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Inside Baseball AL Notes | Astros doing homework on starters

Jon Heyman



September 12, 2016: Pittsburgh Pirates Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) [9321] winds up to pitch during a Major League Baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Inside baseball news and notes from each of the 15 American League teams.


Baltimore Orioles

  • Adam Jones donated $20,000 to the Negro League Museum, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported.
  • Jones did a very good and revealing Q and A with Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. 
  • Buck Showalter keeps winning admirers. “The Orioles are doing it again, and Manny Machado hasn’t even been that good,” marvels one rival GM.
  • Caleb “hit machine” Joseph continues to rake. He of zero RBI in all of 2016 had three RBI in one game recently.
  • Chris Tillman’s five shutout innings in his return is a big plus – for him and the team. He’s a free agent after the year.

Boston Red Sox

  • Over his last 13 outings, Craig Kimbrel has 29 strikeouts and no walks.
  • John Farrell upset the Orioles, and it appears even some at MLB, with the beanball war. He didn’t earn a suspension, though it’s unclear whether fines were handed out.
  • Chris Sale’s seven straight games with 10 strikeouts or more is really quite remarkable when you think about it.
  • Red Sox pitching prospect Travis Lakins was recruited to play basketball by Brad Stevens at Butler before Lakins chose to play baseball at Ohio State instead, according to Peter Gammons of MLB Network.
  • Mookie Betts is back at it, taking Player of the Week honors.  

Chicago White Sox

  • The White Sox, Cardinals and Astros are considered a few of the leaders for Cuban outfielder Luis Robert – though some believe that ultimately the White Sox may turn their attention elsewhere (GM Rick Hahn declined to comment).
  • Robert’s people are telling folks they’ve got more than $20 million, which jibes with the report in this space a few weeks ago that he “had $25 million in his pocket.”
  • Leury Garcia (5-foot-8) became the shortest ChiSox player to hit two homers in a game since Ray Durham in 2001, Christopher Kamka noted on Twitter.
  • Anthony Swarzak has taken a big step this year (19 2/3 IP, 4 hits, 0 runs, two BBs, 22 K). Between him, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson, the White Sox have one of the best bullpens in the games.

Cleveland Indians

  • Andrew Miller, even after his long 2016 season, is still dominating (0.47 ERA).
  • Jason Kipnis may have his stroke back.
  • Nice job by manager Terry Francona trolling Kevin Cash as he greeted him with a scoreboard message that Cash had that the fifth-lowest OPS plus in history. Funny, but most probably don’t even recall that Cash was a major leaguer, so actually it was positive pub in a way.
  • Chris Archer is now 0-6 with a 6.00 ERA vs, the Indians, via MLB. That’s a good poker hand, but not much else.
  • Can’t blame GM Mike Chernoff for wanting to lock up Francisco Lindor for seven years. Or even more.
  • No one would have predicted the Indians would have the worst rotation ERA in the AL into this week.

Detroit Tigers

  • Word is, manager Brad Ausmus isn’t giving up on K-Rod as a closer – though he suffered another setback when he lost a tie game in non-closing role, 13-11 to the Orioles in extras. Can’t really blame him. K-Rod’s career has been full of comebacks.
  • J.D. Martinez (Julio David, as Pedro Martinez mentioned on Twitter) is already doing his thing. He homered twice his first weekend back. He will be an interesting free agent. He’s a terrific threat if he’s healthy. The Tigers got him for nothing, picking him up after Houston released him.
  • Justin Upton looks like he’s back.
  • Ian Kinsler took a real cold spell onto the DL, but was 3-for-4 his first game back.
  • Michael Fulmer looks awfully good, again.
In this Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, file photo, Houston Astros' Lance McCullers, right, tosses a ball as he waits with Dallas Keuchel during a spring training baseball workout in West Palm Beach, Fla. The pressure is on for McCullers and 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel at the top of the Astros rotation heading into a season of high expectations for the team. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Houston Astros

