Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hernandez and Thatcher Make 25 Man Roster (along with Deduno)

It was reported today via a number of sources that the Astros will add both Joe Thatcher and Roberto Hernandez to the 25-man roster to start the season.  Both get modest (for baseball players, anyhow) salaries - Thatcher gets 1.3MM with an additional 1MM in incentives and Hernandez gets 2.65MM.

More importantly, neither players sit on the 40-man roster, so two spots will need to be created.  That means a trade, a release for a DFA for two players is in the cards.

Who is going to get moved??  Well, there are some guys who may be feeling a little uncomfortable at the moment.  I am eyeing the 40-man, and will type thoughts as they appear in my head.  Pitchers first.

Thatcher displaces Kevin Chapman from the second-lefty spot in the 'pen.  Chapman throws hard and has wicked stuff, but walks too many to be properly effective.  His control may become less of a problem with more repetition and coaching.  My pick is that he is safe.

Sam Deduno has apparently been informed that he will be the long-man in the 'pen.  Safe.

Luis Cruz is safe, I would think.  He is young and interesting.  I would guess that the Astros want to take a careful look at him.

Alex White seems like the most likely DFA as a pitcher.  That possibility is based on recent performance - he had a tough 2014 returning from Tommy John, and got lit up in Spring Training.  Still, a young, controllable stater.  I think he would be safe.

There seem to be a couple of position players who may not be safe.  Perhaps Matt Dominguez or Ronald Torreyes from the infielders.  Dominguez has not been great for the last 18 months, but is still only 25, and has right-handed pop.  I am guessing that he gets a half-season working on his swing in Fresno prior to any DFA's.  Torreyes was added to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 draft last November - he struggled a little in Spring Training, but his contact rate in the minors has been freaky, and I can't see him being DFA'd either.  Not for a few more months, anyhow.

So that leaves two outfielders.  Little Jerome Hoes may be the first on the list to be DFA'd.  If I had to make a pick, he would be it.

And Alex Presley's contract was signed before Colby Rasmus', and because both are lefty swingers who can play all three outfield spots, I can't see both of them making the 25-man, and neither player has options.  Presley may also not be helped by Mike-Bob Grossman's decent spring and solid late-2014 performance.  He is my next pick, and is "only" owed a cool million.

As an aside, I note that the Blue Jays are (i) thin on outfield pieces (4 outfielders on the 40-man) and (ii) seem to have been clearing some roster-spots the last few days (as per MLBTR).  They currently sit at 39.  About a half-dozen teams have too many outfielders at the moment - including the BoSox and pretty much every NL West team - so the Blue Jays may be well poised to pounce prior to the start of the season.  Rampant speculation on my part, but I wouldn't mind betting that they are currently looking to add outfielders, and are engaging a variety of teams in talks to try and extort them of their wares.

As my final point, I wonder if Wojo pitched too well to win the fifth starter slot.  If the Astros added him for the first day of the season, and he pitched well enough to avoid being sent down, the Astros potentially would have only 5 years of control.  By starting him in the minors, and perhaps holding him down there until June or July, they may get an extra year of control, and avoid a potential super-two situation as well.  (Edit:  Wojo's ML clock has already started, please check comments below for further detail.  It appears he has about a half-season of service time under his belt.)

More meatballs down the middle of the plate may have been Wojo's best bet.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Eight More Depart for Minor League Camp

The Astros have cut eight more from their Spring Training squad, reassigning Carlos Correa, Darin Downs, Tyler Heineman, James Hoyt and Gregorio Petit while optioning Jake Buchanan, Matt Dominguez and Max Stassi.

Downs, Hoyt, Heineman and Petit will all remain with the team for the exhibition part of Spring Training

The Astros now have 32 players in camp.  Their last cut reduced them to 41 players, then Dan Johnson departed via trade to reduce that to 40.

These cuts clear up a couple of position battles that were becoming kind of obvious anyhow.  Firstly, at catcher, Castro and Conger will split the catching duties (with Gattis available only for emergencies given he has yet to appear behind the plate in the Spring Training game).  No surprise there, although Stassi could encourage the Astros to make a trade with a strong year at Fresno.  Stassi logged 19 plate appearances, walking three times and striking out twice.  He managed 6 hits, including 2 doubles and a home run.  If he needed a good offensive season, this was a reasonable start - small sample size be damned.

