Press Box: Recent moves by Royals are steps in right direction

Sports Commentary

The Kansas City Royals have been going in the right direction since 2006.

It’s time for everything to fall into place this season.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: K.C. fans have been saying, “This could be the year for the Royals” for … well, awhile now. Given their record since ‘06 (729 wins, 1,305 losses) it’s fair to have doubts.

But consider some of the moves Kansas City has made this offseason after going 86-76 in 2013 and you have to be encouraged.

The Royals solidified their infield and outfield by signing free agent second baseman Omar Infante and acquiring outfielder Norichika Aoki from the Milwaukee Brewers. They also got a solid guy to toe the rubber in left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas, who might not be the most exciting name in the league but has proven himself as a reliable starter throughout an eight-year career in the majors.

It’s also worth noting the Royals and general manager Dayton Moore recently went head-to-head with the New York Yankees over two big-name free agents in Carlos Beltran and the recently signed Infante. If nothing else, it’s nice to see the Royals are willing to dish out some cash to impact players who are not completely washed up.

Sure, Kansas City lost to the Yankees in a battle over Beltran, who signed a three-year, $45-million contract to play in pinstripes, but it’s not a total loss.

The Royals reportedly offered their former slugger a three-year, $41-million contract to come back to Kauffman Stadium, where he started his major-league career in 1998. It would have been nice to have Beltran in Kansas City again, but remember, he’s 36 and his numbers are likely to decline.

And then there’s Infante.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old is believed to be in agreement with the Royals on a four-year contract worth about $30 million. (As of Saturday night, the deal had not been finalized.)

After hitting .318 with 10 home runs and 51 RBI with the Detroit Tigers last season, Infante was highly regarded by the Yankees and Royals, who were both looking for a solid second baseman.

In the end, the Royals’ offer was a little sweeter than New York’s three-year, $24-million deal. But was four years too much to bring Infante to Kansas City?

The answer is simple. No.

Infante had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013 and fills the void at one of Kansas City’s weakest positions. The Royals used six players at second base last season — Emilio Bonifacio, Jamey Carroll, Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, Elliot Johnson and Miguel Tejada — and they combined to hit .243 with four home runs.

The addition of Infante, who can also play shortstop, third base and the outfield, will also allow Bonifacio to act as a utility player. And that could be a major plus if guys like Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar have another down year.

Aquiring Aoki was also a smart move. The 32-year-old hit .286 with eight home runs and was second in the majors with 40 infield hits. With Aoki moving to the leadoff spot, Alex Gordon will have more opportunities to drive in runs as he drops to the middle of the lineup.

The signing of Infante will likely be the Royals’ final acquisition this offseason, although there’s still talk of trading Billy Butler. If that happens, Kansas City could target Nelson Cruz.

So do the Royals have a World Series-caliber team? Maybe. Let’s just start by winning the American League Central. And that is a real possibility.

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