  • The Astros are doing work on Gerrit Cole as a potential trade target, sources say, though of course the Pirates could easily hold onto him since he’s got two more years to go to free agency. The Astros have been the best team in baseball, and their starting pitching has been very good, but one more starter could really out them in good stead, and they seem to like Cole. Their pursuit of Jose Quintana has gotten the most attention, but they should have a few choices in this trading season, with Alex Cobb, Ervin Santana and possibly others expected to be on the block, as well.
  • Dallas Keuchel must have been less than 100 percent last year, a scout surmised, as he’s back to Cy Young form. “His arm speed is quick again. Last year he was dragging his arm,” one rival scout said.
  • Lance McCullers has been excellent, as well, and his beautiful sneakers in tribute to Jose Fernandez, his friend from high school in Tampa, was very nice while shutting down the Marlins in Miami. Nice story by Tim Healey of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel about McCullers pitching in Miami, where his Fernandez starred before his tragic death last year.
  • They’ve already got a huge lead. Not bad. Maybe Ben Reiter of SI was right that 2017 would be their year. We’ll see.
  • Chris Devenski has 42 strikeouts in 23 innings.
  • At the time Charlie Morton looked like a steep overpay at $14 million for two years. But he’s improved. Morton has thrown as high as 99 mph. Good job.
  • Alex Bregman looked inspired on Jeter night. Wearing No. 2 to honor Derek Jeter, Bregman hit a grand slam in the first inning after the ceremony.
  • Carlos Beltran passed Jeter on the career doubles list on Jeter Night, 545 to 544, shortly after handing him his new “Monument Park blazer,” which Beltran devised.

Kansas City Royals

  • The Royals will be selling, rivals are predicting – though they aren’t selling yet. GM Dayton Moore told MLB.com it isn’t time for that. And that’s fair.
  • Going into the start vs. the Yankees, Jason Vargas was tied for the lead in fewest “barrels,” (1.6 per 100 contacts), meaning few hitters are making solid contact off him.
  • The ex-Cub factor has hit them, as Jason Hammel, Jorge Soler and Travis Wood have all under-performed so far in KC.
  • RIP to Kansas Citian Steve Palermo, a terrific gentleman and life hero whose umpiring career was halted after he was shot in the back while coming to the aid of a robbery victim in Dallas in 1991. He had been a terrific ump, and he became a just as terrific baseball ambassador after the tragic incident.

Los Angeles Angels

  • Mike Trout seems to be getting better, if that’s even possible. He homered in four straight games for the first time in his career.
  • He also became the quickest to the 150-150 club (150 homers, 150 steals), breaking Alex Rodriguez’s record, according to ESPN stats (good to see they have some folks still working behind the scenes).
  • Besides his obviously immense talent, one Angels observer says another key to Trout’s success is a temperament so even he seems almost unaffected by how things are going for him personally. (I can confirm I’ve never seen him in a foul mood.)
  • For all the talk about how overpaid Albert Pujols is, the fact is he’s still a 30-and-100 guy, and still gives protection to Trout, who’s been intentionally walked four times this year when it could have been 10 or more if it wasn’t Pujols behind him.
  • Pujols tied Yaz on the all-time RBI list (yes, I still count RBIs).
  • Michigan Native Matt Shoemaker seems to have something on the Tigers.
  • Danny Espinosa was up to 0 for his last 36 when he was robbed by Nick Castellanos for the 36th out. He doubled in his next at-bat.
  • Andrew Bailey is having his shoulder checked out.
  • Alex Meyer is threatening to pitch to his potential now.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 03: Minnesota Twins Starting pitcher Ervin Santana (54) delivers a pitch during a MLB game between the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals on Opening Day at Target Field in Minneapolis, MN. The Twins defeated the Royals 7-1.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

Minnesota Twins

  • Ervin Santana will be available even if he isn’t quite available yet. “You can make an offer,” one rival surmised. “They’re hoping to cash in on his start.” Can you really blame them? Santana has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, and teams that were hoping to have his contract offset in some way, have to realize they’d instead have to give up some decent prospects for Santana.
  • The Twins are in first place. Who predicted that? Not me. Actually Fangraphs had them with 82 wins, so they aren’t looking bad.
  • Jose Berrios looked nothing like he did as a rookie in his 2017 debut. Which is a good thing.
  • It’s looking less likely Hunter Greene goes No. 1 to Minnesota. Brendan McKay looks like an option.

