I ask that question because the odds are that Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar will be the Royals’ numbers one and two starters in 2011.     Considering the usual learning curve for young pitchers, however highly touted, it is also likely that those two players could occupy the same spots again in 2012. 

So, do you trust those two to head up your starting rotation for the next two years?

We will start with Hochevar, whose season was nicely summed up by Rany last week.   While Luke will be the clear number two guy on the Royals next season, he really is more of a number three on a contending team and probably a number four guy on a really good club.

That said, Hochevar has made some progress in 2010 despite missing half of the season due to a ‘minor’ injury.   If you were to look at his game log for the season, ignore his draft position and consider his defense included a horrible Betancourt, out of position (and not healthy) Aviles and a cast of thousands in center, Luke does not look that bad.    Over seventeen starts, Hochevar has pitched at least six innings eleven times.

What we saw last night out of Hochevar – 6 innings/2 runs – has become a fairly common ‘Hochevar type’ night.   Once in a while, he will be dominate and about the same amount of times he will be pretty bad.  In between, Luke will be better than Kyle Davies with more potential than Bruce Chen and without question, never as horrible as Brian Bannister has become.

What I think we could reasonably expect from Hochevar over the next couple of years is something of a Gil Meche-lite type performance (the Gil from 2007 through June of 2009, remember him?).      Four hundred innings over two seasons with an earned run average in the low fours may not be a true number two starter, but it is good enough for the Royals who we can hope have two or three ‘true number twos’ pitching in either AA or AAA next year.

That brings us to our resident ace, Zack Greinke, who is actually six weeks younger than Hochevar.    After tonight, Zack will have made 98 starts for the Royals over the past three years and will have averaged basically six and two-thirds innings per start.   Along the way, he has won a Cy Young Award and kept his earned run average (still a viable stat for a starter) under four basically the entire time until mid-September.

However, there is the rub.   I hate to try to get into a player’s head and portray his mindset, but it sure looks like Zack has been at best unmotivated and at worst completely disinterested this September.    Given that most of us fans have a similar mindset this time of year, it is tough to be too critical, but Zack Greinke is the ace of this staff and should be held to a higher standard.

Listen, I completely get how competitive Zack is and how much he would like to be pitching in games that mean something.  It is hard to bring your A game when half your teammates are AAA players and Cleveland is trotting out a lineup of guys you have never seen before and may not see again.   If, however, you are the leader of the pitching staff, don’t you have to find a way to give a crap?

I admittedly have a love hate relationship with Zack Greinke.    He is fascinating to watch pitch and not just because he can be the most dominant arm in the game at times.   Zack can also be frustratingly stubborn (back to back curves to Varitek and Hermidia for back to back home runs, for example) and quite simply disinterested at times.   In the end, Greinke is easily the best pitcher the Royals have produced since Kevin Appier and, maybe, better than him, Cone, Saberhagen and all the rest.

That said, knowing that most of the games this team plays in 2011 ‘won’t matter much’, is Zack Greinke the guy you want to trot out as your ace in front of what will be a very young and likely impressionable roster by the end of that season.    If Greinke is mailing it in versus the Indians in late September of 2011, what will Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy think?   “Hey, we can study up on the Yankees, but the Indians in September?  Hell, just go out there and see what happens.”

Again, I am not in Zack’s head, nor am I in the clubhouse.   It could well be that Zack goes out and throws nine innings of dominance tonight and the points made in this column go away.   Frankly, I hope that is exactly what happens, but what if it doesn’t?  

At that point, does Dayton Moore seriously have to consider trading Zack Greinke now?   While his contract is still attractive and before the lack of every start focus rubs off on younger pitchers?  

We and many others have written and discussed this before, but the question is particularly relevant as the 2010 season closes out.     Can the Royals afford to trade Zack Greinke?   Can they afford not to?