Secondly, Valbuena looks poised to assume the third base duties, which has been becoming increasingly obvious for a while as well.  Valbuena has the huge advantage of swinging from the left side of the dish, which helps address the Astros' struggles against right-handed pitching last year.  Additionally, Dominguez had a horror 2014 which resulted in a WAR well into negative figures.  He looked lost at the plate at times last year, swinging a pitches out of the strike zone as well as having contact issues with pitches inside the strike zone.

In Spring Training this year, Matty D had 38 plate appearances, walking twice, striking out 5 times, and hitting 9 singles.  His triple-slash of .250/.282/.250 looks similar to the 2014 regular season, except for the total lack of power.  So Valbuena gets the third base job to start the season, and Dominguez appears ticketed for the minors.  The real question is whether Dominguez can hold his 40-man roster spot - especially if Joe Thatcher and/or Roberto Hernandez make the 25-man roster.  My pick is that he does hold his roster spot until at least mid-season-ish.

Correa and Heineman had no real chance of making the team by virtue of their relatively junior status.  I was watching when Correa effortlessly drove a curveball that he was out on front of over the LF fence against the Phillies the other day.  Correa had 43 plate appearances, walked twice and struck out 10 times, and had 14 hits, of which 1 was a double and two were home runs.  I am looking forward to watching him everyday in the majors, perhaps as soon as later this year.

Heineman was unsurprisingly used sparingly in Spring Traning - if he is the catcher of the future, then he is a wee way away, after all.  He had 7 plate appearances, and recorded a double against no strikeouts and no walks.  His focus was not really on his hitting this Spring - he was more in camp to learn how to work with the pitching staff and get tips from the older guys.

Hoyt, Buchanan and Downs had an opportunity to add their names to a crowded 'pen situation, but all represent easy cuts for the Astros to make.

James Hoyt has not yet made the the majors, so the chances were that he was always going to be cut prior to the roster being set.  He equipped himself well, pitching 8.1 innings in 7 games, allowing 8 baserunners (3 hits and 5 walks) while striking out 11.

Jake Buchanan was also an easy cut because he seems - and always seemed - destined to be shuttling between the majors and minors this season.  He also threw 8.1 innings pitched, but gave up 7R / 5ER on 12 hits and 3 walks against 4 strikeouts.  He was doing well until he had one bad outing, I seem to remember, but he has marginal stuff and needs to locate his pitches to be effective.

Darin Downs was on the outside-looking-in from early in spring training, thanks to the offseason additions of Thatcher (in the LOOGY role) and the various other additions like Straily and Hernandez in the starting role.  He struggled in a small sample: 4.2IP, 11 hits and 4 walks, 7 runs / earned runs, and 3 strikeouts.  Downs can pitch better than that, and will have an opportunity to work it all out at Fresno.

Finally, Gregorio Petit lost out on a battle for a utility job thanks to the combined efforts of Marwin Gonzalez - who has been a solid bench guy for the Astros for a couple of seasons - and Jonathan Villar - whose demise has been greatly exaggerated.

Petit managed 27 plate appearances, recorded 8 hits, walked 3 times, and struck out five.  He hit two doubles.  Petit did his stock no harm at all, and will be a very useful AAA depth-piece for the Astros going forward.

The next cut will be the big one, and will probably occur shortly.  At least this year, the Astros have actual competition, and actual options.

Stay posted.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Comings and Goings: Sept 2014 Onward... (March 2015 Edition)

This list will be periodically updated over the course of what is likely to be a busy 2015 season.  The Astros will be trying to position themselves for contention, and 2015 likely represents the last chance for some long-ish tenured Astros.  I may have missed someone - please feel free to discuss and mention below in the comments.

Since the end of the 2014 regular season, the Astros have seen the following players enter or exit the organisation.  Some of the exits remain with the organisation, but are considered exits because they were outrighted off the 40-man.

Enter:

Angel Baez, P, Mar 2015.  Minor league pitcher traded from the Royals organisation for cash considerations.  He is 24, spent last season in AA-ball, striking out a few (10.3K/9) with walking about half as many (4.2BB/9).  Not on 40-man.  Ticketed for Fresno or Corpus.

Akeem Bostick, SP, Jan 2015.  Acquired in the trade of Carlos Corporan - a reasonable haul for a backup catcher who had been DFA'd.  A long way from making any contributions - will start the season in the low minors, or perhaps even short-season ball.

Fausto Carmona, SP, Feb 2015.  See Hernandez, Roberto.

