Last Wednesday, The Royals announced that they were shifting Luke Hochevar away from the starting rotation and into a role within an already-crowded bullpen. And although we should consider this move as the organization’s recognition that Hochevar will never be what they have hoped upon, the proper move would be to simply cut ties and release him.
This winter, the Royals signed Hochevar for $4.56 million, avoiding arbitration (for emphasis, here it is written long-hand: $4,560,000). The terms they settled on included a tacit understanding that Hochevar was, is, and would be a starting pitcher. The Royals assumed that regardless of how woeful he has been over the breadth of his career, he has been reasonably healthy, he sprinkles in a few gems, and he would at least give you innings: all things you like to see out of the bottom end of your rotation. Although $4.56m isn’t nothing, in their eyes it was an acceptable price on a known quantity who may have still had some upside a la Gil Meche.
That dream is gone now. Three months after handing him four and a half million dollars, any and all illusions about Hochevar as a starting pitcher have faded. Without a rash of injuries, there is no perceivable way that he will pitch his way back to being a starter. If Crow’s two years of steady success and improvement haven’t earned him a look, then two months of Hochevar being reasonably good in lower-leverage situations shouldn’t do it either.
Last year, the Royals paid Jonathan Broxton $4 million to see if he could revitalize his career following injury. They then flipped him for J.C. Sulbaran and Donnie Joseph, who may very well make the team this year as a LOOGY. They may believe that they can do the same with Hochevar, but there is very little evidence to support that. Broxton had a track record of dominance as a closer for the Dodgers; Hochevar doesn’t. Broxton, while not exactly lights-out, was used accordingly in the back-end of games, accruing the one stat (saves) that GMs continue to love for some reason; Hochevar decidedly will not. He will be the sixth-inning guy (if needed) and may see a couple innings in a game in garbage time. Very few teams are looking to trade for guys like that, and the Royals have guys that are more-than-capable of performing those roles.
It is likely that the Royals have perceived both Hochevar and fellow member of the “$4.5m-Club” Bruce Chen as expendable since trading for James Shields and Wade Davis. They have come out and said as much, and if they aren’t saying it then others certainly are. With the likes of Mendoza and Will Smith, it is understandable that the Royals would want to move one or both of them.
The problem, though, is that they could have been free and clear from one of them by simply not tendering Hochevar. Regardless of his role, paying him more than Broxton was a mistake. Running him out every fifth day for the last two years was a mistake. Moving him to the bullpen is a mistake, insomuch that he shouldn’t even be on the roster.
The Royals’ handling of Hochevar, both from a player management perspective and a business perspective, has been flawed. They are inching their way towards the inevitable conclusion that Hochevar just doesn’t hold up as a viable option for a Major League team, particularly one with budget constraints. They are making the best of a bad situation, but it is a situation wrought by their own incompetence.
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