Thursday, December 5, 2019

Friday Morning Hot Links

Okay, some news! That doesn't involve sign-stealing! For now!

*The Astros traded Jake Marisnick on Thursday to the New York Mets for two prospects. In 631 career games for the Astros (90.9% of his career MLB PAs were with Houston), Marisnick hit .232/.285/.396 with 53 HR / 173 RBI, 505K:91BB. Marisnick's career-high was a 1.8 fWAR in 2015. In 2018-2019 Marisnick posted a career 2.1 fWAR. Of course his defense - and his hair - was show-stopping and above-average. We all will miss Jake Marisnick.

The two prospects:

Blake Taylor is a 24-year old lefty pitcher who transitioned to the bullpen in 2019. Regard this 2013 2nd Round pick by Pittsburgh, in 2017-2018: 172.1IP, 166H/99ER, 155K:103BB, 5.17 ERA / 1.56 WHIP.

Now, 2019: 66.2IP, 49H/16ER, 74K:24BB, 3.38 ERA / 1.10 WHIP. Did I mention he's a lefty? He also replaces Marisnick on the 40-Man Roster, which still stands at 38.

Kenedy Corona is a 19-year old outfielder (he'll be 20 in March) who just finished up his first season of professional baseball, splitting time between the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League, with four games in the New York-Penn League. In the GCL Corona hit .311/.401/.483 with 25K:17BB in 181 PAs.

What does this mean for the Astros? In the bestest of case scenarios, Taylor could be a lefty option in the bullpen. For the immediate roster, however, obviously it opens up a spot in the outfield. Luhnow:
We really like Jake and he's been such an integral part of all of our success. He's played an important role on our team, but when you look at the number of outfield options we have next year, we do have a lot of options.

Verdict: True! In addition to the final year of Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, and (gulp!) George Springer, the Astros have Myles Straw and Kyle Tucker.

Jake Kaplan thinks that, between the above five, the 2020 outfield is set.

On July 31, 2014 the Astros sent Jarred Cosart, Enrique Hernandez, and Austin Wates to Miami for Marisnick, Colin Moran, Francis Martes, and a Comp Round A pick in 2015.

Colin Moran was traded to Pittsburgh, in part, for Gerrit Cole.
Francis Martes is still with the Astros.
The Comp Round A pick in 2015 became Daz Cameron who was traded to Detroit, in part, for Justin Verlander.

*The Astros are targeting pitchers and catchers at the Winter Meetings, a little over two months before pitchers and catchers report. Luhnow:
I'm excited the market seems to be moving more quickly this year and we're certainly going to be having all the relevant conversations in San Diego and I'd love to make a transaction or two. We'll have to wait and see how it goes. It is encouraging teams are active and players and agents are willing to do things earlier [than] they have in the past two years. That all bodes well for a more active San Diego Meetings.

*Speaking of pitchers, ESPN's Jeff Passan has a report in which sources tell him that the Yankees are making the signing of Gerrit Cole a priority. Passan:
The Yankees' fondness for the 29-year-old Cole, whose fantastic 2019 season with the Houston Astros set him up to smash David Price's record contract for a pitcher of $217 million, was only reinforced during a meeting with him earlier this week, sources said...New York and the Los Angeles Angels, a team similarly smitten with Cole and in even greater need of pitching than the Yankees, are prepared for a bidding war that executives expect will reach well beyond $250 million, according to sources.

*You should really read David J. Roth in The New Republic on the Astros and the McKinsey connection. The close:
All those merciless cullings and endless organizational refinements, all that data and all the brilliant minds and machines working it over, all resolving to some underpaid grunt in a folding chair whaling away on a garbage can because the members of the team's brain trust of thoroughbred data nerds simply took it for granted that they could get away with it. All that data, all those numbers, all those shifting variables continually delivered the same answer: What are you going to do, stop us?

*Heeeeey! Ryan Pressly got married!

*Abraham Toro earned the prestigious Canadian Offensive Minor-League Player of the Year award.

*The great Sam Miller broke down a single play to determine how WAR is calculated.