Hank Conger, C, Nov 2015.  Traded by the Angels to the Astros early in the offseason for another backup catcher and some young SP depth.  Conger and Castro have really similar minor-league hitting numbers, and both Castro and Conger match up well in a platoon with Max Stassi, so most observers seemed to think that another move involving Jason Castro was soon to occur.  But nope, Castro and Conger are opening 2015 in a job-share at this stage.

Harlen Florencio, P, Dec 2015.  Aged 19, from the Dominican Republic.  No organised ball in the US as yet.  Signed as a free agent.

Evan Gattis, ??, Jan 2015.  Traded from the Braves for a handful of mid-level Astros prospects.  Power-hitting righty seems like a candidate to fill one of the offensive black-holes in LF or 1B.  The Astros are hoping for an improvement in his overall numbers because he is no longer expected to squat behind the dish 160-odd times per night.  Comes with 4 years of team control, so may slot into DH if Chris Carter leaves for whatever reason.  Singleton's performance will determine much of Gattis' role.

Luke Gregerson, RP, Dec 2014.  Signed as a FA for a very reasonable 3-year contract.  Gregerson was arguably the third best RP available, but the first to sign with the Astros after they offered competitive contracts to Andrew Miller and David Robertson.  May close... may not.  Solid 'pen addition.  Possibly recruited by A.J. Hinch, with whom he has spent time with while in San Diego.

Will Harris, RP, Nov 2014.  Claimed off waivers in early November by Arizona.  Some really interesting numbers - including his age (29) - but he seems like a guy with good peripherals who has pitched in tough pitcher's parks (Arizona and Colorado), so he could be poised for a breakout.  The 2015 version of Anthony Bass, I would think, with a decent chance of making the 'pen.

Roberto Hernandez, SP, Feb 2015.  Signed as an XX(B) free-agent to a minor-league deal with a moderate major-league salary of 2.65MM.  Possible candidate for the fourth or fifth-starter slot, but he has a history of being kind of awful, so this may be a long-shot.  Has equipped himself in Spring Training quite well thus far, and now one of two contenders for the fifth-starters slot.

James Hoyt, RP, Jan 2015.  Traded from the Braves in the Gattis deal.  Hoyt is an interesting righty relief-pitcher with a slider-fastball mix with good velocity.  Has taken the scenic route to the upper minors - much like Gattis - as he was out of baseball for a year or two.  May complete immediately for a 'pen slot, but more likely to open the season at Fresno.

Dylan James, SP, Nov 2014.  Undrafted college player, no pro-ball appearances.  Signed as a free agent.

Dan Johnson, 1B, Jan-Mar 2015.  Not really an 'enter' because he has already 'exited', having been traded to the Reds toward the end of Spring Training.  He was never on the 40-man and was assumed to be going to hang out in Fresno - but not any more.  Famous for one great hit.  Oh Lordy!  But really, as unlikely to be added to the 40-man as an NRI could be.

Jed Lowrie, IF, Dec 2014.  Jed-back-to-Houston was a great offseason signing and it put all those stupid stories about the "beaning" to rest once and for all.  Jed was a much-loved addition around these parts for seemingly not a lot of money, and it should be great seeing him man short until Correa's eventual arrival.  His lefty bat is also much needed in a lineup that hit righties poorly last year.

Pat Neschek, RP, Dec 2015.  The Astros won the bidding on the righty sidearmer who had a great 2014 with the Cardinals.  Two-years guaranteed, option for a third at a reasonable price.  Another good relief option.  Nice!

Colby Rasmus, CF, Jan 2015.  Signed as a free agent when the Astros traded Dexter Fowler.  Lefty-hitting OF with power who is a good bounce-back candidate.  Previous relationship with Jeff Luhnow may have contributed to this signing.

Robert Stock, P, Mar 2015.  The very definition of "lottery ticket" - and a long-odds lottery ticket at that! - is one way to describe this signing.  Robert Stock is a 2009 second-round draftee who signed with the Cardinals when Jeff Luhnow was the Scouting Director.  Stock was signed as a catcher, but after posting a .644 OPS as a 21 year old at Lo- and Hi-A, he converted to pitching.  In 2014, again between Lo- and Hi-A, he posted a 6.1 K/9 against a 6.5 BB/9, and a 4.12 ERA.  May be the last time we write about him on this site.

Dan Straily, SP, Jan 2015.  Traded from the Cubs for Dexter Fowler.  Was likely to be challenging for a back-of-the-rotation SP slot, but has been optioned to minor-league camp.  Will be interesting seeing if he can work it all out and return to his promising 2013 form.

