- The Astros’ pitching depth has taken a couple blows. The team shut down right-hander Rogelio Armenteros on account of soreness in his elbow and shoulder, and it has also shut down fellow righty Riley Ferrell because of shoulder soreness, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The 25-year-old Armenteros threw 18 innings in the majors last season; he spent most of the year at the Triple-A level, where he pitched to a 4.80 ERA/5.08 FIP with 9.07 K/9 and 3.31 BB/9 over 84 1/3 innings. Arm injuries are nothing new for Ferrell, who dealt with biceps tendinitis last season and didn’t pitch much as a result. Miami took him from Houston in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft, but the Marlins returned him to the Astros last June.
Of the six teams that finished in first place in their divisions in 2018, three (the Red Sox, Indians and Brewers) failed to defend their crowns last season. Two (the Red Sox and Indians) didn’t even make the playoffs, so ruling your division one year doesn’t mean you’ll end up in the postseason the next. Last season, the Yankees, Astros and Twins finished atop their divisions in the American League, while the Braves, Dodgers and Cardinals were the top seeds in the NL. Among those six, who’s the most vulnerable going into the new season? Let’s review the offseasons they’ve had…
- Astros: If you’ve paid any attention to baseball in the past several weeks, you know this offseason has been a catastrophe for the Astros. They got rid of general manager Jeff Luhnow and skipper A.J. Hinch as a result of a sign-stealing scandal that has rocked baseball, replacing them with James Click and Dusty Baker. The Astros are still loaded with talent, but they lost the great Gerrit Cole even before their sign-stealing shenanigans came to light. Now, there’s plenty of skepticism they’ll put together a fourth straight 100-win season after such a horrendous winter – one in which they were very quiet in free agency. What’s more, they’re stuck in a division with a legit challenger in Oakland and two improving clubs in the Angels and Rangers.
- Yankees: New York took Cole from Houston, which has been the Wile E. Coyote to the Yankees’ Road Runner in recent postseasons. The Yankees looked as if they’d have a tremendous rotation with Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka as their top four, but health woes are already haunting the club yet again after an injury-riddled 2019. Severino, who barely pitched last season, is now facing a very worrisome situation with his forearm; meanwhile, Paxton will sit out until at least May or June as a result of back surgery. The Yankees are still laden with talent, and they remain capable of pulverizing the opposition with their offense, but some of the shine has come off since the Cole signing because of the Severino and Paxton situations. Fortunately for the Yankees, there may only be one team capable of standing up to them in the AL East – the Rays.
- Twins: It was quite a winter for the Twins, who bolstered their rotation with the additions of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. They also retained Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. Perhaps more importantly, they signed third baseman Josh Donaldson for four years and $92MM – the largest contract they’ve ever given out in free agency. So, a team that hit an all-time record 307 home runs in 2019 seems as if it’ll put a similarly scary offense on the field this year. The Twins could face more resistance in their division from the White Sox, who had an aggressive winter, though the Indians haven’t really bettered themselves. The Tigers have, but they’ll still struggle to win many games, while the Royals also figure to wind up among the game’s worst teams.
(Poll link for app users)
- Dodgers: What do you get the team that won 106 games last season? How about Mookie Betts, who’s on the short list of the greatest players in the game? With Betts in tow, the Dodgers will enter 2020 as the overwhelming favorites to win their division for the eighth year in a row, but an improved Arizona club should at least offer a decent challenge. The Padres have also worked to get better since last season ended, but they don’t appear to be any match for the stacked Dodgers, while the Rockies and Giants look to be way behind.
- Braves: Atlanta’s down Donaldson, but it was rather active in adding free agents. The team plucked the likes of Marcell Ozuna, Will Smith, Cole Hamels, Travis d’Arnaud and Chris Martin off the open market. Hamels is dealing with shoulder problems, however, and it’s unclear when he’ll be able to pitch in 2020. Regardless, the Braves still have quite a bit of premier talent (Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Mike Soroka spring to mind), so it’s easy to envision them winning a third consecutive division title. At the same time, the reigning world champion Nationals, the Mets and Phillies are realistic contenders for the NL East championship.
