- Ron Roenicke was Jonathan Lucroy’s manager with the Brewers for over four seasons, and with Roenicke now serving as the Red Sox interim manager, he was the motivating factor in convincing Jonathan Lucroy to sign with Boston. “He called me and he wanted me to come. It was a big one,” Lucroy told reporters, including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo and MLB.com’s Ian Browne. “He’s like, you’ll get an opportunity to come here and make the team. Right now, that’s all you can ask for with a guy in my position.” Lucroy signed a minor league contract with the Sox after a pretty quiet stint in free agency, as Cotillo notes that Lucroy “negotiated with a few clubs who backed out of deals at the last minute.” This isn’t to say that Lucroy is surprised at how his trip through the free agent market went, given his struggles over the last three seasons: “Analytically, I’ve been terrible. Seriously. I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m not surprised I didn’t get a big league offer.” Now, Lucroy is reunited with his old skipper and will compete with Kevin Plawecki for the backup catching position.
- The Rays are known for cycling different players through a position rather than having a set everyday starter, and MLB.com’s Juan Toribio examines how the club will juggle its many third base options. Yandy Diaz, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Joey Wendle, Daniel Robertson, Nate Lowe, and Mike Brosseau could all factor into Tampa Bay’s choices at the hot corner, while also being rotated around to other positions on the diamond. Diaz is expected to get the majority of playing time, while Tsutsugo’s readiness at third base is perhaps the biggest wild card in the mix, as he hasn’t played the position since 2014 as a member of the Yokohama BayStars.
- The Blue Jays face some interesting decisions with their bench mix, as the Toronto Star’s Gregor Chisholm observes that slugger Rowdy Tellez might not make the Opening Day roster. Since minor league signing Joe Panik “is almost a sure bet to be included on the roster” as a utilityman and outfielders Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford are both out of options, this trio might have the advantage over Tellez, who is defensively limited to only first base. Tellez has shown some strong power (25 homers, .475 slugging percentage) over 482 MLB plate appearances, though is somewhat one-dimensional at the plate, as evidenced by his .241 career average and .299 OBP. Fisher and Alford will both need to perform well this spring to block Tellez, however, and Chisholm notes that Brandon Drury also isn’t a lock for the roster, as the Blue Jays could opt to cut Drury and just go with Panik as the primary utility player. Since Drury was an arbitration-eligible player, releasing him before Opening Day would leave the Jays on the hook for just a small portion of his $2.05MM salary. If Drury was released, Chisholm speculates Toronto could potentially put those savings towards signing another veteran player who might become available as teams trim their rosters in advance of the season opener.
Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro joined Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid (link to YouTube) to discuss the state of the team’s offseason efforts. He emphasized that “there’s still a good amount of offseason left” and suggested further additions are yet to come.
Shapiro acknowledged that the market has driven salaries higher than anticipated. In response, the club has “adjusted our threshold on players and gone … a certain percentage higher than we thought we would go.”
That still hasn’t resulted in any major additions, with Shapiro explaining that a variety of circumstances have kept the Jays from locking up certain targets. One particular challenge, he suggested, lies in convincing players of the team’s readiness to win games. That seems to present a bit of a chicken/egg dilemma, though obviously the organization hopes that its on-field output will improve from within as well as benefiting from new additions.
So what of the hoped for “significant additions”? Shapiro says the club has “already added” — a nod to the still-unofficial Tanner Roark and Shun Yamaguchi additions — and is “not done this winter.” (Shapiro suggests the club values Yamaguchi for his ability to provide rotation depth and “upside out of the pen.” ) But Shapiro acknowledged it’s less likely now than it once was that the club will install one major player, though he made clear he’s still holding out hope.
Shapiro asks that the organization be judged at the end of the winter and based upon the entirety of the roster movement that occurs. He believes there’ll be “significant” improvement by that standard when camp opens in the spring.
But Shapiro also left some unmistakable warnings not to expect too much. He cited the need to maintain “future flexibility” for a hoped-for “window of opportunity,” explaining that the organization must “grudgingly approach giving up that flexibility.” And when asked about potentially adding to the position-player mix, Shapiro used the opportunity to explain why the organization is hesitant to “give up” on certain players, proffering Teoscar Hernandez and Derek Fisher as examples.