Joe Thatcher, RP, Feb 2015.  Signed as a non-roster invitee and XX(B) free agent with a 1.3MM ML salary should he make the roster.  Will need to be added to the 40-man.  Another member of the 2011 Padres 'pen, and another personal friend of A.J. Hinch, I would guess.

Luis Valbuena, IP, Jan 2015.  Traded from the Cubs for Dexter Fowler.  The leading candidate 3B slot - less likely to be participating in a platoon arrangement - with a low chance of being a lefty-hitting utility infielder.  Two years of team control left.  If he mirrors his 2014 hitting numbers, then this is a great get, especially in exchange for a CF who was blocking a bunch of interesting other options.


Exit:

Matt Albers, RP, Oct 2014.  Matt Albers was signed prior to the 2014 season to stiffen up the 'pen.  He strained a shoulder after 10 innings, giving up 1 ER in the process.  He spent the last five months of the season in the DL - much of it the 60-day DL - and was granted free-agency upon activation.  Now a White Sock.

Anthony Bass, RP, Nov 2014.  "Sea Bass" was subtracted from the 40-man roster right before the Nov 20 deadline to protect minor-leaguers in the Rule 5 draft.  Now with Texas as a non-roster invitee.  Was injured for bits of 2014, but frequently ineffective after solid early-season form.

Jose Cisnero, RP, Nov 2014.  Outrighted off the 40-man in November, elected free-agency, now a member of the Reds.    It would have been hard seeing a fit for Cisnero in the 2015 bullpen, especially given his poor 2013 and 2014 performances.

Carlos Corporan, C, Jan 2015.  Corporan was offered a contract in November, DFA'd in January (to make room for Colby Rasmus) and traded to the Rangers for a 19-year old live arm (Akeem Bostick).  Corporan was liked by most Astros fans, but it was not clear that he would also be called a Killer C (along with Castro and Conger) on the roster.  Best of luck, Carlos.

Jesse Crain, RP, Oct 2014.  Signed with the Astros prior to the 2014 season as an injured bullpen force.  Never became un-injured.  Now back with the ChiSox.  But looks great in an Astros hat (unless the picture has been updated, that is!)

Delino DeShields Jr, OF, Dec 2014.  The speedy outfielder is likely to stick in Arlington to start the year after being lost to the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft.  CF and 2B represents a position of strength for the Astros, so perhaps this isn't a huge loss.  Appears to have a late-inning pinch-runner role with a Rangers team that now seems unlikely to complete for the post-season.

Darin Downs, SP/RP, Dec 2014.  Outrighted off the 40-man roster in December, but has reappeared on the Grizzlies' roster, so he remains in the organisation.  Downs was a serviceable swingman for the Astros in 2014, but appears to be out of the fifth-starter slot.  Not really an exit, but adding him again would require a corresponding 40-man roster move, so for now he is a depth-piece in Fresno.

Mike Foltynewicz, SP, Jan 2015.  Traded to the Braves in the Gattis deal.  Folty was expected to be a front-runner for one of the two vacant Astros' SP back-of-the-rotation slots.  He pumps gas in triple-digits, so he certainly big-league velocity, but he seemed very hittable throwing out of the 'pen for the Astros in late 2014.  He has some variable breaking stuff (sometimes average, sometimes worse), and struggles with control.  This loss may hurt, but most analysts seem to think that he has control and breaking-ball problems that were going to be difficult to address.  The Constable loved him, but probably doesn't now, because he is a Barve, and the Constable hates Barves.

Dexter Fowler, CF, Jan 2015.  Traded to the Cubs for Dan Straily and Luis Valbuena.  Great source of OBP for the Astros, but Fowler played at a position of unprecedented major- and minor-league depth, doesn't have enough power for the corners, and was not a great fielder.  Last year before free-agency.

Jandal Gustave, RP, Dec 2015.  Gustave is another power arm lost by the Astros this offseason.  He was claimed in the Rule 5 draft by the Red Sox, and flipped to the Royals.  Since put on waivers by the Royals, and claimed by the Padre, so perhaps he remains in San Diego for the next year or so.  I would think that he is likely to be returning to the Astros organisation.

Dan Johnson, 1B, Jan-Mar 2015.  Not really an 'enter' because he has already 'exited', having been traded to the Reds toward the end of Spring Training.  He was never on the 40-man and was assumed to be going to hang out in Fresno - but not any more.  Famous for one great hit.  Oh Lordy!  But really, as unlikely to be added to the 40-man as an NRI could be.

