01/30/2003 6:29 pm ET
Royals Spring Training preview
Beltran issue clouds club's immediate future
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Carlos Beltran has been the Royals starting center fielder for four consecutive season openers. Will he make it to a fifth?
The Beltran issue is a huge one as Kansas City gears up for its first Spring Training in the Cactus League. Because the 25-year-old Beltran has been unwilling to consider a long-term contract stretching beyond his remaining two years of arbitration eligibility, there's now the possibility of a trade that could greatly impact the landscape of Royals baseball heading into the 2003 season.
Until this winter, general manager Allard Baird had put Beltran right there beside Mike Sweeney in the untouchable category. But after Beltran said no recently to Kansas City's three-year, $25 million offer, the Royals have been left to ponder whether they should move Beltran rather than running the risk of losing him to free agency after the 2004 season.
"Carlos is a very good player, and he's a really good young man," Royals
owner David Glass said. "But it doesn't look like we're going to be able to sign
him long-term. It's really Allard's call. Allard needs to structure this team
and put it together for next year."
Beltran played in all 162 games last year, hitting .273 with 29 home runs and 35 steals. Baird has said that while Beltran is no longer untouchable, any deal involving Beltran would have to address both short-term and long-term needs.
If the Royals could reel in a cluster of choice assets for Beltran, it might jumpstart a rebuilding ballclub that lost 100 games last year and is lowering payroll from about $47.3 million to about $37 million. But Kansas City has some time on its side in the Beltran situation and has made it clear it would have to get what the club considers full market value if it were to move Beltran.
If Beltran is still roaming center field for the Royals on Opening Day, the hope among Kansas City officials is that he'll get off to a quick start.
"He is working out and working extremely hard," Baird said. "The big thing
for Carlos -- and we talked just before the holidays on this -- is he wants to
come out of the chute well. The last couple of years, he has put up good
numbers, but they usually happen in the second half of the season. His goal when
he breaks camp is to be productive early in the season."
The Royals want to pattern themselves after Oakland and Minnesota, two clubs which enjoyed playoff runs last year despite relatively low payrolls. That means building around a predominantly young pitching staff. Veterans Paul Byrd and Jeff Suppan have taken their combined 436 innings of work elsewhere, so now it's up to the kids.
Youngsters such as Runelvys Hernandez, Miguel Asencio, Jeremy Affeldt and Chris George will be thoroughly analyzed in Spring Training as starting candidates.
"We have to have our pitchers come up at the same time that our positional players come up," Baird said.
"Why that's important is because when you get to a certain service level and you're eligible for arbitration, you don't want one part of your ballclub jumping with high salary and another part of your ballclub still trying to develop. So, coming up in unison is very important.
Spring Training rundown
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"We're going to give young pitchers, limited experienced pitchers, an
opportunity to go out there and win a job in Spring Training. We're going out
there to win every game we possibly can. But the bottom line is that we're in a
rebuilding mode and nobody can deny that."
At the back end of the bullpen, the Royals will be searching for a closer to replace Roberto Hernandez. Mike MacDougal, Ryan Bukvich and Jeremy Hill will be among those who will have an opportunity to win that role.
The Royals could have a completely new look in the middle of the infield, depending on whether newcomer Desi Relaford beats out
second-base incumbent Carlos Febles in Spring Training. Febles goes to camp as the starter, but Relaford will get the chance to win the job. Two years ago, Relaford hit .302 for the Mets and the Royals would love to see that type of offensive production from their second baseman.
Rookie Angel Berroa takes over at shortstop and the Royals will look for veterans such as Sweeney, Joe Randa, Raul Ibañez, Brent Mayne, Michael Tucker and Mark Quinn to provide some veteran talent and leadership.
The Royals are expected to put Berroa at the bottom of the lineup in the early going. They just want him to concentrate on playing solid defense and not put too much pressure on himself offensively. Berroa struggled at the plate in Triple-A last year after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
"No. 1, Angel has to stay healthy," Baird said. "He's a very exciting
defensive player and I think our fans will really enjoy watching him come
"Carlos is a very good player, and he's a really good young man. But it doesn't look like we're going to be able to sign him
long-term. It's really Allard's call. Allard needs to structure this team and
put it together for next year."
-- David Glass
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to
approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.