- Cardinals: Aside from the Reds, a 75-win outfit a year ago, it wasn’t really a busy offseason for any NL Central team. That includes the Cardinals, whose biggest addition was Korean left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim (and they lost their No. 1 free agent, the aforementioned Ozuna). They’re now set to open 2020 without one of their best starters in Miles Mikolas, who just received a platelet-rich plasma injection. The good news for St. Louis is that there’s no apparent juggernaut in its division, as the Cubs and Brewers have either stayed roughly the same or gotten worse since last year ended.
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TODAY: Astros owner Jim Crane and front office staff member Derek Vigoa have been added to Bolsinger’s suit, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports. Vigoa was one of the members of the Astros’ analytics department who were allegedly behind the development of the “Codebreaker” system, as per the details of the piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond earlier this month exploring more details in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger’s “initial complaint named the Astros organization but included so-called Doe defendants, allowing it to be amended to add individuals allegedly involved,” Passan writes, so potentially more names could still be added to Bolsinger’s lawsuit.
Bolsinger, a 32-year-old righty, has never pitched for the Astros. He hasn’t even played for an affiliated club in the past two seasons; instead, he suited up for Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines.
It’s that departure from the major-league ranks that forms the factual basis for Bolsinger’s long-shot litigation. His last MLB appearance came in a Blue Jays uniform. It turned out to be a brutal August 4, 2017 outing — the very same game in which the trashcan banging scheme reached its apparent zenith. Bolsinger ended up being dumped by the Jays the day after he was tuned up by the sign-stealing ’Stros.
There is little question that the terrible results sealed Bolsinger’s fate, though that hardly establishes his right to relief (or even to pursue the suit). There are a host of potential roadblocks here. Before things can progress at all, his lawyers will have to show how their alleged facts combine to support one of his proffered theories (per the report, they’ve pled unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations). Perhaps the Astros will also argue that this matter ought to be resolved before an MLB arbitrator.
Things could get interesting if Bolsinger is able to get into the discovery phase. Full details of the trashcan scheme would assuredly be relevant to his claim. In theory, there’d be a host of fascinating factual questions relating to the game of baseball and the Astros’ deep knowledge of it, all of which Bolsinger’s counsel could try to explore through requests for documents and depositions of key figures. No doubt they’d want all the evidence the league considered in issuing punishment. Testimony from the Astros players that faced Bolsinger — current Astros regulars Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel, since-retired MLB stars Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, and four others who’ve since moved to other organizations — would assuredly be germane to the case.
Thinking of how a case might be argued to a jury of non-baseball fans is even more interesting. What of Bolsinger’s thin performance history in the majors? Or the fact that he had twice previously been designated that season by the Jays? Service time, spin rate, 40-man rosters, scouting reports, September call-ups, league-minimum salary … it’d all be open for laypeople to assess.
There will be quite a few opportunities for this matter to go away without much of interest taking place. The case seems sure to be removed to federal court; it could involve whole rounds of litigation over whether it can even be heard and if so in what venue. Finding a legal claim to suit the facts isn’t straightforward, so it could get kicked on a motion to dismiss. If Bolsinger’s side can make it past some initial hurdles, the Astros might try to settle it out. There’d surely be some major battles over how much information can be obtained through discovery. Once all the cards are on the table, there’ll be yet more ways for the Houston club to halt the proceedings (summary judgment, further settlement talks).
Baseball surely doesn’t want this matter to see a public trial. It’s not likely that it will. But it’s also hard not to imagine what that might look like.