 New York Yankees

  • George Steinbrenner seems to be getting credit he doesn’t deserve for signing Derek Jeter. 
  • A-Rod’s stated excuse to miss Derek Jeter Night that he was spending the day with his mother in Miami fell apart when Page Six found him at Nobu with J-Lo (after visiting his mom earlier in the day). While that excuse comes under the heading fake news, it was unnecessary as no one thinks A-Rod was invited due to his lack of a relationship with his frenemy Jeter.
  • The only other No. 2 to hit a grand slam during Jeter’s entire career was Randy Winn, who did it once, according to Jayson Stark who was inexplicably laid off in ESPN’s mass layoffs, before Bregman did it on Jeter Night. Bregman was a Jeter lover growing up, and his mother drove in from Long Island and witnessed the game.
  • Aroldis Chapman didn’t look quite as good as he has in the past even before he went on the disabled list. He is out “at least” a month. Maybe last October took something out of him.
  • Mashiro Tanaka’s $63 million over three years after this one doesn’t seem crazy, but opting out could be a gamble. One rival GM says “Tanaka scares me. He gets it done but I’d worry about him.” Might be an interesting call whether to exercise that opt out.
  • Any concern about CC Sabathia was alleviated in his 6.2 shutout innings vs. the Royals. He even hit 94 on the gun.
  • Aaron Hicks is thought to have “rededicated” himself. It’s paying off, if so. His OPS is 1.043.
  • Chance Adams has been dominating in the minors.
  • Greg Bird’s foot is said to hurt “a little,” but there is no timetable yet for his return.

Oakland Athletics

  • Andrew Triggs was leading MLB in fewest “barrels,” at 1.6 per 100 contacts (barrels are when hitters square one up).
  • Sonny Gray had a nice six-inning, two-run outing, but even better, he told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle he “needs to do better.”
  • Matt Chapman, third-base prospect at Triple-A, is impressing scouts with big power and top defense.
  • Franklin Barreto is going to be a big-time performer, but one scout says, “I don’t think he’s a shortstop. I see him as a hit-first second baseman.”
  • Of the guys the A’s got for Josh Donaldson, Kendall Graveman to this point has been the most valuable (but they have high hopes for Barreto, of course).
  • You gotta love the A’s monthly pass for fans for $19.99. That’s a deal!

 Seattle Mariners

  • The Mariners simply have to hope many of their injured players return soon and don’t appear to be in a buy mode. As one Mariners observer said, adding one passable pitcher would be “like putting a Band-aid on a gunshot wound.”
  • Their winter moves – Jean Segura (who leads the AL in hitting), Mitch Haniger (a Rookie of the Year candidate, if Aaron Judge should slip) – were made with the idea in mind of extending their window, so they aren’t seen as a likely serious seller, either, though a piece or two could be interesting (lefty Mark Rzepczynski has pitched well).
  • The hope is that Mike Zunino will regain his confidence with his trip to Triple-A. So expect him back, though maybe not immediately. By no means are they giving up on him.
  • Edwin Diaz has at least temporarily lost his command, causing him to be removed from closer.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 07: Alex Cobb of the Rays looks over towards first base at the base runner during the MLB regular season game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays on May 07, 2017, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

ST. PETERSBURG, FL – MAY 07: Alex Cobb of the Rays looks over towards first base at the base runner during the MLB regular season game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays on May 07, 2017, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

  • While a source said the Rays at some point made a call or two to get a gauge on the value of Alex Cobb, others deny that’s the case. In any case, the Rays are not in sell mode — at least not yet. They are coming off a good trip and await the returns of Brad Boxberger, Wilson Ramos, Matt Duffy and Tommy Hunter, with hopes to stay in the race. If they do go into trade mode, Cobb should be a valuable piece. He’s performing very well even without his signature changeup, thanks to improvement in his fastball and breaking ball. There should be decent interest in Cobb if he does hit the trade market, but there may be several starting pitchers out on there. He’s a free agent after the year, which makes him the perfect trade candidate, if the Rays do start to sell at some point.

