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A federal bankruptcy judge today approved a Chapter 11 reorganization that will allow DirecTV and AT&T to purchase Comcast SportsNet Houston, reports David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. The network will be relaunched next month as ROOT Sports Houston and will provide the Houston area with significantly greater accessibility to television coverage of Astros games. The team has issued a statement, via press release, expressing its pleasure with the outcome: “We are very pleased with Judge Isgur’s confirmation of the plan to reorganize the Network under AT&T and DirecTV. Throughout this long process, our main goal has been to provide broad coverage of Astros games for our fans throughout our region. This new Network will allow us to achieve this goal. There are still a few obstacles that we have to overcome, but today’s decision is a big victory for Astros fans and the City of Houston.”
Here’s more from the AL West…
- Rangers GM Jon Daniels has already had discussions with Alan Nero, the agent for free agent righty Colby Lewis, about a return to the organization for Lewis, reports MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. The Rangers have extended a preliminary offer to Lewis, which Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports is a Major League offer. There’s mutual interest on both sides, according to the pair of reports, but the process has likely been slowed somewhat by the fact that Nero also represents manager Joe Maddon, who is said to be in line to take over as skipper of the Cubs. Lewis struggled in the first half of the 2014 season but rebounded quite well in the second half, posting a 3.86 ERA over his final 13 starts. His 5.18 ERA on the season was likely inflated by a .339 batting average on balls in play.
- Also of note from Sullivan, the Rangers are expected to look to make rotation additions beyond Lewis this offseason, however they’re more likely to come via the trade market than via free agency. The Rangers do possess a good deal of middle infield depth. Both Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor both are seen as highly regarded talents, but the Rangers don’t have a place to slot both of them into the starting lineup. (It should be noted that the Profar/Odor speculation is my own, as opposed to something which Sullivan is reporting as likely.)
- The Athletics today announced the promotions of three coaches (Twitter link). Darren Bush, who previously served as the team’s bullpen coach, will now shift into the role of hitting coach and fill the void left by Chili Davis (who signed on to fill the same role with Boston). Scott Emerson, who had previously served as a minor league pitching coach and minor league pitching coordinator, was promoted to the role of bullpen coach. Lastly, Marcus Jensen, who has served as a Rookie-league manager and minor league hitting instructor for the A’s, was named assistant hitting coach/catching coach.
- Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has several updates on the Rangers‘ search to fill out new manager Jeff Banister’s coaching staff, noting that several announcements could come as soon as tomorrow.
In the wake of yesterday’s report Rays ownership has discussed relocating the franchise to Montreal, Commissioner Bud Selig paused and then declined to answer whether Tampa Bay is a viable major league market, reports Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. Selig did say, however, the team needs a replacement for Tropicana Field. “The team has to have a ballpark that makes them competitive,” the commissioner said before Game Four of the World Series. “It doesn’t produce the kind of revenue they need.”
In other news involving the Rays and the American League:
- Change is coming to the Rays and the front office and players alike don’t see it as a negative, writes the Tampa Tribune’s Roger Mooney. “Whoever we bring in here, they’re going to set the scheme and how they want to win games and be a successful organization,” said pitcher Alex Cobb. “When that trickles down to the players, all that is is us playing up to our capabilities, and that doesn’t matter who is in the dugout or the front office.” Mooney notes all coaches are under contract for 2015; but, if the new manager is from outside the organization, there may be changes to the staff.
- In today’s mailbag, a reader proposed his Indians offseason plan to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer: trade Jason Kipnis and David Murphy for prospects to free up money, then use that money on Victor Martinez. Hoynes doesn’t see the Tribe trading Kipnis so soon after giving him a $50MM+ extension, despite his bad year. The reader’s ambitious plan also calls for Cleveland to have one of their young outfielders form a platoon with Nick Swisher and, given his $15MM salary, Hoynes believes the team wants to see him in the lineup every day.
- Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe identified Mark Buehrle as a trade candidate earlier today and Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets the Twins have long been admirers of the Blue Jays hurler. Still, his $19MM salary is too high.
