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.

Rating the Pitchers: 2012 National League

In rating pitchers, my system looks at the number of runs allowed per nine by each pitcher, then is modified by a couple of things – the park in which he pitches, and the defense of the players behind him.  When I have that, I compare the number of runs he allowed to what the average pitcher might have allowed in the same number of innings to get a positive number of runs saved, or a negative number of runs – essentially how many additional runs that pitcher cost his team. In case you were curious, the average NL pitcher allowed 4.3054 runs per nine…

A pitcher in Colorado had a lot of things going against him.  First, games in Colorado scored about 400 more runs (5 per game for both teams combined) than Rockies road games.  Then, the defense behind him was brutal – costing pitchers an extra 100 runs.  Meanwhile, the pitchers in San Francisco got help from the park, and the team’s fielders (about 45 runs).

Top Starters:

37.91 Kris Medlin, ATL (138.00 innings)
33.34 Johnny Cueto, CIN (217.00)
31.06 Kyle Lohse, STL (211.00)
30.34 Clayton Kershaw, LAD (227.67)
28.98 R.A. Dickey, NYM (233.67)

22.27 Ryan Dempster, CHC (104.00)
21.95 Gio Gonzalez, WAS (199.33)
21.79 Cole Hamels, PHI (215.33)
21.15 Wade Miley, ARZ (194.67)
20.83 Cliff Lee, PHI (211.00)

Honorable Mentions:

Jordan Zimmermann
Yovani Gallardo
Matt Cain
Mat Latos
Zack Greinke

The NL Cy Young award went to Dickey, the uniqueness of his being a knuckleballer making his season seem so improbable – given how baseball loves smoke or power and loathes gimmicks.  Still, the system says that the most effective pitcher was a guy who pitched essentially a half-season (half a season from 15 years ago), which will happen from time to time.  Medlin finished with a 1.57 ERA, gave up fewer than a baserunner per inning and allowed but a homer every 23 innings.  Personally, I would have voted for Dickey and then Johnny Cueto, who didn’t get the same kind of help from his defense or park as Dickey.

Ryan Dempster didn’t pitch nearly as well in Boston as he did in Chicago before he left, and the Phillies decline can partially be traced to losing the performance of an ace (Roy Halliday).  Additional props shall be given to Clayton Kershaw who essentially repeated his Cy Young performance from 2011.

Kyle Lohse can’t get an offer from someone?  People remember too well how he pitched before he got to St. Louis and must think that he can’t carry this to another team…

Top Relievers:

22.41 Craig Kimbrel, ATL (62.67 innings)
21.73 Aroldis Chapman, CIN (71.67)
16.19 Mitchell Boggs, STL (73.33)
14.38 Rafael Betancourt, COL (57.67)
14.37 Wilton Lopez, HOU (66.33)

13.72 Brad Ziegler, ARI (68.67)
13.56 David Hernandez, ARI (68.33)
13.54 Luke Gregerson, SD (71.67)
13.53 Craig Stammen, WAS (88.33)
13.25 Matt Belisle, COL (80.00)

Honorable Mention:

Sergio Romo
Jason Motte
Eric O’Flaherty
Sean Marshall
Jonathan Papelbon

Craig Kimbral was only slightly more effective than Aroldis Chapman, who will likely become a starter.  Both pitchers were crazy good – Kimbrel allowing just 27 hits and 14 walks in 62.2 innings, while striking out 116 batters.  Chapman pitched nine more innings, gave up a few more hits and a few more walks, and struck out a hair fewer per nine.  Those two were well ahead of the next guy (Boggs), and to be honest, there wasn’t much difference between the next several guys.

Rafael Betancourt may be the best setup man in baseball and has been for many, many years now.