*GQ: Chaos at the top of the world.

*A Musical Selection:

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

The deadline to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players was Monday night, and the Astros decided not to offer SP Aaron Sanchez a contract for 2020. Ol' Hurt Shoulder Sanchez is now a free agent. Related, the Astros and RP Joe Biagini agreed on a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. Biagini and Sanchez were acquired in July from Toronto (as well as Cal Stevenson) for Derek Fisher.

There are now eight arbitration-eligible Astros still on the 40-Man Roster (with MLBTR's arbitration projections in parentheses)

Carlos Correa ($7.4m)
Aledmys Diaz ($2.4m)
Chris Devenski ($2m - club option for $2.825m)
Jake Marisnick ($3m)
Lance McCullers ($4.1m)
Roberto Osuna ($10.2m)
Brad Peacock ($4.6m)
George Springer ($21.4m)

Add that up...carry the one...and that's a projected total of $55.1m in arbitration salaries. Richard Justice writes that Springer should never play a game in another uniform.

*Will Leitch predicts Alex Bregman will be the Astros' best player in 2020.

*Catcher James McCann agreed to a deal with the White Sox, and Jake Kaplan maintains (and I agree) that bringing back Robinson Chirinos makes the most sense for the Astros behind the plate.

*Still not ready for this, but McTaggart wrote up the Astros' 10 best games of the decade.

*The Yankees are meeting with Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, both clients of the Hallelujah Boras, Reminder that the Winter Meetings begin next Monday. Here is the need-to-know regarding the 2019 Winter Meetings.

*Former Astros Great Domingo Santana was non-tendered by the Mariners. Former Astros Great James Hoyt was non-tendered by Cleveland. Chicago's Addison Russell was non-tendered.

*The Rangers are probably going to sign Anthony Rendon. The only possible adjective for Anthony Rendon is "swashbuckling." They may also sign Zack Wheeler. Rangers are clearly tired of 4th-place trophies.

*MLB's five best free agent bargains.

*Astroline returns tomorrow night.

*A Bike Ride Through the Garden of Good and Evil.

*The Story Behind Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

*Ponzi Schemes, Private Yachts, and a Missing $250m in Crypto: The Strange Tale of Quadriga.

*A Musical Selection:

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Astros Retired Numbers: Jim Umbricht

The Houston Astros have retired a lot of jersey numbers, for a team that has only been in existence since 1962. Regard: Number of retired numbers, by team, with year they were established in parentheses (not counting Jackie Robinson, whose number was retired across MLB. Now do the same for Roberto Clemente, Manfred you sack of crap).

New York Yankees: 21 (1903)
St. Louis Cardinals: 14 (1882)*
San Francisco Giants: 14 (1883)*
Cincinnati Reds: 13 (1882)
Chicago White Sox: 11 (1901)
Los Angeles Dodgers: 10 (1884)
Boston Red Sox: 10 (1901)
Atlanta Braves: 10 (1966)*
Detroit Tigers: 10 (1901)*
Pittsburgh Pirates: 9 (1882)
Cleveland Indians: 9 (1901)*
Houston Astros: 9 (1962)
Minnesota Twins: 8 (1961)
Philadelphia Phillies: 7 (1883)
San Diego Padres: 7 (1969)*
Baltimore Orioles: 6 (1901)
Oakland Athletics: 6 (1901)*
Chicago Cubs: 6 (1903)
New York Mets: 6 (1962)*
Milwaukee Brewers: 6 (1969)*
Los Angeles Angels: 5 (1961)
Washington Nationals: 5 (1969)*
Texas Rangers: 5 (1972)
Kansas City Royals: 3 (1969)
Toronto Blue Jays: 2 (1977)
Seattle Mariners: 2 (1977)
Tampa Bay Rays: 2 (1998)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 2 (1998)
Colorado Rockies: 1 (1993)
Miami Marlins: 0 (1993)