Marc Krauss, IF, Dec 2014.  Krauss was outrighted off the 40-man, claimed by the Angels, then outrighted off the Angels' 40-man without being claimed... so the Astros had another opportunity to reacquire him that they opted not to take.  Krauss hasn't done much in the Majors (career .615 OPS) and doesn't bring any other obvious skills to the table, so is unlikely to be missed.

Ariel Ovando, 3B/LHP, Dec 2014.  Lost in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft to the Cubs.  Not much of an "exit" as he had not gotten out of short-season ball, and never got anywhere near the 40-man roster.  Still, interesting move, bears watching.

Carlos Perez, C, November 2014.  Perez was a 23 year old catcher who ascended to AAA.  He had a reputation as a defensive whiz with a light bat.  He was added to the 40-man, then immediately traded to the Angels for Hank Conger.  Unlikely to be missed given the number of catching prospects in the Astros' system, which all seem to be clustered around AA and AAA at the moment.

Gregorio Petit, IF, Dec 2014.  Outrighted off the 40-man roster, but appears to have accepted an assignment to Fresno.  I quite liked Gregorio, and would be happy to see him in the Majors again.  Especially if he was recording the game-winning hit in Game 162 to send the Astros to the playoffs.  Anyone else be happy with that??  Thought so!  Gregorio getting the call up would require a corresponding roster move, so that may lessen the chances somewhat.  Has been getting utility reps in Spring Training, but most likely to start the season in Fresno

David Rollins, SP/RP, Dec 2014.  Rollins was claimed by the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft.  One of a number of C-grade pitching prospects in the high-minors for the Astros.  Was lights out in Spring Training as a lefty reliever for the Mariners and looked destined to make the roster, but then got suspended for 80 games for Stanozolol use, which ironically makes him even less likely to be returned to the Astros.  Farewell!

Rio Ruiz, 3B, Jan 2015.  Traded to the Braves in the Gattis deal.  Ruiz sat comfortably in the Astros top-10 prospects on most evaluators' lists, but usually right behind Colin Moran, also on the 3B depth chart.  Most scouts had some concerns over Ruiz, but he was lauded for his solid hit tool and good strike-zone recognition.  This one could hurt, but the Astros had a few months to evaluate Ruiz right next to Moran, and clearly chose Moran, who went on to have a better Spring Training than Ruiz (for what that is worth).

Andrew Thurman, SP, Jan 2015.  Traded to the Braves in the Gattis deal.  Seen as a throw-in after a rough year in the lower minors.  Seemed like a quick exit for a 2013 2nd-rounder but the numbers were not good at Lo-A.  There is plenty of time for Thurman to turn it around, but he probably wants to do it sooner rather than later.

Nick Tropeano, SP, Nov 2014.  Tropeano seemed to have the inside running on one of the two 2015 rotation slots.  He seemed to lack a breaking ball, but did have a great changeup and decent fastball velocity.  The counter-argument is that the Astros traded a decent, controllable, young SP for a backup catcher.  Definitely bears watching, and will probably hurt some - perhaps as soon as 2015.

Jose Veras, RP, Oct 2014.  Elected Free Agency after the season finished.  Loves the Astros.  Probably outside the Astros offices at MMP holding a 1980's boom-box above his head, trying to serenade Jeff Luhnow.  Got signed by the Barves, but then released on March 19, so the prospect of a reunion remains credible.  Would look good in the Fresno pen as a depth piece (of he would agree to that), but will probably catch on somewhere.

And finally... Josh Zeid, RP, Nov 2014.  Outrighted off the roster prior to the deadline to protect minor-leaguers from the Rule 5 draft.  But the Tigers pounced quickly... and for good reason, given the state of their 'pen.  A solid bounce-back candidate, especially after having both feet operated on last year.  Good velocity and movement.  May be missed.

Friday, March 27, 2015

David Rollins Suspended for Steroid Use

News recently broke that the Mariners Rule 5 Draft pick David Rollins - who is formerly from the Astros organisation - has tested positive for the anabolic steroid Stanozolol, and will be suspended 80 games.  The Mariners were looking carefully at offering the lefty Rollins a spot in the 'pen.

Statements out of the Mariners organisation seem supportive of Rollins' indiscretion.  Rollins himself - in a statement contained in the link above, and issued through the Players Association - also spoke of the support that the Mariners have extended.  Rollins' statement seems to indicate that he does not contest the positive test, and that he briefly dabbled in steroid use to help recover from the fatigue of Winter Ball.