Worst Pitchers:

-44.88 Tim Lincecum, SF (186 tortuous innings)
-28.58 Erik Bedard, PIT (125.67)
-26.23 Chris Volstad, CHC (111.33)
-25.96 Jordan Lyles, HOU (141.33)
-24.77 Ross Ohlendorf, SD (48.67)

-22.07 Kevin Correia, PIT (171.00)
-21.56 Barry Zito, SF (184.33)
-20.41 Justin Germano, CHC (64.00)
-20.12 Jair Jurrjens, ATL (48.33)
-19.15 Tommy Hanson, ATL (174.67)

Usually, Tim Lincecum is on the top starter list – and the Giants gave him every chance to get his season on track.  Instead, he finished 10 – 15 and didn’t miss a start.  His K/9 rate was still pretty good, but he walked too many guys and was hurt by the long ball.  Throw in the fact that his defense and park were actually HELPING him, and that 5.18 ERA is even worse, really.

That both San Francisco and Atlanta were able to make it to the post season with TWO starters who were killing them is impressive.  And Pittsburgh was loaded with poor starters and still were competitive for most of the season.

In the case of Jurrjens and Ross Ohlendorf, this was the case of eight or nine brutal starts rather than a full season of below average misery.  Ohlendorf was allowing more than 4.5 runs than the average pitcher every nine innings.

Of Fathers and Sons and Opening Day

Even with all the opening day baseball games, the coolest story of the day was the unveiling of a statue in Arlington created in memory of Shannon Stone, the firefighter who was at the game with his son when he reached out to catch a souvenir baseball thrown to him by Josh Hamilton, stumbled, and fell 20 feet to his death.  The Rangers had a local artist create a statue of Shannon and his son, Cooper, that was created in Shannon’s memory, but dedicated to all fans – especially the fathers who bring their kids out to the ballgame.  [ESPN and others…  The MLB site had video of the unveiling.]

Opening Day Notes:

The first full slate of opening day games included a number of fine pitching performances.  Johan Santana went five scoreless in his first outing since shoulder surgery, Roy Halliday threw eight scoreless, as did Justin Verlander, in wins, and Johnny Cueto looked like Luis Tiant in dominating the Marlins (the Reds Opener, but the second game for the run-scarce Miami Marlins).  Ryan Dempster and Stephen Strasburg pitched well without getting a decision, and Erik Bedard faced the wrong team in losing, 1 – 0.

One new record was set – the Toronto Blue Jays needed 16 innings before a J.P. Arencibia homer topped the Indians, 7 – 4.

For a complete scoreboard, I’m partial to the MLB.com scoreboard – especially the MLB.com application on the iPad.  Seriously – it’s awesome.

Aches and Pains…

Mets outfielder Andres Torres reinjured his calf on opening day, so he is likely going on the DL and returning to Port St. Lucie to rehab.  [FoxSports]

San Diego placed pitcher Tim Stauffer on the 15-Day DL with a strained right elbow.

The Transaction Wire…

A few teams were making final moves, sending various players to the minors or bringing them up to the bigs.  Those that caught my attention:

The Yankees assigned Jack Cust to their AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Baltimore outrighted one-time prospect Dana Eveland to AAA Norfolk

Happy Birthday!

Players celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:

(1903) Mickey Cochrane, Hall of Fame catcher
(1908) Ernie Lombardi, Hall of Fame catcher (and schnozz)
(1937) Phil Regan, the Vulture, so named for stealing wins in relief…
(1943) Marty Pattin
(1951) Bert Blyleven, Hall of Fame Curveball
(1964) Kenny Williams, outfielder and White Sox GM
(1969) Bret Boone, alleged steroid user
(1971) Lou Merloni, who alleged that the Red Sox trainers taught people safe steroid practices without necessarily encouraging players to use them…

I’ve probably written this before – and if so, I apologize – but Marty Pattin is just one of those guys who makes me think of my grandfather and baseball cards.  My parents both lived in a three-flat home on Sacremento near Addison in Chicago.  Mom lived upstairs, the owners lived on the main floor, and my dad lived downstairs.  After my parents married and moved out, we would regularly go down to that same three-flat to visit my grandparents and invariably I would watch baseball games with my grandfather, Sverre Kramer.  He lived and died with the Cubs, used to yell out “Oh, for the love of Mike…” whenever something bad happened (which was often enough) and one of my first baseball memories is watching a game with him where Roberto Clemente hit two homers to top the Cubs and Fergie Jenkins some 40 years ago.

