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The Astros have fired manager Bo Porter, according to a team press release. Bench coach Dave Trembley has also been relieved of his duties. Tom Lawless will be the club’s interim manager for the rest of the 2014 season.
As reported last week by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, a divide had grown between Porter and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow. Porter felt that Luhnow was overly critical of his in-game strategy, and he also didn’t think his own opinions were being heard within the front office. Porter was also upset that he wasn’t consulted when Mark Appel was brought to Minute Maid Park for a throwing session in July, a move that also drew complaints from several Astros players.
As part of the team’s official statement, Luhnow predictably didn’t address any specific issues between he and Porter, yet hinted at differences of opinion by saying “I believe we need a new direction in the clubhouse.”
“What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization. It is essential that as an organization we create an atmosphere at the Major League level where our young players can come up and continue to develop and succeed. Ultimately, I am responsible for creating that culture and I will do everything in my power to do so — even when it means making difficult moves like the one we made today.”
Porter was hired as the Astros’ manager in September 2012 and officially took over the job on Opening Day 2013. He had a 110-190 record with the rebuilding club, and Luhnow noted in his statement that Porter’s record wasn’t the issue: “I recognize that our win-loss record is largely a product of an organizational strategy for which I am responsible.”
This has not been a stellar year for the Astros front office, as the Porter firing is the latest in a series of controversies that have emerged in Houston this season. There was a dispute over George Springer‘s promotion, several of the team’s trade discussion notes were leaked online and the Astros were heavily criticized for both their failure to sign first overall pick Brady Aiken and their subsequent decision to pull out of an agreement with fifth-rounder Jacob Nix. It’s not surprising that Luhnow won this apparent power struggle with Porter given how much the franchise has invested in Luhnow’s rebuilding plan, yet the questions about Luhnow’s stewardship of the team will inevitably continue until the Astros start to produce on the field.
This is Lawless’ first time managing at the Major League level, as he has worked as a manager, coach and roving instructor within the Astros’ organzation for several years. Former Astro Adam Everett has also been hired to take over as bench coach. According to the club’s press release, the Astros will “immediately” begin looking for next long-term manager.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports Images
The balance of power in the AL West has swung heavily in the Angels’ direction after the Halos completed a four-game sweep of the Athletics on Sunday. Los Angeles now own both baseball’s best record (83-53) and a five-game lead over the struggling A’s, who are looking for answers after an 12-17 August. Oakland is still on track to reach the postseason, as they hold a four-game lead in the AL wild card race.
Here’s the latest from around the AL West…
- The A’s will cover $1MM of the roughly $2.3MM remaining on Adam Dunn‘s 2014 salary, and ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that Oakland’s willingness to take on this much of Dunn’s salary was part of the reason why the A’s were able to acquire the slugger. The Giants, Dodgers and at least one other team were also reportedly talking to the White Sox about a Dunn trade.
- Astros manager Bo Porter tells Fangraphs’ David Laurila that his relationship with Houston’s front office “is what he expected coming in,” which seems to counter recent rumors of tension between Porter and GM Jeff Luhnow. “My staff and I take all the information from our baseball ops and use it to the best of our ability. Every last component of that is needed to be successful,” Porter said.
- Also from Laurila’s piece, 37-year-old lefty Joe Beimel not only has no plans to retire, his 12-year career might only be half-over. “I plan on pitching until I’m at least 50….I don’t see any reason I can’t do what Jamie Moyer did,” Beimel said. “He was starting games at 49 years old and getting guys out with 80 mph. I’m not down that low yet and I figure if he could go six, seven innings, I could at least come in and get one or two guys out.” After missing 2012 and 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, Beimel is enjoying a nice comeback year out of the Mariners‘ bullpen. The veteran southpaw has a 2.03 ERA, 5.2 K/9 and 1.92 K/BB ratio in 40 innings, and he’s held left-handed batters to only a .480 OPS.
