KANSAS CITY — Stuck in limbo between contending and conceding, the perennially building Kansas City Royals opted to stand pat as baseball's non-waiver trade deadline passed Thursday.
Even as several other teams in the same mix pulled off some splashy moves.
The Tigers, who led the Royals by 4 1/2 games in the AL Central at the start of the day, landed arguably the biggest coup in left-hander David Price. The Mariners and Yankees, neck-and-neck with Kansas City in the wild-card hunt, also were involved in a series of trades.
Meanwhile, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said "at the end of the day, there weren't any players we could get our hands on that would be upgrades over what we have."
"We were prepared to make moves with prospects. There was nothing presented to us that made us uncomfortable," Moore said shortly before the Royals wrapped up a series with Minnesota. "We were prepared to be as aggressive as we possibly could."
The Royals were in a similar position a year ago, making only minor moves down the stretch, and wound up finishing 86-76 — their best record since the strike-shortened 1994 season, but still only good enough for third place in the division. That led many to speculate that the Royals would finally trade for the big bat that their popgun offense has been lacking the past two seasons.
Instead, the Royals watched from the dugout as Oakland sent power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for starter Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes.
"Truthfully it wasn't an option for us," Moore said of acquiring the Cuban defector, whose 17 homers would easily lead the Royals. "We didn't have a pitcher of that caliber we were willing to trade to get a player like Cespedes back. We have to keep our pitching strong."
Therein lays the rub: The Royals had the pitcher in James Shields, a durable former All-Star who is due to become a free agent after the season. They were simply unwilling to part with him unless it was for the right deal even though it's a near-certainty the small-market club will be unable to come up with the cash to sign him to a new deal.
The Royals also had a potential trade chip in Wade Davis, who has been dominant as a setup man and could be targeted by teams in search of a closer down the stretch. Designated hitter Billy Butler was also trade bait, though several factors including his contract and his suspect ability to play in the field would have made it difficult to move him.
"You always get excited and it breaks down, and you get excited and it breaks down," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "In the end it was a lot of hard work that nothing happened."
Moore insisted that it's still possible that the Royals will execute a trade, but it becomes much more difficult. Players must now pass through waivers before a deal could happen.
The Royals have been searching for help in right field, where Nori Aoki has failed to live up to expectations, and third base, where Mike Moustakas began the day hitting just .194. But with a relative dearth of hitting available, the Royals started to investigate some pitching help.
The Phillies' A.J. Burnett was linked to Kansas City prior to the deadline.
"You can only take advantage of what's available to you," Moore said, "and again, internally, we feel this group of players is very talented and able to produce and will produce."