Astros bench coach Joe Espada has been linked to another managerial opening, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link) that the Giants have asked the Astros for permission to speak to Espada. This will mark the third team who has put Espada on their radar this offseason, as he has already interviewed with the Cubs and received some consideration from the Angels before Los Angeles hired Joe Maddon. At least three more teams (the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Rangers) all considered Espada for managerial vacancies last offseason, as well.
- Mother Nature gave baseball an unscheduled rest day on Wednesday when she decided to pour vociferous showers along the East Coast–could she also have handed the Astros a competitive advantage in the ALCS? This is one question explored by Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, who notes that the pause in the action has allowed manager AJ Hinch to skip Wednesday’s planned Jose Urquidy-plus-bullpen game (link). Instead, the ’Stros will skip straight to a Justin Verlander/Zack Greinke 1-2 combo for games 4 and 5. “As soon as we can use our best pitchers, the better for us,” Hinch told reporters via teleconference. “It was an easy decision.” The rain delay will force both teams to play the next four games without delay (if games 6 and 7 prove necessary). This state of affairs figures to favor Houston, considering that their rotation makes them slightly less bullpen-reliant than New York. Of course, October is where the unexpected so often comes to pass, so it’s important to remember that Rome’s forecast is exactly that.
In less than three hours, Astros ace Gerrit Cole will take the field at Yankee Stadium in the hopes of securing his team a 2-1 lead over New York in the ALCS. Judging from quotes made to Scott Miller of Bleacher Report, his teammates are likely to be feeling mighty confident when Cole toes the rubber. “When you have Gerrit Cole on the mound, we win,” Houston manager AJ Hinch told Miller. “We have. We’ve kind of proven that.” Not wrong. Cole, 29, hasn’t lost a decision since May 22 (a date which preceded the Stanley Cup Finals, for reference) and is coming off a Divisional Series performance that saw him strike out 25 of the 54 Rays batters he faced. His success has been so tremendous that even his fellow Astros have begun to muse on just how much money the UCLA product might be in line to receive in free agency this winter. “I think everybody’s looking at that across baseball,” said outfielder Josh Reddick. “Harper money? Machado money? It’s going to be interesting.”
The Houston Astros announced their roster for the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, which begins tonight in Houston. Two changes were made from the ALDS…
Wade Miley and Myles Straw are the two casualties from the NLDS group. Miley would have been a candidate to start game four, but momentum has moved increasingly to Jose Urquidy to get the nod for that game. Straw appeared in games 1 and 2 of the ALDS as a pinch-runner, but he is a numbers casualty here as the Astros decided to carry a 12th pitcher.
Right-handers Bryan Abreu and Brad Peacock join the group. Peacock can serve as a long man out of the pen, or he could be a candidate to start the fourth game of the series. Abreu is an especially interesting add, as the 22-year-old has just 7 big league appearances under his belt. A high-spin-rate curveball is his trademark pitch, and though he was a starter in High-A and Double-A for most of the season, his 6 September appearances were enough to prove his postseason utility to the Houston brass. He struck out 13 batters in 8 2/3 big league innings, giving up just 4 hits.
Here’s the complete 25-man unit:
- Bryan Abreu
- Gerrit Cole
- Zack Greinke (probably game 1 starter)
- Will Harris
- Josh James
- Roberto Osuna
- Brad Peacock
- Ryan Pressly
- Hector Rondon
- Joe Smith
- Jose Urquidy
- Justin Verlander (probable game 2 starter)
Miley’s absence is the most notable for a couple of reasons. He provided steady production for most of the season, finishing 14-6 with a 3.98 ERA/4.51 FIP across 33 starts and 167 1/3 innings. He also saw postseason success for last season’s Brewers when he carried a 1.23 ERA over 14 2/3 postseason innings. He appeared in game three of this year’s ALDS, surrendering 4 hits and 2 earned runs across 2 2/3 innings in relief of Zack Greinke. Miley is a free agent at the end of the season after signing a one-year, $4.5MM deal with Houston this offseason. Being left off the ALCS roster is not likely to affect the market for his services this winter.
Without Miley, the Astros aren’t carrying a single left-handed pitcher on the roster. The Yankees are flush with right-handed power hitters, so it’s not necessarily a glaring need, but it’s still worth noting. Of course, the Astros have gone without a lefty in their pen for stretches of the season, and it’s a cosmetic issue nonetheless. Pressly, Harris, James, Osuna, and Urquidy have all fared as well or better against lefties this season as against righties, despite the unseemliness of throwing with their right hand.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Astros skipper A.J. Hinch each spoke with the media today and divulged the upcoming starting pitching plans of their respective organizations. The teams have each named starters through the first three contests in the American League Championship Series.
