2013 Season Forecast – Houston Astros

I’m watching Opening Day on ESPN and decided I might as well write while I am getting settled in…  To be fair, with the Florida Marlins having decided to trade away all the talent they had recently acquired, I chose to find a new team to follow closely in 2013 – and that team is the Houston Astros.

Here’s a quick summary of where they are coming from:

Recent Records:
2012: 55 – 107 (Last, NL Central)
2011: 56 – 106 (Last, NL Central)
2010: 76 – 86 (4th, NL Central)
2009: 74 – 88 (5th, NL Central)
2008: 86 – 75 (3rd, NL Central)

This is a team that has hit rock bottom – even that team from five years ago was a bit of a fluke, having given up more runs than they had scored that year.

2012 Summary:
Home:  35 – 46
Away:  20 – 61 (ouch)

Runs Scored: 583
Runs Allowed: 794

There is a simple way to look at this.  A team that scores 100 runs more than it allows is likely to win 90 games.  The converse is also true.  At 200 runs, it’s another ten wins – 100 wins or 100 losses.  The Astros allowed 211 runs more than they scored – hence the lousy record.  So – things have to be looking up, right?

Record by Month:
April:  9 – 14
May:   13 – 15
June:  10 – 17
July:   3 – 24
Aug:    5 – 22
Sept:  15 – 15

The Astros started 3 – 1, were reasonably competitive through 45 games, and not altogether awful heading into the last week of June.  Then, Houston lost the last six games of the month and the first six of July.  After breaking that streak, they lost four in a row, then twelve more in a row – 28 of 30 games were lost…  When the month ended, anyone with any trade value was gone.  August wasn’t much better…  What team has ever had a stretch where they won just eight of sixty games?

Feeling Optimistic?

Beginning on September first and covering the last 30 games, the Astros played .500 ball.  Houston edged Cincinnati, toppled Philadelphia, split with Pittsburgh, edged Milwaukee, and split with Chicago.  Only St. Louis proved troublesome, taking five of six.  They did this without scoring a lot of runs – only 102 runs were scored in that period.  What allowed this to happen was that their pitching staff tossed a number of gems down the stretch, including three straight shutouts over Milwaukee and Chicago at the very end of the season.  In eleven of these wins, the Astros threw six shutouts and allowed just one run in five other starts.

Opening Day Lineup:
CF: Jordan Schafer
2B: Jose Altuve
LF: J.D. Martinez
1B: Carlos Lee
RF: Brian Bogusevic
3B: Chris Johnson
C: Jason Castro
SS: Marwin Gonzalez
SP: Wandy Rodriguez

Regulars by Games Played:
C: Jason Castro
1B: Brett Wallace or Carlos Lee (gone…)
2B: Jose Altuve
SS: Jed Lowrie (gone…)
3B: Chris Johnson (gone…)
LF: J.D. Martinez
CF: Justin Maxwell
RF: Brian Bogusevic (gone…)

4OF: Jordan Schafer
C2: Chris Snyder
UT: Marwin Gonzalez or Tyler Greene?

SP: Lucas Harrell
SP: Bud Norris
SP: Jordan Lyles
SP: Wandy Rodriguez (gone…), Dallas Keuchel
SP: J.A. Happ (gone…)
CL: Brett Myers (gone…), Wilton Lopez
RP: Brandon Lyon (gone…)
RP: Wesley Wright
RP: Francisco Rodriguez (gone…)
RP: Rhiner Cruz
RP: Fernando Abad

Key Transactions:

OCT (2011):

Lost Jason Michaels and Clint Barmes to free agency…  Michaels spent the year as an insurance policy for the Nationals in their AAA Syracuse affiliate, and likely is looking to become a coach.  As for Barmes, he moved to Pittsburgh and hit like someone who is 33 and running out of seasons.

NOV (2011):

Added Carlos Corporan, Travis Buck as free agents; claimed infielder Brian Bixler off of the waiver wire.

DEC (2011):

Traded Marc Melancon to Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.  Melancon had been a pleasant surprise for Houston in 2011, but was miserable in Boston and eventually demoted to AAA.  Weiland had an infection in his throwing shoulder that required surgery and hopefully can return in 2013, but I would be leery of high expectations owing to a general lack of control.  I see him as a spot starter/long reliever type.  Jed Lowrie is a pretty good ballplayer, so the trade was a good one.

Claimed Rhiner Cruz off of waivers.  This was, at best, organizational depth as Cruz had just been promoted to AA Binghamton in an eight year career drifting in the low minors.  Putting Rhiner on the major league roster when he has no idea where the strike zone is (his mid-90s fastball has crazy movement and he can’t control his breaking ball) showed how little major league talent the Astros had.  I mean, Cruz walked 45 batters in 71.2 innings in the minors in 2011.

JAN (2012):

Here, the Astros were looking to find as many players who might be able to do SOMETHING as possible.