- If the Jon Daniels-Jeff Banister partnership works in Texas, it will continue a trend in the game of a college educated GM with no professional playing experience working with a baseball lifer as manager, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
Alex Rios‘ up-and-down career trend continued in 2014, with an ill-timed replacement-level performance. The Rangers declined the outfielder’s club option, putting the 11-year veteran on the free agent market for the first time in his career.
Rios has had a productive career. A first-round pick of the Blue Jays out of Puerto Rico in 1999, Rios finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in ’04. A few seasons later he nabbed back-to-back All-Star appearances, and went on to post seasons worth three or more wins above replacement in 2010, ’12, and ’13. When he’s at his best, Rios has shown 20 home run power as a right-handed hitter and the ability to hit .280 or better.
There were positives in his 2014 season. Rios hit .304/.335/.430 through July, which was a little better than his successful 2013 campaign. For all of 2014 Rios hit .325/.353/.545 against southpaws. Over the 2012-14 seasons, Rios’ .530 slugging percentage against lefties ranks 22nd in baseball.
Rios is also an asset on the basepaths. He’s posted a positive baserunning runs above average figure in every season of his career, and ranks 18th in baseball from 2012-14 with 13.9 BsR. He’s shown the ability to steal bases at a high success rate as recently as 2013, when he swiped 42 bags in 49 tries.
Though he missed most of the final month of the 2014 season, Rios has a track record of durability. From 2007-13, Rios averaged 153 games per season, never dropping below 145. This is a clear advantage over a few other corner outfield types he’ll be competing with in free agency, Mike Morse and Michael Cuddyer. Rios didn’t technically go on the disabled list this year; he hasn’t done so since 2006.
Rios’ season was seemingly spoiled by a pair of injuries. He twisted his ankle on July 19th, and believes he developed a thumb injury as a result of compensating for the ankle. With the bruised thumb at risk for infection, he was officially shut down on September 21st. Explained agent Paul Kinzer to Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, “His numbers were down because of the injuries. He stayed in the lineup and tried to do all he could because of what was happening with the team.”
There are concerns independent of Rios’ 2014 injuries. Just looking at the period prior to his ankle injury, Rios hit only three home runs in 297 plate appearances. With 15 doubles and eight triples in that time he still managed to slug .462, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s more of a 10-15 home run guy moving forward.
There’s also the issue of Rios’ defense. He was below average in UZR/150 this year, and has been below average in defensive runs saved in each of the last two campaigns. A right fielder by trade, Rios’ ceiling might now be slightly above-average in the outfield, as opposed to the defensive weapon he once was.
Rios’ terrible performance in August this year still counts, and the result was a season with negative offensive value. Throw in unimpressive defense and it was a replacement level campaign. It’s not the first time — Rios was worth less than one win above replacement in each of the ’05, ’09, and ’11 seasons as well. Rios’ batting average on balls in play seems to lack stability, with low marks in ’09 and ’11.
Rios is not much for the free pass, drawing walks at a 5.9% clip in his career and 4.4% this year. Among those with at least 500 plate appearances this year, only ten players drew walks at a lower rate than Rios.
Rios was born in Coffee, Alabama but grew up and resides with his wife and two children in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. What were Rios’ parents doing in Coffee, Alabama, anyway? “They must have been passing through,” the outfielder told Mike Ulmer of the Toronto Sun a decade ago.
As Rios told Ulmer, as a child growing up in Puerto Rico, he wanted to quit baseball at age 13 to spend more time with his friends. His father, Israel, pushed him to continue playing.
Rios participated in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico in ’06, ’09, and ’13. He told Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times last year, “When you represent your country and the name of your country is across your chest, it really means a lot.”
With Adam Dunn expected to retire, Rios is now the active leader for most games played with no postseason experience. Having earned almost $75MM in his career, it’s possible Rios will prioritize finding a contending club, not that contenders are always easy to predict.
Rios’ competition in the market for corner outfielders this winter includes Melky Cabrera, Nick Markakis, Mike Morse, Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter, and Nori Aoki. For a team that misses out on Cabrera or can’t fit him into their budget, Rios should be a palatable alternative. The Orioles, Reds, Tigers, Astros, Royals, Twins, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, and Giants seem like potential fits.
