With five likely candidates for arbitration deals on the docket, Royals GM Dayton Moore managed to come to terms with two of those five in short order, inking former first round picks Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar to one year deals. Gordon's deal will pay him 1.15m in his first arbitration season, 850k less than my 2.0m projection. Hochevar will make 1.76m, 740k less than my projection.
The fact that both players come in under budget is obviously a good thing for the Royals and a good showing by Moore.
With the departure of staff ace Zack Greinke the Royals are left without a clear front-man for their rotation. Veteran Gil Meche is returning from injury and hasn't been particularly effective even when healthy the past two years and certainly neither Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen, nor Vin Mazzaro fit the bill. In all likelihood, the Royals opening day starter will end up being either Hochevar or recently acquired Jeff Francis.
In Hochevar's favor are his status as a former first round pick, and the fact that he throws hard enough (93.5mph in 2010) to be confused with an ace. More importantly of course, he actually pitched better than anyone else currently on the roster - regardless of what you might initially think of his 4.81 ERA - having posted a 3.93 FIP in his 103.0 innings last season. Hochevar works primarily off his power sinker that has allowed him to induce ground balls on 48.7% of balls in play but he lacks the swing-and-miss secondary pitch or elite command that could help him reach the next level.
As for Gordon, his career so far has been a story of injury and ineffectiveness. An elite talent coming out of the draft, Gordon didn't disappoint in the minors, playing just one season at AA where he posted a 1.015 OPS and was named Baseball America's 2006 Minor League Player Of The Year.
He made his Major League debut in 2007 as a 23 year old but struggled to a .724 OPS. Then the injuries came. Having a solid sophomore campaign in 2008, Gordon torn a quad muscle. Then in 2009 his season was cut short when he tore cartilage in his hip. He would return but was sent back to the minors after ineffectiveness. And last year he broke his thumb in spring training.
Throughout it all, Gordon has shown amazing talent with the bat in the minors. However as time has gone on, there have been growing concerns that his bat speed simply doesn't translate at the MLB level. Gordon's career .733 OPS in the Majors is a far cry from what was expected and his greatest offensive weakness, an extreme strikeout rate, has shown essentially zero sign of improving.
Gordon was also a poor defender at third, and with top prospect Mike Moustakas in line to take over within a year or two, the Royals let Gordon get extended time in AAA last year learning to play the outfield. With the departure of long time Royal David DeJesus, Gordon will open 2011 as the Royals left fielder.
While Gordon is still young - he'll be just 27 to open 2011 - he's also out of options and he might be running out of time with the Royals. It's an understatement of the greatest degree to say that the Royals need for Gordon's bat, which has dazzled in the minors, to finally translate in the Majors.