- Dallas Keuchel hopes to remain with the Astros over the long term, and the ace southpaw tells NBCSports.com’s Evan Drellich that “winning is going to be the biggest factor” in deciding his future, whether that involves signing an extension with Houston or leaving in free agency after the 2018 season. The Astros certainly seem well-positioned to be long-term contenders, though they’ll face some interesting decisions about keeping their core together over the coming years, with Keuchel being the first of their cornerstone players to reach the open market.
The Tigers have announced that they have sent young outfielder Juan Ramirez to the Astros. He becomes the player named to complete the late August blockbuster that sent righty Justin Verlander to Houston.
In exchange for that pair of players, as well as $16MM to cover some of Verlander’s remaining salary, the Tigers picked up a trio of prospects. Righty Franklin Perez, outfielder Daz Cameron, and catcher Jake Rogers were all added to the Detroit farm system.
Coincidentally, the announcement comes on the eve of Verlander’s scheduled ALCS start. The swap has paid dividends for Houston thus far, as the veteran starter has been outstanding. Of course, the Tigers are far better served by interesting young talent than by Verlander at this stage.
Ramirez, now 18, landed with the Detroit organization as an international free agent back in 2015. He landed a $185K bonus to sign out of his native Dominican Republic. Ramirez saw 46 games of action this year in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, turning in a .301/.385/.362 batting line with twenty walks against just 14 strikeouts. Despite the clear lack of power, that sort of approach holds obvious appeal.
- Improved health, a lower arm slot and an altered slider all led to Brad Peacock’s breakout year, though as recently as this Spring Training, Peacock seemed a longshot to make the Astros roster or even stay in Major League Baseball, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle writes. “We thought we were going to Japan, honestly,” said Peacock’s wife Stephanie. Dan Straily’s emergence in 2016 made the Astros hesitant about giving up on another arm, however, and Peacock found a roster spot when Collin McHugh began the year on the DL. The rest was history — over 132 innings as a starter and a reliever, Peacock posted a 3.00 ERA, 10.98 K/9 and 2.82 K/9 rate. He’ll make his first postseason appearance today as Houston’s starter in Game 3 of the ALDS.
In a strongly worded piece, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports hammers the Red Sox ownership for being too strict regarding the luxury tax threshold. According to Drellich, many in Boston believed that Edwin Encarnacion would be the replacement for franchise icon David Ortiz. Instead, the Indians got him on a contract that many consider to be a bargain. Meanwhile the Red Sox finished 27th of 30 major league teams in total home runs, and 20th in wOBA. That hasn’t changed in the postseason, as they’ve been outscored by the surging Astros 16-4 so far in the ALDS. Now the Red Sox are in an 0-2 hole heading back to Boston for Game 3, and their offense faces a daunting task in trying to defeat Houston in three straight games. “The Sox’ greatest stumble this year might have been over a pile of cash,” Drellich writes. The article provides a harsh criticism of the Red Sox ownership and is certainly an interesting read.
More from around the AL…
- The Baseball America Twitter account took us back in time this morning by tweeting out an article J.J. Cooper wrote about the Royals back in 2011. With Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas all set to hit free agency (among others), it’s fair to wonder whether Kansas City’s window of contention has closed, so it’s certainly fun to take a nostalgic look back at BA’s assessment of a farm system that was stacked with so much talent. The Royals, of course, ended up going to the World Series in both 2014 and 2015, coming away with a title in the latter year.
- Twins center fielder Byron Buxton left the Wild Card game early with an injury that was initially described as “upper back tightness”. But according to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, Buxton was trying to play through a cracked rib. Berardino’s source tells him that the injury is unlikely to affect Buxton’s offseason training program. Buxton hit .300/.347/.546 with 11 homers and 13 stolen bases in the second half, and is under team control through the 2021 season.
- The seven-year, $161MM contract given to Chris Davis has been disappointing for Orioles fans so far, Rich Dubroff of pressboxonline.com writes. Indeed, Davis missed significant time in 2017 with an oblique strain and was barely above replacement level when he was in the lineup. Dubroff points out some absolutely horrific stats, such as Davis’ 42.8% strikeout rate and that he went 1-for-53 after reaching an 0-2 count, striking out in 42 of those at-bats. A resurgent Davis would certainly be helpful to a Baltimore club that plans to contend next year, so the O’s will surely be hoping he can return something closer to his 2013 and 2015 production.
