KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals fans first were disappointed on Friday night.
Then they got angry.
The news that caused all the fuss was veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran agreeing to a 3-year, $45 million contract with the New York Yankees.
All by itself, Beltran to the Yanks was a bummer. Royals GM Dayton Moore had serious visions of dropping the switch-hitting Beltran into right field at Kauffman Stadium for those same three years.
OK, losing a big-name player to the Yankees isn’t the end of the world, obviously, except…
Beltran is 37 years old.
When it became obvious that St. Louis had no interest in re-signing a guy who was one of their stars last season and Carlos became a true free agent, there weren’t a lot of obvious landing zones — especially for a player that age who wanted a three-year guaranteed deal.
But Beltran himself, who insisted he only would sign with a contending team, first mentioned the Royals.
Then last week, he visited Kansas City and talked about the future with Moore and Royals executives.
A FEW national stories suggested a deal was done, and that Carlos would be playing right field in Kauffman Stadium, probably batting second, while fellow newcomer Norichika Aoki would lead off and play center.
Suddenly the surging Royals, who won 86 games a year ago and can see the possibility of division rivals Detroit and Cleveland both moving a bit backward, looked even MORE exciting than they had at the end of the season.
Then two days after Beltran came to Kansas City and sweet-talked everyone with tales of signing with the Royals as a kid, and how much the city still means to him, he signs with the Yankees.
Wait: It gets worse.
Besides his ties to the community, Beltran seemed like a fit to sign with the Royals because they apparently were the only team willing to give him a three-year deal.
Other clubs with some interest went to two years and stopped.
Then in a flash, while Carlos was hugging everyone in Kansas City, the Yankees realized they’d lost Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson — and needed a damn bat.
So amazingly enough, the Yanks got instant religion and offered Beltran that third year.
And in a heartbeat, he was gone.
DID THE Royals get used in this dance? Absolutely, they did — just the timing of it would tell you that.
One other bit of irony involved Beltran and all his hogwash about finding a contending team. The Royals had a better record than the Yankees last year, and look like a better playoff bet in 2014.
Right, so now Royals fans have zoomed through the phases of grief and anger over losing Beltran.
Well, the good news is that Moore probably saw this possibility coming.
He had not put all his eggs in one basket, and here’s the best part: Dayton is still absolutely determined to add a middle-of-the-order bat to the Royals roster.
Maybe something will happen this coming week, at the winter baseball meetings in Florida. Maybe it’ll take awhile longer.
But Moore is going to acquire a meaningful bat — or keel over trying. To make that, it appears the Royals will have to gamble a bit, one way or another.
Here are some possibilities:
1. THEY can gamble on former Texas slugger Nelson Cruz, 33, fresh off a 50-game suspension for his connections to the Miami drug clinic.
Cruz is a hitting machine who would dispatch 20-something home runs and probably 30 doubles for the Royals.
You can argue that if he’d played 150 games for Kansas City last season, the Royals would have hosted some playoff baseball.
But Cruz has a rep as a difficult teammate, though sometimes in baseball those rumors are just nonsense.
Anyway, there are issues besides the need for a 3-year deal somewhere in the Beltran financial neighborhood.
2. THEY can gamble on the health of former Milwaukee outfielder Corey Hart — like Cruz, a two-time All-Star.
Hart is 31, a nine-year vet who’s popular with everyone and (also like Cruz) has a remarkably consistent history as a reliable, run-producing hitter with enough power to make a difference. Not awesome pop, but he can reach the fence and hit the gaps.
Two problems with Hart, however…
There’s his health. He had surgery on both knees last year and missed the entire season. He was only cleared to resume full-time training last week.
Also, because he feels a bit guilty about taking $10 million from the Brewers without stepping to the plate a single time, Hart has indicated he would re-sign in Milwaukee for a discount if the numbers are fair and the Brewers still want him.
They probably do, in part because they need him to fill a gaping hole at first base — where he did a decent job in 2012.
Nonetheless, the Royals probably could land Hart — but in addition to checking him out head to toe, they’d have to pay a bit above the true market value because of Hart’s attachment to Milwaukee.
Still, a reasonable amount like $16 million for two years with a club option likely could trump the Brewers.
And if Hart truly is healthy, you’ve added a terrific right-handed bat and solved the right-field issue.
3. FINALLY, the Royals could gamble and trade more prospects from their still-healthy farm system for an established big-league bat — someone like Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick.
In eight big-league seasons, Kendrick has averaged .292 with all the other numbers you want to see over and over, year after year — 40 doubles, 14 homers, 75 RBIs, 15 steals, etc.
He’s not a muscle-bound power guy, but Kendrick is one of those hitters who winds up in the middle of rallies. He’d be perfect for the Royals and Kauffman Stadium, in other words.
A deal like that surely would cost the Royals one of their three major-ready young starters — Danny Duffy, Kyle Zimmer or Yordano Ventura — plus more legit prospects from various levels of the organization.
Bottom line: It would be expensive.
BUT HERE’S the thing to ponder while you’re fuming about the Beltran slight and worrying that you’re in for another summer of losing 2-1 and 3-2 games…
Moore and owner David Glass seem to be on the same page that the time is now, that development was well and good, but that Kansas City is ready to win.
And will pay for the privilege.
To sign anyone worth a hoot and keep the present roster more or less intact (not trading Billy Butler, in other words), Glass will have to sign off on a payroll in the $100 million range.
The Royals never have and never will generate the revenue to justify that amount — $70 million is probably tops for breaking even — but the club will be getting an extra $25 million in national TV revenue this year.
So there’s one more reason to go for the gusto right now — even if means writing bigger checks or trading away guys like Rookie of the Year Wil Myers.
So forget Carlos Beltran, and don’t be discouraged.
Just like you, Dayton Moore is thinking playoff baseball next summer, and he’s willing to roll the dice to get there.
Steve Cameron is executive editor of The Mercury.