Marlins first baseman Jesus Aguilar, Angels outfielder Brian Goodwin and Astros utility player Aledmys Diaz have all won arbitration hearings against their respective teams, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports (via Twitter). Aguilar will now earn $2.575MM in his first season with Miami, rather than the $2.325MM at which the club filed. Goodwin will be paid $2.2MM instead of the Angels’ $1.85MM submission. Diaz, meanwhile, will take home a $2.6MM salary instead of the flat $2MM filed by the Astros. Aguilar and Goodwin are repped by the MVP Sports Group, while Diaz is a client of Excel Sports.
Miami claimed the 29-year-old Aguilar off waivers from their fellow Floridians up in St. Petersburg, as the Rays weren’t keen on paying the slugger’s arb salary after picking him up in a July deal with the Brewers. Aguilar was an All-Star in 2018 when he broke out with a .274/.352/.539 slash and 35 home runs, but his offensive output scaled way back in ’19. He was hitting just .225/.320/.374 at the time the Brewers swapped him for righty Jake Faria, and while he improved a bit with Tampa Bay, his overall production this past season was nowhere near his 2017-18 levels.
That said, the Marlins clearly feels there’s significant rebound potential with Aguilar. He’s currently lined up to be the organization’s primary first baseman, and a return to form would make him a steal of a waiver claim. Aguilar is controlled through the 2022 season via arbitration, so he could be a multi-year piece in Miami if he rights the ship.
Speaking of savvy waiver claims, Goodwin was claimed by the Angels at the end of Spring Training last year after the Royals put him on release waivers. Despite being cut by a rebuilding club, Goodwin intrigued the Angels as a potential stopgap with Justin Upton sidelined. What they got instead was a very solid .262/.326/.470 slash that was accompanied by 17 home runs, 29 doubles and three triples. Goodwin was a near-regular in Anaheim last year, appearing in 136 games and taking a career-high 458 plate appearances. His output was strong enough that the Angels now view him as an important piece of the outfield puzzle. Like Aguilar, he’s controlled through 2022.
Diaz hit .271/.356/.467 in 247 plate appearances with the Astros in 2019. The versatile 29-year-old played primarily 140 innings at third base, 151 innings at second base and 161 innings at first base while also logging brief action at shortstop and in left field. Houston was Diaz’s third team in three seasons, but he’ll return to give new manager Dusty Baker some versatility off the bench and serve as a backup option for any of the team’s four regular infielders. He, too, is controlled through the 2022 season. Also of note — Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle observes that this, somewhat remarkably, is the sixth consecutive arbitration loss for the Astros organization (Twitter link).
Up until this point — as can be seen in MLBTR’s 2020 Arbitration Tracker — players had gone just 1-for-7 against teams in 2020 trials. Dodgers righty Pedro Baez was the lone player to topple his club in arbitration, while Jose Berrios, Shane Greene, Josh Hader, Joc Pederson, Eduardo Rodriguez and Tony Wolters had all come up short. The players have now evened things out a bit, as they’re suddenly 4-6 in this February’s arb proceedings. The hearings of Archie Bradley, J.T. Realmuto and Hector Neris are still pending results.
Weeks ago, Major League Baseball levied serious punishment against the Astros as a result of their sign-stealing scheme. The league suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year apiece (they’ve since been fired), took away first- and second-round draft picks in each of the next two years and fined the franchise the maximum amount of $5MM. MLB did not drop the hammer on any Astros players, however, even though many were instrumental in the scandal.
[RELATED: How MLB, Astros Dug Their Own Hole]
Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about the lack of discipline for Houston’s players this past weekend. Manfred argued that the players weren’t properly informed of the rules, so had the league come down on them, it likely would have led to “grievances and grievances that we were going to lose.” Indeed, as Evan Drellich of The Athletic explained this week (subscription required), MLB wouldn’t really have had a leg to stand on from a legal standpoint. With that in mind, Manfred & Co. decided to unleash their wrath only on the Astros organization and their higher-ups. Nevertheless, the MLBPA made clear Tuesday that it has fully cooperated with the league in regards to Houston’s misdeeds.
