Hochevar, Chen could be trade bait, too
KANSAS CITY, Mo. --Five observations on the current state of the Royals.
TRADE CHEN OR HOCHEVAR?
While most of the trade-deadline talk has been about right-hander Ervin Santana, the Royals may have other chips to bargain with, too.
It has been mentioned on some national websites that right-handed reliever Luke Hochevar might have some value on the trading block. One report indicated the Red Sox were interested. Moving Hochevar now could make sense, considering the Royals, with the addition of Louis Coleman and the resurgence of Kelvin Herrera, have some depth in the bullpen.
And Hochevar still has one year of arbitration left. His $4.56 million salary will go up, and the Royals need to clear some salary if they are to make a pitch to re-sign Santana.
The question, of course, is what the Royals could get in return. Their needs are obvious -- a second baseman or a right fielder with some pop. Hochevar alone won't bring much; his 1.95 ERA is pretty, but he hasn't survived many high-leverage appearances, and opposing scouts know this. To get something of value in return, the Royals would have to package Hochevar with some minor league talent in hopes of getting at least a marginal everyday player.
The Royals also could dangle left-hander Bruce Chen, who is in the final year of a two-year, $9 million deal. Chen has been superb in his two starts since returning to the rotation, and he could have perceived value to a contender looking to shore up the back end of a rotation.
The gamble, of course, is if the Royals hope to gain ground on Detroit and Cleveland, they don't have many alternatives to replace Chen. Danny Duffy is doing OK at Triple-A Omaha, but he might be needed to replace the wobbling Wade Davis.
Stay tuned ....
The Royals made it through the 20-game gantlet against playoff contenders with a respectable 10-10 mark. More impressive, they finished 5-2 on the homestand against the Tigers and Orioles and at least remained in the conversation in the American League Central.
This homestand may have persuaded the Royals' front office to hang on to Santana in hopes of signing him long-term, or at least getting a compensatory pick for him in next year's draft.
The trick now for the Royals is to mop up against lesser competition. The Royals will face the White Sox, Twins and Mets on a nine-game road trip, and then will have the Twins again for three games to start a homestand. To remain alive in the Central, the Royals realistically have to win eight of the 12 during this stretch.
What several players told me they'll miss the most about not having George Brett around full time: His stories.
Brett constantly chatted with the players about the mental side of the game. One story told often in recent weeks was when Brett watched how Twins catcher Joe Mauer battled his way toward getting a hit after going 0 for 4 in a game in Minneapolis.
Brett told his troops, "Men, that's what separates a .270 hitter from a .320 hitter. Here's Joe Mauer, hitting .327 or whatever, and he's had an awful day, and he's 0 or 4, and the game's out of hand, and he still fights to get a hit. Why? Because he is not going to go 0 for 5. That's why he hits .327."
NO HANDS WITH PEDRO
As much as the players will miss Brett, they do seem to have taken a liking to Pedro Grifol, who now assumes the full-time role of hitting coach.
One element to hitting that Grifol and Brett were in complete agreement on concerned the use of the lower body to drive the ball.
"That's where your power comes from," Brett said. "You have to use your legs as leverage. Sometimes guys get a little too handsy and just throw the bat out there. Use your body, use your legs, and the hands and arms come last."
Grifol and Brett worked endlessly with Eric Hosmer on that philosophy and the results have been outstanding -- Hoz has nine homers in the last six weeks.
SHHHH! HERRERA'S BACK
You almost want to whisper that because we have been fooled before by right-hander Kelvin Herrera, who has been demoted twice to Omaha this season.
But Herrera has had four strong outings since his latest return, and it appears that manager Ned Yost is confident again in using Herrera in that all-important eighth-inning role.
I've mentioned this before, but check out Herrera's change in mechanics -- he is setting up with his arm and glove closer to his body in the stretch. He believes this allows him to conceal his pitches better and to stay more connected throughout his motion.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6gmail.com.