Houston Astros – MLB Trade Rumors 2020-02-26T06:28:06Z https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/feed/atom WordPress Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Astros Shut Down Rogelio Armenteros, Riley Ferrell]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=191117 2020-02-22T07:17:21Z 2020-02-22T07:17:21Z
  • 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.
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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[MLBTR Poll: Last Year’s Division Champs]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=191112 2020-02-22T05:17:11Z 2020-02-22T05:17:11Z 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…

    AL:

    • 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)

    NL:

    • 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.

    (Poll link for app users)

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    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Mike Bolsinger Sues Astros Over Sign-Stealing Scheme]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=189935 2020-02-20T22:32:42Z 2020-02-20T22:31:13Z 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.

    FEBRUARY 10: Former big league hurler Mike Bolsinger has filed a lawsuit against the Houston Astros, Nancy Armour of USA Today reports. The action was filed in California state court.

    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.

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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Jesus Aguilar, Brian Goodwin, Aledmys Diaz Win Arbitration Hearings]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190902 2020-02-19T21:41:41Z 2020-02-19T21:16:56Z 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.

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    Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[MLBTR Video: The MLBPA & The Astros Scandal; Red Sox Still Discussing Wil Myers]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190870 2020-02-19T15:53:21Z 2020-02-19T15:53:21Z What is the role of the Players’ Union in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal? Why are the Padres and Red Sox still discussing Wil Myers? MLBTR’s Jeff Todd has you covered in today’s video:

    For further reading, be sure to check out Jeff’s article, How MLB & The Astros Dug Their Own Hole.

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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[MLBPA Issues Statement On Investigation Into Astros]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190850 2020-02-19T05:00:42Z 2020-02-19T05:00:42Z 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.

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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Latest On Astros’ Rotation]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190840 2020-02-19T03:35:25Z 2020-02-19T03:35:25Z 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.

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    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[How MLB & The Astros Dug Their Own Hole]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190713 2020-02-19T11:21:31Z 2020-02-18T23:14:17Z 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.

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    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Astros Sign Jared Hughes]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190681 2020-02-18T18:45:37Z 2020-02-18T18:45:10Z 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.

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    Tim Dierkes <![CDATA[MLBTR Video: Mike Trout, Justin Turner Speak Out On Astros Scandal; Brock Holt Agrees To Deal With Brewers]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190795 2020-02-18T16:16:20Z 2020-02-18T16:16:20Z 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:

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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[MLBTR Poll: Stripping The Astros’ 2017 Title]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190728 2020-02-18T01:20:48Z 2020-02-18T01:20:48Z It doesn’t take a die-hard baseball fan to know the past few weeks have been an utter nightmare for the Astros. The club was among the game’s elite from 2017-19, but its accomplishments from that span are now in question as a result of a sign-stealing scheme. That scandal has forced major changes in the front office and in the dugout, with the Astros having let go of suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch in favor of James Click and Dusty Baker, respectively. At their most successful, Luhnow and Hinch oversaw the Astros’ first-ever World Series-winning team in 2017. But that seven-game victory over the Dodgers is now tarnished in the eyes of many around the game.

    Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger, a member of the 2017 runners-up and the reigning NL MVP, went so far as to declare last week that the Astros “stole” a championship from him and his teammates. However, Major League Baseball did not formally strip the Astros of the title they won (it obviously would have been a drastic measure for MLB), and commissioner Rob Manfred explained why over the weekend.

    First of all, it had never happened in baseball,” Manfred said.  “I am a precedent guy.  The 2017 World Series will always be looked at as different, whether not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back.  Once you go down that road as for changing the result on the field, I just don’t know where you stop.

    Manfred went on to state, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” That didn’t sit well with one of Bellinger’s teammates and another member of the Dodgers’ 2017 team, Justin Turner. The third baseman fired back that Manfred set “a weak precedent” with his punishment of the Astros, continuing: “For him to devalue [the trophy] the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point, the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says ’Commissioner’ on it.”

