Hochevar-Dodgers saga offers no easy solution
by Jim Callis
CHICAGO‹The soap opera "As Hochevar Turns" continues to play out, with no apparent resolution in sight.
The second-rated starting pitcher in the 2005 draft, Luke Hochevar turned down a slot offer of $2.3 million from the Rockies (who picked seventh) and fell to the Dodgers and the 40th choice. Los Angeles' first serious proposal was for the same $2.3 million, and Hochevar's adviser, Scott Boras, never made a counteroffer.
Hochevar toyed with returning to classes at Tennessee, which would have ended the negotiating window, before deciding not to attend the fall semester. On the advice of close friend Eli Iorg, a Volunteers teammate and an Astros supplemental first-round pick, Hochevar agreed to talk to Iorg's agent, Matt Sosnick.
After Hochevar signed a document identifying Sosnick as his adviser on Sept. 2, Sosnick swiftly negotiated a $2.98 million deal with Dodgers scouting director Logan White. Hochevar agreed to terms, only to abruptly renege on the deal and rejoin the Boras fold after speaking to Boras.
Initially, Boras said he didn't know where this story was coming from. After it broke, he quickly arranged conference calls with himself, Hochevar and selected media outlets. They asserted they suddenly had discovered White conspired with Sosnick to get Hochevar to sign what the pitcher called "a very bad contract," though it would have given him a larger bonus than the fourth overall pick.
The Dodgers fully backed White and said he would continue to handle negotiations. Boras' response was to reveal that further digging showed the team and its officials weren't to blame at all. (Say what you want about the accuracy of Boras' investigative team, but man, do they work fast.)
Los Angeles since has pulled all its offers to Hochevar off the table. The MLB Players Association also is looking into the events and the conduct of Boras and Sosnick.
No Shame, Little Leverage
Pretend you're trying to sell your house. You settle on a price of $300,000, then back out and tell everyone who will listen that the buyer tried to cheat you. Could you imagine going back to the buyer and saying you were mistaken and, by the way, how about $400,000?
That's what Boras is doing. He maintains that he has a "fiduciary responsibility" to Hochevar, whom Boras says deserves a deal comparable to those signed by pitchers Philip Humber and Craig Hansen. Humber got a $3 million bonus and $4.2 million major league contract from the Mets as the No. 3 pick in 2004, while Hansen (a Boras client) received a $1.3 million bonus and $4 million big league deal from the Red Sox as the No. 26 choice this year.
Boras has no shame, and not much leverage either. He declined to confirm reports that Hochevar has signed a form designating him as his agent, which would erase his final year of eligibility at Tennessee, but told the Los Angeles Daily News that Hochevar ruined his eligibility when he signed the Sosnick adviser document.
NCAA rules permit baseball players to have advisers and not agents, though that's just semantics and they're essentially the same thing. Call Boras what you want, but he has acknowledged publicly that Hochevar no longer can pitch in college.
If he doesn't sign with Los Angeles, Hochevar will re-enter the 2006 draft. Teams would be hesitant to spend a high draft pick and large bonus on a pitcher who hadn't taken the mound in nearly a year, so Hochevar likely would showcase his stuff in an independent league before next year's draft.
That's a risky path to take, however, as pitching ineffectively against indy leaguers‹not an unlikely proposition against advanced hitters after a long layoff‹would cost Hochevar a large chunk of bonus money. Just ask Matt Harrington.
Makeup Now In Doubt
Pretend you're the buyer in our real-estate scenario. After the seller breaks his word and baselessly attacks your integrity, could you imagine wanting to do business with him again?
That's what the Dodgers face. Landing Hochevar with the 40th overall pick would be a coup, but is he worth signing now at any cost?
Los Angeles had hoped to sign Hochevar for no more than $2.8 million‹$500,000 more than he would have gotten from Colorado. Part of what endeared him to the Dodgers was his character and mental toughness, and they were willing to go to nearly $3 million.
When Hochevar asserted that White plotted with Sosnick, the Dodgers lost a lot of their faith in his makeup. And while Boras has retracted his charges, Hochevar has yet to exonerate the team or White, whom he has known since Los Angeles drafted him out of high school three years ago.
If there's a win-win scenario for both sides, it's going to be crazier than a soap-opera twist. Boras is seeking more money for Hochevar, who has made himself less valuable to the Dodgers. Los Angeles will have an easier time walking away than Hochevar will have getting another $2.98 million offer.
But stay tuned. Who knows what upcoming episodes of "As Hochevar Turns" have in store for us?
You can contact Jim Callis by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.