Despite sporting a 7-13 record and a 5.36 ERA, Luke Hochevar got a vote of confidence from the Royals’ organization earlier this month. He’s responded in classic Hochevarian fashion; he gave up 22 runs over 24 innings in his last four starts.
Hochevar’s season officially ended during the Indians’ 10-run fifth inning on Sunday. Hochevar didn’t give up all of the runs, but he was charged with nine in 4 2/3 innings, taking his ERA up to 5.73. It’s not the worst ERA in the majors — Ricky Romero came in at 5.76 — but considering that Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium plays as a pitcher’s park, he rates as the AL’s least effective starter this year.
By Baseball-Reference’s ERA+. Hochevar’s season could end up rating the worst of any qualified starter since 2008. Tim Lincecum’s 2012 is actually worse right now (he’s at 68, the third worst mark since 2000), but the San Francisco park factor will likely be revised to something less extreme later on. Also, as rough as Lincecum’s season has been, he’s allowed just three unearned runs. Hochevar has allowed nine. Romero gave up six.
At least Hochevar can take solace that his season doesn’t rate as the worst in Royals’ history. The late Jose Lima went 5-16 with a 6.99 ERA in 32 starts for Kansas City in 2005.
Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.
There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.
The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.