Signed, as free agents, Livan Hernandez, Zach Duke, Chris Snyder, Jack Cust, and Fernando Martinez (waiver claim).

FEB:

More minor signings…

MAR:

After (and during) spring training, the Astros released Hernandez, Duke and Cust, moved anyone who needed time to the minors, and made one trade…

Acquired LHP Kevin Chapman from the Royals for OF Jason Bourgeois and C Humberto Quintero.  Bourgeois was, like Melancon, a nice surprise in 2011 but is a 30-year-old outfielder with no long-term future.  Quintero is, at best, a backup catcher and the Astros had other options.  Chapman at least represents a future – had 90Ks in 62 innings in 2011, and built on that in 2012.  He still needs work (especially with his control), but at least he has a shot to be a late inning contributor very soon.

JULY:

The Astros, as sellers, moved what they could for prospects:

Carlos Lee (and cash) to the Marlins for 3B Matt Dominquez (good glove, minor bat) and LHP Rob Rasmussen (could be a starter in 2014).

Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, and David Carpenter to Toronto for Francisco Cordero, Ben Francisco, Joseph Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski (decent arm, not overmatched at AA, doesn’t miss enough bats), David Rollins, and Carlos Perez (athletic catcher, decent arm, not much offense).

Brett Myers to the White Sox for prospects Matthew Heidenreich and Blair Walters.

Wandy Rodriquez to Pittsburgh for Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman, and Rudy Owens.

Chris Johnson to Arizona for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss

If nothing else, that’s a lot of prospects.  If you see the kids producing in 2014 and the Astros making steady improvement, then these deals worked.  Seeing as the team went belly up in July and August of 2012, this did nothing to help the guys who were left behind to play.

By the way, Ben Francisco only hung around for a month.  He was shipped to Tampa for a player to be named later.  (That player was LHP Theron Geith.)  Despite being a pretty good outfielder, Francisco hasn’t been able to keep a regular job and at 31 seems destined to be a fourth outfielder for a few more years.  Geith, however, has a bright future.  In two minor league seasons, Geith has a 2.66 ERA, 83Ks in 84.2 innings, and just 18 walks.  He will be on the roster by 2014, and maybe next September.

Key Injuries:

Jed Lowrie missed time leaving spring training with a bruised thumb.  Kyle Weiland made three starts and went down with what was then termed shoulder bursitis.

Relievers Fernando Abad (intercostal strain) and Rhiner Cruz (ankle sprain) missed time in May.

June brought minor injuries to Travis Buck (Achilles tendinitis), Carlos Lee (strained hamstring) Marwin Gonzalez (bruised heel), Bud Norris (spraineed knee), Wilton Lopez (sprained elbow), and Justin Maxwell (loose bodies in ankle).

Jordan Schafer, Jed Lowrie, and Francisco Cordero spent some time on the DL in August and early September, Cordero wound up missing the rest of the season with a foot injury just six awful outings after his arrival.  He really wasn’t missed, and – as he turns 37 in May – has already been released.

Cordero’s was the only injury of signifigance.  Jed Lowrie missed a lot of games, but with small injuries that kept him out a couple of weeks at a time.

[Writer’s Note:  I had pulled much of this together a while ago when I had decided to become a Houston Astros fan.  The Astros got the Rangers in order in the first, but the Rangers did the same to the Astros – in part thanks to a bad call at second on a stolen base attempt by Jose Altuve.  If the Astros are lousy this year, it could just be that I have jinxed them.]

LOOKING AHEAD:

Starting Pitchers:

The rotation appears to be Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Philip Humber, Brad Peacock, and Erik Bedard.

Lucas Harrell is pretty good.  He gets some strikeouts but he walks a few too many guys.  Bud Norris has better stuff, but has been way more inconsistent, especially on the road.  Even at that, he’s marginally below average with a chance to become really good.  Bud Norris is the type of guy you might consider drafting in your fantasy league this year…

Philip Humber is trying, again, to get his career on track.  Humber threw a perfect game for the White Sox, but otherwise was awful.  He CAN pitch, but he can also think his way into oblivion.  If Humber can find his way, the Astros will have found a gem.  The problem is that his track record doesn’t give you a whole lot of reason for hope.

A guy who might, however, is Brad Peacock. The Palm Beach, FL native navigated his way through the minors, getting better every year, until he got a test drive with the Washington Nationals in 2011, where he wasn’t half bad.  Moved to Oakland, he spent 2012 in Sacramento, where he held his own despite being in a league that pounds pitchers.  After a pretty nice spring, he’s going to see if he’s ready for 25 – 30 starts.

Finally, Erik Bedard might be able to help – if he can stay healthy.  Having missed essentially two and half of the last five years, Bedard has been reasonably successful – well, at least until last year when he went 7 – 14 for Pittsburgh.  His walk rate was too high, and his ERA went over 5 (5.01), but there are reasons to think that he can be better than he was last year – starting with the fact that he has always been better than he was last year.