As part of a lengthy statement (all of which is available here via Drellich), the union said:
“The day after The Athletic published its Nov. 12 article, Major League Baseball informed the Players Association it would be conducting an investigation, and that it would want to interview players as a part of that investigation. MLB said from the outset that it was not its intention to discipline players. This was not surprising because the applicable rules did not allow for player discipline, because even if they did players were never notified of the rules to begin with, and because in past cases involving electronic sign stealing MLB had stated that Club personnel were responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules.
Against this backdrop, the Association on Nov. 13 sought and received confirmation from the league that the players interviewed and any other players would not be disciplined in connection with the allegations made in the article. We received that confirmation promptly on the evening of Nov. 13, and the player interviews began days later.
Any suggestion that the Association failed to cooperate with the Commissioner’s investigation, obstructed the investigation, or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate in the investigation is completely untrue. We acted to protect the rights of our members, as is our obligation under the law.”
The union added that it and the league have recently engaged in “regular dialogue on potential rule changes affecting sign stealing, in-game technology and video, data access and usage, Club audits and disclosures, player education and enforcement – including the potential for player discipline.” According to the MLBPA, “no issue is off the table, including player discipline,” and the way “the parties handle the next several weeks will significantly affect what our game looks like for the next several decades.”
The current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2021 season. Therefore, how the league deals with the Astros’ crimes going forward could ultimately factor into whether a work stoppage takes place in the near future.
For obvious reasons, the Astros have made plenty of negative headlines in recent weeks. The start of the regular season continues to close in, though, so despite all the outside noise, the Astros will have to turn the page and focus on defending their American League pennant from a year ago.
When they do take the field the season, the Astros’ rotation figures to look quite a bit different than the all-world unit they relied on in 2019. Gone from that group are AL Cy Young runner-up Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley, a duo that combined for almost 380 innings of excellent pitching. Now, the Astros still have a great front-of-the-rotation tandem in Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, and they’re slated to get Lance McCullers Jr. back after he missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Beyond, Verlander, Greinke and McCullers, the rest of the Astros’ rotation picture is less clear. However, pitching coach Brent Strom shed some light on it in a discussion with Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. Strom suggested that Jose Urquidy is in line for the No. 4 spot. He also revealed that the Astros don’t expect to count on righty Brad Peacock as a starter. The veteran swingman made 15 starts in 23 appearances last year, but the neck issues that slowed him in 2019 have continued. Houston now expects him to factor into its bullpen instead of its rotation.
Regarding Peacock and the Astros’ starting staff, Strom told McTaggart, “I think you can probably count [Brad] Peacock out of the race.” Strom added that Peacock’s “probably more valuable to us in the bullpen,” leaving (in his view) Austin Pruitt, Josh James and Framber Valdez to compete for the No. 5 position. Although towering righty Forrest Whitley has been one of the Astros’ top prospects for at least a couple years, he’s probably not “a viable candidate” to land a job in their season-opening rotation, according to Strom.
Among the actual competitors for the Astros’ No. 5 position, only Pruitt’s new to the team. He joined the Astros in a trade with the Rays last month. The 30-year-old’s known for his high spin rate, but it hasn’t translated to much major league success thus far. Since debuting in 2017, Pruitt has posted 199 2/3 innings of 4.87 ERA ball (with a far superior 4.17 FIP and a solid 48.9 percent groundball rate) and recorded 6.63 K/9 against 2.25 BB/9. He’s out of minor league options, so he’ll have to earn a place on Houston’s 26-man roster or potentially be lost on waivers.
James, a fellow righty, and the left-handed Valdez still have options remaining. The hard-throwing James made an encouraging – albeit brief – debut in 2018, though he had difficulty with control in a relief role last season. The 26-year-old ended up tossing 61 1/3 frames and notching a 4.70 ERA/3.98 FIP with 5.14 walks per nine. On a better note, he did log a tremendous 14.67 K/9 while averaging 97.2 mph on his fastball.
