KC's lineup stability just fine for Hillman
Manager looking forward to having some healthy options
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you're thinking there might be a wealth of changes in the Royals' lineup next season, you might want to check with manager Trey Hillman.
Meeting with reporters as the Winter Meetings wound down Wednesday afternoon, Hillman envisioned Billy Butler back at first base, Alex Gordon back at third, Yuniesky Betancourt back at shortstop and David DeJesus back in left field.
Excluding the pitcher, that's half of the fielding positions right there.
Hillman has no plans to move Butler off of first base back into designated-hitter duty. He expects Butler to continue the defensive improvements he made last year, his first full season at first.
"I'm not going to say Billy is going to be the American League Gold Glove winner at first base, but I'm hopeful you'll look out there at the All-Star break and go, 'You know what, I don't even think about him being out there at first base anymore,'" Hillman said.
That means Gordon wouldn't slide across to first base, clearing third base for newcomer Josh Fields.
"At the moment, for me, [Gordon] is our third baseman. We are all hopeful that he's going to be fully recovered and have a healthy season," Hillman said, referring to Gordon's April hip surgery.
Although Mike Aviles began last season as the regular shortstop, he had reconstructive elbow surgery in June. During his absence, the Royals traded with Seattle for Betancourt.
"With the unknown of Aviles, I still like Yuniesky as our shortstop," Hillman said.
Aviles' rehabilitation is going well and there's a possibility he'll be ready for Spring Training, but that might be iffy for someone recovering from Tommy John surgery.
And although the Royals' search for a center fielder is still on, Hillman doesn't see DeJesus returning to that spot from left field if the quest fails.
"I'd like to leave him [in left]," Hillman said. "The only thought of moving him is ... if we felt Jose [Guillen] wasn't going to be able to play in right and we had a better fit in left and [might] possibly move David to right because of his accuracy and the strength of his arm/"
That would open the door for Fields or Alberto Callaspo in left field. But the reports are that Guillen, recovering from ankle surgery, should be available to play in right field. If not, then DH might be an option for Guillen.
Although Callaspo hit .300 with 60 extra-base hits last year, Hillman has newcomer Chris Getz penciled in at second base as a defensive upgrade.
"The thing that intrigued me about Getz was his lateral range, and the type of game he plays fits our ballpark. He's a speed guy and he has a passion for running and stealing bases," Hillman said.
Trade possibilities regarding Callaspo have been muted during the Winter Meetings, and Hillman talked on Wednesday of having him batting in the No. 2 slot in the order. Callaspo would need a position, though, or fill the DH spot, another possibility if Mike Jacobs is not tendered a contract by Saturday's deadline.
If Guillen plays right and DeJesus stays in left and no center fielder is acquired, Mitch Maier is the leading candidate in center, with Josh Anderson and Willie Bloomquist behind him.
"But I would prefer not to lock Willie into a one-position thing," Hillman said. "I just like the flexibility. However, that could change if we had a healthy Mike Aviles on Opening Day, and that would give us one more bullet in the infield and we could transition Willie into something a little more permanent in the outfield."
The Royals are still in the hunt for another catcher, so that position remains unsettled.
"Well, as of today, it's John Buck and Brayan Pena. We'll see if there's anything. We're not going to do anything unless we feel like it's going to be an upgrade," Hillman said.
Yes, it's December, and there are many options with more roster changes likely ahead.
One piece of good news was that starting pitchers Gil Meche, Kyle Davies and Brian Bannister, all of whom ended their seasons early because of shoulder fatigue, should be back at full strength by the Feb. 18 opening of camp, according to head trainer Nick Kenney.
"Thumbs up, they're reported all very healthy, very strong, in good condition," Hillman said. "[Kenney thinks] Meche is in the best shape of any year."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.