*St. Louis retired the "numbers" of Jack Buck and former owner August Busch.
*The Giants have four "numbers" retired of people who didn't have a number: Christy Mathewson and manager John McGraw, and two broadcasters: Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges.
*The only number retired by Atlanta for a player who never played in Atlanta was Warren Spahn's 21, who pitched 12 seasons for the Milwaukee Braves. Milwaukee was the Braves' home from 1953-1965. They moved to Atlanta prior to the 1966 season.
*Detroit retired longtime broadcaster Ernie Harwell's "EH."
*Cleveland enjoyed 455 straight sell-outs and officially retired the number 455 in honor of the fans. So no MLBer will ever wear 455 for Cleveland. A shame.
*San Diego retired owner Ray Kroc and broadcaster's Jerry Coleman's "numbers."
*Oakland retired "WH" for former owner Walter Haas.
*The Mets have retired Ralph Kiner's "number" as an announcer, as well as former owner William Shea's "number."
*Milwaukee retired Bob Uecker and Bud Selig's "numbers."
*Of course the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005. No National has had their number retired by the organization.

So how is it that the Astros have retired more numbers than the Phillies, who have been around for 79 more seasons, or the same number as the Pirates, who have been around since 1882? Well, everything new doesn't want to seem new. You want a history, even if you don't have one. See: George Washington and the cherry tree. This series is to understand why each of these nine Astros had their jersey numbers retired. First up: Jim Umbricht.

I don't have a firm grasp on this, but I'm guessing Jim Umbricht played in the fewest major league games (88) before getting his number retired. It's a pretty tragic story. 

Umbricht was born on September 17, 1930 in Chicago and went on to the University of Georgia. In parts of five seasons from 1959-1963 (the last two of which, with the Astros, were full seasons) Umbricht went 9-5 with a 3.06 ERA / 1.17 WHIP (116 ERA+). 

Umbricht's family moved to Decatur, Georgia for his father's work and was All-State in basketball and baseball in 1948, his senior year. He lettered in both sports at the University of Georgia three times each. Umbricht paid his way to a tryout in 1953 for Class D Waycross of the Georgia-Florida League and played shortstop, but couldn't hit. Luckily for him, at 6'4" 215lbs, he took the mound at posted a team 2nd-lowest 2.87 ERA. That's where he would stay, at least when he got back from military service, missing the 1954 and 1955 seasons. After the 1956 season with the Baton Rouge Rebels of the unaffiliated Class C Evangeline League, Umbricht - with another successful season on the mound, including a team-high 235IP - he was sold to the Milwaukee Braves.

He was a workhorse for the Topeka Hawks (1957) and transitioned to relief for the Atlanta Crackers in 1958. Umbricht was traded to Pittsburgh for Emil Panko. Umbricht spent 1959 with Triple-A Salt Lake City where, at 2.78, he posted the 7th-lowest ERA in the PCL, and only walked 43 batters. Pittsburgh rewarded him with a call-up. Nine days after his 29th birthday, Umbricht made his MLB debut against Cincinnati on September 26, 1959. The Reds came out swinging: leadoff hitter Johnny Temple took Umbricht deep. With two outs, Frank Thomas and Buddy Gilpert hit back-to-back jacks off Umbricht. After another walk, Umbricht finally got out of the inning, having allowed three home runs to his first five career MLB batters.

In his Age 29 & Age 30 seasons, Umbricht threw 44IP for Pittsburgh with a 4.91 ERA / 1.68 WHIP, a number marred again by Cincinnati when he allowed 8H/6ER, 1K:4BB in his 1960 season debut. After two rough starts in 1960 Umbricht pitched in 15 games for the Pirates, throwing 33IP, 29H/14ER, 23K:18BB (3.82 ERA / 1.42 WHIP). The 1960 Pirates won the World Series over the New York Yankees. Umbricht did not pitch. 

Umbricht made one appearance for the 1961 Pirates, spending most of the season in Triple-A Columbus. One-time Baltimore GM Paul Richards, who grew up in Waxahachie (and was known as "The Wizard of Waxahachie") left the Orioles to become the first general manager for Houston, known for developing young talent. SIDE NOTE: Richards, a baseball lifer, was maybe the first manager to swap a reliever for an outfielder for another reliever, coined as "The Waxahachie Swap"

With an expansion draft coming for the up-and-coming Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets, Pittsburgh chose not to protect him, and the Colt .45s purchased Umbricht for $50,000. It worked out nicely for Umbricht, as he and his parents already lived in Houston. 