The Angels had interest in A.J. Burnett of the Phillies, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes, confirming a report by Peter Gammons (all Twitter links). The Angels, though, wanted Burnett to waive his player option for next season, perhaps to get them under the luxury tax threshold. It wouldn’t be surprising if Burnett hadn’t wanted to do that, given that he prefers playing near the East Coast, and that his option guarantees him $10MM or more in 2015. The Angels, then, will continue to hunt for a starting pitcher to replace the injured Garrett Richards. Here’s more from the West divisions.
- Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki would rather retire than change positions, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. “No. It’s just who I am, it’s what I do, it’s what I have dreamed of as a kid,” Tulowitzki says. “So I guess when you have a dream and you accomplish it and someone tries to take it away from you … it wouldn’t be worth it for me to try and move somewhere else.” Tulowitzki is just 29 and is still a plus defensive shortstop when healthy, but he continues to have issues with injuries, and it’s not difficult to see how he might need to change positions before the end of his contract, which runs through 2020. Saunders notes that Tulowitzki is currently on crutches after surgery to fix a torn labrum in his hip.
- The Astros‘ “extreme Moneyball” approach is still controversial throughout the game, Joshua Green of Bloomberg BusinessWeek writes in a profile of the Astros since Jeff Luhnow’s hiring in 2011. The Astros’ poor results the past few years, and their relentless questioning of conventional wisdom (leading to, for example, their aggressive approach to shifting and to their tandem minor league rotations), have predictably been divisive. Luhnow gives Green a look at the Astros’ “Ground Control” database (notes from which were leaked in June), which uses an algorithm to tell the team’s management when players ought to be promoted.
The Astros have claimed pitcher Sam Deduno from the Twins, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports (Twitter links). The Twins had placed Deduno on non-revocable waivers, so his contract now belongs to the Astros.
Deduno is already 31 and has gotten middling results this season in Minnesota, with a 4.60 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 92 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen. He also doesn’t throw particularly hard, with an average fastball velocity of just 89.7 MPH this season (though the pitch does get plenty of movement). He will not be eligible for arbitration until after next season, however, and his near-league-minimum salary and ability to start will give the Astros flexibility. He also gets plenty of ground balls, with a very high career rate of 57%.
In the short term, Deduno hasn’t pitched more than three innings in an outing since late July, so he might not be able to start right away, if that’s even what the Astros ultimately want. He has also gotten much better results as a reliever than as a starter this season, so he might fit better in a bullpen role.
Deduno briefly pitched for the Rockies and Padres before signing with Minnesota after the 2011 season, where he soaked up starts in some tough years for the Twins rotation. In parts of five seasons in the big leagues, he has a 4.24 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9.
FRIDAY: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that 20 teams were in attendance for the showcase.
TUESDAY: Cuban first baseman Jozzen Cuesta and Cuban left-hander Misael Siverio will host a showcase for interested clubs on Friday in Jupiter, Fla., agent Eric Izen of the Legacy Agency tells MLBTR.
The last we heard on the 25-year-old Siverio came back in May when he was declared eligible for free agency. The 25-year-old Cuesta was, at the time, said to be awaiting clearance from Major League Baseball and the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control, but he has since been cleared by both entities and is now eligible to sign with any club. The 6’2″, 220-pound first baseman is said to possess some power and will present a younger alternative to the first basemen on the free agent market.
Reports on Siverio peg the lefty at 5’9″ tall, and while he’s not said to possess an overpowering fastball, he had drawn interest from 10 teams back in May. Siverio pitched in front of several clubs at a showcase in June, and the Yankees, Cubs and Astros were among the teams in attendance, MLBTR has learned.
Siverio posted a 3.24 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 over his career in Cuba’s Serie Nacional – a span of 153 games (75 starts). More recently, he pitched in Mexico this past winter, posting a 2.45 ERA and a 36-to-10 K/BB ratio. His full statistics and some video footage can be seen at ObstructedView.net.
