In organizational meetings in November, as the Royals pondered their route back to the World Series in 2015, team officials stressed the importance of preserving their pitching strength. The team has yet to find a replacement in the starting rotation for James Shields, but they have been active in retaining bullpen arms.
On Thursday night, they finalized a $10 million, two-year agreement with reliever Luke Hochevar that includes a mutual option for 2017. The contract is worth $4 million in 2015 and $5.5 million in 2016 and contains a $500,000 buyout for 2017.
A deal with Hochevar follows a one-year, $1.8 million reunion with Jason Frasor announced last week. Hochevar missed all of 2014 because of Tommy John surgery, a year after he rose to prominence as the team’s set-up man to All-Star closer Greg Holland.
By re-signing Hochevar and Frasor players, the Royals aid themselves on a pair of fronts. Their bullpen is now stocked with a quartet of hard-throwing, bat-missing right-handers, a group that also includes Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. And they now possess sufficient depth if they seek to trade either Davis or Holland in the coming weeks.
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The Royals tendered a contract offer to Holland on Tuesday. In his second season of arbitration, he projects to earn more than $9 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors’ projection system. Davis will make $7 million in 2015. The $16 million tag for a pair of one-inning relievers remains lofty for a club that has never spent more than $100 million in one-year payroll.
Hochevar, the 31-year-old No. 1 overall pick in 2006, never found comfort as a starting pitcher in Kansas City. A move to the bullpen in 2013 rejuvenated him. He struck out 82 batters in 70 1/3 innings and finished with a 1.92 ERA.
After tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in March, Hochevar spent his year rehabilitating. He hopes to be able to throw off a mound by January. The two-year deal provides the Royals with some protection in case Hochevar experiences a setback during his return.