His first six appearances with Houston (April 14-May 7)? 6.1IP, 4H/1R (0ER), 3K:3BB. He got sent down and brought back up on a regular basis, and the Colt .45s were 8-24 in the 32 games in which Umbricht pitched, but he ended the year with a 2.01 ERA / 1.01 WHIP in Houston.

During Spring Training in 1963 Umbricht was golfing with Colt .45s GM Paul Richards aka "The Wizard of Waxahachiewhen he happened, in passing, to mention a mole growing on his right leg. Richards referred Umbricht to the team physician Jim Ewell, who referred him to M.D. Anderson, where it was discovered that the cancer was malignant and had already spread. 

A six-hour operation on March 7 removed cancerous cells from his leg, groin, and thigh. While in the hospital, Umbricht visited other patients. Ewell:
Only a man with a stout heart could go through what Umbricht did and come out all right. During his convalescence, Jim walked all around the hospital, visited other patients and spread good cheer. He served as an inspiration to others in the hospital and believe me, he cheered up many of the patients. Umbricht is a walking testimonial that cancer can be cured if it is caught in time.

Umbricht was in uniform on April 9, 1963 - Opening Day. Umbricht threw BP on April 22 and appeared in relief on May 9 (where he got lit up by the Reds, again). 

No one has to feel sorry for me...It's all a little embarrassing. I don't mean to sound ungrateful, though. I'm glad people are so interested in one respect, because it helps publicize cancer. Early detection of cancer is a big thing, and maybe if people read about how I was cured it might help them.

On July 7, 1963 Umbricht matched Milwaukee's Warren Spahn almost inning-for-inning. Spahn threw a CGSHO but Umbricht threw 7IP, 4H/1ER, 8K:1BB before Turk Farrell blew the game in the 8th. It was the best MLB start of Umbricht's career. From that start to the end of the 1963 season Umbricht threw 44IP, 31H/8ER, 28K:13BB, a 1.64 ERA / 1.00 WHIP. 

In November 1963 Umbricht was apparently told that the cancer was incurable. He was the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association's "Most Courageous Athlete" of 1963. On April 8, 1964 - just over a year from complaining about a mole while playing golf - Jim Umbricht passed away of melanoma. Jim's brother, Ed, flew a plane over the construction site of The Astrodome and scattered his ashes

Five days later, Umbricht's roommate Ken Johnson threw 8.2IP, 5H/3ER, 3K:1BB at Cincinnati in a 6-3 Colt .45s victory. Johnson:
I had an extra special reason for wanting to win this one. My ex-roommate.

The Colt .45s wore black armbands for the 1964 season in Umbricht's honor.

On April 12, 1965 - Opening Day at The Astrodome - the newly-named Astros retired Umbricht's number 32, the first retired number in franchise history. 

Saturday Morning Hot Links

Three cities in five days including two flights and one rental car, two time zones, one concert, a couple of days with family, a couple of days with friends, and it's been an absolutely exhausting week. Thank God it's over. It was great. Hope you had at least a restful Thanksgiving break. Except for Aubrey Huff. I hope Aubrey Huff's anti-gonorrhea medication didn't work this month.

*Would you tender a contract to the following arbitration-eligible players?

Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez threw 131.1IP in 2019 (18.2IP for Houston after getting traded for Derek Fisher (along with Joe Biagini and Cal Stevenson), but underwent shoulder surgery that will keep him on the IL into 2020. He's projected to make about $5.6m in 2020.

Obviously no one knows how long Sanchez will be out, but given that the Astros seem to be ready to lose Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh. Sanchez could be useful at a (baseball-wise, anyway) reasonable rate in 2020.