Indians cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion left last night’s game with an ankle injury. While trying to get back to second base in order to avoid being doubled up, his ankle hit the bag and appeared to bend to a gruesome extent. The right-handed DH could not put weight on his right leg as he was helped off the field. While there’s no word yet on the severity of the injury, Encarnacion appeared to be in a lot of pain. The Indians added the slugger on a three-year, $60 million contract this past offseason, and he rewarded them with a .258/.377/.504 season in which he smacked 38 homers and drove in 107 runs. He’s a tremendous right-handed power hitter amidst a left-heavy lineup, and his absence for any length of time would be a huge blow to a Cleveland team that is searching for its first title since 1948.
More from some teams still playing baseball in October…
- Dallas Keuchel of the Astros had always felt as though the team was missing a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse. “Guys were just waiting for the Astros to get a lot better,” he tells Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. After adding Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran, Houston soared to a 101-61 record and currently have a 2-0 lead on Boston in the ALDS. A.J. Hinch also appreciates the value of having these veteran players. “They’ve taken everybody under their wing, they’ve developed a culture in the clubhouse and a chemistry that’s all inclusive, which I can appreciate.” Most notably, the piece reveals that Carlos Beltran has become a strong mentor for fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Correa.
- Nationals assistant hitting coach Jacque Jones has been suspended indefinitely, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. According to a civil suit filed on September 28th, Jones allegedly distributed nude photos of an ex, causing her to suffer “general and special damages”. Dusty Baker described the news as “kind of a downer” before last night’s game, describing Jones as a big part of the team. In Jones’ absence, minor league hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich will serve as the assistant to hitting coach Rick Schu.
Here’s the latest from around the AL West…
- Jerry Dipoto originally signed a three-year deal with the Mariners, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports, so the general manager is entering his last year under contract. Seattle is 164-160 in two seasons under Dipoto, with a winning year in 2016 followed up by a disappointing, injury-filled year this season. There haven’t been any rumblings about Dipoto’s job security, however, and it would make sense if the M’s explored extensions with Dipoto and manager Scott Servais (whose deal is also up after 2018) this winter in order to avoid lame-duck status for either man. More pressure would seem to be on Servais since managers are more readily replaced than GMs, though Dipoto recently defended his skipper against some reports of clubhouse criticism. The firings of bench coach Tim Bogar and first base coach Casey Candaele does remove some of Servais’ support system — Heyman notes that Candaele and Servais are good friends, while Bogar is close with Dipoto.
- The Angels announced earlier this week that hitting coach Dave Hansen won’t return to the club next season. Hansen had been with L.A. for the last four seasons, first as an assistant hitting coach and then taking over the lead job in 2016-17. The Angels finished near the bottom of most offensive categories last year, as Mike Trout (181), Andrelton Simmons (103) and late-August addition Justin Upton (137) were the only regulars to finish with a wRC+ above the league-average 100 mark. (Yunel Escobar also finished with a 100 wRC+ on the dot.)
- Analytics played a major role in the Astros’ rebuild and subsequent rise to World Series contender, though as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe writes, the Astros are now faced with the challenge of staying ahead of the curve. “It’s a double-edged sword. If [other teams are] following things we did first, it means, a) it works; and b) our advantage is gone, or dissipating,” Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said. “That’s why we’re constantly trying to figure out how we can gain small advantages in multiple areas. We’re all observing each other. I copy what I see works with other teams and vice-versa. Keeping things a secret allows you to benefit longer but it’s hard to do.”
Astros fans were subjected to three consecutive 100-loss seasons as the Jeff Luhnow-led front office aimed to build a young core by stockpiling talent in the draft. That approach led the Astros multiple top-five overall selections in the draft, and the team also leaned on creative means of utilizing its draft to nab highly touted prospects that slid down the board due to signability concerns. The finishing touches on this year’s 101-win team were made last offseason in trades (Brian McCann), free agency (Josh Reddick, Charlie Morton, Carlos Beltran) and of course, with this August’s last-minute Justin Verlander blockbuster.
Houston drew plenty of criticism from skeptics of their data-driven approach as they effectively tanked multiple seasons, but they now sport an imposing all-around roster the looks poised for a lengthy run of success. Here’s how they built the roster that now has the opportunity to make Sports Illustrated’s infamous 2014 prediction come true…
- HOMEGROWN (8)
- Jose Altuve, 2B: International Free Agent (Venezuela) March ’07
- Dallas Keuchel, SP: Drafted 7th Rd ’09
- George Springer, OF: Drafted 1st Rd (11) ’11
- Carlos Correa, SS: Drafted 1st Rd (1) ’12
- Lance McCullers Jr., SP: Drafted 1st Rd (41) ’12
- Tyler White, INF: Drafted 33rd Rd ’13
- Derek Fisher, OF: Drafted 1st Rd (37) ’14
- Alex Bregman, 3B: Drafted 1st Rd (2) ’15
- ACQUIRED VIA FREE AGENCY (6)
- Luke Gregerson, RP: December ’14 (OAK) — Signed to a three-year, $18.5MM contract.