I think I will fall off my chair the day that a Major League ballplayer announces that not only did he use, but he has been using for a long time, and gosh, steroids help performance.  Rollins' statement represents another data-point in the "man, I used once and got pinged" narrative that both the Players Association and MLB is wanting to promote, because it proves that their testing programme is thorough, and picks up even the little guys that "make mistakes" in trying to make an active roster.

David Ortiz also made news about steroids earlier in a piece penned for the Players' Tribune.  Read into that piece what you want - as I mentioned in my last post about Brady Aiken, the Tribune is simply there to publish the players' side of the story, and there is no sense that the articles need to be balanced or are in any way open to comment or critique from anyone else.  Trust one-sided publications at your peril.  Of course, the Tribune probably exists because players were upset about stuff written about them in the press that they felt lacked balance. But I would encourage you to read Ortiz's article, because it also speaks to the difficulties around false accusations of steroid users, and the significant encroachment into players' lives that result from stringent testing.  Regardless of whether you think Ortiz used or not.

But, regardless, testing is expensive, and players are less frequently tested than ballplayers and MLB would have you believe.  And, when David Ortiz says he has been tested 80 times, the confidential nature of the testing signed in the CBA means that MLB has no capacity to refute that.  But both MLB and the Players Association are likely to want you to believe that people are tested all the time, and little guys like David Rollins just happened to be unlucky, and were only wanting to recover from a busy winter.

In situations like this we are unlikely to ever find out the extent of a players' use.  The reason for that is because neither the Players Association nor MLB are particularly motivated to provide clarity, and are happy to promote the idea that people just make mistakes, and happen to get pinged for it.

There is a non-zero chance that Rollins' performance over a significant period of time has been assisted by performance enhancing drugs, and that his actual level of performance potentially sits below what he has demonstrated over the last year or two.  It is possible that the Astros knew something about that, and were happy to expose him in the Rule 5 draft, but organisations simply cannot be seen to turn a blind eye to the use of performance enhancing drugs, so the Astros would never, never admit this.

In terms of what this may mean for player transactions, the irony is that Rollins is less likely to be returned to the Astros because of this test - which makes no sense, really.  Rollins can sit on the restricted list for the length of his suspension, and is then entitled to pitch in the minors on a rehab assignment, which could potentially account for the first 100 games of the season.  Then he will arrive to assist the bullpen for a stretch run, and only have to be maintained on the 25 man for around 75 to 60-odd games.  The addition of a fresh, effective pitcher in the 'pen that late in the year seems like a tempting idea to me.

Which means that, unless he totally falls apart, the Astros can probably kiss him goodbye.

Brady Aiken's TJS

I remember where I was when Brady Aiken was drafted by the Astros.  I was driving between two of my work sites listening to Robert Ford and Steve Sparks via Gameday at the exact moment the draft was happening.  Aiken was my preferred pick prior to the draft, mostly because there had been a bit of negative publicity about Carlos Rodon and his reliance on his slider, and partly because I could see him in the Bigs in 2016 or 2017.  Anyhow, after one joyous yell, one fist pump, and one near collision with a car driving the other way, I settled in to fantasise about Clayton Kershaw Mk II and what it would mean to the Astros for the rest of my travels.

Stuff, of course, started to go awry pretty much straight away.  Aiken visited Houston, no deals were announced, then whispers about there being a problem emerged.  The deadline for signing got closer, and the pundits seemed to say that perhaps there may be a problem, but that it would be highly unusual for something not to be worked out.  The deadline passed, Aiken stayed unsigned, and the Astros took a bath in the media, losing Mac Marshall and Jacob Nix in the process.

I wrote a little bit about Aiken and his situation in the aftermath of the whole cluster-fudge.  Re-reading the article, I think it holds up pretty well over time.  The details around what was said were clearly important: Close and Aiken claimed that he had no symptoms and therefore wasn't sick, the Astros obviously saw something else that they didn't like, and the available information seemed to point to an unusual situation that perhaps related to Aiken's ability to have effective rehabilitative interventions in the future.

I thought - at the time - that a fair amount of time would need to lapse to tell who was "the winner" in this situation.  (Disclaimer: there is no winner, but the issue really is whether the Astros actions were justified).   Regardless, I didn't expect this to shake down so quickly.  Aiken's recent start was - to the best of my tiny amount of knowledge - the first time that he threw in a game since the draft, and he lasted all of 13 or so pitches.

It would be tempting for an Astros fan to get all cock-a-hoop about Aiken's failed run-up to the 2015 draft, and declare the Astros "the winner" at this point.  But, not so fast.  This wasn't about currently being injured.  The information that we had appeared to be about his ability to successfully rehabilitate, and with pitchers, elbows are always worth looking at.

Now Aiken has already had TJS, so he is clearly able to have the procedure.  But there are a lot of recovery milestones between having the operation, and successfully throwing fastballs in the mid-90's and snapping breaking pitches for strikes.  So the next 12 months will be hugely important for Aiken and his rehabilitation, and the year-or-two after that will go a long way toward proving Aiken's ability or inability to stay healthy.

Regardless of the intensity of a fan's affiliation with the Astros, I would hope that no one is wishing for Aiken to have come to the end of his career.

I also need to point out that the Astros simply cannot afford to whiff on these number-one picks.  And in the middle of 2014, it certainly looked like they had screwed up the 2013 draft, with Appel throwing meatballs in Hi-A, and Kris Bryant mashing while he raced up the minor league ladder.  With Appel and Bryant, things look a little more even now, but with Dominguez posting an OBP of .260 in mid-2014, Bryant would have looked pretty darn good in getting a cup of coffee.

I have two other brickbats to throw.  This is the first time I have visited the Players' Tribune.  I am not  impressed, and won't be adding it to my compulsory reading list.  It looks like a fancy looking forum for athletes to post whatever unmitigated rubbish they want, with no filtering or capacity for anyone to question or present any counter-arguments.  Because athletes are always right, and journalists are horrible when they question what they say.  This is why the Players' Tribune exists.  Gah!

Of course, the second brickbat is directed toward the press.  Lots of cheap copy that vilified the Astros around the time of the whole debacle was printed, painting them as a ruthless or incompetent organisation that blackmailed a poor, innocent high-schooler whose only crime was to have dreams of greatness.  Bad, evil Astros!!  Crushing dreams since Luhnow employed a phalanx of robot number-crunchers to rid baseball of the human side.

I plan to count the number of articles in the press that acknowledge their previous missteps, or thoughtfully revisit their articles from July and August of last year.  I am confident that nothing like that will occur - because that is not how most of the press works.  They need to fill columns and sell copy - and it doesn't matter who gets in the way, but up-playing the drama of the story often gets to sell more.  Every story needs a villain, the Astros fitted the bill nicely, and the narrative about the Astros and their incompetency / ruthlessness / whatever gets to gain traction.

If you haven't already visited Constable's Rage-venture post, please do so now.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Brady Aiken has Tommy John surgery

Unsigned 2014 1-1 pick Brady Aiken wrote today in the Player's Tribune that he had Tommy John surgery yesterday.

Aiken made his 2015 debut for the IMG Academy last week, and left his start after 12 pitches (maybe 14, I can't remember exactly. It wasn't a lot.)

Aiken:
...Over the last nine months, I didn't dwell too much on what happened over the summer...I just put my total focus into preparing for the 2015 Draft. My workouts were the best they had ever been. I was throwing better and harder than I had ever before. And then...I threw a pitch and something felt a little wrong.

As you likely recall, Aiken and the Astros couldn't come to an agreement after the Astros found an irregularity in his post-draft/pre-signing physical and offered Aiken/Casey Close the minimum amount they possibly could and still receive compensation for not signing Aiken. More on that in a minute. As the deadline drew to a close, the Astros tried a last-ditch offer for the amount to which they had previously agreed, and They wouldn't pick up the phone. 

Think about that for a second. The Astros couldn't convince a 17-year old or his family to take $6.5m. 

Aiken actually addresses that:
I can honestly say I don't regret not signing. It was a very difficult decision, but it also was an informed decision based on circumstances only a few people know the truth about...We weighed the pros and cons, talked with friends and mentors and doctors whose opinions we value and discussed it over a number of family dinners...

Now your money quote:
The money wasn't the only factor to consider. I wanted to play somewhere I felt comfortable, with a support system I felt would lay the groundwork for a successful and long career. Making sure I had that in place was worth the frustration of not being able to get on with my career sooner.

Alright, I'll stop before I make clicking the link not worth the time. But there are some things to chew on here.

1. Brady Aiken does not regret not taking $6.5m from the Astros (UPDATE: Or $5.1m or whatever). This is hard to fathom for regular people. You likely know I teach high school. Brady Aiken turned down an amount equal to what I will make in 151 years (Adjust based on UPDATE). That, by its very nature, disqualifies me from being "impartial." But everybody's circumstances are different. But it does mean that...

