- The trade that sent Justin Verlander to the Astros was finalized literally just two seconds before the August 31 deadline, Sports Illustrated’s Ben Reiter reports in a behind-the-scenes look at how the blockbuster deal came together. Unable to return to his Houston home due to Hurricane Harvey, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow ended up making the final negotiations on August 31 while trying to find a cellphone signal at his in-laws’ dining table (during a dinner party, to boot).
Major League Baseball announced Thursday that Astros right-hander Mike Fiers has been suspended for five games and fined an undisclosed amount after throwing behind Luis Valbuena’s head during last night’s game against the Angels (video link). Fiers is not appealing his suspension, which will take effect tonight. After starting last night’s game, Fiers wouldn’t have been able to throw for the next three to four days anyhow, so the suspension will likely only cost him one appearance (be it a relief outing or an additional start in McCullers’ place).
[Related: Houston Astros depth chart]
Fiers made a spot start in place of Lance McCullers, who was dealing with arm fatigue, and was ambushed early by the Halos, who put up eight runs in the first two innings. Valbuena hit a two-run homer to cap off a five-run first inning and, as he’s done throughout his career, celebrated with a rather emphatic bat flip. Fiers, apparently, took exception to his former teammate’s display and let a 90 mph pitch sail behind Valbuena’s head in his next at-bat. Fiers wasn’t ejected — though the home plate umpire warned both benches — and Valbuena ultimately responded by ripping the next pitch into the right-field corner for a double.
Fiers explained to reporters that he has no hard feelings toward his former teammate and didn’t intend to hit him but rather to send a message after he felt he was disrespected (link via Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle).
The 32-year-old Fiers has pitched to a 5.22 ERA with 8.6 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9 through 153 innings in 2017 while earning a $3.45MM salary after avoiding arbitration last offseason. He’ll be arbitration-eligible again this winter and is controllable through the 2019 campaign.
Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick suffered a fractured right thumb when sliding head-first into second base in last night’s game and will undergo surgery tomorrow, the team announced. He’ll require a six- to eight-week recovery, according to the Astros, which seems likely to put an end to his 2017 season even if Houston makes a deep playoff run.
[Related: Houston Astros depth chart]
The loss of Marisnick, 26, will put an end to what has in many ways been a breakout campaign for the fleet-footed outfielder. While Marisnick’s glovework in the outfield doesn’t rate as highly as it has in past seasons (+2 Defensive Runs Saved; -4 Ultimate Zone Rating), his .243/.319/.496 batting line and 16 home runs make the 2017 campaign far and way his most productive offensive year. Marisnick is still far to prone to strikeouts (34.7 percent), but his overall output has been markedly better than the league average on a rate basis (121 OPS+, 116 wRC+).
While he’s been slumping a bit lately and hasn’t been an everyday player for most of the season, his absence will thin out the Astros’ outfield mix. Derek Fisher, George Springer, Josh Reddick and Cameron Maybin figure to see the bulk of the playing time in the outfield moving forward. The loss of Marisnick makes Houston’s move to claim Maybin off waivers look all the more important, as his right-handed bat and considerably above-average speed give him a similar skill set that will help offset Marisnick’s absence.
As planned, Felix Hernandez will come off the DL to start tonight for the Mariners, according to a club announcement. It’ll be King Felix’s first start for Seattle since July 31st. It’s been a tough year for the righty so far (this was his second stint on the disabled list for issues with his throwing shoulder), but he’ll have a chance to turn things around and keep the Mariners breathing in the AL Wild Card chase.
Some other injury news and updates from around MLB…
- Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright threw a bullpen session today, according to a tweet from MLB beat reporter Jenifer Langosch. At this point in the season, and with the Cards three games back in a battle for the NL Central pennant, it seems likely that the veteran will pitch out of the bullpen upon his return. Langosch also notes that reliever Seung-hwan Oh threw a bullpen session as well, while Jedd Gyorko and Dexter Fowler took practice on the field.
- Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick left Wednesday’s game with an apparent thumb injury after sliding into second base in the top of the third inning. Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle offers some thoughts on the unfortunate situation for the AL West-leading Astros, noting that the recently-acquired Cameron Maybin and rookie Derek Fisher are likely to see increases in playing time. The organization hasn’t released details on the severity of the injury, but manager A.J. Hinch offered that, “It doesn’t look good.” For reference, significant thumb injuries — such as fractures or ligament tears — frequently require absences of at least six to eight weeks. More information will likely be available sometime after Marisnick undergoes tests in Houston today.
- Veteran reliever Jim Johnson of the Atlanta Braves has been diagnosed with achilles tendinitis, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. He remained in Atlanta while the team traveled to Washington, and Braves manager Brian Snitker says he’s unlikely to pitch this weekend. Johnson is in the first year of a 2-year, $10MM deal with the Braves. It remains to be seen whether he’ll pitch again this season, but its certainly an unfortunate development for Johnson after losing the closer role to Arodys Vizcaino already this season. For Atlanta, the loss of Johnson thins out a bullpen that already has the fifth-highest ERA among all major league teams.
With just a few weeks left in the season, we have a pretty clear idea of which Rule 5 draft picks will stick with their drafting teams. At this point, having already carried the player this far and with expanded rosters easing any pressures, teams are quite likely to stay the course. Here’s how this season’s Rule 5 group has shaken out thus far:
It isn’t official yet, but these
- Miguel Diaz, RHP, kept by Padres (via Twins) from Brewers: As part of the Pads’ unusually bold Rule 5 strategy, the club kept three youngsters this year. Diaz, 22, has managed only a 6.21 ERA with a 31:22 K/BB ratio over 37 2/3 innings. But he is showing a 96 mph heater and will remain with the organization, quite likely heading back to the minors next season to continue his development.
- Luis Torrens, C, kept by Padres (via Reds) from Yankees: The youthful backstop — he’s just 21 — has struggled badly on offense in limited action. Through 133 plate appearances, he’s slashing just.169/.246/.212 — with just four extra-base hits, none of them home runs.
- Allen Cordoba, INF, kept by Padres from Cardinals: And then there’s Cordoba, who’s also just 21 years of age. He faded after a hot start at the plate, but on the whole his output — a .209/.284/.304 batting line and four home runs over 215 plate appearances — is fairly impressive given that he had never before played above Rookie ball.
- Dylan Covey, RHP, kept by White Sox from Athletics: Technically, owing to a DL stint, Covey has only compiled 83 of the minimum 90 days of active roster time required to be kept. But he’s going to make it there before the season is up, meaning that the Sox will be able to hold onto his rights and option him back to the minors in 2018. Covey, 26, has struggled to a 7.90 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings, allowing 18 long balls in that span.
- Stuart Turner, C, kept by Reds from Twins: Turner has seen minimal action, appearing in just 33 games and taking only 77 trips to the plate. And he’s hitting just .141/.184/.268 in that sporadic action. Clearly, though, the Reds have seen enough to believe he’s worth the trouble to hang onto.
Still In Limbo
- Kevin Gadea, RHP, selected by Rays from Mariners: Gadea has not pitched at any level this year owing to an elbow injury. He’ll remain with the Tampa Bay organization for the time being, but will still need to be carried on the 40-man roster over the offseason and then on the active roster for at least ninety days for his rights to permanently transfer.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, selected by Braves from Cubs: It’s the exact same situation for Rivero as for Gadea, though he has had shoulder problems.
- Josh Rutledge, INF, selected by Red Sox from Rockies: This was not your typical Rule 5 move. Boston snagged the veteran infielder after he signed a minors deal with Colorado. He ended up seeing minimal MLB time owing to injuries and his season ended recently with hip surgery. Rutledge is eligible for arbitration this fall and isn’t likely to be kept on the 40-man roster regardless.
- Anthony Santander, OF, selected by Orioles from Indians: Since he only made it off of the DL late in the summer, Santander can accrue only 45 days on the active roster. If Baltimore wants to keep him, then, it’ll need to put him on the Opening Day roster next year. Santander has seen minimal playing time thus far, recording two hits in twelve trips to the plate, though he put up impressive numbers on his rehab assignment.