So, just trying to see if the rotation is better, at first glance, the answer is probably no.  Harrell and Norris are the same (though Norris might be slightly better).  I don’t buy that Humber is better than Jordan Lyles was in 2012, and Erik Bedard won’t be as good as a partial season of Wandy Rodriguez.  If one pitcher surprises, it might be Peacock who COULD be as good as J.A. Happ was.  So, let’s go with the team allowing perhaps 30 extra runs here.

Relief Pitchers:

The Astros are going to give the closer job, at least at first, to Jose Veres, who has four career saves.  Veres isn’t awful, but he isn’t a big time closer.  Brett Myers wasn’t awesome last year, so that’s not a big loss.  I was surprised that Wilton Lopez didn’t get a second chance, he pitched well enough, but the Astros went with younger arms – Hector Ambriz, Xavier Cedeno, Rhiner Cruz, Josh Fields, Edgar Gonzalez, and Wesley Wright.

This group will be no better or worse than last year.

Cruz had a 6.05 ERA last year – is that really worthy of a significant role?  Wesley Wright wasn’t half bad for a situational lefty.  Xavier Cedeno was league average and could be better.  Edgar Gonzalez has been around and he’s never been a dependable option.  The guy I like is Hector Ambriz, who fanned 22 in 19 innings in a late call last year.  He could wind up the setup man before all is said and done.

Catchers:

Last year’s catchers were league average in total, but had a few weaknesses, including starter Jason Castro not being too solid against the run.  Chris Snyder is gone, so Carlos Corporan is back as the backup.  He looks like he can throw.  Castro isn’t a bad hitter – he was slightly above average because he showed a little power and a little patience while hitting .257.  Chris Snyder hit .176 and didn’t hit enough to be worth keeping around.  Corporan can hit better than that – maybe .240 with a few homers, so that would be a step forward offensively.  If Castro can be stronger against the run that would help immensely.  This unit should score about 15 more runs than in 2012.

Infielders:

Three-quarters of the infield in use toward the end of the season returns – Brett Wallace at first, Jose Altuve at second, and Matt Dominguez at third.  Jed Lowrie is gone, replaced by Ronnie Cedeno.  Wallace is getting better defensively, Altuve is slightly below average as a glove man, but not problematic, and Dominguez is a solid defensive option – far better than Chris Johnson.   Cedeno may have more experience, but he won’t put up more runs than, say, Marwin Gonzalez.  They are essentially the same guy.  The problem is that neither is a long-term solution, so as we are following this team, look for them to find a better shortstop through the minors.

Carlos Pena was added to back up Wallace at first and be the primary DH – which will last as long as Pena keeps drawing walks and hitting homers.  I fear, however, that he may not hit .220.

As a unit, this team will probably hold the line offensively (Wallace will help offset the loss of Jed Lowrie), but it could be ten runs better defensively.

Outfielders:

This year’s outfield features Chris Carter, the old Oakland As prospect, Justin Maxwell, and Rick Ankiel – a reclamation project of sorts.  J. D. Martinez will be back as a possible fourth or fifth outfielder, sharing the role with Brandon Barnes.

Defensively, Carter can’t be worse than J.D. Martinez was, and he has the potential to put a lot more runs on the board by virtue of his power and patience.  Justin Maxwell is a better fielder and hitter than Jordan Schafer was – it would be nice if he hit, say, .250 rather than .220, though.  Ankiel hasn’t been a good hitter for a few years, but he’s still better than Brian Bogusevic was, and even if he isn’t, J.D. Martinez can hit better.

As a unit, this team could score about 60 more runs and save ten to fifteen in the field.

[As I reach this point in the essay, Justin Maxwell just hit a high drive off the top of the wall in left for a two-run triple, giving the Astros an early lead.  Woohoo!!!]

Down on the Farm:

Most of the guys who did anything at AAA are on the club, and nobody stands out as a prospect.  Moving to the Corpus Christi Red Hawks, the top prospects at AA would include first baseman Jonathan Singleton, who hit .284 with power, 88 walks, and is 21-years-old.  Another option is shortstop Jonathan Villar, a 22-year-old with speed and some hitting skills.  I’m just not sure he can hit in the majors.  A top pitching prospect might be Jason Stoffel, who fanned 57 in 58 innings, walked just 16, in a relief role.  Jarred Cosart made 15 starts at AA and was decent, but not great.  He is ranked highly by scouting organizations.

At A+ Lancaster, right fielder Domingo Santana impressed with power and average, while centerfielder George Springer has all that and speed, too. Both are free swingers.  Coming up in A Lexington is Delino Deshields II – who plays like his dad, but is a few years away (and only 20).  Another guy making marks include shortstop Carlos Correa, a top pick out of Puerto Rico last year.

Best guess on their record?

