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Royals reach 1-year deal with RHP Luke Hochevar

Royals reach 1-year deal with RHP Luke Hochevar

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Kansas City Royals had already decided to give Luke Hochevar another chance.

Now they know exactly how much it's going to cost.

The Royals agreed to a one-year, $4.56 million deal with the right-hander on Friday to avoid arbitration. The deal includes up to $100,000 in performance bonuses.

Hochevar made 29 starts last season, going 8-16 with a 5.73 ERA. The former No. 1 overall pick showed flashes in some starts of the kind of pitcher the Royals hoped he would become, but he also had plenty of erratic outings that left team officials scratching their heads.

Royals manager Ned Yost has been among the most ardent supporters of Hochevar, saying just last month that he still believes the 29-year-old right-hander can turn the corner.

``We'll just see how it plays out, get to spring training and let him go,'' Yost said.

Spring training is where Hochevar will have to define his role, too.

The Royals were aggressive this offseason in rebuilding their starting rotation, trading with the Los Angeles Angels for Ervin Santana and his $13 million contract, and then making a blockbuster deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis. Kansas City gave up top prospect Wil Myers and several other pieces to get that deal done.

The Royals also signed Jeremy Guthrie to a $25 million, three-year deal. Guthrie was acquired in a mid-season trade from Colorado and pitched well down the stretch.

That means four of the five spots in the rotation are solidified, and Hochevar will compete with right-hander Luis Mendoza and left-handers Bruce Chen and Will smith for the final job.

The Royals already had one of the best bullpens in the American League last season, anchored by hard-throwing right-hander Greg Holland in the closer role. But should Hochevar lose out on a rotation spot, it's possible that he could become the Royals' long reliever.

Of course, he'd be carrying a hefty price tag for the job.

Hochevar's contract for next season represents a substantial increase over the $3.51 million he made last season, and came in part thanks to a career-best 144 strikeouts in 185.1 innings.

Still, his career over parts of six seasons is 38-59 with a 5.39 ERA, and many believe he regressed last season after going 11-11 with a 4.68 ERA in 2011.

``If you're going to win consistently in the major leagues, you're going to need a rotation that gives you innings, competes, helps you win,'' general manager Dayton Moore said recently. ``That's what our goal is, to put together a very good rotation. We feel we've done that.''

1.24.20 Rick Horrow sits down with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan

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USA TODAY Sports

1.24.20 Rick Horrow sits down with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan

Edited by Tanner Simkins

In the latest edition of Rick Horrow's Sports Business Podcast, Rick Horrow sits down with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and takes you through the biggest sports business stories of the week. 

Family-friendly Gainbridge LPGA event offers something for everyone. Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio kicks off this week with 108 of the world’s best female golfers teeing it up in the four-day championship, January 23-26. Event officials have outlined additional family-friendly and affordable tournament week offerings for the whole community. The tournament kicks off on Monday with the Gainbridge Junior Golf Clinic at Osprey Point Golf Course. LPGA Players and certified golf instructors will be on hand to offer free golf instruction to kids ages 5 and up. On Tuesday, #GainbridgeLPGA is teaming up with Versant Health for a Women’s Leadership Summit that will feature a panel headlined by female business leaders, a fireside chat with a LPGA Tour pro, and presentations from pioneering female leaders. Next weekend, A.D. Henderson University School will offer free onsite STEM activities for kids of all ages. “Gainbridge is committed to making sure the week is affordable for the entire family and that there is something for everyone, beyond golf,” said Lesley Baker, Executive Director. “We are thrilled the tournament is able to offer several programs throughout the week in year one, and we invite everyone in the community to come out and experience the event.”

 

NHL All-Star Game takes the ice and the streets in St. Louis. The NHL has lined up its roster of activations for the 2020 NHL Fan Fair, the official fan festival of the2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, running January 23-26 in St. Louis. Partners gearing up for the event include Enterprise, Honda, New Amsterdam Vodka, Truly, Discover, Dunkin’, Bud Light, GEICO, Great Clips, MassMutual, and SAP. Highlights of the four-day, family-friendly festival include autograph sessions featuring former and current NHL All-Stars; a Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit featuring the St. Louis Blues; NHL memorabilia and trophy displays, including the Stanley Cup; and the sixth annual NHL Mascot Showdown featuring all 29 NHL Mascots. Additionally, the NHL and Green Day will build on their multiyear partnership with the band’s headlining performance at the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game on January 25. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees will perform outside Enterprise Center shortly before they take the stage inside during the second intermission presented by Ticketmaster. The performance – as always, aimed at expanding hockey’s demographic reach – will be televised as part of the live All-Star Game broadcast on NBC and throughout Canada. 