Valdez, also 26, joined James in amassing lots of innings but struggling to throw strikes last season. He walked 5.6 hitters per nine, helping lead to a 5.86 ERA/4.98 FIP in 70 2/3 innings between the Astros’ rotation and bullpen. Valdez’s strikeout rate (8.66 K/9) was a lot worse than James’, but he did induce grounders at an outstanding 62.1 percent clip.
Just-hired manager Dusty Baker will clearly have to make some key decisions in forming a new-look rotation before the season commences. Verlander, Greinke and McCullers are locks, but the Astros don’t have any proven commodities after that trio.
Fan anger surrounding the Astros cheating scandal has been stoked by the unmitigated heat coming from MLB players. Usually reserved figures (Nick Markakis being the latest) have laid bare their intense anger over the cheating of their peers and the league’s handling of the matter to date.
This isn’t how it was supposed to go for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and Astros owner Jim Crane when they released a double-whammy on January 13th. No doubt the hope was that suspending and then firing GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch (along with some punishment for the team) would do much of the necessary work of moving past a now-infamous trashcan-banging scheme — a scheme, it is important to note, that was rooted out by a combination of long-held suspicion, investigative reporting, and dedicated public analysis (aided by the very same technology that has boosted MLB’s fortunes and allowed the Astros to hatch their scheme).
While Manfred orchestrated this approach to dealing with the situation, he surely hoped the furor would die down by the time Spring Training rolled around. Instead, players around the game have directed a steady and potent stream of venom at their opponents, as well as at Manfred and Crane. It’s a reaction without precedent, and Manfred is a self-proclaimed “precedent guy.”
The curveball was not preceded by a pair of loud bangs — but perhaps they still should’ve seen it coming.
The core problem with the league’s and the team’s handling of this situation doesn’t lie in the specifics of just what punishment was meted out. It’s inherent to the crisis-management approach that MLB and the Astros adopted. It all comes off as entirely driven not by what’s right, but by what is convenient, which is precisely the wrong tone when the underlying matter of concern relates to the essential fairness of the contest that itself underlies the entire economic structure of Baseball.
In somewhat different ways, over time, Manfred, Crane and many of the Astros players have left an impression of insincerity. Initial suspicions to that effect seemed to be confirmed by later statements and actions. And that leads to yet more suspicions, which is probably why we’re all now well versed in the unwritten rules of on-field clothing removal and Jose Altuve’s tattoo travails.
More to the point, this reinforced sense of disingenuousness completely undermines the reasoning behind the punishment that was and wasn’t imposed. And it provides the tinder and kindling needed to turn a trashcan bang into a dumpster fire.
The typically reserved Mike Trout says he “lost some respect for some guys” — which is a quietly immense issuance of judgment roughly akin to your beloved grandmother softly crying and informing you that you have let her down. He says it’s unfortunate that players involved in the illicit scheme have escaped punishment.
But wait … Manfred says this too! He said just the other day he’d have punished players “in a perfect world,” explaining why he couldn’t and didn’t. So why the loathing for the commish? Why is Justin Turner calling Manfred out in such stark terms (beyond the fact that the commissioner stepped on a rake by calling the commissioner’s trophy a “piece of metal”)?
Here’s why: the league only backed into the real explanation for its stance after it couldn’t get the players to pipe down about the subject. And when the truth finally emerged, it was accompanied by a baseless suggestion that the MLBPA is at least as much to blame for the lack of punishment of specific players.
Evan Drellich of The Athletic (subscription link) and Jeff Passan of ESPN.com each covered the matter from a fundamentally legal perspective, explaining why the league simply could not have imposed punishment of the Astros players. You can read on for the full details, but the essential reason is fairly straightforward: the league didn’t act in advance to install clear rules and therefore wouldn’t have had solid legal ground to stand on in suspending or fining players.