Anyway, down the street at the end of the block was a corner store.  My brother and I walked down there one day – I was seven years old – and we were given 50 cents to buy something by Grandpa Kramer.  Mike bought candy.  I, of course, bought baseball cards.  Opening the pack, the one player who stood out to me was Marty Pattin.  I can still picture the card and reading the stats on the back.

Anyway, Pattin has kind of hung around in my baseball brain.  A few years before I got to the University of Kansas, Pattin was a coach there – so I would see his name in the media guide.  Pattin comes up in trivia questions from time to time, and no matter what I always end up thinking about that pack of cards.  It wasn’t my first pack of cards – dad used to leave one under my cereal bowl as a kid from time to time – but it might have been the first pack that I chose to buy by myself.  And it’s Marty Pattin’s card that I think about.

Look Who is Contending! And, Notes From the Training Room…

I was looking at the standings and there it was…  Pittsburgh is 7 – 5, and with a win last night the Nationals are 7 – 6.  San Diego matches that – good enough for second in the NL West.  Oakland leads the AL West at 9 – 5.

It’s only been two weeks, sure…  Still – nice to see a couple of surprise teams making a little early noise.

One Cheat Passes Another…

Alex Rodriguez hit home run #584, passing Mark McGwire for eighth on the all-time list.  Somewhere, a chemistry teacher feels rewarded for his or her work in the classroom.  Anyway…  Frank Robinson is next, and in a few months, there should be seven players with at least 600 homers in their career.  [FoxSports]

Fond Farewell…

Eric Gagne, for a few years the most feared reliever in baseball, called it a career.  The Dodgers released Gagne after a few poor outings in Spring Training and Gagne told a Montreal website he had lost his desire to play.  Gagne’s elbow, back, and shoulder have all required surgery, and it was fraying in his rotator cuff a couple of years ago that scared off the Red Sox.  Gagne was also mentioned in the Mitchell report for having received HGH from Kirk Radomski.  [SI]

But He Made The Ten Best Dressed List…

Tampa Rays manager Joe Maddon was told by MLB that he can no longer wear his favorite hoodie sweatshirt – one he frequently wears under his jacket to stay warm.  Maddon says he prefers the hoodies to winter coats.

From the Training Room…

Baltimore outfielder Felix Pie will likely miss the next three months recovering from an injury to his left shoulder – he ruptured the latissimus dorsai behind that shoulder.  Fortunately, no surgery is required, but he needs rest and rehab before he can play again.  [MLB]

Meanwhile, other Orioles remain on the mend…  Brian Roberts, already on the DL with abdominal injuries, saw a spinal specialist, Koji Uehara is testing his sore left hamstring, and Miguel Tejada says he’s ready to play after straining a hip adductor muscle.  The guy who may not be on the mend is manager Dave Trembley.  The Orioles are 2 – 11 already and now face New York or Boston for the next dozen games.  [MLB]

The Red Sox can’t buy a win, and now are stuck playing Bill Hall in centerfield with two other outfielders unable to play…  Jacoby Ellsbury collided with Adrian Beltre a week ago and has a severely bruised chest, while Mike Cameron still hasn’t found abdominal relief days after passing a kidney stone.  [MLB/ESPN]

Phillies starter J.A. Happ will miss a turn with a strained elbow.  Is Pedro Martinez still available? [ESPN]

Seattle starter Erik Bedard‘s return from shoulder surgery continues apace with the goal of making the team by Memorial Day.  [MLB]

San Diego starter Chris Young is playing catch, but is still some time away from returning to the Padres.  Young is the new Mike Hampton.  [MLB]

Transaction Wire

The Dodgers sent Russ Ortiz back to AAA (he was actually designated for assignment), and will give a roster spot to Jon Link.  Link was a former Padre and White Sox farmhand who was acquired in the Juan Pierre trade.  A Virginia Commonwealth grad, Link has made steady progress in the minors and looks to have closer stuff – but not quite.  Link has good strikeout numbers but he’s a touch wild, and his ERA hasn’t been around 2.00 – it’s more like 3 to 3.5.  Still – he can take some middle innings and not be too bad.

Arizona placed Conor Jackson on the DL with a right hamstring strain and immediately recalled Esmerling Vasquez – who hadn’t even made it to AAA when he was recalled.