They aren’t as good as last September.  They aren’t as bad as last August.  I see the team being 75 runs better offensively, and five runs worse defensively, thanks to a slightly worse starting rotation.  That puts the runs scored/runs allowed ratio at about 660/800.  Working against that is the move to the offensively charged AL West, which features the Rangers and Angels, a decent Oakland, and an improving Seattle.  The system calls for 66 wins, which seems a tad bit high.  So, I’ll temper that to 64 – 98, hopefully avoiding a third straight year with 100 losses.  If that happens, let’s consider it a a success and watch for some talent to get added to this young team.

As I finish this, I see that the Astros have extended their lead to 4 – 0 in the fifth over Texas.  If they hold on for the win, it would make for a great start to the season.

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MLB Has Ten Golden Era Hall of Fame Candidates

Ron Santo, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso are among ten players whose careers will be reviewed by a special committee for enshrinement in baseball’s Hall of Fame.  The complete list includes Ken Boyer, Buzzie Bavasi, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds, Charlie Finley, and Luis Tiant.

Many of this group have been topics of arguments amongst baseball writers and historians – especially Santo and Hodges.  Jim Kaat may get greater consideration with the recent addition of Bert Blyleven to the Hall.

Among the reasons that these guys haven’t already made it:

Career Was Too Short

Santo, Boyer, Oliva, and Reynolds…  Santo and Boyer are pretty similar players – some power, good gloves, about 300 career homers, and only 15 years in the majors.  Reynolds had an even shorter career, but spent the bulk of his time as a member of the Casey Stengel Yankees where he appeared in a number of World Series and even had a season where he threw two no-hitters.  Oliva’s career was cut short by injuries, but for about six years was a deadly hitter.

As a Cub fan, I guess I am supposed to extol Santo’s virtues – and he was a great player for about seven seasons.  Bill James thinks he’s one of the ten best third basemen in baseball history and deserves to go.  Most of me agrees with that sentiment – and yet at the same time, the Cubs never won a division with him, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and (an old) Ernie Banks in the lineup.  Of course, the biggest stars were corner players and not up the middle types – and the Cubs could have used a better lead-off hitter.  I think that if you take Santo, you have to take Boyer.  Boyer had a comparable defensive record, similar RBI totals, won an MVP and made the post-season, unlike Santo.  Santo cleared 300 homers, Boyer just missed.  Santo is marginally better, but not much better.  Neither guy lived long enough.

Allie Reynolds, had he pitched anywhere else but the Yankees, is not even going to get a whiff of the Hall of Fame.  Fewer than 200 career wins – he led the AL in strikeouts twice, but he also had five seasons (of twelve full seasons) where he walked more guys than he struck out.   He has a bunch of years with the Yankees where his career looks like that of Mike Mussina, but not enough of them.

Tony Oliva is a better candidate than all of this group except maybe Santo.  He led the league in batting three times, hits a few more, doubles and runs, too.  He was a six time all-star, winning a gold glove, and appearing in three post seasons, including the 1965 World Series.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he was among the best hitters playing – and he was hitting .310 or higher when the rules were definitely favoring the pitcher.  Like the others, however, he’s missing the long career and big career numbers.  He didn’t make 2000 hits or 300 homers (he would have 2000 hits had he not missed a full season with knee injuries), and he faded into memory as guys like Willie Mays and Henry Aaron were finishing their careers.

Very Good – but was he GREAT?

Jim Kaat pitched for 47 seasons (not really, it just seemed that way), won 20+ a few times, finished with 283 wins.  I’ve always been a fan of his – but I can’t remember any time when he was the best pitcher in baseball.  He was just one of the pretty good ones.  Similar arguments have been made about Sutton and Blyleven – guys who pitched forever but weren’t ever as good as the guys like Gibson, Carlton, Seaver, Marichal, or Jenkins.

Luis Tiant actually had a short period of time (like Oliva) where he truly was GREAT.  Unfortunately, that lasted just a brief period – and Tiant needed three years to figure out where his arm went.  Eventually he came back as a heavier, cagier version of himself, with a deceptive motion and a ton of guile.  He won 20 three times with the Red Sox and, in his worst season in Boston, was the staff ace of that surprising 1975 team.  My heart would totally vote for Tiant, but I’m not sure he did enough.  I do think he did more than Allie Reynolds, and I think he was better than Kaat.

Gil Hodges was a Dodger during their Boys of Summer days and had a decade where he was among the best first basemen in baseball.  He lost a little time at the beginning of his career because of World War II, which may have kept him from making 400 career homers or 2000 hits.  He also was the Mets manager when they won the World Series.  He’s certainly FAMOUS enough for the Hall of Fame but, like Santo, his full career numbers seem to fall a bit short.  He wasn’t a league leader in anything (like Oliva), but he was a member of a great team for a long, long time.  I wouldn’t argue against him – but (as it is with most of these guys) if the sportswriters didn’t vote him in after 15 tries, why are we trying to add him now?

Executives

I’m not old enough to remember Buzzy Bavasi, but I know he was a significant member of Dodger management for a long period of success and made many contributions to the game.  Charley Finley was an interesting story, but I don’t ever think that he ever considered the greater good that comes with his role in baseball.  He is linked to night baseball in the post season and the DH – he is also linked to selling off players he couldn’t afford and holding cities hostage (Kansas City, for example).