- Yulieski Gurriel, 1B: July ’16 (Cuba) — Signed to a five-year, $47.5MM contract.
- Josh Reddick, OF: November ’16 (LAD) — Signed to a four-year, $52MM contract.
- Charlie Morton, SP: November ’16 (PHI) — Signed to a two-year, $14MM contract.
- Juan Centeno, C: December ’16 (MIN) — Signed to a minor league contract.
- Carlos Beltran, OF: December ’16 (TEX) — Signed to a one-year, $16MM contract.
- ACQUIRED VIA TRADE (9)
- Marwin Gonzalez, INF/OF: December ’11 (BOS) — Acquired in the trade that sent Marco Duarte to the Red Sox. Gonzalez had just been drafted by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft.
- Joe Musgrove, RP: July ’12 (TOR) — Acquired in the trade that sent J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter to the Blue Jays.
- Chris Devenski, RP: August ’12 (CWS) — Acquired in the trade that sent Brett Myers to the White Sox.
- Brad Peacock, SP: February ’13 (OAK) — Acquired in the trade that sent Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez to the Athletics.
- Evan Gattis, C: November ’15 (ATL) — Acquired in the trade that sent Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman to the Braves.
- Ken Giles, RP: December ’15 (PHI) — Acquired in the trade that sent Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, Thomas Eshelman, Mark Appel, and Harold Arauz to the Phillies.
- Brian McCann, C: November ’16 (NYY) — Acquired in the trade that sent Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman to the Yankees.
- Francisco Liriano, RP: July ’17 (TOR) — Acquired in the trade that sent Nori Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez to the Blue Jays.
- Justin Verlander, SP: August ’17 (DET) — Acquired in the trade that sent Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron, and Jake Rogers to the Tigers.
Of the players on Houston’s 25-man ALDS roster, only Beltran, Gregerson, Maybin and Liriano will be free agents at the end of the season. In fact, nearly each of the Astros’ star-caliber players can be controlled through at least 2019, with the notable exception of Keuchel, who will hit the open market next winter. With few weaknesses and a wealth of young stars that are in their prime, the Astros look to be a perennial postseason contender for the foreseeable future.
The Mets formally announced on Tuesday what has been widely expected and reported for weeks: Terry Collins is out as the team’s manager and has accepted a role as a special assistant to general manager Sandy Alderson (as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported over the weekend). Beyond that, the Mets made formal the decision to dismiss pitching coach Dan Warthen, and they’ve also cut ties with head trainer Ray Ramirez. The rest of the team’s training and conditioning staff will return, and Warthen has been offered another role in the organization.
The Mets will retain hitting coach Kevin Long and assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler as well as third base coach Glenn Sherlock. The team hasn’t cut bench coach Dick Scott, first base coach Tom Goodwin or bullpen coach Ricky Bones, but each will be granted permission to speak with other teams once a new manager is selected. Notably, Mike Puma of the New York Post reported earlier this morning that the Mets will begin their managerial search, in earnest, this week.
Among the top external candidates, as previously reported by Puma and others, are Astros bench coach Alex Cora and Dodgers bench coach Bob Geren (who formerly served as the Mets’ bench coach under Terry Collins). The Mets, Puma writes, may try to get permission to interview Cora and Geren this week before their respective teams begin postseason play in the divisional series. He also suggested that Scott could be given the opportunity to interview as Collins’ replacement.
Regarding the pitching coach vacancy, Puma wrote that Bones is a top candidate to step into that role, which could open an opportunity for former Mets closer John Franco to interview as the team’s new bullpen coach. The 57-year-old Franco, who spent 14 seasons pitching for the Mets, has interest in coaching for his former team, according to Puma.
Ramirez’s dismissal as head trainer comes on the heels of one of the most injury-plagued seasons for any team in recent memory. While it’s certainly not fair to pin the entirety of the team’s injury woes on him, it’s long seemed possible that the staggering amount of Mets injuries this year would have some type of ramifications on the training/medical staff.