Jesus Montero was at the center of a bizarre situation on Thursday night, as MILB.com’s Tyler Maun reports. While on a rehab assignment at Seattle’s short-season class A affiliate, Montero reportedly had to be restrained from going after a Mariners crosschecker with a bat after the scout reportedly sent an ice cream sandwich to the dugout. Butch Baccala, the crosschecker in question, tells Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times that the incident is “not what is being portrayed,” though he didn’t want to comment further until speaking with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.
- There is discord between Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports, and things may have gotten bad enough that “it’s difficult to imagine the Astros starting the 2015 season with the same management team.” Porter feels he doesn’t have enough input in the team’s plans and Luhnow too often second-guesses his in-game decisions, plus there were some hard feelings over Mark Appel‘s bullpen session at Minute Maid Park last month.
- Yadier Molina‘s return shouldn’t end A.J. Pierzynski‘s stint with the Cardinals, FOX Sports Midwest’s Stan McNeal writes. Molina will need to be eased into his usual workload behind the plate, and with rosters expanding, the Cards will have room for three catchers (Tony Cruz being the third). Pierzynski has also been a fit in the Cardinals’ clubhouse following the drama that marked his exit from Boston.
- The Braves were the other finalist for right-hander Brandon Poulson, Baseball America’s Bob Padecky reports. Poulson ended up signing a $250K bonus with the Twins, capping off a fairly incredible route to pro baseball for the 6’7″ fireballer.
- Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred figures to differ from Bud Selig in several areas, and ESPN’s Jayson Stark outlines some of the areas that Manfred will focus on when he officially takes over the job.
WEDNESDAY, 8:24pm: With the period for a deal expiring, and Qualls still with Houston, the obvious conclusion is that the Astros failed to work out a deal with Detroit and have revoked the waiver request. MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart confirms that Qualls will in fact stay put.
8:18am: A trade is looking increasingly unlikely, writes MLB.com’s Jason Beck. Between Qualls’ highly affordable contract and his desire to play out his contract and retire as an Astro, there’s little motivation to deal him. Beck reports that the Astros recently had a pro scout watching Detroit’s Double-A team, which includes prospects such as Steven Moya, Devon Travis and Angel Nesbitt, all of whom could be of interest to Houston. However, Detroit already parted with top prospects Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson in the Joakim Soria trade, and the team is reluctant to deal more well-regarded prospects for another reliever.
Asked about the waiver claim, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (who caught Qualls for four years from 2004-07) told Beck: “I don’t think there’s anything to talk about. As far as I know, Tigers baseball stance, there’s really nothing to it.”
TUESDAY: Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons reports that the Tigers were awarded the claim on Qualls (Twitter link). As he notes, it’s hardly surprising that Detroit placed a claim, though it’s at least mildly surprising that the Yankees, who had waiver priority and have been aggressively claiming players, neglected to go after Qualls.
The Tigers have had bullpen issues all season, with Joe Nathan struggling at the back of the bullpen and deadline acquisition Joakim Soria hitting the disabled list with an injury earlier this month. Qualls would provide a solid late-inning option for the Tigers and could serve as a low-cost 2015 replacement for Joba Chamberlain, should the setup man find a new home as a free agent after a strong season in Detroit.
MONDAY, 9:00pm: MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart writes that it’s more likely that Qualls will be pulled off waivers than traded.
5:50pm: Astros right-hander Chad Qualls has been claimed on revocable waivers by an unnamed club, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). It’s not clear if the Astros are willing to move Qualls, but the Astros will have until Wednesday to work out a deal with the claiming club, Rosenthal adds.
Qualls, 36, signed a two-year, $5.95MM contract with the Astros in the offseason. He’s owed about $531K of his $2.7MM salary through the end of the year, plus a $3MM salary in 2015. His contract contains a $3.5MM salary for the 2016 season which comes with a $250K buyout, bringing his remaining guarantee to about $3.781MM through the end of next season.