Rios could choose the security of a two-year deal this winter, as Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones did last offseason. However, Rios already has financial security, and seems more likely to bet on himself and take a one-year deal as Corey Hart, Chris Young, and Mike Morse did last year. I’m pegging Rios for one year and $8.5MM.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
We already learned today that hitting coach Dave Magadan would meet with Rangers manager Jeff Banister to discuss his future with the franchise. Here’s what new in Arlington, Texas.
- Banister, GM Jon Daniels, and key Rangers personnel sequestered themselves for 12 hours yesterday to discuss the state of the roster, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The Rangers will have to make a number of moves in the upcoming days due to a bloated roster. With nine players on the 60 day disabled list, Texas has 47 players on the 40 man roster. They’ll need to trim down to 40 soon while also giving consideration to prospects they want to protect from the Rule 5 draft.
- Banister spoke with Maddux on Monday and is expected to huddle up again before a decision is made regarding his future. Per a tweet from Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Banister said “I like Mike.” For his part, Maddux has said he would like to stay.
- Banister met with Steve Buechele this morning, tweets Wilson. The Rangers have need of a bench coach after the dismissal of Tim Bogar earlier in the week and Buechele could be under consideration. As Grant noted a few days ago, removing Bogar was more about preventing an uncomfortable situation than any displeasure with the former interim manager.
- An ex-manager might be the best fit for the bench coach job, opines T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. This is Banister’s first season as a major league manager, so experience could be helpful. Sullivan mentions Eric Wedge, Kirk Gibson, and Manny Acta as examples.
Prior to last night’s three inning, five run meltdown, Mike Petriello of FanGraphs examined why Royals ace James Shields has failed to live up to his “Big Game” moniker. In a detailed analysis, Petriello discovered Shields’ pitch selection has changed in the postseason and his cutter has been less effective. However, and as Petriello notes repeatedly, it’s hard to draw conclusions from such a small sample of innings.
- Shields is a popular subject today. WEEI.com’s Alex Speier wonders if Shields’ postseason non-performance will result in a lower free agent price tag. His reputation for October excellence is undeserved – he has the third highest ERA among 65 starters with 10 or more postseason starts. Speier does note that Barry Zito and Edwin Jackson signed rich free agent contracts following lousy postseason performances. The limited market for starters should keep Shields in demand, even if teams are wary of his late season contributions. If anything, this improves the positions of Max Scherzer and Jon Lester.
- The status of Rangers hitting instructor Dave Magadan and pitching coach Mike Maddux should be determined within the week, reports Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Per comments from GM Jon Daniels, the future of Magadan and Maddux depends on comfort. New manager Jeff Banister will need to be “confident in how they see the game, in how they communicate with players and who he feels he can lean on.” Magadan is expected to meet with Banister today.
- After viewing MLBTR’s arbitration estimates for the Yankees, NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty takes a look at who might be tendered. Francisco Cervelli ($2.5MM projected salary), Ivan Nova ($3.3MM), Shawn Kelley ($2.5MM), David Phelps ($1.3MM), and Michael Pineda ($2.1MM) are the five he believes will return. Kuty believes David Huff ($700K) and Esmil Rogers ($1.9MM) may be non-tendered. My own opinion: while the Yankees may seek to replace Huff, there isn’t an urgent need to cut his near-league minimum salary. However, Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues notes that Huff could be the odd man out if New York needs a 40 man roster spot. Rogers does seem to be an easy non-tender choice.
Two-time NPB MVP Alex Ramirez has retired, Jun Hongo of the Wall Street Journal Japan reports. The 40-year-old Ramirez played briefly for the Indians and Pirates between 1998 and 2000, but it wasn’t until he headed to Yakult for the 2001 season that his career really got going. He hit 29 homers that year and quickly emerged as one of the most feared sluggers in Japan, hitting 40 or more home runs three times in his career. Ramirez finished his NPB career in 2013 with 380 homers for Yakult, Yomiuri and Yokohama, then played and coached last season with the independent Gunma Diamond Pegasus club. Here are more notes from around the Majors.
- Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis has left the team to become the new hitting coach of the Red Sox, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com tweets. Davis hit 350 home runs in a 19-year career with the Giants, Angels, Twins, Royals and Yankees, then worked in the Dodgers and Red Sox systems before signing on with the Athletics prior to the 2012 season. In his previous stint with the Red Sox, Davis served as the hitting coach at Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox will begin interviewing candidates for their assistant hitting coach position this week, Bradford and Alex Speier report.
- With Davis out, the Athletics are now looking for a hitting coach, and one candidate is Angels assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. The Angels could also promote Hansen to replace Don Baylor, who missed much of last season with a freak leg injury. Hansen, known as a pinch-hitter throughout much of his career, played 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Cubs, Padres and Mariners. The Athletics could also consider Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan, Slusser tweets.
- If the A’s do have interest in Magadan, the won’t be the only ones. Davis had previously been a top candidate for the open Yankees hitting coach job, and the Yankees could now turn to Magadan, who interviewed Wednesday, George A. King III and John DeMarzo of the New York Post report. The former infielder played 16 seasons with the Mets, Marlins, Mariners, Astros, Cubs, Athletics and Padres.
- Barry Zito‘s seven-year contract with the Giants didn’t turn out so well, but he did help them land Tim Hudson, Ryan Hood of MLB.com writes. When both pitchers were free agents last winter, Hudson called his former Athletics teammate to see what he thought of playing in San Francisco. “I said it’s a first-rate organization, from the top down,” says Zito, who assured Hudson that Giants fans had changed since the two pitchers had played together in Oakland. “Giants fans had a little more of a rep of just coming out for baseball games and not really having a die-hard presence and creating an intimidating atmosphere. It was very light. I told him 2010 changed everything.” Hudson posted a 3.57 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 189 1/3 innings for the Giants this season. Zito, meanwhile, says he determined in August 2013 that he would “take some time away from the game and focus on family.” He did not pitch this season.
The Rangers overcame the first hurdle of their offseason when they signed manager Jeff Banister earlier this week. Speaking of hurdles (and bad puns), the erstwhile Pirates bench coach is drawing frequent comparisons to recent colleague Clint Hurdle. Shortstop Elvis Andrus sees a similar passion for the game, reports Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. Another Rangers insider speaking with Bill Madden of the New York Daily News said, ““(The Rangers) have long had a love crush on Hurdle…and, in Banister, they felt like they were getting the closest thing to him.”
- We learned earlier today that the Rangers have expressed interest in re-signing right-handed pitcher Colby Lewis. In a separate article for the Dallas Morning News, Fraley writes that the next step for the Rangers is to re-open communications with Lewis’ agent Alan Nero. Said Daniels, “We haven’t been able to spend much time on that. We can get back to that now.”
- The Astros are thought to raise payroll by as much as $20MM next season and starting pitching could be a target, writes Chris Perry of The Crawfish Boxes. Perry focuses his attention on the shape of the market rather than picking a specific target. The top end of the free agent market – Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields – aren’t good fits, but anyone below the first tier could be in play. My own opinion: innings eaters like Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez, and Kevin Correia could make sense. Keep in mind, the Astros department of decision sciences identified Collin McHugh prior to the season, so they could have other stealthy names in mind.
The Rangers would like to finish an extension with president of baseball operations and GM Jon Daniels by the start of spring training, ESPN Dallas’ Calvin Watkins writes. Daniels is entering the last year of a four-year deal. His contract had been on the back burner as the Rangers looked for a new manager, but with Jeff Banister now in the fold, the Rangers should have more time. “We’ve been consumed for the last month on this, so [Daniels' extension] will fall in place,” says team co-chairman Ray Davis. Daniels’ teams have played in two World Series and had four 90-plus-win seasons since he was hired in 2005. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Rangers are interested in retaining pitcher Colby Lewis, and Daniels says he’s talked to Lewis’ agent, Anthony Andro of FOX Sports Southwest tweets. The Rangers are the only team allowed to negotiate with Lewis until five days after the World Series. The impending free agent pitched 170 1/3 innings in 2014, and his 7.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 indicated he was somewhat better than his 5.18 ERA suggested.