The Rays’ decision to option Nate Lowe back to Triple-A Durham following the trade deadline was a “very tough call,” manager Kevin Cash tells Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. With the acquisition of Jesus Aguilar, however, the Rays had three first basemen on the roster and Ji-Man Choi’s lack of minor league options once again came into play. Tampa Bay seems loath to risk losing Choi on waivers, but Lowe has handily outperformed him at the plate so far, hitting .294/.362/.510 to Choi’s .265/.361/.423. Choi has shown better knowledge of the strike zone, but Lowe nevertheless appears to be the better offensive option between the two (even if he’s had some good fortune in terms of a .362 average on balls in play). Cash expects that Lowe will be back up with the club “soon,” but that redundancy will eventually be an issue the Rays need to address.
More out of the AL East…
- Trey Mancini remains in Baltimore after the trade deadline, but the decision not to move him doesn’t mean an extension is the next step for the slugger. “Looking at contract extensions is just not at the forefront of my plate right now,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias tells MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko, “but certainly he’s an attractive guy to have here for a while.” It’s not the first time that Elias, hired to spearhead the Orioles’ rebuild this offseason, has suggested that he views Mancini as a potential long-term piece. But Mancini is already controlled through 2022 — his age-30 season. Given that he won’t even reach arbitration until this winter, there’s simply not much urgency to extend Mancini, even if he’s in the midst of the best season of his young career. Through 443 plate appearances, Mancini has posted a robust .282/.343/.539 slash (130 OPS+) with a career-high 25 home runs. Elias also praised the recent play of outfielder Anthony Santander the manner in which he has begun to establish himself as a viable big league hitter.
- The Blue Jays have a crowded outfield mix, but newly acquired Derek Fisher is going to get regular playing time and an opportunity to establish himself as a fixture in the Toronto outfield, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet writes. Most of Fisher’s reps will come in center or right field, as Toronto doesn’t want to disrupt Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s transition to left field (or his offensive breakout). That leaves Fisher, Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk and Billy McKinney vying for playing time between center, right and occasional reps at DH. Hernandez has been on an otherworldly tear, clubbing seven homers and three doubles in his past 15 games, which should help to keep him in the lineup. If there’s to be an odd man out, McKinney seems the likeliest candidate, given that he has minor league options remaining. But the semi logjam also serves as a reminder that Randal Grichuk hasn’t performed anywhere near as well as hoped in the first season of the head-scratching extension to which the Jays signed him back in April. He’s played solid defense, but Grichuk hasn’t exactly seized an everyday role with his .232/.290/.418 batting line.
The Astros acquired right-handers Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini for outfielder Derek Fisher, according to reports from Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun, Joel Sherman of the New York Post, and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. The deal was a precursor to a trade deadline buzzer beater, as the Astros picked up Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks as well.
Sanchez, 27, was drafted 34th overall by the Blue Jays in 2010 and was ranked among the best 35 prospects in baseball prior to his 2014 debut. The Jays had Sanchez work out of the bullpen as a rookie, and he joined the rotation the following season. He suffered a lat strain that season and returned as a reliever. Sanchez was again moved back to the rotation for the 2016 season, and he authored his finest campaign: a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts, good for a seventh place Cy Young finish. He would never reach those heights again, dealing with a blisters and finger injuries in the ensuing years. His ERA sits at 6.07 in 23 starts this year.
Biagini, 29, was Toronto’s Rule 5 Draft selection in 2015 and enjoyed a tremendous rookie campaign in 2016, pitching to a 3.06 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.40 HR/9 and a 52.2 percent ground-ball rate in 67 2/3 innings. However, the Blue Jays’ subsequent attempt to move Biagini into the rotation in 2017 proved an ill-fated mistake, and his 2018 season spent mostly back in the bullpen didn’t yield quality results, either (6.00 ERA in 72 innings).
The 2019 season has seen Biagini bounce back to the tune of a 3.75 ERA over the life of 48 innings. He’s been homer-prone — like most of the league — but is sporting a career-high 9.0 K/9 against an even 3.0 BB/9 with a 45.3 percent ground-ball rate. There’s reason to be optimistic about further improvement, too; Biagini’s 13.7 percent swinging-strike rate is easily a career-best, as is his 36.1 percent opponents’ chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone. The spin rate on his breaking ball is elite as well, ranking 21st of 399 big league pitchers to throw the pitch at least 100 times dating back to 2016. That type of profile has yielded substantial benefits for the Astros in the past, of course, and they’ll look to elevate his profile with their data-heavy approach moving forward.