LONG OVERDUE:

Minnie Minoso was the Ernie Banks of the AL.  Happy, hustling, popular, and successful.  The reason he isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he lost half of his career to the color line, spending a decade in the Negro Leagues.  Had he been able to play in the majors starting in, say, 1945 rather than 1951, he likely has 3000 hits, a career average over .300, several seasons with 50 stolen bases, 600 career doubles and 200 career triples.  He’s the best player not in the Hall of Fame.  It’s time he got in.

First Week of Hot Stove Transactions:

The Philadelphia Phillies had the headline deal, signing Jim Thome to pinch hit and play a little first base for 2012 at the relatively low price of about $1.25 million.  However, a few other teams started signing and dealing players…  Here’s a short list:

Washington signed pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to a one-year deal ($4 million) after Wang returned for eleven decent starts in 2011.  Wang took more than two years to recover from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule.  Early returns show Wang to be in the neighborhood of his old self – keeping the ball down, good control, and not much of a strikeout pitch.  30 good starts in 2012, and Wang will hit the free agent market.

The A’s signed free-agent swingman Edgar Gonzalez, who has pitched for four different organizations in his career.  I don’t think Edgar has ever had a good season in the majors, so unless this is organizational depth or he’s going to coach, I don’t get it.

The Dodgers signed veteran outfielder Juan Rivera to a one-year deal.  He’s a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter type as he nears 34 years old, but he’s not a bad guy to have on the roster.  Rivera had a good run with the Dodgers after a slow start in Toronto, and Rivera would be familiar with the area, having spent much of the last decade with the Angels.

The Diamondbacks resigned backup catcher Henry Blanco and utility infielder John McDonald, who had been acquired late in 2011 from Toronto (with Aaron Hill) for the stretch drive.  McDonald’s deal was for two years.

Toronto reacquired pitcher Trystan Magnuson from Oakland for cash.  Magnuson was a first round pick of the Blue Jays out of Louisville (also played forward on the basketball team) and was sent to Oakland as part of the Rajai Davis deal.  Pitching occasionally for Oakland, the tall (6′ 7″) righthander has a low 90s fastball that can occasionally hit 95 and a sinker.  He’s had one season where he had really good control – that was two years ago in AA, but he looks like a middle reliever with a bit of an upside.

A sad week (no MLB!) made even sadder…

Matty Alou passed away due to complications related to diabetes.  The 72-year-old played in 15 different seasons finishing with a .307 career batting average.  I remember Alou – he was a slap hitting outfielder who would use a heavy bat to knock liners and loopers over the heads of infielders for singles.  In 1966, he slapped his way to a National League leading .342 average, and few years later led the league with 231 hits.  Alou saw action in the 1962 World Series with the Giants and was a late addition to the Oakland A’s when they won their first World Series in 1972.  He is most famous, of course, for being one of the three Alou brothers (Felipe and Jesus) who played together on the Giants and occasionally would occupy the entire outfield.

Then, just days after tossing out the ceremonial opening pitch before game seven of this year’s World Series, longtime Cardinals starter Bob Forsch died of an aneurism at the too young age of 61.  I probably have every Bob Forsch Topps Baseball card – he won 163 of his 168 career wins as a member of the Cards and pitched in three different World Series.  Like Alou, Forsch had family in the game – his brother Ken pitched with the Astros for a number of years.  Forsch threw the only two no-hitters in the original Busch Stadium, and – with Ken – the Forsch brothers are the only brothers to throw no-hitters.  [SI]

A Long Weekend of Deals – Catching Up on Hot Stove News…

Kevin Kouzmanoff heads north, going from San Diego to Oakland in a four player deal.  San Diego acquires Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham for the veteran third baseman and minor leaguer Eric Sogard.  Kouzmanoff will get playing time and serves as an insurance policy lest Eric Chavez cannot recover from back problems. [SI]

And, with the chances pretty strong that Jerry Hairston will also sign with the Padres, it makes us long for Edgar Gonzalez, because San Diego would have had two pairs of brothers and the son of former Padre Tony Gwynn.  Nepotism?  [FoxSports]

Adam LaRoche chose to sign with Arizona, getting $6 million and a mutual option for 2011.  From the sounds of it, LaRoche chose Arizona and a one year deal over other places (like San Francisco) that had offered two year deals because (a) he’ll likely have better stats, and (b) if he does have a great season, he’ll have better options for a contract in the next offseason.  Once LaRoche signed his deal, the Diamondbacks designated Eric Byrnes for assignment – despite having one more expensive year left on a three-year deal. [MLB]

The Florida Marlins, possibly pressured by MLB and the MLBPA, signed pitcher Josh Johnson to a four-year, $39 million deal with other incentives – a slightly better deal than the one given Zack Greinke.  [MLB]