    “Now anyone who goes forward and cheats to win a World Series,” Turner added (via Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times), “they can live with themselves knowing that, ’Oh, it’s OK. … We’ll cheat in the World Series and bring the title back to L.A. Screw [manager] Dave Roberts and screw [general manager] Andrew [Friedman]. It’s just those guys losing their jobs. I still get to be called a champion the rest of my life.’ So the precedent was set by him yesterday in this case.”

    Strong comments, to say the least. Which side are you on here? Would Manfred have gone too far in taking away the Astros’ championship?

    (Poll link for app users)

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    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Francis Martes Suspended Full Season For PED]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190719 2020-02-17T22:52:45Z 2020-02-17T22:34:04Z Astros righty Francis Martes has been suspended for 162 games after testing positive for the banned performance enhancing drug baldenone. It was his second such test; he had previously served an 80-game suspension during the 2019 season.

    Martes was once considered a high-grade prospect and still owns a 40-man roster spot. He was working back from Tommy John surgery, which would’ve cost him all of last year even were it not for the suspension.

    It has now been quite some time since Martes enjoyed success on the field. He reached the majors in 2017 but didn’t stick after throwing 54 1/3 innings of 5.80 ERA ball with 11.4 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9. Martes has only made it through 25 minor-league frames over the past two campaigns.

    Martes’s future is now very much in doubt. At the same time, he only reached his 24th birthday in November. He’ll obviously need both to reevaluate his decisionmaking process and rediscovery his form on the mound if he’s to carve out a big league career.

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    Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[GM James Click: Astros Under No Spending Restrictions]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190652 2020-02-17T05:57:06Z 2020-02-17T05:56:09Z The Astros sent out some mixed messages about how much the club was willing to spend this offseason, though newly-hired general manager James Click told the Houston Chronicle’s Brian T. Smith (Twitter link) and other reporters that Astros owner Jim Crane didn’t put any restrictions on future expenditures, and gave the front office the go-ahead to spend if necessary.

    Houston’s projected Competitive Balance Tax payroll sits at roughly $231.5MM (as per Roster Resource), a number that is already over the second penalty level of $228MM.  Since the Astros have never before exceeded even the first luxury tax threshold, they will be taxed at the “first-timer” rate of 20% on every dollar spent above the $208MM threshold, as well as an additional 12% surtax for everything spent between the $228MM and $248MM.  Using Roster Resource’s $231.5MM projection, the Astros currently face a tax bill of $5.1MM.

    Such a relatively small sum should hardly be a major impediment to roster-building, as Crane said last fall that while he would ideally “prefer not to” pay any luxury tax bills, “we may win the World Series, so you never know.”  A one-time overage might not be too much to swallow, especially since a lot of salary could come off the books after the 2020 season since George Springer, Michael Brantley, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick are all free agents.  Looking even further ahead, Houston has only $42MM in committed payroll beyond the 2021 season

    Of course, the major x-factor here is how the emotional calculus has changed for Crane now that his franchise has been implicated in one of the biggest controversies in baseball history.  Given how Crane so clearly wishes to turn the page on the sign-stealing scandal, he might figure the best way to do so is by fielding another World Series contender in 2020, to “prove” that the Astros can win in an untainted fashion (though it will surely take more than a single year for the Astros to regain trust around the game).

    With all of this in mind, it is somewhat difficult to view any potential Astros moves from a pure baseball perspective, not to mention the fact that Click might wait until he has actually settled into his new job before making any big transactions.  In the short term, however, discussing contract extensions with Springer or any of the other pending free agents would seem like a logical step to take now that Spring Training is underway.  In terms of new additions, Click could wait to spend until closer to the trade deadline, when he could more clearly access what final pieces might be required to put Houston over the top in a pennant race.

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    Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Rob Manfred Addresses Astros Scandal]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190640 2020-02-17T02:39:12Z 2020-02-17T02:38:41Z In an interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech and during a press conference at the Braves’ Spring Training camp earlier today, commissioner Rob Manfred discussed a number of topics surrounding the game, but the bulk of attention was directly on the ongoing fallout from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.

    Asked by Ravech why no Astros players were suspended or fined as part of the league’s investigation, Manfred said that “in a perfect world it would have 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.”

    Players were given immunity so that the league could freely acquire information on the details of the now-infamous sign-stealing process, which involved Astros players alerting (using signals ranging from whistling to banging a trash can) teammates at the plate as to what pitches were coming, after the Astros used real-time video technology to observe rival catchers’ signs.  Such use of available video was forbade in a memo sent from the Commissioner’s Office to teams in 2017, but Manfred said Astros players weren’t made aware of the seriousness of the offense.

    The memorandum went to the general manager, and then nothing was done from the GM down,” Manfred said. “So we knew if we had disciplined the players in all likelihood we were going to have grievances and grievances that we were going to lose on the basis that we never properly informed them of the rules.  Given those two things, No. 1, I knew where, or I’m certain where the responsibilities should lay in the first instance and given the fact we didn’t think we could make discipline stick with the players, we made the decision we made.”

    Since the league’s ruling on the Astros’ punishment last month, Major League Baseball has faced widespread criticism from both fans and rival players about not only a seeming lack of discipline directed towards Houston players, but also at the franchise itself.  While the Astros were fined $5MM and lost four draft picks, the fact that the organization wasn’t formally stripped of its 2017 World Series title has not sat well with many around the sport.

    As Manfred told the Associated Press and other journalists, the league considered such a singular measure but decided against taking the championship away from the Astros.

    First of all, it had never happened in baseball,” Manfred said.  “I am a precedent guy.  The 2017 World Series will always be looked at as different, whether not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back.  Once you go down that road as for changing the result on the field, I just don’t know where you stop.

    In regards to Astros players, Manfred told Ravech that the outrage directed at the team has served as a measure of additional punishment unto itself.  “I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price,” Manfred said.  “To think they’re skipping down the road into spring training, happy, that’s just a mischaracterization of where we are.”

    The early response to Manfred’s comments have not been positive, with particular criticism directed towards his rather flippant description of the Commissioner’s Trophy (as Manfred told Ravech, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act“).  As much as the league and the Astros would like to put the incident behind them, that outcome doesn’t seem possible in the near future given the amount of attention that several of the game’s biggest stars continue to focus on the situation.  It also doesn’t help that Astros management and players continue to dig themselves into deeper public relations holes on a near-daily basis, whether it’s giving non-specific apologies during awkward press conferences, being unduly outraged at being accused of different methods of cheating during the 2017-19 span, and all the while insisting that the 2017 World Series was legitimately won.

    The heated comments between the Astros and rival players has troubled Manfred, particularly statements from such pitchers as Ross Stripling and Mike Clevinger that Astros players might be hit by pitches as retaliation.  Manfred met with several MLB managers today, and told reporters at Sunday’s press event that, “I hope that I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated, whether it’s Houston or anybody else.  It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.”

    In addition, Manfred told Ravech that the league is preparing “a memorandum about intentionally throwing at batters.  It’s really dangerous.  Completely independent from the Astros investigation, we’ll be issuing a memorandum on hit by pitches which will increase the disciplinary ramifications of that type of behavior.  I think that will be a tool for dealing with whatever flows from the Houston situation.”

    If the Astros controversy wasn’t enough, there’s also the other ongoing league investigation into another championship team’s alleged improper use of video equipment, namely the 2018 Red Sox.  Manfred said that he hopes that investigation will be concluded within two weeks’ time.  It isn’t known what punishment could await the Boston organization, though as with the Astros case, Red Sox players were also given immunity in exchange for their insight on the matter.

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    Anthony Franco <![CDATA[Carlos Correa Defends Jose Altuve’s MVP, Astros’ 2017 Title]]> https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/?p=190608 2020-02-16T14:54:48Z 2020-02-16T14:54:48Z As the Astros have bungled their apologies for the sign-stealing scandal that has dominated this offseason, Carlos Correa has perhaps been the organization’s most forthright member. In response to the most recent backlash around the game, Correa came out with a passionate defense of the organization- and teammate José Altuve in an interview with Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic.

    José Altuve was the one guy that didn’t use the trash can,” Correa told Rosenthal. “The few times that the trash can was banged was without his consent, and he would go inside the clubhouse and inside the dugout to whoever was banging the trash can and he would get (upset). He would get mad. He would say, ’I don’t want this. I can’t hit like this. Don’t you do that to me.’ He played the game clean.

    The reason José Altuve apologized to the media was for being part of the team and for not stopping it,” Correa continued. “But he’s not apologizing for using the trash can. He’s not apologizing for cheating because he did not cheat … José Altuve earned that MVP, and he’s been showing that for years.”

    Correa’s defense of Altuve came in response to Cody Bellinger, who sounded off on the scandal Friday. Bellinger argued the Astros “stole” the 2017 World Series from the Dodgers and that Altuve “stole an MVP from (Aaron) Judge.” Bellinger also referenced the unsubstantiated rumors that Astros’ hitters wore electronic buzzers the last few years, made famous by Altuve’s refusal to take off his shirt after his 2019 ALCS-clinching home run off Aroldis Chapman. The Astros have categorically denied using buzzers, and Correa doubled down on that yesterday.

    2019, nobody wore buzzers. That’s a lie,” Correa told Rosenthal. He continued, “(Altuve) hit that home run off Chapman fair and square. He was not wearing buzzers. That’s a story that a fake account on Twitter broke, and then people just got on that wagon and started talking about the buzzers. Like, no. Nobody thought about buzzers. Nobody was using buzzers.

    Instead, Correa gave a pair of explanations to Rosenthal for Altuve’s unwillingness to have his shirt ripped. First, he says, Altuve’s wife had previously told him not to remove his shirt on the field. Somewhat comically, Correa added that Altuve was embarrassed about a “horrible” unfinished collarbone tattoo he wished to keep hidden from public view.

    To be clear, Correa did not shy away from all criticism related to the scandal. He admitted to Rosenthal that hitters who used the trash can system in 2017 gained an improper, unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. (In that respect, he disagreed with Astros’ owner Jim Crane, whom Correa says “doesn’t know what kind of advantage we have…because, from afar, it looks hard“). Rather, his defense of the organization’s legacy lies in their postseason success.

    Correa argued that the club often struggled to decode signs from the center field camera during the postseason due to opposing teams’ improved countervailing efforts, citing numerous key hits he claims were unsupported by sign stealing. That not every hit was sign stealing-aided, even if true, isn’t enough to say definitively that the Astros would or wouldn’t have won the 2017 World Series without the scheme, though.

    Additionally, Correa pointed to the commissioner’s office finding no evidence the club continued the sign stealing efforts in 2019. Last year’s AL pennant, the shortstop argued, was “clean baseball all around.” Of course, some fans and opposing players will roll their eyes at that assertion; the organization has hardly earned the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

    Yet Correa’s most passionate defense seemed to be of Altuve, in particular. Clearing his double play partner’s name, it seems, was the main impetus for Correa’s interview with Rosenthal, which is worth reading in full.

    For what it’s worth, signstealingscandal.com, which attempted to log every trash can bang during Astros’ 2017 home games, recorded bangs on just 2.8% of pitches (24 bangs on 866 pitches) thrown to Altuve, never more than two in any particular game. These, again, were against Altuve’s wishes, according to Correa. That’s clearly not definitive proof Altuve didn’t participate in the scandal (and as both Correa and Altuve admitted, he deserves some blame for doing little to stop it). Nevertheless, it’s at least partially supportive of Altuve’s legacy and the legitimacy of his 2017 MVP.

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