Noah Syndergaard missed most of the season with a torn lat muscle that was suffered after his now infamous decision to refuse an MRI. The Mets were also without Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler for much of the season due to various arm injuries (including a partial tear of Lugo’s UCL), while Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, T.J. Rivera and Michael Conforto all suffered injuries on the position-player side of the equation. All of that is in addition to a season-long absence for David Wright, though his health has been an ongoing issue for the past couple of seasons as he tries to work his way back from shoulder and neck surgeries.
- Astros righty David Paulino recently underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his throwing elbow but is expected to be ready for Spring Training, the team announced (MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart has the details). Paulino was placed on the 60-day DL just as he was eligible to be activated following an 80-game PED suspension. The 23-year-old was cited on top-100 prospect lists from Baseball America (51st), MLB.com (54th) and Baseball Prospectus (83rd) prior to the season and he has gotten cups of coffee in each of Houston’s last two seasons, with a 6.25 ERA over 36 big-league innings.
Aside from Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s pursuit of 60 home runs, the final day of Major League Baseball’s regular season won’t bring much drama. Colorado on Saturday became the last team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot and will be one of 10 clubs vying for World Series glory over the next month-plus. Here’s a rundown of the participants by league and seeding:
1.) Los Angeles Dodgers (record: 103-58; most recent title: 1988): The Dodgers are loaded with stars and depth, which explains how they easily exceeded the 100-win mark despite enduring a 1-15 stretch from Aug. 26 through Sept. 11. They recovered from that nightmarish 16-game showing over the season’s final couple weeks and once again look formidable entering the postseason. While the Dodgers have scored the second-fewest runs of this year’s playoff teams, they’ve still managed to pace all NL clubs in position player fWAR. Plus, with a Clayton Kershaw-fronted rotation and a Kenley Jansen-led bullpen, their staff is atop the NL in pitching fWAR.
2.) Washington Nationals (record: 97-64; most recent title: never): The Nationals cruised to an NL East crown this year despite losing center fielder Adam Eaton in April and having to go without arguably their best player, right fielder Bryce Harper, from mid-August until late September. Harper suffered a knee injury that looked like a season-ender when it happened, and while the missed time derailed his MVP chances, he’s back to lead a lineup that also includes other standouts in Anthony Rendon, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman. On the pitching side, it seems ace and Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer avoided a serious hamstring injury during his start on Saturday. If that’s the case, Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez could be the premier starting trio in the playoffs. They’ll hand off to a bullpen that has featured offered plenty of shaky performances in 2017, though midseason additions Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler have helped stabilize the Nationals’ relief corps.
3.) Chicago Cubs (record: 92-69; most recent title: 2016): At this time a year ago, Chicago was putting the finishing touches on a 103-win regular season and preparing to enter the playoffs as the odds-on favorite. Ultimately, the Cubs lived up to the billing last fall and broke a 108-year title drought in an unforgettable World Series against the Indians. They haven’t been as sharp this year, owing in part to worse performances from their pitching and defense, but are still laden with talent. There’s no shortage of quality position players on hand, including reigning MVP Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but the Cubs will need more from their staff – particularly Jake Arrieta, who’s dealing with a hamstring issue right now, and Jon Lester.
4.) Arizona Diamondbacks (record: 92-69; most recent title: 2001): One of this year’s surprise teams, the Diamondbacks rode an underrated starting staff and a top 10 offense (by runs scored) to a playoff berth. Starters Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Zack Godley, Patrick Corbin and Taijuan Walker have all turned in good to great seasons, which is why the D-backs’ starters lead the NL in fWAR. They also have a pair of offensive superstars in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, though he had a horrid September that likely ruined his MVP chances, and outfielder J.D. Martinez. The latter has been a revelation since coming over from the Tigers in a July trade, having smashed 29 home runs in 61 games and batted .304/.369/.746 in 255 plate appearances. If you’re looking for a potential Achilles’ heel, no playoff entrant has a worse wRC+ (84) against left-handed pitchers than Arizona. That doesn’t seem to bode well for a team that will face the Dodgers, whose southpaws include Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson, if it wins the NL wild-card game.
5.) Colorado Rockies (record: 87-74; most recent title: never): Primarily on account of NL MVP candidates Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies are near the top of the league in runs scored, which is what you’d expect from a team that plays half its games at Coors Field. The Rockies managed to break a seven-year playoff skid this season largely because of an improved pitching staff that sits eighth in the majors in fWAR. Still, despite the presence of Jon Gray, their rotation doesn’t look particularly imposing relative to other playoff teams’ staffs. They do, however, feature a few highly capable relievers in Greg Holland, Chris Rusin, Pat Neshek and Jake McGee.
