Luke Hochevar

Royals to give Hochevar, Davis second… mmm, sixth chances as SPs

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After two seasons as a below average starter, Wade Davis broke through as a reliever for the Rays in 2012, amassing a 2.43 ERA and striking out 87 in 70 1/3 innings.

The Royals plan after picking him up in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade? Move him back to the rotation.

Luke Hochevar was a below average starter for five years before his move to the pen last year. However, he was an immediate success as a reliever, posting a 1.92 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. This after he entered the season with a career ERA of 5.39.

So what are the Royals going to do now? Try him again as a starter, of course.

And they’re going to do the same with Davis, again, even though he was terrible as a starter last season and, again, an immediate success after losing his rotation spot and shifting back to the pen (one run in 10 innings in September).

The Royals will probably include one of the two in their 2014 rotation along with Shields, the newly acquired Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and Danny Duffy. It’s possible both could be starters if Duffy struggles in spring training.

On the one hand, the Royals do have the bullpen depth to pull off such a plan. Even though Hochevar and Davis have both looked like elite setup men when given the chance, the Royals will still be just fine with Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and Donnie Joseph working in front of closer Greg Holland.

But it still seems like a pretty awful idea. Davis and Hochevar have combined to spend eight seasons in a major league rotation. The only year in which either managed even a 90 ERA+ was Davis’s rookie campaign in 2010 (he came in at 96). Hochevar’s career-best ERA is 4.68 and ERA+ is 87.

At least in Hochevar’s case, one could argue that he figured something out as a reliever that he could carry back into the rotation with him. Of course, that was the argument for Davis a year ago and it didn’t work. Hochevar essentially ditched his slider and changeup as a reliever, becoming a fastball-cutter guy. He can rely more on that cutter going forward than he did before, but he’s still going to need to reincorporate the changeup as a starter and that’s always been a liability for him.

Ideally, the Royals would be able to trade two guys from the Davis-Hochevar-Herrera-Crow-Collins quintet for one quality starter. It really shouldn’t be that much of a reach, given the value all five of those guys possess. But if they can’t go that route, they’re probably better off just keeping all of those guys in the pen and signing re-signing Bruce Chen to round out the rotation.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?