Once a top 100 prospect, Fisher hasn’t established himself in the majors since debuting in 2017. He likely wouldn’t have gotten a chance to do so in Houston, either, with the team loaded in the outfield now and with high-end prospect Kyle Tucker ahead of him in the organizational pecking order. Fisher has hit just .201/.282/.367 with 10 home runs in 312 MLB plate appearances, but he has been quite productive in Triple-A ball. The 25-year-old has slashed .289/.379/.520 with 50 HRs in 1,053 PA at the minors’ highest level.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Tigers’ asking price on lefty Matthew Boyd continues to be an impediment for interested teams, Jon Heyman of the MLB Network reported this week on the Big Time Baseball podcast. Heyman notes that multiple GMs from other clubs used the phrase “over the top” when describing Detroit’s ask on Boyd, who whiffed 13 hitters in yesterday’s win but also continued his recent struggles with keeping the ball in the park by allowing a pair of homers. Boyd has fanned a ridiculous 32 percent of the hitters he’s faced in 2019 and walked just 4.5 percent of them; that K-BB% of 27.5 trails only Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, so he’s in some elite company with regard to his combined ability to miss bats and avoid walks. However, Boyd also allowed only seven homers through his first 12 starts (72 2/3 innings) but has now served up 12 long balls in 34 1/3 innings dating back to June 2.
Boyd is still just 28 with three and a half seasons of control remaining to go along with his elite K/BB skills (and a $2.6MM salary). His penchant for serving up the long ball also has to be a source of trepidation as teams weigh a pursuit of the lefty, though.
More chatter on the rebuilding Tigers…
- Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press provides an excellent look at a number of trade chips for the Tigers, listing potential suitors and, in some instances, pulling back the curtain a bit on previous trade talks. For instance, Fenech writes that the Tigers and Astros discussed a trade involving Nicholas Castellanos last summer, with Houston offering outfielder Derek Fisher in return. Castellanos’ stock has dipped since last year and he’s now a rental, but Fisher’s stock hasn’t exactly risen itself since last July. That still seems like a lofty ask for the Tigers to make for only two months of Castellanos, but the prior interest is nevertheless noteworthy now that Castellanos appears a near-surefire bet to be traded.
- In addition to closer Shane Greene, who is as obviously available as any player in baseball, right-hander Joe Jimenez is also available in trade talks, per Fenech. Multiple clubs, including the Mets and Rays, have inquired on Jimenez — a 24-year-old once heralded as Detroit’s future close. Jimenez averages better than 95 mph on his heater and has no issue missing bats (12 K/9 since 2017), but his control has long been shaky and he’s averaged 1.93 HR/9 in 2019. He’s also controlled through the 2023 season, so the Tigers have zero urgency to move him. Fenech adds that the Dodgers have inquired on Greene, though if anything it’d be more surprising if the bullpen-needy L.A. club hadn’t done so by now.
The Astros are calling up right-hander Rogelio Armenteros for his big league debut, according to the Pelota Cubana blog (hat tip to Las Mayores’ Francys Romero). Outfielder Derek Fisher is headed back to Triple-A as the corresponding move, as per several outlets. The move will be made official prior to tomorrow’s game.
Signed out of Cuba in 2014, Armenteros has a 3.35 ERA, 3.08 K/BB rate, and a 10.0 K/9 over 475 career innings in Houston’s minor league system (85 of 98 games as a starter). He hasn’t been as sharp at Triple-A this season, with a 5.00 ERA over 45 frames, though it could just be a short-term promotion. GM Jeff Luhnow said (via Mark Berman of FOX 26 News in Houston) that Armenteros is being recalled to give the Astros some extra pitching depth after going to extra innings in three of their last six games, including a 14-inning affair on Wednesday.
MLB.com rates Armenteros as the 22nd-best prospect in the Astros’ farm system, with a “tumbling changeup” that rates as his only plus pitch. Armenteros has hit 95mph on his fastball on occasion, though generally throws in the 88-92mph range, relying more on disguising his four-pitch arsenal. “He has little margin for error and survives by not making many mistakes,” as MLB.com’s scouting report puts it.
Fisher heads back to Triple-A after his latest brief stint in the majors, as he was recalled back on May 25 when George Springer hit the IL. Formerly a top-100 ranked prospect, Fisher has yet to deliver much in parts of three MLB seasons (.201/.282/.367), though with just 312 total plate appearances to his name in the big leagues, he has hardly received much of an extended opportunity to prove himself. It remains to be seen if such a chance, however, will ultimately come given the Astros’ crowded outfield picture when everyone is healthy.
Given yesterday’s news of George Springer’s hamstring injury, it seemed likely that one of the many outfielders thriving for Houston’s Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock would join the big league club shortly. Sure enough, Derek Fisher is getting the nod, per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan (via Twitter).
