by John Viril—
In the aftermath of Sunday’s Shields/Myers mega-trade (since upstaged by the Choo/Bauer 9-player deal between the Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks), most pundits have ignored the current makeup of the Royals’ roster. With Wade Davis slotted to start, Kansas City now has four pitchers competing for one rotation slot.
Yet, Royals GM Dayton Moore just signed two rehabbing veteran relievers (Dan Wheeler and George Sherrill) to minor-league contracts. While those players are likely little more than bullpen depth, adding them to a stable already filled with flame-throwing youngsters suggests there might be “no room at the inn” to park extra starters. Along with the expected mid-season return of Tommy John patients Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy and John Lamb, the excess suggests the Royals will try to deal some of their bottom-of-the-rotation starters.
This article will examine the trade potential of these four candidates:
Luke Hochevar—Probably the most frustrating player on the Royals roster apparently enjoys strong support from the front-office. Hochevar is well-known in sabermetric circles as one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball history to continually get gifted with opportunities to start. Along with Hochevar, former rotation punching-bag Kyle Davies enjoyed similar faith from Dayton Moore. Consequently, the front office’s extreme patience is likely to continue to the bitter end. Apparently, Moore has a problem admitting his early evaluations of players could be wrong. I fully expect Hochevar to “win” the fifth rotation spot in the belated hope he will finally become an ace.
There is some hope that Hochevar could be almost-tolerable if the Royals accept that he can’t pitch with runners on base and bring out a quick hook when he gets in trouble. With 3 guys at the top of the rotation who have long histories of eating innings (Shields, Santana, and Guthrie), perhaps Royals manager Ned Yost will finally handle Hochevar for the pitcher he is rather than the pitcher Yost wishes he had.
At this point, given Hochevar’s five-year history of rotation failure, I can’t imagine he has value to any GM that can exceed Dayton Moore’s need for self-validation.
Bruce Chen—The left-handed Chen actually has decent value to a team looking to round-out the back end of a rotation. The last 3 seasons, Chen has posted a solid 35-29 record, 4.40 ERA in 487.0 IP, and total WAR of 4.2. At 36, Chen is on the decline, but he takes the ball every 5 days and gives his chance to win (he’s won 11 or more games 3 years in a row). Best of all, he’s only under contract for one more year at a reasonable $4.5 million—a bargain for a guy that averaged 1.4 fWAR/year the last 3 seasons.
Rumor had it that the Royals were actively trying to trade both Chen and Hochevar shortly before the winter meetings, and I can’t imagine they’d suddenly be unavailable after the team acquired two starters in Sunday’s blockbuster.
Chen is a great fill-in for a team looking to round-out a rotation with a guy that won’t kill the bullpen every fifth day. Right now, he’s not going to draw tons of interest, but as winter becomes spring and teams still have rotation slots to fill, Bruce Chen will look more and more attractive. Especially if the team has a rotation that tilts right. Chen might not draw more than a C-level prospect, but look for the cost-conscious Royals to trim their payroll by dealing him before spring.
Will Smith—This young lefty (23) took the mound 16 times last season with mixed results. He pitched 89.2 innings with a 5.32 ERA in his rookie season for a 6-9 record and a 77 ERA+. His year did feature two strong September performances, part of a month in which he made 5 starts with a 4.82 ERA in 28 IP. Most scouts view Smith as having nothing more than a no. 4 upside, yet he’s young, cheap, and left-handed—ensuring that he’d draw at least some interest in trade. Those very reasons might lead the Royals to stash him, either in the pen or in AAA, this upcoming season. Smith might find his way into the 5th slot simply because the Royals top 4 projected starters (Shields, Santana, Guthrie, and Wade Davis) are all right-handed.
Luis Mendoza—Career minor-league journeyman Luis Mendoza put up a spectacular season in AAA Omaha in 2011 (12-5, 2.18 ERA). That season earned the now 29-year-old Mendoza a chance to make the team out of spring training in 2012. Despite some rough early outings, Mendoza found himself back in the rotation due to Felipe Paulino’s mid-season elbow injury (torn UCL).
Mendoza seized the opportunity. In 20 consecutive starts after his return to the rotation, Mendoza ate 122.1 innings with a solid 3.82 ERA (overall 166.0 IP, 4.23 ERA, and a slightly below-average 97 ERA+). Mendoza seemed to find solid footing in the major leagues for the first time in his career by using his slider. The Mexican right-hander finished with a strong September in which he made 6 starts and pitched 36.1 innings with a sparkling 3.22 ERA.
Despite his age, Mendoza the Royals still hold 4 more full-seasons of team control, including one more pre-arbitration year. Given his low cost and strong late-season performance, Mendoza could be attractive to some team desperate to fill out a rotation close to spring training. Given his career-long journeyman status and only one season of decent performance, Mendoza would not bring back more than a C-level or so prospect in return. At that price, I’d like to see the Royals keep Mendoza. I think he found something last season and I’d much rather see him in the rotation than the frustrating Luke Hochevar.
All of these pitchers are bottom-of-the-rotation guys and, consequently, they are unlikely to be part of blockbuster deals. Yet, the Royals might still be in the market for a slick-fielding second baseman to solidify their infield defense, if they are unhappy with in-house options like journeyman Chris Getz and the progress of prospects Johnny Giavotella and Christian Colon. These pitchers could become useful trading chips to complete the 2013 roster in combination with higher-upside prospects.
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