When the Kansas City Royals let loose of Joakim Soria after his Tommy John surgery, Royals fans wondered if they would ever regain the consistency from the closer spot that they had come to expect. Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery had combined to save 548 games in their careers. Soria secured another 160 games in a Royals uniform.
But as Soria’s successor, Greg Holland, stumbled into the 2013 season, Royals fans had the jitters. Holland, as we know, went on to save 47 games while compiling a 1.21 ERA with 103 strike outs in 67 innings. The word dominant doesn’t even do his season justice. His walks + hits per innings pitched was 0.866. No wonder he only gave up 9 earned runs all year in 68 appearances.
And now is the time to trade him.
Popular trade rumors have Billy Butler and even Eric Hosmer being dealt to obtain offense, either to fill holes at second base or right field positions. Neither of those makes sense. Butler, for all his slow-of-foot faults, is still a hitting machine. Hosmer showed in the second half last year that he can carry a team offensively.Trading either of those for offense is a zero-sum gain.
The Royals have pitching, more than a small market could imagine having. And even with two rotation spots to fill, it’s entirely possible to look at Luke Hochevar, Yordano Ventura and Aaron Crow as possible closers, or even closers by committee.
Hochevar? Don’t scream yet. When you look at this numbers last year, they were very similar, albeit not equal to Holland’s. A 1.92 ERA, a WHIP of .825 with 82 strike outs in 70.1 innings. With Crow and Ventura behind him, Moore and Manager Ned Yost have options. The Royals certainly wouldn’t be the first successful team to use a closer-by-committee approach, if needed.
The options of those 3 relievers are far better than the combined equivalent options at either second base (Chris Getz and Emilio Bonifacio) or at right field (David Lough and Justin Maxwell). None of those four players had the offensive equivalent of Hochevar’s 1.92 ERA and .825 WHIP. Holland can fetch a bundle. Especially from a team that needs a closer. The Arizona Diamondbacks are just that team.
The D-backs blew an astonishing 29 saves in 2013. The league average was 19 blown saves. That difference would have been enough to put the D-backs right back in the Wild Card hunt.While back end pitching is a weakness of the D-backs, depth at infield is not. The D-backs have a logjam at shortstop. Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius will battle for the position this coming spring. Gregorius held the position last year, but Owings is a suitable alternative. Gregorius hit .252 in 103 games in 2013, while Owings owns a .291 average in a brief 20 games.
A move to second base by either is a possibility. Why second base? Because that spot would need to be filled if the Royals trade Holland for the D-back’s second baseman Aaron Hill. Hill, a 9-year veteran, owns a career .273 batting average. He has had 5 seasons of double-digit home run production (11, 17, 26 twice and 36), two of which came in the past 2 years. He averages 37 doubles, 19 home runs and 78 runs batted in per season. He also averages 47 walks per season. He hits for average, has pop in his bat and gets on base. He is signed through 2016, with $11,000,000 due in 2014 and $12,000,000 due in each of the following 2 years. He would come at a price, dollar-wise and trade-wise.
And, in case you need a twist with this possible move, add in the fact that Matt Davidson, the D-backs’ 3B power hitting prospect (shifted from 1B) who is stuck in the minors behind first baseman Paul Goldshmidt and third baseman Martin Prado could be an intriguing throw-in swap for Mike Moustakas – a change of venue move, so to speak.
Much was made about General Manager Dayton Moore not signing catcher George Kottaras. Many thought it was because Moore had reached the end of his spending limit and needed to save a few hundred thousand dollars. On the contrary, that move was designed to free up a bit more money because the contracts associated with players he has to trade are worth far less than those associated with players he is looking to acquire. There will be a trade. Letting Kottaras go did not signal the end of Moore’s winter dealings. Owner David Glass gave up more in the trade with Tampa Bay last year. He’ll do it again if Moore says the move is right.
Holland made $539,500 last year and is arbitration eligible this year. Compare that to Hill’s $11,000,000 contract for next year and you can see why Moore is pinching pennies everywhere he can.
Whether it is with the D-backs or another team, a trade is looming. The Royals have pitching and need hitting. It makes no sense to give up hitting to get hitting. Pitching is the Royals’ commodity. And to get a player of Hill’s caliber, a team like the D-backs will have to have one of their glaring holes filled. Holland can be the answer to their 29 blown saves. Hill is a perfect fit for the Royals at second base.
Winter meetings are just around the corner. Don’t be surprised if Moore moves his biggest commodity out of the bullpen to fill second base or right field.