The Royals have sent Luke Hochevar to Omaha.
Why? I'm not sure. In an immediate baseball sense, I don't get it. He has a much higher upside than the guys he "lost" this rotation battle to (Bannister, Ho-Ram, Ponson) and he was seemingly better than them this Spring.
As has been speculated for awhile now, if the Royals stash Hochevar in Omaha for a month or so, they may be able to eek out another year of salary control for Hochevar. Essentially, the Royals, if they time it right, will be able to have two partial seasons of Hochevar for the price of one.
(Cot's lists his current service time standing as 1 year and 19 days. Hochevar's contract is a little different than 99% of Major League players coming out of the draft, as he was getting a larger salary from the beginning. As far as I understand it however, his free-agency clock remains the same as everybody else's.)
That's all I can come up with, although I will certainly leave open the possibility that there's a good baseball reason for this. It'll be interesting to see what comes out from Kaegel and Dutton and Mellinger on this over the next few days.
Assuming that this is the case -- although it will likely never be fully admitted to -- it brings up the age-old question of whether or not this is the right thing to do. It's a complicated issue that includes questions of a team's competitive responsibility to field the best product possible and the related issue of keeping a guy in the minors against his own self-interests in the name of "development". You can throw in honesty issues as well. Hochevar, however, is not a terribly glaring case, because he hasn't been terrific either in the minors or in the American League. Solid, but not spectacular.
What I do feel more certain about is that the Royals' rotation got worse today.
As I said yesterday, the easiest way for the Royals to make a big step forward in terms of run prevention was to turn Hochevar's 22 ok starts in 2008 into 30 better starts in 2009. Better quality, better volume. More Hochevar also would have meant less Ponson & Friends, guys who may represent good depth but who can get exposed if you're starting them too much, with subsequent ruination of the bullpen.
The missing man here, is Bannister. Banny has gone from a cause celeb to a mystery in about eight months, and despite some early Spring talk about him being back and better, he's since spent a ton of time in the minor league camp. I'd like to think he's better, or at least could be, than Horacio or Sidney, but really there's little basis for this at this point.
The depressing thing is, even though the Royals have some depth here, Bannister, Ramirez & Ponson are all the same guy when you get down to it: five labored innings of 3 (best case) to 7 (worst case). In a way, it's similar to the Royals "depth" at catcher: two guys with identical profiles that really aren't that great. Hochevar was the one figure who could have been more and maybe he will be, and soon.
Make no mistake: while this may work out in spades in the long run: this hurts the team's chances of winning the division this year.