Fisher gets the call over fellow prospects Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, and Myles Straw. Of the four, only Alvarez has yet to use an option this season as he is not on the 40-man roster. This will be Fisher’s second stint with the big league club in 2019, having appeared briefly in back-to-back games on May 4th and 5th. In both games he entered late as a defensive replacement, grounding out in his only at-bat. Fisher last made the Astros top prospects list in 2016 when MLB.com clocked him at #5. He has since been ineligible, as he gained rookie eligibility the year after, hitting .212/.307/.356 across 166 plate appearances for the eventual World Series champs.
There’s still lots to like about Fisher, 25, who has raked to the tune of .314/.379/.555 in 33 games for Round Rock this season, while he’s mostly provided good power and a measured approach throughout his minor league career. The hope is that Springer’s injury is a short-term one remedied with a couple weeks rest, which could play into Houston’s decision to tab Fisher over Tucker or Alvarez, as Fisher is best prepped for an up-and-down style call-up, given his experience in doing so. Even with Springer sidelined, Fisher will have to compete for outfield at-bats with Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp. Of course, about half of Springer’s time this season has been in centerfield, where Fisher far outpaces either Tucker or Alvarez.
With that in mind, however, Marisnick likely has the most ground to gain while Springer heals. Marisnick, 28, has actually seen the bulk of the playing time in center this season, starting 26 games and appearing in 35 of 52 overall. Metrics peg him as quite good out there as well, with 4 DRS and 2.3 UZR thus far while posting consistently positive defensive numbers since his debut in 2013. Though he’s long been a toolsy and useful piece for the Astros, he is already enjoying a mini-breakout in 2019, punching well above his weight at .284/.340/.558 worth 1.2 fWAR – not too far off his season-high number of 1.8 fWAR (in 2015).
It’s certainly an embarrassment of riches for the Astros, who should have no trouble covering for Springer in his absence. Still, it’s unfortunate for the 29-year-old who is off to the best start of his career at 2.7 fWAR via a .308/.389/.643 slash line and power surge evidence by 17 home runs and a somewhat ridiculous .335 ISO. Fisher could certainly be auditioning for another big league ball club during this stint, though there’s room for everyone long-term should Houston hold onto their prospects, as Brantley, Springer, Reddick and Marisnick could all depart via free agency after the 2020 season.
The Astros will place outfielder George Springer on the 10-day disabled list due to a left thumb sprain, with MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (Twitter link) and others reporting the news. Derek Fisher will be called up to take Springer’s spot on the 25-man roster, as The Athletic’s Robert Murray tweeted earlier today.
Springer suffered the injury yesterday, when his thumb was clipped by the glove of Dodgers shortstop Chris Taylor while Springer was attempting to steal second base. X-rays taken yesterday on Springer’s thumb were negative, and he is only expected to miss around two weeks, as he avoided a more serious UCL sprain.
[Updated Astros depth chart at Roster Resource]
Still, even two weeks without the star outfielder is an issue for an Astros team that is suddenly missing several of its most notable names due to injury. Springer joins Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Chris Devenski, Lance McCullers Jr. and Brian McCann on the disabled list, with only Correa potentially close to a return. Houston’s lead over the streaking Athletics in the AL West has shrunk to just four games, so the Astros could find themselves as active players in the August trade market to bolster themselves down the stretch. Outfield depth could be of particular concern, as some combination of Fisher, Tony Kemp, and Jake Marisnick will be handling center field and mostly left field duties for the time being. Utilityman Marwin Gonzalez could also see some action in left field (though he has been filling in for Altuve at second base), while Josh Reddick will hold the fort in right field.
Springer has 19 homers and a .250/.335/.436 slash line over 485 PA this season. While still solid numbers, they represent the lowest wRC+ (115) over Springer’s five-year career, and a marked step down from his .889 OPS in 2017. He was off to a strong start to the year before hitting a prolonged slump in mid-June, as Springer has hit just .175/.281/.312 over his last 180 plate appearances. Some bad luck has been involved, as Springer’s .353 xwOBA is notably higher than his .331 wOBA.
White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia likely won’t return to game action until the end of June, the team announced. Garcia, who has been out since April 24 with a strained right hamstring, underwent an MRI “that revealed improvement but the continued presence of a grade 2 strain,” per the club. On the heels of a terrific 2017, Garcia looked like a potential trade chip entering this season. However, between Garcia’s lengthy absence and the fact that he opened 2018 with a .233/.250/.315 line and no walks in 76 pre-injury plate appearances, his trade value has likely taken a sizable hit this year.