 

The WNBA and its players’ union have come to terms on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement that includes higher salaries, improved family benefits, and better travel accommodations. This represents a turning point for women’s basketball and could ultimately lead to a substantial shift in how female athletes — across all sports — are compensated. The average WNBA cash compensation will reach nearly $130,000, and top players will be able to earn upwards of $500,000. Players will also receive a full salary while on maternity leave, and an annual child care stipend of $5,000. WNBA teams, which provide housing, will now guarantee two-bedroom apartments for players with children. And while players will still have to fly commercial, they’ll finally get their own individual hotel rooms. “We believe it’s a groundbreaking and historic deal. I’m proud of the players; they bargained hard, they unified, they brought attention to so many important topics,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. The implications of this agreement reach beyond basketball into the larger workplace, at a time when women are demanding increased pay and benefits, on their merit and as a challenge to historically unequal pay.

 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred came down hard on the Houston Astros last week for illegally stealing signs in 2017. Penalties Manfred imposed included a $5 million fine, the forfeitures of several top draft picks, and one-year suspensions from the game for manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow – who were subsequently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. While the Astros have suffered irrevocable damage as a result of this investigation, ripple effects extend far beyond Houston. Former Astros bench coach and Boston manager Alex Cora was also fired by the Red Sox for his involvement in the Houston sign-stealing, and former Astros player Carlos Beltran, whom the Mets hired as manager just days before the first sign-stealing story broke, was canned and thus had the shortest tenure in Mets history. The sign-stealing scandal also likely extends beyond Boston and Houston, and the league will have no choice but to pursue all future leads now that the precedent has been set. While MLB’s strict punishment will likely help dissuade teams from breaking the rules, further action is still required to quell public concerns about cheating.

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Nationals Spring Training Preview: Rotation workload an important factor

Nationals Spring Training Preview: Rotation workload an important factor

The Nationals will enter the 2020 season boasting one of the best rotations in baseball, just as they have every year since they rose to contention in 2012.

Each of the top four spots are a given. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez are all coming off strong seasons and will hope to replicate their success after pitching deep into the postseason.

At the back end, three pitchers will be given the chance to compete in Spring Training for the fifth-starter role: Austin Voth, Joe Ross and Erick Fedde.

This is the second installment of a Spring Training preview series, broken down by position group. The first story focused on the outfield, which you can find here.

Here’s a snapshot of the Nationals’ starting rotation as they prepare for the trip down to West Palm Beach.

All ages listed are as of Opening Day.

No. 1 Starter – Max Scherzer

Age: 35

2019 Stats: 27 starts, 172 1/3 innings, 11-7 record, 2.92 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 1.027 WHIP, 243 strikeouts, 33 walks, 18 home runs allowed and 7 hit batters

Contract: $35,920,616 million salary in 2020, free agent after 2021

At the start of last season, Max Scherzer was heralded as one of the most durable starters in the sport. He’d made at least 30 starts in 10 consecutive years, one fewer than the Chicago Cubs’ Jon Lester for the longest active streak in the majors.

But back and rhomboid strains limited him to just 27 starts in 2019, his fewest since making just seven (16 total appearances) as a rookie in 2008. Then neck spasms forced manager Davey Martinez to scratch him from his World Series Game 5 start, only for him to return three days later after receiving a cortisone shot.

It was the first injury-plagued season of Scherzer’s career. And at 35 years old, he must now prove he can still fend off the aging curve while keeping his body healthy for the course of a full season—something he's done with force to this point of his career. Speaking at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event on Jan. 11, Scherzer insisted that he feels great as he revs up for the new season.

“Now that the calendar has turned to January, I’m feeling actually really good right now,” Scherzer said. “Throwing and running and doing everything I need to do. My body is in a pretty good spot considering how late we played last year.”

The Nationals will likely be cautious with Scherzer, focusing on making sure he’s healthy more than anything else by the time they get to Opening Day.

No. 2 Starter – Stephen Strasburg

Age: 31

2019 Stats: 33 starts, 209 innings, 18-6 record, 3.32 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 1.038 WHIP, 251 strikeouts, 56 walks, 24 home runs allowed and 10 hit batters

Contract: $35 million salary in 2020, free agent after 2026

Contrary to his teammate alongside him at the front of the Nationals’ rotation, Stephen Strasburg doesn’t have the reputation of being healthy all year. Yet, Strasburg led the NL with 209 regular-season innings then went on to throw another 36 1/3 in the playoffs.

It was by far the biggest workload of his career. In fact, before last season Strasburg hadn’t even reached the 200-inning threshold since 2014. So heading into 2020 with a World Series MVP award added to his résumé and a seven-year $245 million deal secured, Strasburg will look to prove that his injury history is well behind him.

“I think [my body] kind of reverted to what I’ve done in the past and I think it’s feeling good,” Strasburg said at WinterFest. “It’s feeling strong. Some stuff [was] tweaked as far as the lifting and everything. Kind of tapering off of that to start, allowing the body to recover. A lot of the adjustments that will need to be addressed is going to be through Spring Training and managing the workload, building up.”

Strasburg will also look to continue expanding his pitch selection with less of a dependency on his fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, Strasburg threw his four-seamer a personal-low 28.7 percent of the time, down from his career average of 49.6 percent. Meanwhile, he threw each of his sinker, changeup and curveball more often than he ever had.

