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Royals: Life after Billy Butler

It was not unexpected when the Royals did not re-sign Billy Butler and the veteran first baseman/designated hitter signed elsewhere, but now the young Royals will be looking to fill the void left by one of the franchise’s most recognizable players.

Butler signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the A’s this week, a much bigger contract than Kansas City was able/willing to write out.

“Billy’s been a terrific player for us, he’s been outstanding in the community, he’s obviously a homegrown player and huge in our success. And Billy’s a fun player to watch in the batter’s box, there’s no doubt,” Royals GM Dayton Moore said.

“But we felt we wanted to free up our resources to use them to build a team with a little better balance going forward. We have to replace a starting pitcher [James Shields], we want to continue to try to improve our bullpen … with some more depth.”

The Royals now turn their attention to right field, where they hope they can find someone to play both that position and occasionally DH. Nori Aoki, a free agent, is an option to return.

The Kansas City Star‘s Andy McCullough wrote that the Royals worked out Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas this week in the Dominican Republic, but he is expected to see a contract north of $70 million, which may also be too lofty for Kansas City. McCullough also says a Torii Hunter-Carlos Peguero duo is possible, with a handful of KC players rotating in the DH role.

— Joey Nowak

Report: Nats starters “available”

Bob Nightengale of USA Today is reporting that the Nationals have said starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister are both available for trade if a team presents the right deal.

Nightengale makes it clear that the Nats are not trying to dump salary, but both pitchers will be free agents in a year and Washington is willing to listen if a team is interested. Both pitchers — Zimmermann in particular — are sure to land significant contracts if they hit the free agent market, and the Nats may never get a better return for them than they will now.

There was a Chicago Sun-Times report two weeks ago that linked Zimmermann to the Cubs, but it has since lost traction.

— Joey Nowak

Phillies backing off Tomas

The Phillies, once considered favorites to land free agent outfielder Yasmany Tomas, have cooled on the idea of signing the 23-year-old Cuban defector, according to Major League sources.

While the Phils, who had a private workout with Tomas, still like his bat there are concerns about his defense. They now view him as more of a designated hitter-type player, the sources added.

Of course, that thinking could change if the price for Tomas, once estimated to be as high as $100 million, begins to come down. The Phillies are trying to trade right fielder Marlon Byrd with an eye toward moving Domonic Brown from left to right. That would mean they would need to fill the vacancy in left internally (Grady Sizemore, Darin Ruf, Aaron Altherr) or from outside the organization.

Meanwhile, the primary offseason goal is to add at least two starting pitchers to a rotation that currently features left-handers Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee — their 2014 Opening Day starter who is a question after missing the final two months of the season with a flexor pronator strain.

— Paul Hagen

Tomas to meet with teams at Winter Meetings

Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas is expected to be one of the most sought-after free agents of the offseason, and CBSSports.com‘s Jon Heyman is reporting that the slugger will be meeting with MLB clubs at the upcoming Winter Meetings in San Diego.

Tomas is also expected to command a deal bigger than the six-year, $72.5-million contract that Rusney Castillo received from the Red Sox.

Heyman says the Phillies, Giants and Padres have long been considered the front-runners, but the Royals — perhaps because of the loss of Billy Butler and the hole in right field — and “several other surprise teams” have recently joined the fray.

Heyman also suggests that there is some disagreement on where Tomas could play in the big leagues, with evaluators saying everything from corner outfield spots to third base.

— Joey Nowak

Young reportedly looking for two-year deal

Veteran outfielder/designated hitter Delmon Young is looking for a club willing to sign him to a two-year contract, according to MASN‘s Roch Kubatko.

It appears the Orioles would be willing to bring Young back, but just not on those terms. The 29-year-old was a very serviceable bench piece last year in Baltimore, appearing in just 83 games but hitting .302 with seven homers and 30 RBIs.

Young has shown that he can still hit with some average and for power, and that he can still produce for a contender down the stretch and in the postseason. Those factors will all make him a valuable commodity if someone is willing to meet his terms.

— Joey Nowak

Reports: Red Sox have made Lester an offer; Braves visit next

If free agent pitcher Jon Lester is interested in returning to Boston, those wheels have reportedly already been set in motion.

ESPN.com‘s Gordon Edes reported that the Red Sox have already made an offer to Lester, though they do not expect him to make a decision on it immediately.

Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman says that Lester’s next meeting will be with the Braves, who play just a short distance from Lester’s home in Peachtree City, Ga.

This free agency tour — the Cubs are also in the mix — is likely the reason why the Red Sox don’t expect to hear an answer from Lester any time soon.

Bowman writes that there’s “a chance this meeting will simply enhance the demand” for Lester, though the Braves’ proximity to Lester’s home and their new ballpark set to open in 2017 could be enticing. He also writes that Atlanta could be in the position to make more deals like the Jason Heyward trade to create financial flexibility in order to boost the team’s pitching.

— Joey Nowak

Cubs planning conservative approach

The Cubs missed out on one of the top-tier free agents – catcher Russell Martin, who signed a five-year, $82 million contract with the Blue Jays — on Monday, and they’re prepared for that process to repeat itself with other players, as well.

While many people – fans and media included – are pinning high hopes on the Cubs to make a big splash this winter, the inter-organizational thinking is quite a bit more conservative. The Cubs will certainly do their due diligence at the top of the starting pitching market, for example (they were reportedly meeting with Jon Lester on Tuesday), but, according to a Major League source, they are generally leery of the top-of-the-market prices and more inclined to abstain.

The Cubs do plan to make meaningful additions (a reunion with Jason Hammel, for instance, remains possible), but they know that their young position players are going to need time to develop at the big-league level, particularly in a division as deep as the NL Central (a division that became even more difficult Monday, when the Cardinals acquired Jason Heyward). They also know that next winter’s free-agent pitching class (which could include David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and old friend Jeff Samardzija, among others) could be even deeper than this year’s, so there could be value to patience.

 –Anthony Castrovince

Report: Tigers’ interest in Melky “very, very real”

The Tigers need to bring in at least one outfielder — especially with the loss of Andy Dirks on waivers — and the highly sought-after Melky Cabrera appears to be on their radar.

Greg Brady, from CJCL AM-590 in Toronto, tweeted that the Tigers would consider moving J.D. Martinez to right field, keeping Rajai Davis in center and signing Cabrera to play left field. That would also assume the Tigers do not re-sign Torii Hunter, who is a free agent but has also said he’s contemplating retirement.

Cabrera turned down the Blue Jays’ one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer in hopes of landing a long-term deal.

— Joey Nowak

Reports: Red Sox have serious interest in Sandoval

It has reportedly come down to a two-team race for Pablo Sandoval, with the Giant and Red Sox most squarely in the mix to land the free agent third baseman.

Sandoval has spent his entire career in San Francisco, and the Giants have made it clear since winning the World Series that bringing him back is a priority (they made him a qualifying offer, which he rejected).

But the Red Sox have also emerged as a strong candidate to get Sandoval, who could play third base and transition into the designated hitter role in Boston if/when David Ortiz retires.

According to FOXSports.com‘s Ken Rosenthal, the White Sox and Blue Jays have also had “limited” interest in Sandoval. He also says the Sox are weighing other options.

— Joey Nowak

Reports: Robertson rejects Yanks’ QO

With the 5 p.m. ET deadline rapidly approaching, there have been multiple reports that Yankees reliever David Robertson has turned down New York’s one-year, $15.3-million qualifying offer.

Robertson, along with Francisco Liriano and Michael Cuddyer (who just signed a two-year deal with the Mets), were considered the most likely to accept their teams’ deal. No player has ever done so.

YES Network‘s Jack Curry first reported the news. Curry says the Yankees and Robertson will continue to work toward a more long-term deal.

—  Joey Nowak

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