The Mets recalled 1B prospect Ike Davis, the 23-year-old out of Arizona State.  Davis had made progress in the minors and was a stud during spring training.  He looks to have mid-range power, a big swing, and a little patience.  I think he can hit .275 or so in the bigs (but strike out a LOT) – still the Mets might as well give him a shot.  It’s not like Carlos Delgado is coming back any time soon.

Happy Birthday!

1876 – Charlie Hemphill – I think he played with Rube in the California League in 1902
1891 – Dave Bancroft (Hall of Fame shortstop)
1946 – Tommy Hutton – now a Marlins TV commentator and a good one
1950 – Milt Wilcox
1961 – Don Mattingly
1973 – Todd Hollingsworth

News and Notes from a Friday in Baseball…

It’s official – Boston has given up on catching the Yankees.  The Red Sox acquired shortstop Alex Gonzalez from Cincinnati for minor leaguer Kris Negron.  Let’s look at what Boston is getting.  Three years ago, Gonzalez was a below average hitter (4.2 runs per 27 outs) and a below average fielder (7.6 plays less than the average shortstop per 800 balls in play).  He played a little better in Cincinnati – slightly above average as a hitter, but still below average as a fielder (-2.3).  Then, he missed all of 2008 with an injury.  So – if you were expecting Gonzalez to perform any better than, say, 2006, you were extremely optimistic.

For 2009, Gonzalez is hitting all of .213 – which, admittedly, is better than Nick Green has hit since June, but not going to keep up with the Yankees.  Julio Lugo was a better option, but he was given up for lost (and then given up for a AAA outfielder in Chris Duncan).  A lot of moves are made in desperation – and this was definitely one of them.  Certainly Jack Wilson would have been a better option, but apparently Pittsburgh must have wanted too much.

John Smoltz isn’t going to retire – though his contract may make it difficult for Boston to deal the veteran pitcher.  So, look for Boston to release Smoltz, and then a small bidding war between four or five teams looking for extra bullpen arms.  [FoxSports]

Let’s talk surgery.  Erik Bedard’s was a success, and he looks to a return for spring training, though what team’s spring training is up in the air.  Bedard’s contract is up, and the Mariners can either (a) exercise an option, (b) resign him through arbitration or contract negotiations, or (c) let him go as a free agent, though possibly without future considerations given Bedard’s lack of playing time due to injuries since he arrived in Seattle.  [FoxSports]

Another pitcher looking forward to the knife is San Diego’s Chris Young, who has scheduled his surgery for Monday.  Young’s season was over, and he could have tried rest and rehab, or a minor operation and rehab.  So – bring on the knife.  [MLB]

The Rangers got Ian Kinsler back from the DL, but lost Nelson Cruz to the same list…  Cruz sprained his ankle against Oakland more than a week ago and it’s healing slowly.  [FoxSports]

Yankee Alex Rodriguez sat out a game with a sore elbow (he was beaned squarely on the point of the elbow Wednesday night), but missed last night’s game with a sore back.  He remains day-to-day…  [SI]

Welcome Back!  Tampa gets back side armed reliever Chad Bradford from the DL.

Hurry Back!  Pittsburgh’s Jose Ascanio heads to the DL with shoulder tendinitis.  White Sox infielder Chris Getz heads to the DL with a strained oblique.

Pedro, Smoltz Heading in Different Directions; Brewers Commence Another Late Season Overhaul

John Smoltz refused a minor league assignment, which leaves the Red Sox with two alternatives – trade the aging legend or release him.  All too rarely does an athlete leave on his own terms – sadly, it’s usually forced upon him/her through injury or failed performance.  Smoltz may get one  more shot, but that’s probably it.  Ken Rosenthal suspects it may be the Dodgers…  [FoxSports]

Pedro Martinez won his start, lasting five innings but getting tons of run support as the Phillies bombarded the Cubs last night.  Glad to see that I’m not the only one warning people to watch this with some level of caution.   I mean, three runs in five innings isn’t really stopper material – and Jamie Moyer would have likely won that start and lasted another innning or two…  [SI]