Game 1, tomorrow night in Houston, will feature Masahiro Tanaka and Zack Greinke. The 30-year-old Tanaka has had his share of ups and downs in recent seasons, but turned in a strong effort against the Twins in the ALDS (one earned run in five innings with seven strikeouts and one walk). Greinke, who was acquired with a series like this in mind, struggled badly in his first postseason showing with his new team. But he’s one of the game’s most experienced hurlers and remains vested with quite a lot of trust.
Thereafter, the clubs will turn the ball over to their best starters. James Paxton goes against Justin Verlander in game 2, while Luis Severino will square off against Gerrit Cole in game 3, the first contest at Yankee Stadium. There’s little doubt that Houston’s co-aces have the advantage on paper, but the Yankees duo is also amply talented.
Each of the six pitchers listed above will be faced with a massive challenge. As Greinke put it today, in typically dry manner, “it’s tough to get good hitters out than not as good hitters.” Both lineups (and benches) are loaded with good hitters.
Unless these starters can fill up a lot of frames, the two teams’ bullpens could end up getting a workout as well. That has the potential to make things quite interesting in game 4. Neither team has a clear, high-end starting option ready to run out after their top three arms. Even if the Astros roll with Jose Urquidy, he’ll be going on a short leash with expectations of leaning on multiple relievers. While the Yankees can get some length from Luis Cessa and/or Jonathan Loaisiga, they’ll likely be attempting a true bullpen game in a high-stakes situation.
Astros right-hander and potential AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole just mowed down the Rays for the second time in the teams’ LDS matchup. Thanks in large part to the sheer brilliance he displayed in the second and fifth games of the series, the Astros have moved on in the postseason and are one step from advancing to the World Series. No matter how the year ends for the Astros, though, Cole’s in for a prosperous few months as arguably the preeminent soon-to-be free agent in baseball.
Cole, who just turned 29 a month ago, looks likely to head into the winter with a realistic chance at securing a $200MM-plus contract. As noted earlier this week, just four other hurlers (David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke) have reached that milestone to this point. But how does Cole compare to each member of that group when they signed their deals? Let’s stack up Cole against the younger versions of those starters in several key categories…
- Age when their contracts took effect: Price: 30; Kershaw: 26; Scherzer: 31; Greinke: 32
- Career average fastball velocity – Cole: 96.1 mph; Price: 94.2; Kershaw 93.2; Scherzer: 93.4; Greinke: 92.3
- Career ERA/FIP – Cole: 3.22/3.06; Price: 3.10/3.19; Kershaw: 2.61/2.88; Scherzer: 3.60/3.38; Greinke: 3.34/3.32
- Career strikeout percentage – Cole: 27.6; Price: 23.4; Kershaw: 25.4; Scherzer: 25.7; Greinke: 21.6
- Career walk percentage – Cole: 6.5; Price: 6.4; Kershaw: 8.3; Scherzer: 7.5; Greinke: 6.0
- Career groundball percentage – Cole: 44.7; Price: 44.3; Kershaw: 43.9; Scherzer: 38.7; Greinke: 43.8
- Career hard-contact percentage – Cole: 30.1; Price: 26.7; Kershaw: 24.4; Scherzer: 28.3; Greinke: 27.9
While the above numbers don’t tell the entire story, it’s inarguable that they carry significant importance when evaluating the usefulness of a pitcher. And there’s no doubt they make it clear that Cole’s career has compared quite favorably to all members of the $200MM class when they received their exorbitant paydays.
Adding to Cole’s appeal, he’ll journey to free agency as hands down the No. 1 starter on the market – someone who’s fresh off back-to-back dominant seasons, a third straight 200-inning campaign and perhaps a heroic playoff run. With all of those factors in mind, it would be perfectly reasonable for Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, to try to secure a contract in a record range for his client. Price ($217MM over seven years), Kershaw (7/$215MM), Scherzer (7/$210MM) and Greinke (6/$206.5MM) continue to lead the way for now, but they may have company soon.
Last night’s contests delivered high drama — one at the very outset, the other at the end. That left three of the four championship series spots claimed, with the Nationals joining the Cardinals in the NLCS and the Yankees already ticketed for the ALCS. But who’ll square off against New York’s savages? That’ll be decided tonight.
The pressure is on the Astros, who have already squandered two opportunities to clinch the series. Two of Houston’s three exceptional starters failed to close it out, so they’ll hand the ball to the final member of the trio. Gerrit Cole doesn’t have the Hall of Fame resume that his teammates do — yet, at least — but he’s at top form and is arguably the best of the group right now. The Rays have only scored runs in bunches once in this series, but their pesky and balanced group of hitters will try to scratch out some runs against the dominant Cole. If he had a soft spot this year, it was — like so many others — in the long ball department. Cole allowed 1.23 per nine on a 16.9% HR/FB rate during the regular season. Houston skipper A.J. Hinch may ultimately face some nervy decisions late in this game, but he’ll surely ride Cole as long as possible.
Tampa Bay counters with pure power of its own in the form of Tyler Glasnow. While he hasn’t come close to Cole, his former Pirates teammate, in overall output over the past two seasons, Glasnow has the ability to dominate as well. He’ll also have a chance to further extend his pitch count after throwing 76 pitches and lasting 4 1/3 frames in the first game of this series. That’s just the first step of the Rays’ strategy, which is sure to involve a parade of relievers once Glasnow exits. The club pushed several of its best arms hard in game four, but an intervening rest day should leave plenty of options at the disposal of manager Kevin Cash. He and the staff will be trying to navigate an almost laughably talented Houston run-production machine.
It’s hard not to like the battle-tested, star-studded Astros at home with Cole on the mound, but the Rays have already proven they won’t back down. Who do you think will take it tonight and book a date with the Yanks?
(Poll link for app users)
A year ago at this time, the baseball world was gearing up to see outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado reach free agency. They represented a pair of rare 26-year-old franchise players who were on the cusp of hitting the open market, and there was little doubt they’d end up with a couple of the richest contracts in the history of the sport. While the two wound up sitting on the market for longer than some may have expected, they ultimately did score the largest deals ever awarded in free agency before the offseason concluded. Harper left the Nationals for the Phillies’ 13-year, $330MM offer, while Machado waved goodbye to the Dodgers after a short stay in LA and signed with the Padres for 10 years and $300MM.
It wasn’t surprising that Harper and Machado reeled in $300MM-plus guarantees last winter, whereas there’s little chance of a free agent approaching that figure this offseason. That’s not a knock on the absolute best players in the upcoming class, though, as Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole and Nationals third baseman/ex-Harper teammate Anthony Rendon do have cases to collect massive paydays. In fact, both players – a pair of Scott Boras clients – have strong arguments to reach or exceed $200MM in guarantees on their forthcoming contracts.
Cole, who turned 29 last month, could not only win the AL Cy Young after putting up a 2.50 ERA/2.64 FIP with a ridiculous 326 strikeouts in 212 regular-season 1/3 innings, but the ace workhorse may also aid his cause with an epic playoff run. Cole looked to be setting himself up for a postseason in his start this past Saturday. He ran roughshod over the Rays in 7 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 15 hitters, issuing one walk and allowing four hits during a 3-1 victory.
Regardless of how the rest of the postseason goes for Cole, Boras will likely try to get his client a pact in the vicinity of the all-time record for a pitcher. That honor has belonged to Red Sox lefty David Price since December 2015, when he inked a seven-year, $217MM contract as a free agent. Nationals righty Max Scherzer, another Boras client, isn’t far behind on the seven-year, $210MM deal he scored via the open market the winter before Price landed his accord.
Indications are that Rendon, who’s also 29, has already turned down money in the Price/Scherzer neighborhood in advance of his much-anticipated foray into free agency. Rendon spurned a seven-year, $210MM-$215MM offer (with deferrals) from Washington, perhaps in hopes of signing a contract that’s closer to the seven-year, $234MM extension Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado received before this season. While Rendon, who finally earned his first All-Star nod this year, is neither as decorated nor as young as the four-time All-Star Arenado (28), there’s a legitimate case he’s the superior player.
Dating back to 2017, which is admittedly an arbitrary cutoff point, Rendon ranks fourth among position players in fWAR (19.9; Arenado’s ninth with 17.4), trailing only MVP winners Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich. And Rendon seems likely to garner serious consideration for this year’s NL MVP honors, having slashed a career-best .319/.412/.598 with personal highs in home runs (34) and fWAR (7.0) across 646 regular-season plate appearances.
It may be a long shot, but we could see Cole and Rendon square off against one another if in the Fall Classic in the next few weeks. No matter how the season ends for their teams, though, which of the two stars do you expect to emerge from the winter with the bigger contract?
(Poll link for app users)
The Astros and Dodgers “were at an impasse” in trade negotiations over reliever Josh Fields at the 2016 trade deadline, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said, before Luhnow decided to aim beyond L.A.’s farm system. As Luhnow tells MLB.com’s Alyson Footer, the Astros had had interest in Yordan Alvarez as an international signing before he agreed to a deal with Los Angeles in June 2016. “Really, it wasn’t until the day of the deadline that I remembered the Dodgers had signed Alvarez, and I thought, ’Well, if we can’t get a minor league player that we’re really excited about, why don’t we just take a flier on this young guy that they just signed that I know we like?’ ” Luhnow said.