2. Brady Aiken & Posse would rather not take the Astros' millions of dollars than pitch in the Astros' system. Aiken says he wanted to "play somewhere I felt comfortable, with a support system I felt would lay the groundwork for a successful and long career." Simply by not signing with the Astros, the implication is that the Aikens didn't feel like the Astros would lay the groundwork for his "successful and long career." 

3. This is becoming a habit with the Astros. They did the same thing with Ryan Vogelsong, lowering their offer after he took a physical. Vogelsong told KNBR:
Everything that's happened to me this offseason - and one of these days I'll tell you guys all about it, when we're all sitting around having a couple beers 10 years from now when I'm done playing - and you'll go, 'There's no way that happened,' and I'll say, 'Yup,' and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Vogelsong's agent tried to clarify that the Astros didn't give him the willies, but Twice is a pattern. What is said pattern? Physicals are not a rubber stamp. They will come to a verbal agreement and, depending on what the medical stuff shows, have no problem adjusting their financials based on the medical information provided for them. We can make jokes about Brady Aiken's tiny UCL all day long, but the Bidness Side of the Astros - as always - give zero craps about what you think, what The Media thinks, what the MLBPA thinks, and what the player and/or his agent thinks. 

Is this worthwhile? In the short-term, yes. Like speculating on whether or not Carlos Correa would have broken his leg had the Astros promoted him to Corpus earlier, this is a hard concept on which to get a handle, because you're dealing with alternate histories. Would Brady Aiken be 24 hours removed from Tommy John surgery were he already in the Astros' system? Apparently the Astros thought that it was enough of a risk (though, to me, anyone who throws harder than 64mph is a full-body cast waiting to happen) to destroy what little favorable outsider-perception they still enjoyed. But that has always been their M.O., a "screw your opinion, we're here to win some games...at some point" philosophy. Regardless, the Astros didn't give $6-ish million to a player who won't pitch until 2016. 

But that long play, though...that's trickier. If you thought that Base Ball had gotten past its Good Ol' Boy days, you're quite wrong. You can see there is a visceral reaction to the Astros, or at least Jeff Luhnow. Maybe it's the Sports Illustrated 2017 World Series Champs cover. Maybe, though, it's the perception that Luhnow doesn't care about human feelings. You and I kick the coffee table, we fall to the ground and weep. Jeff Luhnow kicks the coffee table and it splinters like a bullet hitting an Ikea bookshelf. You and I need coffee in the morning. Jeff Luhnow needs compressed air and some castor oil. You get my point. 

The problem is that the perception can impact the long-term health of the team to which we have chosen to be loyal (or at least mildly follow while we crack another beer). Casey Close represents some of the biggest names in baseball, and if he is at the point where he won't - or even would rather not - deal with the Astros, that's Not Good. You better believe that if 37-year old Ryan Vogelsong basically says that the Astros gave him the shakyballs, other players are listening. 

Let's say the Astros are ready to step up and spend more than $12m/year on a player (provided his MRI is like looking at Clark Kent's MRI), if the perception is - thanks to the comments made by Casey Close, Brady Aiken, and Ryan Vogelsong just in the last eight months - the Astros give no craps about the overall well-being of a player, that's a Bad Thing. Every time Peter Gammons can think to get his butt cheeks off the keyboard to his phone to tweet something mean about the Astros, players, agents, and media are paying attention. 

There's a very good chance that I'm over-thinking this, in my respite from my self- (and work-) imposed blogging hiatus. Maybe everything is fine. Maybe Giancarlo Stanton will opt-out in 25 minutes because he likes those clean unis and join the Astros. But I'm guessing that it won't happen. Players the Astros will want to sign are going to have some questions about the organization. So the $3m the Astros "saved" by not signing Aiken and the $4m they "saved" by not signing Vogelsong are going to cost more than $7m in the long-run. A lot more. 

Are the Astros validated with the news that a teenager needed Tommy John surgery? If that makes you feel good, then whatever. The Astros guessed correctly that a 17-year old who threw 98mph might need to have major surgery. Congratulations. I, for one, am not going to cheer the fact that it'll be another year and a half before we get to see Brady Aiken pitch, for anybody (it sure as hell isn't going to be for the Astros). To me, the Astros didn't "win" the Brady Aiken news. Nobody did.

--

Shameless click-bait from July 20, 2014: Be sure to Choose Your Own Rageventure on the Brady Aiken decision.