Milwaukee is trying to overhaul the roster in hopes of a late pennant run.  They put in a waiver claim on Diamondbacks starter Doug Davis, and also shook up things at home by firing pitching coach Bill Castro in favor of former starter Chris Bosio.  Then, the struggling J.J. Hardy was dispatched to AAA Nashville while Bill Hall was designated for assignment – which means he’ll be released and the Brewers will be eating about $11 million in Hall’s contract.  Coming up from AAA Nashville are two prospects, SS Alcides Escobar and OF Jason Bourgeois.  [SI/ESPN]

Alcides Escobar is a burner, a guy who makes contact, gets hits, steals bases and can cover ground in the field.  He’s not a leadoff guy – doesn’t really work the count and doesn’t have much power.  However, he can help – and J.J. Hardy isn’t helping by hitting .229 with 11 homers…  Baseball America ranked Escobar as Milwaukee’s top prospect, and has worked his way up the prospect ladder.  Jason Bourgeois isn’t going to take the world by fire – unless you need steals on your fantasy roster.  Originally an infielder in the Texas chain, he’s worked his way all over the minors for the Rangers, Braves, White Sox, and Seattle.  As best as I can tell, he’s a 27-year-old Willy Taveras – contact, speed, okay batting average and little else.  If he hits .270 and plays okay defense, he’ll be better than Hall, but he isn’t going to make anyone forget Mike Felder…  Unfortunately, he’s not a long term answer.

Boston’s Kevin Youkilis and Detroit’s Rick Porcello were suspended for five games following the bean/brawl.  Having watched it eight to ten times, Porcello doesn’t have a reason to be suspended and is challenging the decision.  Youkilis took the day off and Mike Lowell hit another homer in his place…  [ESPN]

Joba Chamberlain’s innings will be even more closely monitored as he shifts to a seven day rotation.  [ESPN]

Erik Bedard will have exploratory surgery to determine the source of the pain in his shoulder, and address the fraying already there.  What is open to debate is whether or not he’ll be back with the Mariners next year.  Seattle has an option, or could let Bedard become a free agent.  [ESPN]

Another pitcher going under the knife is Washington prospect Jordan Zimmermann, who gets Tommy John surgery and will likely not pitch until 2011.  [ESPN]

It doesn’t get better for the Mets.  Carlos Delgado’s hip recovery was stalled by a strained oblique muscle.  [FoxSports]

Kaz Matsui is one hit away from having 2000 combined hits in Japan and MLB – which would put him in a rather exclusive club among Japanese ballplayers.  He would join the Meikyukai, an elite group of players with 200 hits, 250 saves, or 200 wins – whether in Japan, the US, or both.  Others you may have heard of?  Ichiro Szuki, Hideki Matsui, and Hideo Nomo…  [MLB]

A couple of players got hit yesterday and had to leave games…  Yankee captain Derek Jeter was hit in the right instep by a pitch last night and couldn’t run the bases well, so was pulled in the third inning.  And, Reds starter Homer Bailey was struck by an Albert Pujols liner in the left foot and had to leave in the first inning.  Both are day-to-day.

Hurry Back!  Rich Aurilia (Giants) heads to the DL.  Evan Meek (Pirates) has a strained obligue – gets a DL stint.  Wesley Wright (Astros) has a strained left shoulder – gets a DL stint, too.

Welcome Back!  Other than Pedro, Lance Berkman (Astros) returned from the DL and helped slaughter my Marlins…  Another Astro – LaTroy Hawkins, also came off the DL yesterday.  The Giants returned Nick Hundley from the DL, as well as outfielder Nate Schierholtz…

Afterthoughts…  Colorado had signed Adam Eaton to the minor league deal and yesterday recalled Eaton from AAA.  Do they want to know how high of an ERA Eaton can get?  I mean, what’s the goal here?

Yesterday’s Trivia:  How to get from Tom Gordon to Rube Waddell in six steps?