The White Sox signed reliever Bobby Jenks ($7.5 million) and outfielder Carlos Quentin ($3.2 million) to one-year deals.  [MLB]

The Pirates are filling out the bullpen, inking Brendan Donnelly to an incentive-laden deal, as well as D.J. Carrasco (minor league deal), and are chasing Octavio Dotel.  [MLB]

The Indians signed Mike Redmond to a one-year deal.  Redmond is an excellent veteran to back Lou Marson (and my favorite backup catcher, ever).  [MLB]

From the Hot Stove to the Law:

Legal Analyst Michael McCann says that we shouldn’t expect confessions from Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, or Rafael Palmeiro any time soon.  [SI]

Milton Bradley may be through with the Cubs, but not Chicago – as he is being sued by his Chicago-based landlord for rent and other obligations.  [FanHouse]

Jose Offerman punched an umpire in a Dominican Winter League game.  Offerman, who was managing in Licey, has now been permanently banned from the league.  This is Offerman’s second on-field assault.  [SI]

Happy Birthday! On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, those celebrating birthdays include Curt Flood – whose challenge of the reserve clause (he didn’t want to be traded) was kind of the first significant movement toward free agency – as the Boston Tea Party was to the American Revolution.  Flood was born in 1938.

Others celebrating include Bill McGowen (1896), pitcher Carl Morton (1944), Billy Grabarkewitz (1946), Scott McGregor (1954), Mike Lieberthal (1972), and Wandy Rodriguez (1979).

Dawson Bound for Cooperstown; Hot Stove Returns to Action

Andre Dawson, on his ninth try, was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  Detractors say his on base percentage was too low – but that’s his only flaw.  He hit for power, hit for average, he ran down flies, and had the best arm on a right fielder I have ever seen.  Nobody was tougher; nobody was more universally respected and loved than this guy.  The Cubs fan in me remembers how he begged for a chance to play and earned a contract by winning the MVP in 1987.  [ESPN]

Bert Blyleven just missed (five votes short) and Robbie Alomar was denied a shot at first ballot entry by eight voters.

SI’s Tom Verducci thinks that there is a small and shrinking window for the stars of the last generation – guys like Tim Raines, Jack Morris, and Dale Murphy.  He makes an interesting point…   Jack Morris was a HORSE, Dale Murphy was overrated somewhat, but Tim Raines is undeniably a Hall of Famer.  [SI]

Keith Law, someone I usually find interesting and insightful, really scooped the deep end of the garbage can for this post.  Okay – I agree – Raines was robbed.  I agree, I don’t understand why people vote the way they do – or not vote at all.  But to say that Dawson didn’t deserve to make it and that Jim Rice lowered the standards?  Does he remember how good Jim Rice was for a decade?

Look – I’ve never seen anyone stand up for Jim Rice, but LOWERED the STANDARD?  Usually that’s done by the Veteran’s Committee – not the voters.  Jim Rice was the most feared hitter in baseball, was a solid outfielder in a difficult outfield, and is a credit to the game.  And to compare Andre Dawson to Yuniesky Betancourt is a joke.  Law wrote, “…Andre Dawson, is most notable for the enormous number of outs he made while bulking up his credentials.”  Really?  Most people don’t remember the outs – they remember the grace, class, power, speed, and arm.  They remember how he and Gary Carter gave the Expos credibility; how he mentored Tim Raines – keeping him on the straight and narrow.  He was a LEADER – by example and by action.

Each deserves their spot in the Hall of Fame.

HOT STOVE NEWS!!!

Eric Hinske signed a one-year deal with the Braves.  This is a GREAT signing.  Hinske is getting up there in years, but he hustles, hits for some power, can play four positions – just the kind of guy you want on your team for long summers and the post-season.  And the Braves look like they might be thinking about the post-season in 2010.  Does anyone remember that he was the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year?  [ESPN]

It’s official – Casey Kotchman is a Mariner – and the Red Sox will get utility infielder/outfielder Bill Hall.  This is a pretty good move for both teams, even though I think the Mariners could use a more productive first baseman than Kotchman.  Kotchman has appeared, at times, to be more of a poor man’s Mark Grace, but the more I look at it, Mientkiewicz  is a solid match.  He’s just not enough offense for the position. [MLB]

Oakland returns Jack Cust to the fold for the third time – though this time it was only because the As didn’t offer him a contract and signed him as a free agent a few weeks later.  Cust gets at least $2.65 million for 2010.  The DH/Outfielder remains a solid power threat with a few extra walks, though if he gets 600 plate appearances he might strikeout 200 times.  There are worse problems to have than a guy who hits 30 homers – but Richie Sexton didn’t stay around forever either…  [MLB]

The Royals added more pitching depth, signing Cuban defector Noel Arguelles to a multi-year deal worth $6.9 million.  After taking time off, Arguelles will join the Royals in spring training and figure out what level in the minors he’ll get to show off his stuff.  The kid is big – 6′ – 4″ and 225, athletic, and has a solid reputation in international play.  With Aaron Crow signing after being drafted out of Missouri, the Royals may have two potential aces to join Zach Greinke by 2012.  If they can find an offense, that would be something.  [MLB]

Edgar Gonzalez, older brother of Adrian, and also a member of the Padres is the first of the Gonzalez brothers to leave town…  Edgar is heading west, however, across the International Date Line, to play in Japan.

The Yankees kept Sergio Mitre around – one year, $850K.  Yawn.

A good guy isn’t pitching in 2010 – Scott Eyre decided that it would more fun to spend the summer with his family.  God Bless – see you on ESPN in 2011.

Happy Birthday!

Just a quick list today…  Kitty Bransfield (1875) – outfielder on the great Pirates team at the beginning of the last century, Johnny Mize (1913), Alvin Dark (1922), Dick Schofield (1935), Jim Lefebvre (1942), Tony Conigliaro (1945), Ross Grimsley (1950), Doug Capilla (1952), Allan Anderson (1964), Eric Gagne (1976), Alfonso Soriano (1976), Edwin Encarnacion (1983), and Jon Lester (1984).

Schmidt Returns With Win; Wang Injury Bug Continues

Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang’s 2009 disaster season continues…  He was playing catch when he felt soreness in his bicep.  He won’t throw again until Friday, and if I were him, I’d be looking to get in shape for 2010.  [ESPN]

Texas closer Frank Francisco heads to the DL with pneumonia – he’ll be back soon, but he needs his rest and fluids.  C.J. Wilson will close, and Willie Eyre gets the call from AAA.  [ESPN]

Mets starter Fernando Nieve’s injury was pretty severe – he tore a muscle in his quad.  He’s out six weeks.  Welcome back to the bigs, Cory Sullivan, who used to be an outfielder for Colorado.  Sullivan’s stay may be short-lived – the Mets will likely call up a starter (Jon Niese?) to take Nieve’s start in the rotation.  [SI]

Speaking of bad quads, A’s first baseman/DH Jason Giambi’s quad has been problematic, and now he’s on the DL.  Giambi’s been day-to-day for weeks with a variety of quad and hamstring injuries.  [SI]

Cincinatti catcher Ramon Hernandez’s knee now requires surgery – which means an extended DL stint.  Coming up to pick up some innings will be Craig Tatum.  Tatum is hard to read – the Mississippi State grad has some power and tools, but has had periods where he hit .320 (FSL, 2007) and .231 (Southern League – same year).  My take is a low average power guy – .220 with 12 homers in 250 at bats type.  Ryan Hannigan, who has been a nice surprise, will get most of the innings, though.  FYI – Hannigan went to Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, the same college that Rube Waddell attended and occasionally coached back in the winter of 1902/1903. [SI]

Welcome back Carlos Quentin – the White Sox slugger has been out two months suffering from plantar fasciitis.   He took over in his old stomping grounds, left field, and cost Brian Anderson a slot on the big league roster.  [SI]

I watched the Phillies and Cubs last night – and I saw two teams heading in different directions.  The Phillies are marching toward the NL East crown after winning their ninth straight, and the Cubs don’t look like they have any direction at all.  And so many of us picked them to win the NL Central, if not challenge for a World Series title.  And now, the Phillies found out Brett Myers may return in August and pitch out of the bullpen.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Jason Schmidt was recalled by the Dodgers and won his first start in over two years.  Andy Finch and I saw him in his last rehab start, and he doesn’t have the great fastball – but he has enough to fool people.  However, he was hit a little even by the Memphis Redbirds, so he’ll need to really be on top of his control to win in the bigs.  I’m rooting for him, but not putting him on my fantasy roster any time soon.

Colorado signed Matt Herges to a minor league deal.  He still has some gas in the tank.  Tommy Hanson returned to the Braves (and looked great), and J.D. Martin joined Washington for a start last night.  Cleveland fans might remember Martin – he was once hailed as a top prospect back in 2002, and was a 2001 first round pick out of high school.  Injuries cut into his development, but he’s never really pitched poorly.  He’s got good control, strikes guys out, and at times has looked dominating.

Hurry Back!  Houston’s Darin Erstad and San Diego’s Edgar Gonzalez were both put on the 15-day DL.  Florida’s Andrew Miller was sent to AAA to find his command.

On the 40th Anniversary of the Lunar Landing, Edgar Gonzalez is Still Seeing Stars – and other baseball notes

Happy anniversary, Apollo 11.  I was in Wisconsin on a family vacation at a summer home my Aunt Pat and Uncle John owned when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.  It’s one of my two earliest memories.  I also remember some goofy song about it – I had a 45 RPM (remember those) that would play this 1920s sounding swing tune “There’s an American Flag on the moon tonight, flying red and blue and white…  There’s an American flag, waving on the moon, waving on the moon tonight.”

Enough of that.