- Athletics slugger Khris Davis left their game Sunday with a right groin strain, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. The severity isn’t known, though Slusser points out that groin strains tend to take anywhere from two to six weeks to heal. A stint on the disabled list seems like a strong possibility, then, and that would be a tough development for the surging A’s. The club’s on its way to a 25-22 start, and Davis has certainly had a role in that with a .235/.307/.497 line and a team-high 13 homers in 205 PAs.
- Yankees first baseman Greg Bird could make his season debut during the upcoming week, manager Aaron Boone told Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News and other reporters Sunday. Bird hasn’t played this year on account of the right ankle surgery he underwent in late March, after missing most of last season with foot problems and all of 2016 with a torn labrum. Owners of the majors’ best record (29-13), the Yankees have gotten off to a great start without the talented Bird, thanks in part to first base fill-in Tyler Austin’s production. The 26-year-old rookie has smacked two HRs on Sunday to give him eight on the season and raise his OPS to .930 through 100 PAs.
- The Astros have placed outfielder Derek Fisher on the DL (retroactive to Saturday) and recalled corner infielder/outfielder J.D. Davis from Triple-A, per reports from Mark Berman of FOX 26 and Jake Kaplan of The Athletic. Fisher, who has hit just .176/.222/.419 in 81 PAs, is dealing with gastrointestinal discomfort. Like Fisher, Davis hasn’t been great at the big league level this year (250/.357/.250 in 28 PAs). However, the 25-year-old laid waste to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League prior to Sunday’s call-up, slashing .415/.473/.654 in 146 tries.
12:27pm: Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports (via Twitter) that the Astros have had talks with the Pirates about a trade that would send Cole to Houston. Young outfielder Derek Fisher’s name has come up in negotiations, though Passan notes that the Pirates “almost certainly would need Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley” to headline the deal.
The 24-year-old Fisher entered the 2017 season as a well-regarded outfield prospect and elevated his status with a .318/.384/.583 batting line in 384 Triple-A plate appearances. That led to Fisher’s first MLB promotion, though he struggled to a .212/.307/.356 slash in a small sample of 166 PAs with Houston.
Tucker and Whitley, by most accounts, two of the top prospects in Houston’s system (if not the two very best). Each is a former first-round pick, with Tucker going fifth overall in 2015 and Whitley being tabbed with the 17th selection in the 2016 draft. Both reached Double-A in 2017 despite being four to five years younger than the league average in the Texas League. Whitley displayed some of the most intriguing strikeout numbers of any starter in the minors, while Tucker posted a composite .874 OPS between Class-A Advanced and Double-A.
11:25am: The Astros have been connected to Yu Darvish at various points throughout the offseason, and owner Jim Crane confirmed to reporters today that his club is in the market for a top-shelf pitching addition (Twitter links, with video, from MLB.com’s Alyson Footer). Crane didn’t suggest that his front office is zeroed in on one particular target, instead suggesting that an upgrade could come either via free agency or trade.
“[General manager] Jeff [Luhnow] and his team are actively pursuing a high-end starter,” said Crane. “We don’t have anything done yet, and it may not come to be, but we’re constantly looking to improve the team. … We’re always trying to upgrade the team, so it would have to be a significant upgrade. We’re happy where we’re at. I’ve been told that on paper we have the best team in baseball, but paper doesn’t win titles.”
Darvish has been the most prominently mentioned name in connection with the Astros, though the free-agent market also features Jake Arrieta while the trade market could bear names such as Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer (among other, potentially yet unforeseen candidates).
Houston, of course, already boasts a stacked starting rotation. Justin Verlander looked arguably better than ever following an Aug. 31 trade from Detroit to Houston, and he’ll return to front a rotation that includes 2015 AL Cy Young Winner Dallas Keuchel, high-upside young righty Lance McCullers, and 2017 breakout stars Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock. The ’Stros also have veteran Collin McHugh on hand as a solid back-of-the-rotation option and a number of high-end prospects waiting in the upper minors (including Francis Martes and David Paulino, each of whom has already made his MLB debut).
However, the Astros could also be on the verge of losing Keuchel and Morton to free agency, as each has just one year of team control remaining. While the development of Martes and/or Paulino could lead to the emergence of some internal replacements, Houston could very well see Verlander depart after the 2019 season. As such, adding a top-end starter right now would not only give the Astros an even more formidable collection of starters, it’d also serve as insurance against the possibility of losing arguably their top three starters over the course of the next two years (although Cole, it should be noted, only comes with two years of team control himself).