The Oakland Athletics have “expressed interest” in Royals reliever Tim Hill, according to a report from San Francisco Chronicle reporter Susan Slusser. She reports that the A’s also had interest in Hill back at the July trade deadline. In return for Hill, Slusser reports the Royals are looking at middle infielders, particularly 24-year old Sheldon Neuse.
The Royals have believed to have interest in some of the A’s young middle infielders, with Sheldon Neuse potentially their top target in any talks.
Neuse was a second-round pick by the Washington Nationals out of the University of Oklahoma in 2016. He was traded the next year to the Athletics in a deal for relievers Sean Doolittel and Ryan Madson. Neuse has a solid bat, although he slipped in 2018 in Triple-A Nashville, hitting just .263/.304/.357 with just five home runs in 135 games. He rebounded this year with the A’s top affiliate now in Las Vegas, hitting .317/.389/.550 with 27 home runs and 56 walks. He spent 25 games with the Athletics, hitting .250/.295/.304 with three doubles in 61 plate appearances.
Neuse has played mostly third base in the minors, but he occasionally filled in at second and was considered to be a candidate for the regular second base job for the Athletics this season. The fact the Royals are targeting middle infielders is interesting considering they have Adalberto Mondesi set at shortstop, and Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez both able to play second base. The Royals also acquired a middle infielder from the Athletics last year, acquiring second baseman Kevin Merrell for pitcher Homer Bailey. The Athletics have also made separate deals in recent years for Royals relievers Jake Diekman and Ryan Buchter.
Hill has a 4.11 ERA in 85 1⁄3 innings over the past two seasons for the Royals, primarily as a lefty specialist. He has been tough on lefty hitters over that time, holding them to a line of .211/.276/.248. MLB has advised teams to prepare for a new rule that would require pitchers to face a minimum of three hitters or finish an inning, which could diminish the value of lefty specialists. But Hill has not been too bad against righties, which could make him a more attractive lefty reliever for teams. The Yankees are also reportedly interested in Hill, who could be expendable for the Royals with lefty relievers Richard Lovelady, Gabe Speier, and Randy Rosario already on the roster with Daniel Tillo impressing with his winter performance.