When Gordon arrived, one of his teammates was the aging Billy Buckner, whose rookie team in 1972 included Hoyt Wilhelm.  Wilhelm played in St. Louis in 1957 with Stan Musial, whose 1941 teammate was future Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey.  Rixey’s career started in Philadelphia many, many moons earlier when he was a teammate of slugger Gavy Cravath.  Cravath’s career came together when he was an outfielder for the Minneapolis Millers from 1910 to 1911, where he was a teammate of Rube Waddell – who had joined the Millers prior to the 1911 season and would win the American Association.

Think Twice Before Adding Pedro to Fantasy Roster; More Met Injuries…

Well – we got some good news and bad news…  Good News?  Pedro Martinez fanned nine of the first twelve batters he faced, finishing with eleven, in a start against AA Trenton.  Bad News?  He allowed a homer to one kid, and three runs on five hits in six innings.  So, it sounds like Pedro might be able to help in short spurts – two or three innings, maybe.  But, don’t think Pedro is ready to be a major league starter – much less PEDRO – when he gets to Philadelphia.  Will I root and cheer for him?  You bet.  Am I adding him to my fantasy roster?  I’d rather have Jess Todd or Brian Matusz.  [ESPN]

When you think of teams fighting injuries, you think M-E-T-S…  Mets!  Last night, Jonathan Niese, a promising young pitcher, was covering first on a double play grounder when he did the full splits taking the throw.  Trying his first warm up pitch in the next inning, Niese fell over – the results of completely tearing his upper hamstring from the bone of his right leg.  Later, Gary Sheffield aggrevated his hamstring running the bases (Sheff says it’s cramping and needs more electrolytes) – and the bad news for Jose Reyes is that he may not play this year owing to scar tissue and inflammation where his hamstring connects near the knee.  [ESPN/MLB]

The Yankees have opened up a slight lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, and now they open up a series at home against those same Sawks…  For Boston, they won’t have Jason Bay in left field for the first couple of games.   After missing a couple of games, Bay played last night and irritated a sore hammy running out a grounder.  He’s day-to-day for now – we’ll see how rest helps.  [ESPN]

Seattle’s Erik Bedard will undergo an MRI on his ailing shoulder – the same shoulder that has had the ace lefty shelved since late June.  [ESPN]

Washington’s Austin Kearns may undergo surgery on his right thumb – as it is, he’s on the DL.  Having hit .195, it’s any wonder why he’s not in AA rather than the major league roster…  Taking his roster spot is TWELVE YEAR minor leaguer, Jorge Padilla.  [SI]

Well, let’s give you the lowdown on Padilla…  He was in the Phillies chain but never strung together a really good hot streak – by the time he got to AAA, Padilla was rather ordinary – .256, with speed (32 sbs), but little power.  After injuries shelved him, Padilla moved around – AA for the Mets, AA/AAA for Kansas City, and now AA and AAA for Washington where he’s been hitting everything, drawing a few walks, and occasionally knocking the ball out of the park.  Like the story about Cubs infielder, Bobby Scales, it’s great to see Padilla (who turns 30 next week) get a shot after more than 1100 minor league games.   (And, he can probably outhit Kearns by 60 points or so – and is still mobile if not a burner.)

A couple of veteran pitchers inked minor league deals…  Paul Byrd signed with Boston (why hasn’t ANYBODY signed this guy until now?); Brett Tomko’s career has life – he’s got a deal with Oakland.  The mill has it that he’s there to eat up innings so the young A’s starting rotation doesn’t burn out in September.  Wow – that’s a sign you’ve given up on the season.  Wasn’t Randy Lerch available?

Few writers are as good as KC Star alum Joe Posnanski…  Pos writes about how small market teams have fallen on hard times in 2009.  Give it a look-see.  [SI]

Welcome Back!  Joe Martinez pitched for the Giants last night – the same guy who was nailed by a liner up the middle off the bat of Mike Cameron and suffered three skull fractures earlier in the year.  Glad to see he’s back – hope he sticks around.  Aaron Miles was brought off the DL by the Cubs.

Hurry Back!  Giants pitcher Henry Sosa tore a muscle in his shoulder and goes to the 60-day-DL.

Is it Over?  The Cubs released Jason Waddell; Cody Ransom (Yankeees), Ryan Freel (Kansas City) were designated for assignment.  Wow – this has been a tough year for Freel…