No. 3 Starter – Patrick Corbin

Age: 30

2019 Stats: 33 starts, 202 innings, 14-7 record, 3.25 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 1.183 WHIP, 238 strikeouts, 70 walks, 24 home runs allowed and 3 hit batters

Contract: $19,416,667 million salary in 2020, free agent after 2024

In his first season with the Nationals, Patrick Corbin pitched exactly as advertised. His wipeout slider dominated lefties, he racked up strong strikeout numbers and put together a strong enough season to earn a vote on an NL Cy Young ballot.

Corbin also proved prone to stretches of dominance mixed in with the occasional dud. Only Corbin and the Cleveland Indians’ Shane Bieber had at least 24 quality starts (six innings, three earned runs or fewer allowed) while also posting five or more starts with at least five runs allowed.

When he was struggling, Corbin told reporters that the biggest key was to keep his fastball down.

Corbin often used his fastball to set up his potent slider with two strikes. Per Brooks Baseball, on fastballs in the top three quadrants of the strike zone, hitters posted a .475 slugging percentage—struggling in particular with pitches on his arm-side. For reference, Paul Goldschmidt slugged .476 last season.

So in order to avoid turning opposing hitters into Goldschmidt, Corbin will need to work on keeping his fastball down in the zone and setting up his renowned slider.

No. 4 Starter - Aníbal Sánchez

Age: 36

2019 Stats: 30 starts, 166 innings, 11-8 record, 3.85 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 1.271 WHIP, 134 strikeouts, 58 walks, 22 home runs allowed and 4 hit batters

Contract: $7 million salary in 2020, $18 million team option with $6 million buyout for 2021

In Aníbal Sánchez, the Nationals have yet another starter on a quest to prove he can stay effective with age. The veteran right-hander’s fastball velocity dipped down to a career-worst 90.7 mph, but he also pulled back on his usage of it and relied more on his wide array of off-speed pitches.

Sánchez stumbled to start the year before sitting for two weeks with a hamstring strain. But after he returned, he regained his form and put together a 3.42 ERA with an opponents’ OPS of just .668 the rest of the way. Despite his age, Sánchez showed that the work he put in to resurrect his career with the Atlanta Braves in 2017 was no fluke.

“Right now, [I’m] sore,” Sánchez said at WinterFest. “Everything is sore right now. I’ve been working out for two months already and I start throwing in three weeks…I’m not 22, I’m no [Juan] Soto right now but I’m going to be fine for Spring Training.”

Like the rest of his rotation mates, Sánchez was relied on deep into October. It was the first time he’d pitched past a division series since 2013, so his body wasn’t accustomed to that kind of workload coupled with a short turnaround the following year.

No. 5 Starter – Austin Voth, Joe Ross or Erick Fedde

Austin Voth

Age: 27

2019 Stats: 8 starts (9 appearances), 43 2/3 innings, 2-1 record, 3.30 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1.053 WHIP, 44 strikeouts, 13 walks, 5 home runs allowed and 3 hit batters

Contract: League minimum in 2020, arbitration eligible in 2023, free agent after 2025

Joe Ross

Age: 26

2019 Stats: 9 starts (27 appearances), 64 innings, 4-4 record, 5.48 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 1.672 WHIP, 57 strikeouts, 33 walks, 7 home runs allowed and 4 hit batters

Contract: $1.5 million salary in 2020, arbitration eligible in 2021, free agent after 2021

Erick Fedde

Age: 27

2019 Stats: 12 starts (21 appearances), 78 innings, 4-2 record, 4.50 ERA, 5.34 FIP, 1.462 WHIP, 41 strikeouts, 33 walks, 11 home runs allowed and 2 hit batters

Contract: League minimum in 2020, arbitration eligible in 2022, free agent after 2024

One of the biggest competitions the Nationals will host this spring, the fifth-starter job is once again no sure bet as the team prepares for Spring Training.

Erick Fedde faces the longest odds to win the spot, as his lack of substantial service time at the major-league level over his first three seasons created a rare fourth minor-league option. This will give the Nationals the ability to shuttle him back and forth between the big-league club and their farm system as needed throughout the year.

Austin Voth and Joe Ross, however, are out of options and must make the team out of Spring Training or else be forced onto waivers. This makes them the two leading candidates to nab that fifth spot, with no clear front-runner heading into Grapefruit League play.

Both pitchers will need to produce positive results on the mound during Spring Training, a requirement only of players fighting for roster spots. Although they both still have plenty of chances to impress their coaches in practices and bullpen sessions, their statistics from game action figure to weigh heavy in the minds of Martinez and his coaching staff.

The man who falls short will likely then be moved to the bullpen, serving as the team’s long reliever. Regardless, both pitchers should benefit from going into the regular season with a set role. Voth, Ross and Fedde all alternated back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen and back again, a process that can be difficult for inexperienced players to adjust to.

But with Fedde likely remaining stretched out as a starter in the minor leagues as the next man up if an injury arises, both Voth and Ross can go into the 2020 season knowing the role they’re in will be theirs to keep if they find success in it.

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