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1.) Cleveland Indians (record: 101-60; most recent title: 1948): At 48-45, the reigning AL champions were a mere three games above .500 on July 18. Since then, they’ve run roughshod over the rest of the league en route to a 53-15 mark, including a historic 22-game winning streak from Aug. 22 to Sept. 14. The Indians lost a meaningless game to the White Sox on Saturday, but that was just their fourth defeat in the past 35 contests. Needless to say, they’re heading into the playoffs on a roll. As you’d expect, Cleveland’s roster is chock-full of excellence. MVP hopeful Jose Ramirez and all-world shortstop Francisco Lindor are at the helm of a talent-rich offense, one that supports what could be an all-time great pitching staff from top to bottom. Ace/Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, righty Carlos Carrasco and super reliever Andrew Miller, one of the faces of last year’s postseason, deservedly grab the most headlines, but good luck finding any weak links among the other pitchers the Tribe will use in the playoffs.
2.) Houston Astros (record: 100-61; most recent title: never): With a league-high 892 runs and a 121 wRC+, it’s a wonder how anyone gets the Astros out. Much of the damage has come from AL MVP front-runner Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the latter of whom missed significant time earlier this season, but ancillary pieces such as Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel have all been no worse than very good at the plate. And then there’s the one-two pitching punch of recently acquired ace Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, not to mention a deep starting staff/bullpen behind them. If there’s one big concern here, it’s that Houston may be the worst defensive team in the playoffs.
3.) Boston Red Sox (record: 93-68; most recent title: 2013): This year’s Red Sox have deviated from past Boston teams that used the likes of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez to pound opponents into submission. In fact, this is the first playoff-bound Red Sox club since 1995 to qualify for the postseason without scoring at least 800 runs. Nevertheless, they have several especially well-rounded position players (Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and the banged-up Dustin Pedroia, to name a few) who have done enough in the field to make Boston an elite defensive outfit. That defense supports the AL’s foremost southpaw, Chris Sale, and superstar closer Craig Kimbrel. Boston is entering the playoffs with some concerns in its rotation, though, including the recent struggles of Sale and the yearlong issues 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello has had. Fortunately for the Sox, starter Drew Pomeranz quelled some late-season concerns with an encouraging start against the Astros on Saturday.
4.) New York Yankees (record: 90-71; most recent title: 2009): Baby Bombers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have more than lived up to the hype this season, combining for 85 home runs and 11.7 fWAR in 1,203 PAs. Fifty-one of those long balls have come from Judge, an OPS machine and an AL Rookie of the Year shoo-in whose 8.2 fWAR leads the majors. The rest of the Yankees’ offense isn’t exactly subpar, either, as a laundry list of their other hitters have notched above-average seasons at the plate. And New York’s pitching staff could be built for October, with an incredibly strong bullpen and a rotation that features perhaps the AL’s third-best starter, Luis Severino. One of the major questions regarding the Yankees is which versions of Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka will show up in the postseason – if the team gets by the wild-card game, that is. Gray allowed between four and six earned runs in three of five September starts, while Tanaka was a mixed bag throughout the regular season. He did conclude the slate with a seven-inning, 15-K shutout against the Blue Jays on Friday, though.
5.) Minnesota Twins (record: 84-77; most recent title: 1991): In terms of teams, there probably hasn’t been a better story during the regular season than the Twins, who were 103-game losers and owners of the majors’ worst record a year ago. Adding to the improbability of their Cinderella run to the playoffs, the Twins were sellers at this year’s trade deadline, when they dealt starter Jaime Garcia to their wild-card opponent, the Yankees, and Kintzler to the Nationals. However, Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Joe Mauer & Co. were undeterred in the face of those deals and the late-summer absence of slugging third baseman Miguel Sano, who missed over a month with a left shin injury but just returned this week. Given its relatively underwhelming pitching staff, Minnesota is obviously a long shot to claim its first World Series in 26 years. For now, the Twins are focused on the Yankees, who have historically owned Minnesota in the playoffs. But New York’s past triumphs came during series. The wild-card round is a one-off, increasing the odds of an upset. The Twins’ No. 1 starter, Ervin Santana, allowed two or fewer runs in 20 of 33 starts during the regular season. If he’s that stingy against the Yankees on Tuesday – an admittedly tall order – an upset could be in the offing.
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