The veteran ground-ball specialist has been excellent in 2014, posting a 3.07 ERA (and an identical 3.07 FIP) with 7.8 K/9, 1.0 BB/9 and a 56.7 percent ground-ball rate in 44 innings. He’s spent a good deal of time in the closer’s role this season as well, picking up 14 saves for manager Bo Porter.
Houston isn’t averse to trading its closer midseason, as the team pulled the trigger on a trade to send Jose Veras to the Tigers last summer. Somewhat coincidentally, the Tigers are a very likely candidate to have placed a claim on Qualls this season, given their need for bullpen help in a tight AL Central race. However, as Peter Gammons reported over the weekend (Twitter links), the Yankees are “claiming everyone” on waivers, so it’s possible that the Bombers placed a claim with the hope of working out a deal or at the very least blocking their Wild Card competitors from strengthening their bullpens. The Yankees would have waiver priority over the Tigers.
AUG. 27, 4:51pm: The Astros are highly unlikely to be afforded any chance to sign Aiken, a source tells Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. The source also expressed the belief that Selig must have been referring to Nix.
Given the present state of confusion, it should be noted that Aiken could at least theoretically be seeking to receive some accommodation from the league that would not be directly tied to Houston’s own rights, obligations, and interests moving forward. That hypothetical possibility would potentially square reports that the club is not talking with the first overall choice with Selig’s comment that a “solution” of some kind is being pursued.
4:03pm: There are no current discussions between the Astros and Aiken, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. On the other hand, Houston is working to reach agreement on some sort of deal with Nix before his grievance hearing, Heyman says.
Heyman suggests that Selig may have misunderstood the question he was asked — which referred specifically to Aiken — when he said that some “solution” to the Aiken situation was in the works. On the other hand, it is worth noting that Selig said no grievance action had been filed, which is (so far as has been reported) true with respect to Aiken but not Nix.
2:35pm: Commissioner Bud Selig was in San Diego yesterday for the opening of the Padres’ Hall of Fame plaza — named Selig Plaza — and was asked by Jennifer Jensen of 10 News whether or not Aiken had been granted an extension on his signing window:
“We’re working on that right now. There are a lot of things in movement there so it would be inappropriate for me to comment, but I would say we are working towards a hopeful solution.”
Asked a second time, Selig again refused to confirm or deny that an extension had been granted, but he repeated that they are “working toward a solution.” Selig did reveal that no grievance has been filed yet by Aiken’s camp. While his comments are somewhat vague, the commissioner did not shoot down the possibility that Aiken could still reach a deal with the Astros. As Jim Callis of Baseball America points out (on Twitter), it seems fair to assume that the other 29 teams in the league would be none too pleased to see Aiken strike a deal with Houston well beyond the signing deadline.
AUG. 21, 11:46am: “There’s nothing to report, nothing going on there,” Astros owner Jim Crane tells Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (Twitter link) in regards to a possible Aiken deal.
11:25am: The Astros could still end up signing first overall draft pick Brady Aiken, and “the expectation from those close to the negotiation” is that the two sides will reach an agreement around the time of Jacob Nix‘s grievance hearing, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel reports (Twitter links). The MLBPA filed the grievance on Nix’s behalf last month, and the hearing will reportedly be held during the offseason.
As McDaniel puts it, the possibility of Aiken inking a deal beyond the July 18th deadline for signing draft picks is an “MLB’s discretion situation.” It had been presumed that Houston had forfeited their right to sign Aiken (plus Nix and 21st-rounder Mac Marshall) when they couldn’t reach agreements with any of the players by July 18th. In failing to sign Aiken, the Astros received the second overall pick in the 2015 draft as compensation.
Aiken had a verbal agreement in place with the Astros just a few days after he was selected as the #1 pick in the 2014 draft, but no official deal was finalized due to the team’s concerns over Aiken’s unusually small UCL, a detail discovered during a post-draft physical. This led Houston to drop their offer from the agreed-upon $6.5MM bonus (which was already over $1.4MM below the assigned slot price of the first overall pick) to $5MM. This set off a chain reaction that caused the Astros to pull their $1.5MM agreement with Nix off the table, as signing Nix at that price would’ve put the Astros over their draft pool limit and put them in danger of facing penalties such as the loss of two future first-round picks.