Chris Devenski. Devenski is more of a known quantity since coming over as the [snicker] PTBNL in the White Sox' 2012 trade for [belly-laugh] Brett Myers. Devenski ERA / FIP / fWAR, 2016-2019:

2016: 2.16 / 2.34 / 2.7
2017: 2.68 / 3.49 / 1.3
2018: 4.18 / 4.49 / 0.1
2019: 4.83 / 4.62 / 0.0

I didn't think I'd say this two years ago, but I might not tender Devenski a contract. He's only projected to make $2m, so maybe there's something fixable in there, but he's been trending downwards - severely - for the last two seasons. He's been almost a perfect Replacement Level reliever for the last 116.1IP.

Also, Devenski, postseason career: 11IP, 12H/11ER, 11K:4BB, 3HR.

*Jim "Ralph" Bowden: The Angels should go spend half a billion dollars on Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.

*FanGraphs: Which Astros players might have benefited most from sign-stealing? Jake Mailhot:
...When you have an organizational culture that values the cumulative effects of many marginal improvements, implementing a sign-stealing system to help your batters gain an edge, even a small one, might be just what you're looking for.

This article is not fun!

*Mike Piazza will be the manager of the Italian national baseball team.

*Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein: Baseball is the soundtrack to something else. I agree with this whole-heartedly.

*The Ramgers signed Kyle Gibson.

*The Atlantic: The new ticket scalpers are young, unashamed, and very online.

*A Montreal Bagel War unites rival kings.

*How to argue better.

*RIP, Brad Gobright.

*A Musical Selection:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

*Gonna go out on a limb and say there will be no Hot Links tomorrow or Friday. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and a restful few days. If this is not an easy time for you, I'm sorry. Love, me, Mrs AC, the heiress, Turkey Mike, Turkeyfoot, Turkey Gross, Turkey Tyson, Harry "Beans" Keener, Mitchell Dressing, Frank "Taters" Lary, Manuel "Potato" Cueto, and Pie Traynor.

*The Astros made their first free-agent signing of the season, 32-year old catcher Dustin Garneau to a 1yr/$650K deal with an opportunity for $75K in incentives. He and Garrett Stubbs are the only catchers on the Astros' 40-Man Roster. You can bet the Astros will try to get a more top-line name behind the plate to catch Verlander, Greinke, & Co.

The Astros will be Garneau's fifth team and 2020 will be his 6th year in the Majors. He's a career .207/.290/.343 hitter in 123 MLB games (381 PAs). If Dustin Garneau is the Astros' Opening Day catcher, then something gone awry.

McTaggart runs down the available options at catcher for Houston.

* runs down the most attractive trade chip for each AL West team. The Astros? Not exactly looking to deal anyone...

*Aaron Sanchez is the Astros' most-obvious non-tender candidate.

*Lance McCullers stays a good dude.

*Houston Press: If this investigation goes sideways, will the World Series feel tainted?

*The five most thrilling Astros wins of 2019. I am not ready to read this yet.

*The Athletic: Ranking the best and worst high-profile Astros trades of the 2010s.

*Jayson Stark's Best of the Decade column.

*For the time being, Leeds United are top of the table.

*A Musical Selection, since it's gray and chilly where I currently sit:

Monday, November 25, 2019

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

Short list this morning, which is fine by me:

*McTaggart has an inbox in which he says the Astros will want to add one, maybe two starting pitchers, perhaps a starting catcher, and maybe some bullpen depth. He addresses what the rotation could look like, the possibility of trading Reddick to the White Sox, the difficulty of extending George Springer, and Abraham Toro's possibility as the 26th Man (which is a thing starting in 2020). My main concern for this offseason is the Astros avoiding someone getting a lifetime ban from baseball. 

*MLBTR has the offseason outlook for the Astros, which does a deep dive into the financials going into 2020.

*The Athletic's Dan Connolly says Baltimore GM Mike Elias needs to learn as much from the Astros' controversies as he has their ascent. 

*SI: Giving thanks for the good things in baseball right now.

*FanGraphs: Mapping the new MiLB landscape.

*The Hardball Times: Jackie Mitchell, the woman who struck out Babe Ruth, and then Lou Gehrig.

*A Musical Selection: