Royals news – and this blog – took a bit of a hiatus during the holidays. I hope your Haunakah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s was enjoyable.

When I was at Baseball Prospectus, a writer whom I greatly admire told me that writing (and creativity in general) is like a muscle. You need to exercise it frequently, or risk losing it. Or at the very least, misplacing it for a moment. Deep in my psyche, I was aware of this, but it helped to actually hear those words, because they have stuck with me over all these years.

Inspiration has been difficult to locate at times, but I’ll try my best to at least give you a few random scribblings. If nothing else, for my own selfish reason to keep my wits about me. There are a few things I’d like to sort out before pitchers and catchers report in seven (seven!) weeks, so we’ll see how everything goes.

— Alan Eskew of Baseball America has a note about Royals Rule 5 acquisition Jandel Gustave. Not a lot of new info about the flamethrower from the Dominican, but the Royals were pleased with his consistent delivery in winter ball ahead of the draft, which led to improved command. The Royals also would like to get him a few more innings before spring training.

— I have the Royals current payroll at around $110 million. That’s actually lower than you would expect after they went on a free agent signing spree last month. But the contracts for multiple years are all backloaded. Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez, Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen will all receive raises in 2016.

It’s an interesting – and dangerous – shell game being played by Dayton Moore, Jin Wong and the Royals front office. By my rough estimations, the Royals have $56 million in commitments for 2016 and that’s just for seven players under contract and six options. Some of those options will be picked up (Wade Davis, Alcides Escobar) so that $56 million is already too low. Plus, that doesn’t include arbitration for players like Greg Holland (if he’s still with the club) or Eric Hosmer. And it doesn’t count whatever money Alex Gordon will get. (He has a player option for around $13 million, which he’s said he will engage, and I’m unaware of the buyout if he declines it.)

The tldr is, that’s a bunch of cabbage committed for a year from now.

If anything, Moore and his Royals brain trust have shown an understanding of how to juggle the budget. They may misread the market, but they do know how to structure a deal to spread the pain. None of the contracts they awarded this winter are going to cause long-term damage, but the short-term juggling act will certainly be worth watching. And something to be aware of as the season approaches.

— Kind of an interesting note surfaced between the holidays about Rios and the Royals. Joel Sherman of the New York Post, wrote that the Royals and the Rangers had a trade agreement in place ahead of last summer’s deadline. The stumbling block – Rios had the Royals on his no-trade list. He asked the Royals to pick up his $13.5 million option for 2015. When the Royals refused, Rios exercised his right and blocked the trade.

The knee-jerk reaction would be to cast aspersions toward Rios for declining to play for a team that ultimately won the AL pennant. But don’t forget that at the trade deadline last year, the Royals were just one of many teams chasing a playoff spot. It was never a guarantee. Plus, those no-trade clauses exist for a reason. They are leverage for a player. Kind of a reward for a veteran. Put yourself in Rios’ shoes last July. You’re having a tough season. Your power is down as well as your run production. In the back of your mind, you’re wondering about your option for $13.5 million and if the Rangers will pick it up, knowing that because of your current year, it’s a long-shot you will make that much if you hit the open market. It’s his right to try to get that money.

In the end, it worked out for everyone. The Royals got Josh Willingham, who collected maybe the biggest hit of all the big hits in the Wild Card game. Rios got a $1 million buyout and $11 million guaranteed from the Royals, so he lost a small percentage of his original $13.5 million option for 2015. And we got a non-story to discuss during the holidays. Win, win, win.

— Anyone wondering about James Shields? It’s so quiet. I kind of thought if he was going to sign with the San Francisco Giants, it would be done by now. Especially after they have been jilted by a few free agents. Once upon a time, the Red Sox were interested, but they seem to have gone the “let’s-assemble-a-bunch-of-solid-yet-unspectacular-starters” route, so I wonder if there’s room. I keep hearing rumblings about the Padres being in play. And the Dodgers have more money than anyone, so they’re always in the discussion.

He’s not coming back to Kansas City, but he is tied to a draft pick the Royals are counting upon. There’s no way he remains on the shelf like Morales did last summer, but you just have to wonder about the holdup. The longer this goes, the more teams – like the Royals – have set their budgets and payrolls for 2015, limiting his options. Again, not that KC was ever a true option, but it’s just an example. Between Shields and Max Scherzer, there are still two top quality starting pitching options on the market.

The Hot Stove isn’t as scorching as it was last month, but there’s still plenty of heat.