This is, on the one hand, a sensible and comprehensible explanation. Manfred acknowledges in an interview with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link) that his office wasn’t ahead of the game when it came to the use of technology to steal signs. Whether that was or wasn’t a major failure on the league’s part can be debated. But Manfred’s hands were tied when the Astros scandal hit.
Fine. But this isn’t what we heard when Manfred issued his report and disciplinary decision a month back.
That report spent more time expressly clearing Crane of any wrongdoing or responsibility than it did mentioning legal obstacles to disciplining players. Manfred wrote that it would be “difficult and impractical” to punish specific players, not because of these newly revealed reasons but because so many had participated and some now played for other teams. He said he placed blame primarily on the leaders (Luhnow and Hinch, especially) rather than on players; indeed, Manfred wrote that “some players may have understood that their conduct was not only condoned by the Club, but encouraged by it.” We were also told that players were granted immunity for their testimony — a practical necessity to reach the truth.
Even as it revises its stance — it’s not that the initial lack of punishment was necessarily right and appropriate; it’s that, oh man, we totally would’ve suspended them but we couldn’t! — MLB has rather obviously started a whisper campaign to draw the union into the circle of distrust. There is still no public reporting to tell us much of anything about what the MLBPA did or did not do between the emergence of the scandal and the issuance of Manfred’s report. But we’re now being treated to hints (or, in some cases, outright claims) that suggest the union hindered player punishment and was wrong for doing so.
Barring some compelling information that has yet to be revealed, this is flatly ridiculous.
First of all, it isn’t as if the union has stood firmly in the way of all punishments of players. We have rules in place that give Manfred broad leeway to punish players accused of domestic violence and certain other bad acts. There’s a broad regime dealing with performance enhancing drugs. In virtually all cases in recent years, suspensions have been worked out in advance without grievance actions to challenge them. And we’ve seen strong evidence that players writ large are not cool with cheating of the Astros’ kind.
Further, there is no indication here that the union was asked for its approval of any leaguewide system for dealing with illicit sign stealers — let alone that it obstructed any league effort to do so. To the contrary, Manfred acknowledges the league didn’t have quite enough foresight. Neither is there any suggestion that the union specifically gummed up actual attempts by the league to pursue discipline against Astros players.
Rather, the implied reasoning goes like this: Manfred told Luhnow he couldn’t use technology to steal signs. Whether or not he was on notice, Luhnow didn’t tell the players in sufficient detail. That lack of notice to the players made it legally impossible to punish players who eventually cheated (with the assistance of Luhnow’s staffers). And this is … the union’s fault?
Here’s how MLB.com’s Alyson Footer states things, via Twitter: “My only point is — if players are mad Astros weren’t punished, they need to talk to the union, since the union is the reason why players were granted immunity.”
It’s rather stunning to see such an intimation that the union is somehow at fault for advocating for the rights of individual players. The union’s purpose — its legal duty, in fact — is to represent all of its members and back their rights. It would be inconceivable to give up compelling legal arguments against punishment of specific players, even if the union was also amenable to working out clear-cut rules to prevent this sort of behavior in the future. It is disingenuous to interpret the negotiation of immunity in exchange for testimony otherwise when Manfred himself acknowledged that the league simply didn’t have legal standing to issue punishment.
Rosenthal seemingly casts aspersions in a different but still notable manner: “In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.”
The suggestion here, and in other similar accounts in the media, seems to be that the MLBPA shares equal responsibility with the commissioner’s office for studying and guiding the overall path of the game. One wonders whether the league really feels this way when it is bargaining with its players. As a practical matter, the union has nowhere near the resources or the breadth of responsibilities and capabilities enjoyed by Major League Baseball. Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports has much more to say on this particular point.