Kept By Other Means
- Daniel Stumpf, LHP, signed with Tigers after electing free agency upon return to Royals: This is another unusual situation. As a previous Rule 5 returnee, Stumpf was eligible to elect free agency upon being returned to his original organization. That’s just what happened when Detroit sent him back to Kansas City; the southpaw then turned around and re-signed a MLB deal with the Tigers. He has ended up turning in a rather productive year, posting 32 1/3 innings of 2.78 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 at the major-league level and showing even more impressive numbers during his time at Triple-A.
- Tyler Jones, RHP, returned to Yankees by Diamondbacks: Jones has thrown rather well at Triple-A since going back to the New York organization, posting 10.7 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 63 2/3 innings, though he has also allowed 4.38 earned per nine.
- Caleb Smith, LHP, returned to Yankees by Brewers: Smith ended up earning a 40-man roster spot and spending some time in the majors after showing quite well as a starter in the minors. But he has been knocked around in his 18 2/3 MLB frames on the year.
- Justin Haley, RHP, returned to Red Sox by Twins (via Angels): The 26-year-old didn’t stick with Minnesota, allowing a dozen earned runs in 18 innings before being returned to Boston. But he has thrown well since landing back at Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 2.66 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 44 innings over seven starts.
- Tyler Webb, LHP, returned to Yankees by Pirates: Webb also gained a 40-man spot with the Yankees after showing some intriguing K/BB numbers at Triple-A. He was ultimately dealt to the Brewers.
- Aneury Tavarez, OF, returned to Red Sox by Orioles: Tavarez played his way back up to Triple-A upon his return to his former organization, but has hit just .244/.292/.400 in 145 plate appearances there.
- Glenn Sparkman, RHP, returned to Royals by Blue Jays: Sparkman was bombed in his one MLB appearance and has been limited to just 30 1/3 minor-league frames due to injury.
- Hoby Milner, LHP, returned to Phillies by Indians: Another player who has risen to the majors with the organization that originally let them leave via the Rule 5, Milner has turned in 24 1/3 frames of 1.85 ERA ball in Philadelphia. Of course, he has also managed just 15 strikeouts against ten walks in that span.
- Mike Hauschild, RHP, returned to Astros by Rangers: The 27-year-old righty struggled badly in his eight MLB frames. Upon returning to the rotation for Houston’s top affiliate, Hauschild has uncharacteristically struggled with free passes (5.3 per nine).
- Astros righty Lance McCullers was scratched from tonight’s game due to arm fatigue, as MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart writes. His inability to go has already proven costly, as the Angels jumped onto spot starter Mike Fiers for five runs in the first inning. McCullers indicated that he feels “fine” and the decision wasn’t his, and manager A.J. Hinch told reporters that he’s not overly concerned about McCullers’ health. Houston has the division all but clinched even with some recent struggles, but obviously any uncertainty surrounding McCullers’ health with the postseason looming would be an ominous sign for the eventual AL West champs.
In one of his latest columns at FanRag Sports, Jon Heyman looks at the final hours leading up to Aug. 31’s Justin Verlander blockbuster. The Astros, according to Heyman, had been reluctant to part with any of their top six prospects in trades for virtually any player in either July or August. It wasn’t until 10:30pm ET on the night of Aug. 31 that they called the Tigers to at last cave in and concede a willingness to part with highly touted right-hander Franklin Perez. Detroit GM Al Avila had two execs head to Verlander’s home before the ace had decided whether to waive his no-trade clause in order to obtain his signature as quickly as possible if he ultimately approved a deal.
The Tigers’ initial centerpiece target, per Heyman, was another of the Astros’ young right-handers: Forrest Whitley. Houston held firm on him, but the two sides were ultimately able to cobble a deal together and give Verlander about an hour to weigh whether to waive his no-trade protection. In the end, the trade went through at 11:59pm, per Heyman, barely scraping under the wire.
The Astros have reallocated resources away from traditional scouting roles to newer methods of assessing talent, most notably eliminating eight positions recently. It’s a move that could signal yet another stage of development in the now-ensconced analytical revolution, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic explores in detail through conversations with numerous key industry figures (subscription required and recommended). Houston is one of a few teams drawing back on the live-game player analysis of pro scouting. That said, per Rosenthal, other clubs have increased their staff sizes, making for a multitude of approaches around the game. The piece is essential reading for baseball fans.
Here are some more notes from the American League:
- Danny Salazar’s first start upon returning from the disabled list lasted just two-third of an inning and put his spot in the Indians’ postseason rotation in question, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Trevor Bauer, like staff aces Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, is pitching well right now, Hoynes observes, and right-handers Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin have also been throwing better (should a fourth starter be needed). Hoynes wonders if the Indians could again use Salazar as a bullpen piece in the playoffs, noting that the righty did at least display strong velocity in his otherwise ugly outing.
- With the Rangers foregoing an opportunity to bring up Jurickson Profar this month, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News examines how the one-time uber prospect fell entirely out of the club’s plans. If Texas can’t even find a use for him with expanded rosters, it only stands to reason that the team will elect to move on over the winter — even if that means taking far less in return than once would have seemed reasonable. As Grant notes, that’s particularly true given that Profar will be out of options. Surely some other team will offer something to take a shot on a player who is still just 24 years of age and won’t command much of a raise on his $1.05MM arbitration salary. Notably, too, given his minimal MLB time this year — and the Rangers’ decision not to activate him in September — Profar will be controllable through arbitration for three more seasons.
- While Devon Travis has mostly been excellent for the Blue Jays when healthy, he has also appeared in only 213 games over the past three years while dealing with a variety of injuries. That has led to some suggestions that he might be best off moving off of second base to the outfield, though GM Ross Atkins (via MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, on Twitter) doesn’t sound wholly convinced of the idea. Atkins suggested some openness, but emphasized that it could be explored “more in the context of versatility” rather than that of improving durability. The GM made clear that he thinks Travis is most valuable as the team’s everyday second baseman and also stressed that there’s no real “research” showing that shifting onto the grass would really help keep Travis on the field.
The Angels announced on Monday that they’ve claimed right-hander Dayan Diaz off waivers from the Astros. Fellow right-hander Daniel Wright was designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move.
Diaz was already linked to the Angels in one respect anyhow, as he’d been designated for assignment by the Astros in order to clear a roster spot for Cameron Maybin, who’d been claimed off waivers from the Halos. In essence, the Angels will swap Maybin and Wright out off the 40-man roster for Diaz, though there’s still a chance that they could keep Wright in the organization for the time being.
The 28-year-old Diaz made his Major League debut with the Reds last season but was cut loose at season’s end, at which point he signed a minor league deal with the Astros. In a combined 19 2/3 MLB innings, Diaz has an unsightly 9.15 ERA. While he’s picked up an impressive 23 strikeouts in that short time and averaged 94 mph on his fastball, he’s also walked 11 batters and thrown four wild pitches. In 161 career innings at the Triple-A level, Diaz has a much more appealing 2.96 earned run average with 8.2 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9.
Like Diaz, Wright debuted with the Reds last season but didn’t find much success in the Majors. The 26-year-old tossed 19 2/3 innings with the Halos this year, working to a 4.58 ERA with an 11-to-8 K/BB ratio in that time. Overall, he owns a 5.61 ERA with 4.9 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 in 56 1/3 Major League frames. Wright has logged considerably more time in Triple-A, though the results there have been even less favorable; through 176 1/3 innings at the top minor league level, he’s posted a 6.58 ERA with 126 punchouts against 60 free passes.
- Reports have suggested that Justin Verlander was initially hesitant to waive his no-trade clause and join the Astros, as he would’ve preferred to instead be dealt to the Cubs or Dodgers. As Rosenthal notes, “there’s no guarantee” either Chicago or L.A. would have looked to acquire Verlander in the offseason, so the former Cy Young Award winner decided to join a contender now rather than stay with the rebuilding Tigers. Rosenthal also points out the interesting fact that Minute Maid Park has been the most depressed run-scoring environment of any ballpark in the league since the start of the 2016 season, belying its hitter-friendly reputation.