clubhouse, change for change sake does nothing except shut up the people who don't know what they're talking about anyway.

Anyway, back to Moore. The general manager got the vote of confidence he deserved, but Moore seems genuinely happy for all the people he convinced to join him in this quest. That's why he's effusive in his praise of his front office staff, of assistant general manager Dean Taylor and the others, and how hard they've worked to get the Royals to this point. Then Moore will tell you about all those scouts and instructors and all the great things they've done.

Moore will tell you that last season was terribly disappointing because 86-76 didn't get the Royals back to the postseason, so there's still work to be done. He badly wanted it to happen in 2013 after the confidence David and Dan Glass showed in him and after 1.75 million showed up at Kauffman Stadium.

Moore knows that October baseball will be every bit as spectacular in Kansas City as it was in Pittsburgh. That's the day Moore's still working for, the day he's hoping to sell Beltran on.

But Moore's also proud in how far the Royals have come and wants to be there for the next step. And that's why he's so happy about the confidence his bosses have shown in him.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Source: KC Homepage News KC Homepage News | Richard Justice

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