Manfred has stated that the primary focus was on rooting out all the misdeeds so that we’d all know just what had happened. “We ended up where we ended up in pursuit of really, I think, the most important goal of getting the facts and getting them out there for people to know it.” Concepts of truth-finding, transparency, and opportunity for public reaction (even shaming) are perhaps all necessary building blocks to ultimate reconciliation — especially for a bad act that cannot be met with retributive justice. It’s an approach deployed in situations far more dire than this one. But while Manfred seems to acknowledge as much, this is precisely where the investigation and assessment of punishment has failed so badly.
Manfred’s report called it a player-driven scheme but didn’t name any current players, leaving it to speculation and intrigue to guess at just who had been at the center of the scandal. This only deepened the problems caused by the lack of punitive action.
Then, ensuing reporting showed that Manfred had not revealed a bevy of pertinent information he had regarding the involvement of the Astros’ front office. In what the kids call a self-own, Manfred appeared to mock Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal for digging up the “private letter” he had sent on the topic to Luhnow. Manfred did not explain why that information was provided to the suspended Luhnow but not the broader public. He did not explain how the facts he set forth in that letter related to his conclusions regarding the player-driven nature of the sign-stealing/conveying scheme. And he was bizarrely dismissive of the importance of his own communications to club officials — despite specifically premising the punishment of Luhnow and lack of punishment of Astros players upon a league-issued memorandum.
Now, we’re left wondering: Are the ’Stros players really regretful? Can we trust them when they say they didn’t cheat in 2019? How exhaustive was Manfred’s investigation of that matter? What of the still-open Red Sox situation? Just yesterday, Sox owner John Henry and CEO Sam Kennedy indicated that they’ve yet to even be interviewed as part of the league’s probe into the organization, which is set to wrap up next week. What actually is the league stance on player culpability in the use of technology to steal signs? Does anyone care about the cheating that took place, or only that it was exposed?
Just as the Astros’ words have largely rung hollow, the league’s own statements are now tumbling into an ever-widening credibility gap. “I hate where we are,” Manfred said of the scandal. Before MLB and the Astros can climb out of the hole they dug for themselves, they’ll need to backfill it with the unvarnished truth.
FEBRUARY 18: Hughes would earn $1.5MM in the majors and has a March 18th opt-out opportunity, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets.
FEBRUARY 17: The Astros have signed right-handed reliever Jared Hughes to a minor league contract and invited him to Major League Spring Training, per Jake Kaplan of The Athletic (Twitter link). He’s repped by ISE Baseball.
Hughes, 34, pitched to a 4.04 ERA with 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.64 HR/9 and a hefty 59.2 percent ground-ball rate in 71 1/3 innings between the Reds and Phillies in 2019. That ERA was his highest since way back in 2013, as Hughes has quietly racked up sharp bottom-line results for the Pirates, Brewers and Reds for much of the past decade.
From 2014-18, Hughes worked to a combined 2.41 ERA between those three NL Central foes. He totaled 329 innings in that time, but his lack of missed bats (5.8 K/9, 15.9 percent strikeout rate) seemingly limited his appeal. The Pirates released Hughes at the end of Spring Training in 2017, and after quickly signing with the Brewers, Hughes was non-tendered the following offseason. He posted nearly identical ERAs of 3.02 and 3.03 in each of the two seasons prior to being cut loose.
Hughes has never thrown particularly hard in the first place, but the 91.4 mph average on his sinker in 2019 was still a career-low. The spin on that sinker has been lower than virtually any other heater in the game (first percentile in ’18, second percentile in ’19), which is a good thing for sinkers (as opposed to with four-seamers, where a high spin rate is optimal). As such, it’s no surprise to see that Hughes has been a ground-ball machine throughout his career (61.5 percent). That should bode well for a team that boasts a quality group of defensive infielders in Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel. He’ll need to earn a spot in the bullpen first, of course, but there are enough inexperienced arms in the ’pen mix to think that Hughes will have a solid shot at making the club with a good spring effort.
Strong words from Mike Trout and Justin Turner on the Astros scandal, the Brewers add yet another versatile player, and the Braves extend their GM and manager. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd has it all in our latest video: