KANSAS CITY -- The Royals filled their utility infielder void Sunday night by signing nine-year veteran Tony Graffanino to a two-year deal.
Graffanino, 30, hit .260 for the White Sox last year but was not offered arbitration. At the least, he is expected to provide periodic breathers for third baseman Joe Randa, shortstop Angel Berroa and second baseman Desi Relaford. But if Graffanino gets on a roll, he could intensify the competition with Relaford for the regular job at second.
"He will get a lot of playing time," Royals manager Tony Pena said of Graffanino. "It's going to be up to Desi Relaford to keep his position. [Relaford] is the second baseman, but he knows we have somebody."
Graffanino, a .258 lifetime hitter, knows how to hit in Kansas City. He's a .370 career hitter at Kauffman Stadium. Royals general manager Allard Baird recently spent 3 1/2 hours with Graffanino and his wife, and that recruiting effort paid dividends. Baird likes the fact that Graffanino can play three infield positions and also create competition for a starting job at second.
"This makes us a better ballclub," Baird said. "The thing that's important to us is to give the manager the weapons to be able to be strategic in his moves and have versatility."
Graffanino finds himself in basically the same position that Relaford was in last year about this time. Carlos Febles was the starter at second base going into the 2003 season, and Relaford was cast in a utility role. But later in the year, Relaford took over as the starter at second.
Graffanino also gives Kansas City a defensive answer at third base and shortstop when Randa or Berroa need a day off.
The Royals project that Graffanino, even as a utility player, will get enough at-bats to stay sharp.
"I don't want to say 400 at-bats, but more than 200, there's no doubt about it," Baird said. "Because of his versatility."
With Graffanino on the roster, the Royals have now signed eight free agents since Nov. 26. There are still two specific shopping items -- an everyday left fielder and a backup catcher -- and Baird was trying to explore a trade for a young catcher Sunday night.
Going into the Winter Meetings, Baird had said he would be willing to trade "young for young" if he could get a catcher or a third baseman for the future. If the Royals can't get their backup catcher through a trade, Baird said he would try to fill that void through the free agent market.
"I may hear something tonight or tomorrow," Baird said of a possible trade for a young catcher. "It's a little bit of a long shot. "I'm maintaining conversation with agents on [the free agent market], but I'm exploring the young guy if I could. A young guy who obviously has the upside to an everyday guy down the road for us. Whether that happens or not, I don't know. But I'm going to explore that first."
As for the left-field situation, Baird said the Royals are not close to filling that void. They have been linked to Juan Gonzalez, Raul Mondesi and Reggie Sanders. But until the free agent market shakes out, which could conceivably allow an everyday outfielder candidate to fall into Kansas City's price range, Baird will bide his time.
"We will continue to be patient because it has to fit our payroll structure, and we have to feel very confident that the dependable run production in return for the dollar fits," Baird said.
another fine signing this offseason in my opinion.....now if we can only sign Vlad