Cris Carter said on Mike and Mike this morning that if you signed with the New York Mets, you’d be injured in a week.  Well, for Fernando Nieve, it was more like six weeks, but it holds true.  Nieve left the game in the second when he strained a quad (it looked more like an ankle or achilles injury when I watched it happen) running out a grounder.  [MLB]

With Edgar Gonzalez still hospitalized following a beaning, the San Diego Padres traded reliever Cla Meredith to Baltimore for infielder Oscar Salazar.  Meredith has been, at times, a very competent middle reliever – but be wary of him leaving San Diego for a park that helps hitters like Baltimore.  Oscar Salazar is a long-time minor leaguer – now with his seventh organization (not counting a trip to the Mexican League) – but has hit well in a few trips with Baltimore.  He’s probably not an awful short term option.  Gonzalez still has headaches and ringing in his ears, dizziness, and partial hearing loss.  [SI/ESPN]

Another option would have been signing Mark Grudzielanek, but Minnesota did that instead.  [MLB/Transaction List]

The Texas Rangesrs will operate without outfielder Nelson Cruz, who broke a finger diving into first base on a pickoff play and now is day to day.  Cruz says he can pinch hit, based on pain tolerance for the day.  [ESPN]

Milwaukee is trying to hang close in the NL Central, and wanted some infield help with Rickie Weeks gone.  So, the Brew Crew traded two prospects to Arizona to pick up second baseman Felipe Lopez.  Lopez has a little speed (he once stole 44 bases), and is willing to work the count a little in his favor.  In Arizona, he was hitting .301 with a .365 OBP – however, his career averages are nothing like that and I wouldn’t expect that heading to Milwaukee.  It’s not to say he can’t have a great two months or so, but that I would expect him to hit more like .260 with a .340 OBP; still better than Craig Counsell at this stage, but not an impact player. [SI]

What did Arizona get?  Cole Gillespie is a minor league outfielder with a little power and plate discipline and a little speed – but happens to be struggling a little bit with AAA Nashville.  Drafted out of Oregon State, he projects to a fourth or fifth outfielder right now.  Roque Mercedes might be the nugget, though – a young Dominican who has gotten better every year and started to look like a prospect last year with West Virginia in the SAL.  This year at Brevard County in the Florida State League, he’s had moments of domination – so a few years from now, he could help Arizona.  Ryan Roberts, a poor man’s Felipe Lopez, will likely get the second base job.

Welcome Back!  Logan Kensing was recalled by Washington, Rick VandenHurk was recalled by Florida.

Hurry Back!  Scott Olsen is the reason Kensing returns to the Nationals.  Olsen heads to the DL with shoulder soreness.  Houston sent J.R. Towles back to AAA Round Rock, while Florida sent Andy Gonzalez to AAA New Orleans.

Is it Over?  Julian Taverez was designated for assignment by Washington.  After 11 teams and more than 800 games as a reliever (and once a Boston starter), this could be the last rodeo for the 36 year old.

Edgar Gonzalez Hospitalized After Beaning; Does Omar Minaya Read This Blog?

Padres infielder Edgar Gonzalez was hospitalized after getting hit in the head by a Jason Hammel pitch.  He was conscious and aware at the time, but suffering from dizziness and ringing in his ears.  The pitch hit him on the side of the helmet.  His brother, Adrian, also left the game in the sixth to be with his brother.  Colorado’s Hammel hit three batters in the game.  [MLB]

Royals starter Gil Meche heads to the DL with a sore back, to be replaced by Sidney Ponson.  SI’s coverage suggests that manager Trey Hillman may have contributed to the problem by allowing Meche to make too many pitches, noting that he hasn’t won since throwing 132 pitches in a shutout last month.  [SI]

Angel left fielder Juan Rivera left last night’s win over Oakland with tightness in his right leg.  He’s experienced stiffness in his quad for a couple of days now.  Robb Quinlan got the call and may see more playing time in the short term.  [MLB]

Astros OF/1B Darin Erstad left last night’s game with a pulled hamstring after running out a single.  He’s day-to-day for now, but this has been bothering him for weeks.  [MLB]

Rays starter Scott Kazmir left last night’s game in the seventh inning with cramping in his left forearm.  Kazmir thinks it was tied to dehydration and isn’t worried about it.  [MLB]

FoxSports Ken Rosenthal reports that Troy Glaus may rehab as an outfielder in the minors for St. Louis.  He hasn’t been able to make the throw from third to first, but  as an outfielder he might be able to help the Cardinals with his bat.

I swear I just wrote this suggestion a day or two ago.  Was it ESP?  Does Omar Minaya read every baseball blog out there?  The New York Daily News says that the Mets are working with Julio Lugo as a potential shortstop option and may release pitcher Tim Redding to make room for him.  [FanNation/SI/NY Daily News]

Welcome Back!  Mark DeRosa returns to the Cards, while Jarrett Hoffpauir heads back to the minors.  And, Jed Lowrie returned to the Red Sox.