- The Astros have announced new manager A.J. Hinch’s 2015 coaching staff, as noted by Mark Berman of FOX 26 (on Twitter). Former Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens will take the same role with the Astros. Rich Dauer, previously the manager of the Double-A San Antonio Missions in the Padres organization, will be Houston’s first base coach. The team also officially announced that Gary Pettis will be their third base coach and Trey Hillman their bench coach.
- The Padres announced a variety of changes in their player development area Friday, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Randy Smith, who had been vice president for player development, will become a senior advisor for baseball operations, and will focus on scouting. The team will not retain field coordinator Randy Johnson (not the former star pitcher), hitting coordinator Sean Berry or outfield and baserunning coordinator Glen Barker. The Padres could consider Rangers field coordinator Jayce Tingler for their farm director position, Lin notes.
FRIDAY: Banister’s contract is a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth season, reports Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Twitter link).
THURSDAY, 6:03pm: The Rangers have announced the hiring.
10:34am: The Rangers will hire Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister as their next manager, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link).
The Rangers interviewed a wide variety of candidates for the position following Ron Washington’s abrupt resignation. Interim manager Tim Bogar and Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash were announced by the team as finalists in addition to Banister. However, Texas also interviewed internal candidates Mike Maddux and Steve Buechele, as well as the following external candidates: Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing and former big leaguer Alex Cora (who currently is an analyst for ESPN).
Banister’s hiring will be bittersweet for the Pirates organization, as while they’re undoubtedly happy to see him receive the opportunity, the hiring will also bring to a close a tenure with Pittsburgh that has lasted 29 seasons. Banister was a 25th-round draft pick by the Bucs in 1986 and spent seven years with them as a minor leaguer (he also received one plate appearance in the Majors in 1991). Banister managed for five seasons in the minors with Pittsburgh and has also spent three seasons as the Major Legaue field coordinator and eight as a minor league field coordinator. He was named the team’s bench coach in 2010 and also served as an interim pitching coach in 2008.
Last year, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times penned an excellent article on Banister’s extraordinary journey to his then-position with the Pirates. A bone cancer survivor in high school, Banister underwent seven operations on his left ankle. As a junior college player in his native Texas, Banister got behind the plate on a day he was not scheduled to catch because a Yankees scout was on-hand to watch him. Tragedy ensued, as Banister was left paralyzed from the neck down following a home-plate collision. He underwent spinal surgery and lost nearly 90 pounds before leaving the hospital, but he recovered, returned to the field after a year and ended up being selected in the 25th round of the ’86 draft.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
That news is hardly a surprise, as Texas was said to be leaning strongly in that direction. Rios ended his first full season with the club on somewhat of a down note, ending the year on the DL with a thumb issue after a tough season. He slashed .280/.311/.398 over 521 plate appearances on the year, hitting four home runs and swiping 17 bags a year after he was good for 18 long balls and 42 steals. With his value on the bases down and defensive metrics generally viewing Rios as a below-average right fielder, he ultimately landed just above replacement level.
Rios should still garner plenty of interest on the free agent market. He will be entering his age-34 season, so a lengthy pact would be surprising, but Rios is not far removed from some very good seasons. Over 2012-13, he slashed .291/.329/.473 in 1,302 plate appearances with 43 home runs and 65 steals.
The news that the Rangers will decline the option brings to an end one of the more interesting contracts in recent memory. Fresh off of two big seasons, Rios inked a seven-year, $69.835MM extension with the Blue Jays back in April of 2008. Things turned sharply down in the 2009 season, but Toronto was famously bailed out of the deal when the White Sox claimed Rios off waivers.
Though Rios struggled mightily at times in Chicago, the club was rewarded at the end with the aforementioned seasons, and ultimately was able to trade Rios to the Rangers last August in exchange for Leury Garcia. Heading into the year, Rios’s option actually seemed likely to be picked up, which was quite a turnaround for that much-maligned extension. All said, over the life of the deal, Rios was worth just north of 15 wins above replacement (by the reckoning of both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference).