Lance McCullers Jr. has “been dying” to return to the mound, and “is ready for the season to start tomorrow if it could,” the Astros righty tells MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. Recovery from Tommy John surgery in November 2018 kept McCullers sidelined for all of last season, though he said he is on track for Spring Training and Opening Day after completing his rehab last month. McCullers’ return will be a boost to an Astros rotation that has already lost Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley in free agency, and the 26-year-old is still looking to fully break out in what would be his fifth MLB season. Injuries have limited the former 41st-overall pick to just 453 2/3 innings in his career, though McCullers has pitched well (3.67 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 2.86 K/BB rate) when healthy and has both an impressive postseason resume and an All-Star appearance to his name.
More Christmas Day notes from the American League…
- Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron are both looking forward to new opportunities in the Motor City, as the two newest Tigers told reporters (including Chris McCosky of the Detroit News). In Cron’s case, he said the Tigers “were on me from the beginning” after the first baseman was non-tendered by the Twins. “The thing that stood out the most was just how much Detroit wanted me….They told my agent early on they wanted me to be a part of this thing and their persistence never stopped,” Cron said. “Anytime somebody wants you that bad, it feels good and it made my interest higher and higher.”
- Several Orioles questions are addressed by The Athletic’s Dan Connolly (subscription required) during a reader mailbag piece, including the issue of just how much financial support GM Mike Elias has at his disposal as he rebuilds the roster. For example, Baltimore’s decision to trade Jonathan Villar to the Marlins for a fairly minimal prospect return created the impression that the O’s were more concerned with getting Villar’s $10.4MM projected arbitration salary off the books than they were in getting full value back for the talented infielder. In Connolly’s view, “Elias’ hands are tied more than he would have preferred,” perhaps due to such factors as low attendance at Camden Yards and the likelihood that the Orioles will have to start more evenly sharing their MASN broadcast revenue with the Nationals. It doesn’t seem that the O’s will be able to explore such tactics as offering to take a bad contract off another team’s hands if that team also includes some prospects in the trade. That said, it isn’t as if the Orioles are running a total bare-bones operation — Connolly notes that ownership has invested in the Orioles’ infrastructure, giving Elias more modernized analytics and international scouting departments.