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Luke Hochevar Rumors
The Royals are facing a slew of roster decisions as the regular season draws near, and Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star provided updates on several players today. Let’s take a look (all links to his Twitter account)…
- Luke Hochevar, who inked a two-year, $10MM contract this offseason, will begin the year on the disabled list. Manager Ned Yost told McCullough and other reporters that he hopes to have Hochevar ready to go by May. Adding a healthy Hochevar to the already exceptional trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera would give the Royals one of the most dominant bullpens in recent memory.
- Though he hasn’t been given official word of making the roster, there’s a “high probability” that Franklin Morales will be on the roster. Morales chances of making the team likely increased when Tim Collins went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament that required Tommy John surgery.
- Another lefty, Brian Flynn, has been one of the best relievers in camp this spring but has created a dilemma due to the fact that he has options remaining. Adding Flynn to the roster could mean risking the loss of out-of-options righty Louis Coleman or non-roster invitee Ryan Madson.
- Madson has a “gentleman’s opt-out” at the end of camp that allows him to field MLB offers from other clubs if he is optioned at the end of camp, and while he’s expressed a willingness to pitch at Omaha, he will understandably take a big league offer if presented with one.
- Veteran right-hander Joe Blanton has accepted an assignment to Triple-A Omaha. Blanton allowed three runs on 13 hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings this spring as he hopes to make a comeback at the Major League level. He’ll serve as a depth piece at Omaha, and one would think that a good performance there would position him as one of the first lines of defense should the Royals lose a member of their big league rotation.
Spring Training will always involve unfortunate news of injuries, but it also represents an opportunity for players making a comeback — whether from injury or otherwise — to reestablish themselves. In addition to restoring their own career trajectories (Scott Kazmir, anyone?), such players can deliver immense value to the teams that give them another chance.
Let’s take a look at a few situations from around the league, focusing on pitchers:
- When lefty Clayton Richard signed a minor league deal with the Pirates, everyone’s first thoughts went to the hurlers whose careers have recently been revived in Pittsburgh. (A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Edinson Volquez being the prime examples.) As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, that is essentially what Richard was thinking about, too. “I was able to talk to [Volquez] a little bit and see what he thought of the organization,” said Richard. “It was positive. Just in talking with [GM] Neal [Huntington], [manager] Clint [Hurdle], and [pitching coach] Ray [Searage], I got a good feel of what they are all about. it made sense for me that this was the place.” The non-roster invitee is said to be hitting the gun in the low-nineties, where he previously has worked, and says he is “loosening up my entire body through my delivery” after having seen his motion limited in the past by shoulder troubles.
- After good vibes at the opening of Red Sox camp, Justin Masterson had a less-than-promising outing yesterday, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. A scout called Masterson’s work “awful,” while manager John Farrell said the righty “started to flash some better stuff into the fourth inning” but lacked “late action” on his pitches from “inconsistencies and when the velocity drops.” That group of issues — i.e., mechanical struggles and waning fastball velocity — were perhaps the two most-cited underlying difficulties that led Masterson to fall from his early perch near the top of this year’s free agent class to a one-year, $9.5MM deal with Boston. Of course, there is still plenty of time for Masterson to rebound this season.
- Brandon Morrow of the Padres also signed a make-good, one-year deal but was guaranteed much less than Masterson. But he is off to a strong opening to his year, having posted nine innings with one earned run and seven strikeouts against two free passes thus far. In post-game comments today to his counterpart, Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said that Morrow showed “real stuff” in his four scoreless frames, as MLB.com’s Alyson Footer tweets. It seems at this point that the fifth starter’s role is Morrow’s to lose.
- Royals reliever Luke Hochevar made his way back to competitive action today, throwing a clean inning, as Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports (Twitter links). Working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Hochevar nevertheless landed a $10MM guarantee (over two years) to return to Kansas City. He was throwing in the 92 to 93 mph range in his work today, but despite that successful first appearance still seems likely to start the regular season on the DL.
Last year, Zach Duke and Pat Neshek both entered Spring Training as non-roster invitees and parlayed their outstanding 2014 seasons into multi-year free agent contracts (three years, $15MM for Duke and two years, $12.5MM for Neshek). Who will be the NRIs to watch this spring? Andrew Simon for Sports on Earth tabs White Sox reliever Jesse Crain as the most intriguing NRI citing positive reports as he recovers from his 2013 biceps surgery, which has forced him to the sidelines for the past 20 months. If Crain can return to the form he showed in his previous stint with the White Sox (2011-13) where he pitched to a 2.10 ERA, 10.6 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9 in 150 innings covering 376 games, Simon believes the 33-year-old could assume a prominent role in the White Sox bullpen.
In other news and notes from the AL Central:
- Yoenis Cespedes told reporters, including Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links), he can see himself playing for the Tigers long-term. “I would like to be in a Tigers uniform for a lot of years,” Cespedes said through his translator. “This is a good team now and will be for a lot of years to come.” Cespedes added he does not know whether his agent and the Tigers have engaged in extension talks.
- Corey Kluber, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, is not concerning himself with the lack of movement on a contract extension, according to Zack Meisel of the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “It’s not for me to worry about,” said Kluber, who is slated to earn near the MLB minimum. “I’d rather just talk about pitching and not contract stuff.“
- Royals reliever Luke Hochevar blew out his elbow last spring with a curveball, but has been throwing the pitch in his bullpen sessions, writes MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan. “It’s not like you’re scared when you start spinning curves again,” Hochevar said. “You know your elbow is fixed. But still you think about it. You have to sort of stare down your demons.” Hochevar will face hitters for the first time off a mount tomorrow.
- Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer are two former top prospects who are poised for a breakout 2015, opines MLB.com’s Michael Clair.
- Earlier today, we learned of the passing of White Sox legend Minnie Minoso. Dayn Perry of CBSSports.com and MLB.com’s Phil Rogers both pay tribute to “Mr. White Sox” while Hayes and MLB.com’s Scott Merkin chronicle the reaction of White Sox players.
1:29pm: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Hochevar can earn $500K worth of incentives for non-closing relief work, $500K of incentives for closing work and up to $2MM for starting.
DEC. 5, 12:35pm: The Royals officially announced Hochevar’s return yesterday, including the fact that it contained a 2017 mutual option. Today, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports the breakdown of his contract (Twitter links). Hochevar will earn $4MM in 2015 and $5.5MM in 2016. The deal contains a $7MM mutual option with a $500K buyout as well as performance escalators that can boost his salary from $5.5MM to $6.5MM. Interestingly, the triggers for that $1MM increase is either 23 games started or 150 innings pitched, so it seems that the Royals are at least open to letting Hochevar work as a starter, though perhaps only if they’re unable to supplement their rotation this offseason.
DEC. 3:The Royals have reached an agreement with reliever Luke Hochevar on a two-year, $10MM deal, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The signing further deepens the best bullpen in the Majors. Hochevar is represented by the Boras Corporation.
Hochevar, 31, switched to the bullpen in 2013 and turned in a dominant season with a 1.92 ERA and 10.5 K/9. However, he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in March of this year. Some pitchers are able to fully recover in one year, though many require several months beyond that. Hochevar has spent his entire pro career with the Royals after being drafted first overall in 2006. He had been rated as a top five draft prospect the year prior but fell to the Dodgers at 40th overall due to his bonus demands and affiliation with Boras.
The trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera turned in dominant seasons for the Royals, including a 1.12 ERA in 40 1/3 postseason innings, and all three remain under team control. The Royals also re-signed veteran Jason Frasor five days ago, so they’re very deep in right-handed relief pitching. They could stick with this unit and continue to shorten games, or entertain trading one of Holland, Davis, or Herrera as their salaries grow. Kansas City has already traded Aaron Crow to the Marlins in exchange for lefty Brian Flynn and minor leaguer Reid Redman, the former of whom could theoretically jump right into the bullpen or work as a starter in the minors.
Hochevar’s contract is the third significant multi-year deal scored by a reliever since the World Series concluded, and all have come at a relatively significant price. Zach Duke nabbed a three-year, $15MM contract, and Koji Uehara signed on for two more years in Boston at a total of $18MM. This signing is a bit more expensive than that of Eric O’Flaherty‘s with Oakland last offseason, but the two are largely similar. O’Flaherty inked a two-year, $7MM contract with the A’s after undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 21, 2013. Hochevar’s Tommy John came prior to the regular season, so it stands to reason that he could return to the Majors earlier in the 2015 season than O’Flaherty was able to in 2014. That difference is likely a contributing factor to the additional $3MM on Hochevar’s guarantee.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
There have been several memorable performances this postseason, “but Madison Bumgarner has not only helped write this October’s script, he wins the Oscar for best actor,” Peter Gammons writes. Bumgarner’s phenomenal work in the playoffs (only six earned runs allowed in 47 2/3 IP) has already earned him a spot in baseball history, though the Royals still have a chance to get the last word in the World Series. In a separate piece on his Gammons Daily website, Gammons shares a few news items…
- A member of the Giants ownership group “said there is a swelling thinking” that the Red Sox will sign Pablo Sandoval as a free agent this winter. “The bigger the stage, the better he plays. He would love Boston,” the Giants official said. San Francisco is no small stage itself, of course, and rival general managers tell Gammons that they think the Giants will re-sign their star third baseman.
- One GM predicts that Luke Hochevar “will be a big item this winter” in free agency. The former No. 1 overall draft pick struggled as a starter in the majors but had a fantastic season out of the Royals bullpen in 2013. Hochevar missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and, if healthy, would be a nice under-the-radar pickup for teams looking for relief help.
- Gammons believes the Marlins can’t trade Giancarlo Stanton before his contract expires at the end of the 2016 season. “If they do, owner Jeffrey Loria’s credibility will take such a further hit that he may have to sell for the Marlins to ever be accepted,” Gammons writes. I’m not necessarily sure this would be the case — if Stanton makes it clear he won’t sign an extension with the club, Miami fans obviously wouldn’t be happy, but they’d understand that a trade would be a logical move for the Marlins to get a big return.
FRIDAY: Royals manager Ned Yost told reporters, including Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star, that Hochevar will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the season (Twitter link).
General manager Dayton Moore also spoke to reporters and said the Royals hope to retain Hochevar beyond 2014 (per 610 Sports Radio's Josh Vernier on Twitter): "We wouldn't rule Luke out for the future… We'll hopefully be able to keep him in the organization going forward."
Vernier also quotes Hochevar, who is understandably distressed: "I feel terrible… The toughest part about it is we're primed to win… You want to be a part of that dog pile in September."
WEDNESDAY: The Royals got bad news today when they learned that they will be without right-hander Luke Hochevar until at least late May or early June due to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament, manager Ned Yost tells Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. Hochevar also has a strain in the musculature surrounding the ligament. He will be shut down entirely for two to three weeks (All links to Twitter).
Yost described a May/June return as a "best-case scenario," indicating that even after being shut down, Hochevar will face at least two months of rehab. As is the case with most UCL injuries, the scare of Tommy John surgery is present.
After struggling for years as a starter, Hochevar enjoyed a dominant season out of the bullpen in 2013. The former No. 1 overall pick pitched to a 1.92 ERA with 10.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and a 35 percent ground-ball rate in 70 1/3 innings of work. The move to the 'pen caused his fastball velocity to jump three miles per hour to 95.5 mph. Hochevar also scrapped his slider and focused primarily on using his fastball and cutter with an occasional sinker and curve mixed in, per Fangraphs' PITCHf/x data.
The timing for the injury could hardly be worse for Hochevar, who agreed to a one-year, $5.21MM contract in his final season of team control before free agency next offseason. Another dominant year in the bullpen could've positioned him for a similar salary over multiple seasons, though as Bob Dutton reported back in December, Yost had mentioned giving Hochevar and Wade Davis one more crack at the rotation (indeed, Hochevar's contract contains $400K of incentives based on games started and games finished).
As McCullough notes, if he's able to return, Hochevar will do so as a reliever. However, even if rest and rehab proves to be successful, teams could be still wary of Hochevar's elbow, driving down his potential earnings. And, because he has just one excellent season under his belt, the injury prevents him from another 20 to 30 innings of proving that he can sustain that performance.
With Hochevar's status now up in the air, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and perhaps Davis could see their chances at a rotation spot improve. Top prospect Kyle Zimmer could enter the mix early in the year as well, though his 2013 season was cut short by a shoulder injury, and the Royals are being cautious with him thus far.
The Royals have avoided arbitration with right-hander Luke Hochevar by agreeing to a one-year, $5.21MM contract, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Hochevar can earn an additional $400K based on incentives for games started or games finished.
Hochevar was eligible for arbitration for the final time this offseason and will be a free agent at season's end. He broke out as a setup man for the Royals in 2013, so while his contract has incentives for games started, his best path to future success could be in the bullpen. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had projected the former No. 1 overall draft pick to earn $5MM.
1:15pm: While talks aren't dead, concerns over Marshall's health could ultimately kill the deal, tweets Renck. The Rockies were "aggressively" pursuing the lefty as recently as last night, he adds.
TUESDAY, 12:39pm: The Rockies and Reds discussed Sean Marshall at length last night, and a trade appeared close at one point, according to Renck. However, those talks have idled for the time being. It's not clear whether the Reds would have included any salary relief to help offset the remaining $12MM on Marshall's deal, Renck adds.
MONDAY: As they search for relief help, the Rockies appear to have shifted their focus from the free agent market to trade talks, reports Troy Renck of the Denver Post. According to Renck, Colorado is "pushing hard" to acquire a hard-throwing relief pitcher to add to the back end of its bullpen.
Renck noted earlier today that Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour were among the free agent power arms that interested the Rockies, but the price tags on those players and other top relievers will likely be too high for Colorado.
The Rockies' current plan is for LaTroy Hawkins to close games, so the club is looking for another arm to complement Rex Brothers in a setup role. Renck mentions Royals pitchers Wade Davis, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Luke Hochevar as possible fits, though Kansas City is far from the only team willing to move relievers.
Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli says he wants to return to the team next season, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes. Since he has stayed healthy, Napoli has earned the maximum $13MM value of his one-year deal with Boston for 2013. Napoli thinks there's no reason he shouldn't get a multiyear contract this winter, given that his AVN (a condition that leads to degeneration of bone in his hips) has not progressed. "After last offseason, I can’t really [guess], because after going into last offseason thinking I’d get that multi-year contract, I did my time, I’m a free agent, finally got that time, and look what happened," Napoli says. Here are more notes from the American League.
- It's unclear what the Royals will do with Luke Hochevar next season, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star writes. He has had surprising success out of the bullpen this year, but it's questionable whether a team like the Royals ought to continue to employ him as a setup man after he gets a raise on his $4.6MM 2013 salary in arbitration this offseason. Given that Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen will be free agents, the Royals could also use Hochevar in the rotation, even though he mostly struggled in his career as a starter. Dutton also raises the possibility that the Royals could trade closer Greg Holland and use Hochevar in that role.
- It would be surprising if manager Eric Wedge returned to the Mariners next season, but that doesn't mean the team's problems are primarily his fault, writes Dave Cameron of USS Mariner. In fact, Cameron argues, firing Wedge would merely be part of a larger pattern in which the team fires an employee in order to provide scapegoats for the organization's mistakes. And if the Mariners were to fire Wedge, qualified replacements would not see the position as an attractive one, due to the risk that GM Jack Zduriencik will be fired and his replacement would want to bring in his own manager.
The Royals will not be sellers at the deadline, Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan tweets. The Royals are still seven games back in the AL Central, but they've won six games in a row. Passan indicates that if the Royals deal pitchers Ervin Santana or Luke Hochevar, they would want to receive players who can help immediately. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- The removal of Pirates infield prospect Alen Hanson from a game with Class A+ Bradenton Sunday triggered speculation that Hanson had been traded, but Hanson's agency, LA Sports Management, tweets that Hanson had simply been promoted to Double-A Altoona. It does not appear, then, that a trade is imminent.
- Although the Tigers may trade for relief help, they appear happy with Joaquin Benoit at closer and Drew Smyly in their eighth-inning role, MLB.com's Jason Beck writes. "All I can say is that we feel very comfortable in the ninth and eighth innings with Benoit and Smyly. I don’t know where you’re really going to go out and improve that significantly," says GM Dave Dombrowski. The GM also echoes comments from other front office executives who say this year's market is a particularly tough one for buyers, since few teams identify as sellers at this point.
- The Cardinals currently do not appear likely to make big moves at Wednesday's deadline, but ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets that they might actually trade one of their relievers. Stark notes that, in particular, teams have asked about the Cardinals' bullpen lefties. The left-handers currently in the Cards' bullpen are Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate and Marc Rzepczynski.