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Houston Astros Rumors
It was a big day for the Diamondbacks: after announcing major front office changes, the club has all but clinched the league’s worst record, as Steve Gilbert of MLB.com notes (Twitter links). The only way they’d fall to the second pick would be if they were to sweep the Cardinals this weekend, with the Rockies in turn being swept by the Dodgers. It’s highly likely that Arizona will hold the first overall pick in next year’s amateur draft, providing an early test for chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and newly-minted GM Dave Stewart.
Here’s more from the west:
- Padres manager Bud Black indicated that he expects changes to the club’s array of position players, as MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell reports. “We were pretty set, and I think that’s definitely changed this year,” said Black. “I don’t know whether uncertain is the word. But I do think there will be some roster construction more so than last year.” It will be interesting to see how newly-minted GM A.J. Preller attacks his first offseason. If this season’s results are any indication, while the rotation is in solid shape, improving the offensive output may require new acquisitions.
- The Astros intend to be quiet, careful, and thorough in their managerial hunt, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. GM Jeff Luhnow is not necessarily seeking someone more malleable or numbers-focused than deposed skipper Bo Porter, according to Drellich, but rather someone more “relatable.” One of the possible candidates, Diamondbacks Triple-A manager Phil Nevin, is set for an interview after receiving clearance from the Arizona organization, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.
- Angels owner Arte Moreno covered a lot of ground in an interesting interview with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Moreno said that he is committed to winning a championship, emphasizing the financial health of the organization and how that has supported the team’s significant spending. Saying that the team carries no debt and operates at a profit, Moreno indicated that he has no intentions of selling his valuable ownership stake — though he said that he would take an objective, businesslike approach if contacted by an interested buyer.
A 2015 postseason appearance for the Yankees will likely hinge on improvements from costly middle-of-the-order hitters like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Barring a surprise, last year’s big spending leaves the club with few options to add significant run production to its lineup, explains Sherman.
Here’s more from the American League:
- Rays outfielder Matt Joyce says that he believes he will be dealt in the offseason, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. The 30-year-old is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility after earning $3.7MM this season. “I think there’s a good chance [of a trade], just knowing the organization and how they operate and how many young guys that they have in the outfield and coming up through the system,” said Joyce. The left-handed hitting outfielder owns a .252/.348/.379 slash over 477 plate appearances this year, continuing a trend of declining power numbers since he broke into the league.
- The top offseason priority for the Twins will be the rotation, GM Terry Ryan tells Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Twitter link). Of course, that seemed to be the case last year, when the team made significant commitments to free agent hurlers Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, and Mike Pelfrey. Only Hughes has been a hit, though he does look to be a legitimate bargain.
- For the Astros, meanwhile, the bullpen figures to receive the most attention this winter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports. GM Jeff Luhnow said that the club might have seen a significant jump had two of its expected pen pieces — Matt Albers and Jesse Crain — been able to contribute more innings. Looking forward, he said that the team has no choice but to take its chances adding relief arms. “We’ve reflected on our process last year and made some improvements and we feel good about that,” said Luhnow. “It’s always a risk with relievers because there’s a lot of variables year to year, but we feel good we’ll identify the right guys and go after them, and hopefully get a good roll of the dice this time in terms of the health side of the equation.”
Though the Astros just went through the process of finding a new manager two years ago, GM Jeff Luhnow tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that he expects the list of candidates to be longer, not shorter, this time around. Luhnow wouldn’t put a timeline on the first round of interviews beginning, though he acknowledged that the birth of his son this week pushed the start date back a bit. Drellich writes that veteran managers Manny Acta and A.J. Hinch will be considered for the position. Drellich spoke with catcher Jason Castro about interim manager Tom Lawless’ reception in the clubhouse, and Castro had good things to say about Lawless, though he noted that his managerial style was quite different from that of the departed Bo Porter. “Bo is definitely more of an active manager,” said Castro. “Very involved in different aspects of the game, and intensity level is definitely a lot higher. Tom’s kind of approach is just to observe.”
Here’s more on the Astros…
- Triple-A manager Tony DeFrancesco tells MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart that he hopes to receive an interview for the managerial vacancy in Houston. DeFrancesco was the club’s interim manager for the final 41 games of the 2012 season following Brad Mills’ dismissal — an experience which he terms “one of the best times in my career.” DeFrancesco’s Oklahoma City Redhawks finished with a 74-70 record this season and a Pacific Coast League leading 82-62 record in 2013.
- Mark Appel recently worked out at Minute Maid Park with special assistant Doug Brocail and big league pitching coach Brent Strom, both of whom came away with strong impressions, reports Mark Berman of FOX 26 in Houston (All Twitter links). Brocail said he “saw some thunder” coming out of Appel’s hand, while Strom notes that he saw fastballs that could play at the Major League level immediately. Appel, of course, experienced a dramatic turnaround upon his promotion to Double-A. After struggling greatly with Class-A Advanced Lancaster, he pitched to a 3.69 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 39 innings with Double-A Corpus Christi.
- The Astros made a clear mistake in letting J.D. Martinez go this spring, writes David Coleman for SB Nation’s Crawfish Boxes, but rather than criticize the front office, he notes that it’s important to see if they can learn from the error. Every team makes mistakes like this, he notes, and the Astros have been on the other end of this same time of misstep recently by coaxing a breakout from Collin McHugh. Coleman speculates that Colby Rasmus could be a buy-low target to make up for the production lost in cutting ties with Martinez. Rasmus was of course drafted by Luhnow and could thrive with a new hitting coach, as he’s had some difficulty with current hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, though Rasmus recently offered praise for Seitzer despite his offensive struggles in 2014.
Some might argue that Mike Trout has taken his focus away from speed and put more into being a middle-of-the-order hitter, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia says that’s not really the case, writes Pedro Moura of the Orange Country Register. “If your point is, has he lost speed, the answer is no,” Scioscia said. “Is his game shifting more toward the middle-of-the-order hitter where he won’t run again? No. There’s been no strategic change in how we view his assets or how he should play the game, philosophically, this year.” Here’s more out of the AL..
- In theory, the Indians could move Jason Kipnis to the outfield in 2015 with the emergence of Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Francisco Lindor breaking in at Triple-A, but now is not the time, argues Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer. It’s not clear where Kipnis would fit considering Michael Brantley‘s season in left field and the less-than-stellar trade values of Michael Bourn and David Murphy. Nick Swisher could also be slotted in the outfield next year.
- The Indians will certainly look out-of-house for offseason improvements, but there’s a lot to like about what they have for 2015, writes Hoynes. The Indians have a number of young pitchers emerging at the same time and and bullpen has been sharp all year. Even though the bats haven’t been there this year, Hoynes says 2015 is looking like one of the best situations the Tribe has been in in a while.
- A reader asked Jim Callis of MLB.com (on Twitter) if Brady Aiken will have to disclose his medicals to all interested clubs next year and Callis responded in the affirmative. Aiken’s name came up in the news again when commissioner Bud Selig inadvertently implied that the Astros could still sign him. It seems rather unlikely that Houston would be allowed to do that.
The list of potential candidates for the Astros’ open managerial job could include former Indians and Nationals manager Manny Acta, former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, former Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch, Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, and Angels bench coach Dino Ebel, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman writes. (Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times previously wrote that Ebel was a candidate for the position, and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted that the Astros had interest in Wakamatsu, with Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle being the first to note some of the other names.) Other potential candidates include Joey Cora, Bob Geren, Jim Riggleman, Bengie Molina, Tony Pena, Chip Hale, Tim Bogar, Mike Maddux, Dave Martinez, Tom Lawless, Pat Listach and Tony DeFrancesco.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has suggested that he might prefer candidates with previous big-league experience as a manager or bench coach. Heyman also notes that Wakamatsu and Hinch could fit the Astros’ desire for a manager with sabermetric leanings. Acta was previously a minor league manager in the Astros system, and he declined a chance at the Astros’ managerial job in 2009 in order to become the Indians’ manager.
The introduction and development of the radar gun has had a profound effect on baseball, Danny Knobler explores in a piece for Bleacher Report. Pitching speed has always been recognized as a key tool, but its increasing standardization in measurement and emphasis in amateur scouting has played an undeniable role in the velocity explosion at all levels. Speed readings deliver valuable information and come with some downsides, but for better or worse the gun’s influence will continue. Here are a few more interesting recent articles from around the web:
- Matt Clark‘s decision to gamble a bit and opt out of his minor league deal with the Mets has paid huge dividends for the 27-year-old journeyman, writes Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Now with the Brewers, Clark says he sensed that there was little chance he’d be promoted and elected free agency in June. Bob Skube, Milwaukee’s Triple-A hitting coach, was Clark’s hitting coach with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate at one point and made a pitch for the organization to pursue him when Nashville first baseman Hunter Morris broke his arm. Clark, who spent last season in Japan and had never cracked a big league roster, hit his way to a September callup and has homered in two straight games.
- Prospect watchers have begun to turn their attention to the 2015 amateur draft, so let’s take a look at the latest. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs provides a “way-too-early” list of the top 51 prospects, along with some other names to watch. Sitting atop the ranking is high school shortstop and FSU commit Brendan Rogers, with last year’s first overall choice — the unsigned and possibly JuCo-bound Brady Aiken — right behind him.
- Looking back at recent draft choices, Baseball America’s John Manuel writes that the Astros will need to go to work developing Mark Appel and the recently-acquired Colin Moran to avoid a lot of hard questions about the decision to pass on Kris Bryant last year. Given Moran’s skillset — hard work, polished approach, and quick hands, but not the power and athleticism of Bryant — his best-case scenario might be to join the trajectory of Kyle Seager, says Manuel.
- The Pirates have enjoyed a distinctive advantage this year in losing few player days to the DL, writes Ben Lindbergh of Grantland. Manager Clint Hurdle praised the team’s strength and conditioning staff, though he admitted he wasn’t sure that there was any one thing the Pirates are doing better than rival clubs. Still, players such as Chris Stewart, Neil Walker and Russell Martin all praised strength and conditioning coach Brendon Huttman. GM Neal Huntington wouldn’t comment on any specific tactics that might be ahead of the curve, stating, “I’d prefer to leave that behind the curtain.”
- Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports examines the journey of former Arizona State and Notre Dame head coach Pat Murphy, who has transitioned to managing the Padres’ Triple-A club after a controversial exit to his NCAA career. Murphy’s intensity is said to be toned down, and Brown spoke with numerous players who lauded Murphy as one of the best managers they’ve ever had. Veteran reliever Blaine Boyer ranked Murphy alongside Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Bud Black. Brown, like many of Murphy’s players, is of the opinion that the 55-year-old Murphy could eventually be a big league manager.
A pair of AL West teams are without permanent managers at the moment, following the Astros‘ firing of Bo Porter and Ron Washington’s abrupt an unexpected resignation from his post with the Rangers. Some new candidates are emerging for the positions, as Mike DiGiovanna tweets that Angels bench coach Dino Ebel is a candidate to fill the void in Houston. Meanwhile, the Orange County Register’s Jeff Fletcher tweets that Rangers first base coach and former big league catcher Bengie Molina is a candidate for both managerial openings. Molina would continue a growing trend of recent big league backstops becoming managers, following in the footsteps of Mike Matheny (Cardinals), Mike Redmond (Marlins) and Brad Ausmus (Tigers).
Here’s more out of the AL West…
- Angels manager Mike Scioscia spoke highly of Ebel and Molina as future managers to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. Of Ebel, he said, “He’s always been an incredible teacher, has a great passion … There’s no doubt that someday he’s going to be a terrific manager.” He offered similar praise for Molina, who served as Scioscia’s catcher when the Halos won the World Series in 2002: “…just has an incredible way of connecting with people, has a great understanding of the pitcher-catcher relationship, understands the offensive part, and I know he’ll eventually get an opportunity.”
- Josh Hamilton spoke with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News regarding Washington’s resignation and had nothing but praise and well wishes for his former skipper. “He was always very enthusiastic, always on your side and encouraging, so you always want to play for a guy like that.”
- Commissioner Bud Selig fielded a question on recent rumors that the Astros could still sign Brady Aiken when speaking to reporters, including the Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich (Twitter links). Selig himself may have fueled some speculation with recent comments to the San Diego media, but that sounds inadvertent based on his response: “I didn’t mean to create confusion although I guess Ive been known to do that,” said Selig. Drellich notes that it remains “very, very unlikely” that Houston would be allowed to sign Aiken.
- Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus examines the theory that the culture of losing could have long-term negative impacts on the talent the Astros have already promoted to the Major Leagues. Using an adapted Cox Regression model, Carleton concludes that a player is seven or eight percent more likely to flame out after spending three years in a losing environment. However, he concludes that while the end result may be one extra player flaming out, the Astros could likely recoup that value via the extra money they’ve been garnering in the draft and international signing arenas by the virtue of the poor records. While there could be negative effects, Carleton writes, fixing them likely isn’t worth it from a mathematical standpoint.
The defensive shift has drawn plenty of attention around the game, and a study from Steve Moyer of Inside Edge (written up for the Wall Street Journal) shows that it has, in fact, been effective overall. The most impactful efforts, according to the study, have come from the Astros, whose shifts have saved the club an estimated 44 hits on the year.
More from out west:
- That statistic serves as an interesting backdrop for the Astros‘ newly-launched managerial search, given that former skipper Bo Porter played a role in implementing the club’s analytically-driven shifts. GM Jeff Luhnow — who is ultimately responsible both for driving the team’s defensive approach and for hiring and firing Porter — says that the team is inclined to add a skipper with an established track record, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. “We want major league experience as manager or major league experience as the bench coach,” said Luhnow. At present, the team has yet to conduct interviews or even request for permission to do so (for outside candidates). The hiring may extend into the offseason, he said.
- Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler has undergone microfracture surgery on his left knee, which is a more significant procedure than had been expected, as Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports on Twitter. Nevertheless, the veteran set-up ace is expected to be ready for the spring. The out-of-contention D’backs drew some criticism for not dealing Ziegler at the trade deadline, as his remaining contract ($5MM in 2015 and a $5.5MM club option with a $1MM buyout) seemed a solid asset.
- As the Diamondbacks begin their GM search in earnest, candidate (and current agent) Dave Stewart has yet to decide whether he’ll take an interview, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports, though it certainly sounds as if he will. But the longtime big league hurler says that he is definitely intrigued by the possibility of taking the helm, especially given the chance to partner with Tony LaRussa. “I’m very, very interested in it,” he said. “I love the idea of having the opportunity to build and build a successful team, and by successful I mean building a team to win a championship.”
- Outgoing Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers seems to be seriously considering staying on in a senior scouting role, though he tells Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com (Twitter link) that he is waiting to see who will take over in his former role. “We have to be simpatico,” said Towers.
The Athletics made several errors in their approach to mid-season roster reconstruction, opines SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee, but trading away Yoenis Cespedes was not one of them. Overvaluing Jeff Samardzija, failing to improve at second, and giving up Addison Russell were all front office mistakes, says Brisbee, though much of the team’s recent poor play can be chalked up to some combination of bad luck and injury.
- Samardzija said he expects to reach free agency in November of 2015, according to Bruce Levine of WSCR-AM (on Twitter). Though Oakland obviously attributed significant value to controlling him next year at a below-market salary, giving up Russell to do so, it is hardly surprising to hear that an extension is not in the works. Samardzija went on to say that he is open to both the Cubs and White Sox as a free agent and indicated that the city of Chicago is still a priority for him (link).
- The Astros‘ coaching staff is in limbo thanks to their managerial opening, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. Houston likes its current coaching staff and when figuring out who their next skipper will be, they’ll have to also decide how much they value the staff and whether it’s worth getting rid of coaches they like to accommodate a new manager.
- Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa has several avenues to pursue in his GM search, writes Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque and agent Dave Stewart have been heavily tied to the job and both have a history with La Russa. Meanwhile, if La Russa truly wants to “beef up” his analytics department, Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler should garner strong consideration.
The firing of Astros manager Bo Porter and bench coach Dave Trembley was a clash of old-school baseball versus the new-school of analytics and old-school lost, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. For that reason, Cafardo opines GM Jeff Luhnow’s next hires will need to be data savvy, know their way around a laptop, put numbers ahead of traditional baseball, and accept daily interference. Trembley, who found out he was fired from the ESPN news ticker, wasn’t surprised by the dismissals because there was a disconnect with the front office from “the computer leaks to the draft and the Mark Appel situation where the manager wasn’t told (top prospect) Appel was coming up to throw. I think (owner) Jim Crane nailed it when he said that there was a personality clash and sometimes people just don’t get along.“
In other items from Cafardo’s Sunday Notes column:
- There is a financial component to placing Yu Darvish on the disabled list. The Rangers can deduct $5,228.75 per day in bonuses over 30 days on the DL and, since the right-hander has been moved to the 60-day disabled list, the savings realized will be nearly $136k on Darvish’s $800K roster bonus.
- Justin Verlander‘s struggles this year should give teams pause about giving large contracts to older pitchers. Cafardo, however, doesn’t see this cautionary tale dampening the market for Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields because there are franchises which cannot resist the temptation and feel it’s the cost of doing business.
- Cafardo views the Red Sox as players for the services of free agents Jason Grilli and Justin Masterson this offseason.
- There is some debate within the Brewers organization about exercising Yovani Gallardo‘s $13MM option for 2015 with some feeling the money might be better spent elsewhere.
- Expect the Rangers to engage the Blue Jays in trade talks for Jose Bautista, but Cafardo notes Texas may not have the pitching prospects to pry the All-Star slugger away from Toronto.
- Joel Hanrahan, who suffered a setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, will not need another operation and will attempt to continue his comeback in 2015. Hanrahan had signed a $1MM deal with the Tigers in May, but never pitched an inning for the organization.
- Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang will be posted this winter and should be in line for a substantial contract given the lack of available impact power hitters. The 27-year-old, who measures six feet and 180 pounds, hit 38 home runs and drove home 107 runs in 107 games for Nexen of the KBO. Cafardo notes the Cardinals have shown interest in Kang previously, but a few more teams (not named by Cafardo) are now in the mix.