Earlier this week the Royals re-signed Luke Hochevar to a two year deal with a mutual option for a third. Hochevar missed all of 2014, as he went through the dreaded(and now normal) Tommy John surgery but looks to be on track to be ready to start 2015. Hochevar is planning to start throwing off a mound later this month to get ready for the next season and appears to be headed back to the bullpen where he garnered success back in 2013. That might not be 100% guaranteed, as Hochevar has bonuses in his contract that can earn him $500K worth of incentives for non-closing relief work, $500K of incentives for closing work and up to $2MM for starting. Yes, bonuses for Hochevar starting, where he was less than average over his career and made me stamp him onto my list of most hated Royals. But that was before 2013 and before he showed value out of the bullpen. Once the Hochevar signing became official, a thought kept popping into my head; is this a move done so the Royals can trade either Greg Holland or Wade Davis?
The Royals went into this offseason needing two major things-a new right fielder and another starting pitcher. The market for free agent outfielders has diminished heavily this winter and leaves the team in a position where a trade seems like a better option for the team. The Royals aren’t going to majorly tear apart the defending American League Champions and only have a few players that could be traded and net them some value without ripping the fabric of the team apart. The biggest position of depth is the bullpen, with the “cyborgs” of Holland, Davis and Kelvin Herrera leading the team throughout the playoffs and showing baseball what a dominant pen can do for a team in the postseason. With that said, it would appear that closer Greg Holland has the most value and is also the most expensive. He is currently making $4.675MM and that number looks to rise this winter in arbitration. MLBTradeRumors.com predicts Holland could see a raise of another $4.62MM, which would push his salary close to $10MM for 2015. I love “Dirty South” as much as the next Royals fan but I also realize that relievers are the easiest position to replace and closers normally have a small shelf life. It just seems to make sense to trade Holland now while he is at his highest value and net the biggest return you can from a trade. The Royals were burned from staying loyal to a closer in the very recent past, as Kansas City stuck with Joakim Soria, who missed the 2012 season due to his second Tommy John surgery. Soria would leave after that season, signing with the Rangers and leaving the Royals without anything in return. So it makes sense to see just what could be had by dealing Holland this winter.
So if the Hochevar signing was made so the team could trade Holland for an outfielder, how would that reshape the bullpen? It would appear if that happened Wade Davis would move up from setup man to closer. Davis had a ridiculous 2014 season, one that made him one of the best relievers in baseball. His season was so ridiculous that Davis didn’t give up but 5 extra base hits the whole season, none in the first half of the season and gave up NO home runs. Not even one. To say Davis could probably easily slide into the closers role sure seems like an understatement and almost seems like the smart thing to do if Holland is traded. Herrera could slide into the setup role while Hochevar and possibly Jason Frasor could fill in during the 6th and 7th innings. There is no way to tell if this group would put up the same numbers that “HDH” put up in 2014, but the belief is it wouldn’t be too far off.
It could just as easily be Wade Davis who gets traded, as there has been interest for both him and Holland. But the smarter play at this point is trading Holland, if for no other reason than to give the Royals more payroll flexibility. It’s no big secret that Kansas City doesn’t have one of the higher payrolls in the sport, but it is one that has steadily increased year by year and looks to reach the $100MM threshold for the upcoming 2015 season. A lot of this money is already earmarked for players already with the team and according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the team really only has enough money for one of their needs, not both:
With that said, it appears a deal where they can shed some hefty payroll AND acquire one of their needs would be the wise choice to do. Kansas City has already picked up the $7MM option on Davis, and with Holland estimated to be making around $9.3MM it would appear Holland would give them more flexibility. Either option would help the team, but with the salary that would be freed up and with Holland appearing to bring the Royals more value, it would be wise at this point to trade Holland, not Davis.
The hard part of this whole thing is the fact that a trade even has to happen at all. What Herrera, Davis and Holland accomplished this year was magical and more than likely won’t be duplicated any time soon. It would be great to keep this trio together for the forseeable future but baseball’s landscape makes it hard to do that when you are a small market team. At some point the money is just too much and it becomes apparent that the money could be used in other, more needed areas. The Royals are at that point and with Hochevar and Frasor back in the fold it appears the team has more than enough depth to weather the storm. If Kansas City is wanting to stay as a contender in 2015 they are going to need at least one more solid bat and another starting pitcher, and that can’t be accomplished at the team’s current payroll structure. That means someone has to go, and it looks like one of the team’s elite relievers will have to be dangled for a bat. It’s not the fun part about baseball, but it is a necessary part. The only question going forward is whether Dayton Moore will pull the trigger or not. It’s not the popular move to make, but it does appear to be the intelligent one.