  • Rivals believe the Rays could consider moving Jake Odorizzi, too, and maybe even Chris Archer. “All eyes are on Archer, and Tampa seems to be thinking about it,” one rival exec said. Archer’s performance has sometimes been inconsistent over the past couple years, but he’d bring back a haul. Evaluators absolutely love him.
  • Blake Snell’s demotion was a bit surprising, but probably short of shocking. He’d been one of the top pitching prospects in baseball but hasn’t been able to capture his minor-league success in the majors. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first reported the news.
  • Brad Boxberger is close to coming back.
  • Brad Miller kept using the pink Mother’s Day bat after the weekend, and he kept raking.

Texas Rangers

  • The Rangers’ contingent trip to see Shohei Otani seemed designed to make an impression since he’s still not back pitching yet, though GM Jon Daniels and Co. spent just one day by Otani. Their time with Yu Darvish obviously has been a success, and some see Otani has even better.
  • Some others see their excursion as a sign they aren’t like to re-sign Yu Darvish even though that signing worked well for both parties (GM Jon Daniels declined comment). There are no talks currently going on there. Both sides are said to like each other. But there’s no belief Texas would do the $175-million deal the Nats gave to Stephen Strasburg even though they like Darvish better than Strasburg (So do I).
  • Will Middlebrooks had a .625 slugging percentage at Triple-A Round Rock. He’s out with a broken hand, but perhaps he has some play left in him.
  • Adrian Beltre is improving. His loss has been a big one. The Rangers hope he’s back in 2-3 weeks.
  • They have the similar hope for Tyson Ross: maybe early June.
  • Hard to believe, Sam Dyson is averaging 1.79 strikeouts per nine, as he’s lost the ability to miss bats (via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News).
  • Shocking stat: the Rangers have the best rotation ERA in the game. They hope and don’t anticipate shopping for a starter.
  • They may look at a reliever, though they aren’t believed to have big money to spend.
  • Mike Napoli is back to doing what he does. He seemed to heat up almost as soon as the “Party at Napoli’s” shirts were ready. Let the partying begin.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Josh Donaldson was said to have had a shot to play this weekend, but manager John Gibbons admitted, “I might have jumped the gun.” Donaldson would need to play in some rehab games first, so that’s not happening, as is clear now.
  • Shi Davidi of Sportsnet in Toronto did a very good story on R.A. Dickey’s unsatisfying ending in Toronto. Dickey is very introspective, so the story works.
  • Like that the organist plays the theme from Barney when Darwin Barney comes to the plate.


Inside Baseball N.L. Notes

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Jon Heyman is an MLB Insider for FanRag Sports, featuring breaking news, information and his Inside Baseball column, which appears on FanRagSports.com every Thursday. Heyman also has been an insider at MLB Network since the channel launched in 2009 and is a regular contributor to WFAN in New York, where he appears weekly on the Joe and Evan Show and previously appeared on the Mike and the Mad Dog Show. He also appears on WSCR in Chicago, WBZ-FM in Boston and the Petros and Money Show on Fox in Los Angeles. Heyman comes to FanRag Sports from CBSSports.com, where he worked for five years and wrote the popular Inside Baseball notes column. Before going to CBS, Heyman worked for five years at Sports Illustrated and SI.com, where he was a senior writer and started an Inside Baseball Column. Heyman worked for 16 years at Newsday in New York, where he was the Yankees beat writer, a baseball columnist and finally a general sports columnist. Heyman started his career at the Moline (Ill.) Daily Dispatch, then moved to the Los Angeles Copley Newspapers (Torrance Daily Breeze and Santa Monica Outlook) before going to Newsday. Heyman at one time also served as a national baseball writer for The Sporting News. Heyman is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. The Santa Fe, N.M. native grew up in Cedarhurst, N.Y., on Long Island.