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March 14, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Royally Flushed

by Daniel Rathman

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The Royals liked Luke Hochevar more than most other teams in June 2006, when they made the University of Tennessee standout the first overall pick in a draft that also included Evan Longoria, Brandon Morrow, and Tim Lincecum. Seven years and numerous plot twists later, it appears that the Royals still hold the right-hander in higher regard than their counterparts around the league.

Dayton Moore’s price tag turns teams away from Hochevar
According to CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler, teams that have called the Royals to inquire about Hochevar have found the going rate surprisingly high for a pitcher that, based on WARP, has yet to produce even a single one-win season. The 29-year-old Hochevar is two years away from his first tour of free agency, but general manager Dayton Moore’s busy offseason—which brought Wade Davis, Ervin Santana, and James Shields into the fold—seemed to make him expendable.  

Denver Post beat writer Troy Renck speculated a few months ago that Hochevar, a Denver native, could fit with the Rockies, but talks between Dan O’Dowd and Moore never came to fruition. And, since then, rumors involving Hochevar have been few and far between, even though his growing salary—eventually set at $4.56 million by an agreement reached on January 18 to avoid arbitration—and the lack of a guaranteed rotation spot in Kansas City appeared to portend a ticket out of town.

Yet, for all of the signs that suggested a trade was in the hopper, Hochevar reported to the Royals’ spring training facility in Surprise, Arizona, last month and is still a member of the organization that preferred him to the other high-ceiling talents available in the 2006 draft. Last September, manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland told Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star that Hochevar was on the verge of turning the corner, that consistency was the only barrier remaining in his long-awaited ascent to ace-level performance, and that focusing on three or four pitches instead of employing a six-deep arsenal could yield the desired results.

That article ran on September 10, and in his four regular-season starts after it was published, Hochevar coughed up 22 earned runs in 24 innings of work, allowing opponents to amass a .340/.393/.540 triple-slash line just weeks after he delivered one of the best outings of his major-league career. Then, after Moore’s additions forced him to compete to retain his spot in the rotation, Hochevar was charged with six runs over eight innings in his first three Cactus League appearances, and his underwhelming start led Yost to yank him from the race with nearly three weeks left to go.

Royals pare their fifth-starter competition down to four
The Royals announced, via their official Twitter account, on Wednesday that the battle to round out Kansas City’s starting five is now between veterans Bruce Chen and Luis Mendoza, second-year lefty Will Smith, and number-five prospect Yordano Ventura, whom Jason Parks scouted in person last April. Chen, who is owed $4.5 million in 2013, the second year of a two-year, $9 million contract, would join Hochevar on the list of logical trade candidates if he cedes his job to one of the younger pitchers, though he is currently projected to retain it. Smith has enjoyed the best spring of the bunch, holding opponents to just one run on two hits and a walk over seven innings while collecting eight strikeouts, and Ventura—who has made three of his four trips to the mound in relief—has impressed, too.

With multiple, apparently superior, options in camp, the Royals’ decision to boot Hochevar from the fifth-start competition is a logical one. It’s also possible that pitching in shorter stints will help the righty to refine his arsenal and hone in on his most effective offerings, most notably a hard slider that has induced whiffs on nearly one-fifth of its uses during his big-league career, per his Brooks Baseball profile. But with Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino due back from Tommy John surgery sometime during the regular season, and a surplus of starters even with those two on the shelf, the Royals’ decision to cling to Hochevar is puzzling.

We will learn over the coming weeks whether the Royals hope that Hochevar can develop into a late-inning force or are simply transitioning him to the bullpen as part of an audition for potential suitors. Yost told reporters, including Dutton, on Wednesday, that he would like to see Hochevar earn a set-up role alongside Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, and Aaron Crow, rather than serving as a swingman or long reliever. If that’s the case, then the move is likely to be an extended commitment, not a short-term trial, since it would take time for the northpaw to stretch back out for rotation duty once the season begins.

Several teams kicking the tires on Brennan Boesch
Players that compile a .285 TAv and 1.7 WARP in their second major-league seasons don’t often get released before their fourth, but that’s precisely what happened with Boesch, who was dumped by the Tigers earlier this week. The outfielder, who turns 28 on April 12, slumped badly, to a .240/.286/.372 triple-slash line, last year, and he finished the 2011 season on the disabled list while recovering from thumb surgery. After a slow start in Grapefruit League action, general manager Dave Dombrowski decided to cut bait.

MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff, a former pro scout, watched Boesch in three games earlier this month, and tweeted that his swing and approach didn’t look much better than the 3-for-16 effort they had produced over 18 plate appearances. Boesch reached a $2.3 million deal with the Tigers to forgo his first year of arbitration eligibility, but since the bulk of that was not guaranteed, owner Mike Ilitch will only be on the hook for about $379,000.

Meanwhile, teams in need of outfield depth are now pondering whether Boesch represents an upgrade over their internal choices. The list includes the Mets and Yankees, though the interest in Queens is “marginal,” according to New York Post beat writer Mike Puma. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe heard that the Red Sox are “talking internally” about Boesch, and the Astros might consider him as a low-cost gamble, though MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart is unsure of how he would fit into Houston’s outfield plans.

With at least four clubs in touch with agent Brodie Van Wagenen, it should not take long for Boesch to find a new home. Boesch will most likely emphasize a legitimate chance to stick on his next team’s Opening Day roster, and he might seek an opt-out clause to ensure another opportunity to test the market if he fails to secure a spot on April 1.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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