Needless to say, it would be surprising to see Aiken wind up wearing Astros orange given the harsh words that Casey Close (the agent for both Aiken and Nix) had for the organization and GM Jeff Luhnow in the wake of the controversy. As it stands, Aiken would have to either attend a junior college and re-enter the draft next year or commit to a college and not be able to turn pro for three more years. It’s possible the high schooler is simply eager to begin his professional career and/or wants some financial security now, given that anything could happen to lower his stock over the next 1-3 years.
For the Astros, signing Aiken would help the team save face after it was widely criticized for its handling of the situation. Aiken has until September 1 to file a grievance himself, though that deadline could be extended.
The Rangers announced tonight that outfielder Shin-Soo Choo will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow to remove a bone spur and will miss the remainder of the 2014 season. The loss of a player to season-ending surgery has become a familiar refrain for Rangers fans, who have seen Prince Fielder, Martin Perez, Mitch Moreland, Jurickson Profar, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando all go down for the season, while Derek Holland has yet to step on a big league mound as of Aug. 25. Clearly, the Rangers were hoping for more than the .242/.340/.374 batting line turned in by Choo in his inaugural season with the club, though he’s been bothered by ankle injuries all season in addition to the aforementioned elbow problem. Michael Choice will take Choo’s roster spot for the rest of the season.
Here’s more on the Rangers and their division…
- As if the loss of Choo wasn’t enough, Jon Daniels said in an interview on 105.3 The Fan that he is doubtful Yu Darvish will pitch again in 2014 (via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News). While the Rangers GM said the team has stopped short of definitively ruling out its ace, it seems safe to assume that Darvish can have his name added to the list of Rangers whose seasons ended prematurely due to injury.
- Geovany Soto tells Jane Lee of MLB.com that he was “very surprised” to learn of his trade from the Rangers to the division-rival Athletics, but he’s happy to have the opportunity to play on a contending team and work with the Oakland pitching staff.
- The Angels don’t appear to be a fit for Bartolo Colon at this time, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. Colon, who cleared waivers today, is owed $1.77MM for the remainder of the season and $11MM in 2015, and the Angels would likely have interest only if the Mets were to assume some of the remaining salary, DiGiovanna says.
- Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle that the team will not comment on the federal investigation that is looking into the team’s data leak earlier this year. He did, however, reassure Drellich that the team’s systems are now secure.
Feldman, 31, is in the first season of a front-loaded three-year, $30MM contract. He’s earning $12MM in 2014 before earning $10MM in 2015 and $8MM in 2016, making his contract slightly more desirable to interested parties. He’s owed roughly $2.36MM through the end of the current season, bringing the total that he is owed to about $20.36MM. Though he missed a brief period with biceps tendinitis, Feldman has been reasonably healthy and effective in his inaugural season with the Astros. The former Ranger has posted a 4.37 ERA with 5.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 44.9 percent ground-ball rate.
Colon, who is 10 years older than Feldman, has posted better numbers despite his age, and he is the more affordable of the two pitchers. The former AL Cy Young winner signed a two-year, $20MM contract with the Mets in the offseason that pays him $9MM in 2014 and $11MM in 2015. Colon is owed $1.77MM for the remainder of the season, bringing his total commitment to $12.77MM. His first season with the Mets has gone well, as he’s pitched to a 3.82 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 1.2 BB/9 and 38.7 percent ground-ball rate in 167 1/3 innings. Colon is currently in the Dominican Republic to attend the funeral of his mother.
The team most commonly associated with the starting pitching market at this time is the Angels, who have lost both Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs to season-ending surgery this month (Skaggs’ Tommy John surgery will sideline him for 2015 as well). However, the Dodgers also have a need in the rotation due to injuries, and some have speculated that the Pirates could benefit from a rotation upgrade as well.