In early February, plenty of stories will be written about who won the offseason.
At this very early stage of the offseason, it is clear the Houston Astros are angling to be the winter winner. Jeff Luhnow said last week during the General Managers Meetings that his team wanted to have much of its work done by the time the Winter Meets begin Dec. 5, and it has done that.
In the last three days, the Astros have traded two prospects to the New York Yankees for catcher Brian McCann, agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract with free agent outfielder Josh Reddick and signed right-hander Charlie Morton to a two-year, $14 million contract in free agency.
“We need to add somebody to our lineup,” Luhnow said last week. “We’re losing a couple good players through free agency. We’ve got the wherewithal with the prospects and money to potentially add an impact piece. We’re certainly going to be looking at it.”
The Astros did even better as they added two potential impact players in their effort to return to the playoffs in 2017. They went 86-76 in 2015 to reach the postseason for the first time since winning the franchise’s lone National League pennant in 2005, but missed the playoffs last season after finishing 84-78.
McCann, 32, is a slight step down defensively from free agent Jason Castro behind the plate, but adds more offense. He had a 99 OPS+ last season when he hit .242 with 20 home runs and a .748 OPS in 130 games.
Reddick, 29, had a 107 OPS+, down from 116 each of the previous two seasons, as he hit a combined .281 with 10 homers and a .748 OPS in 115 games. The Astros feel he will be an upgrade over free agent Colby Rasmus.
“We’ve always said we’re ready to make an investment when the time is right,” Luhnow said. “We’ve been increasing our payroll every year, and I think it’ll increase this year. We need to be smart about what we do. We don’t want to mortgage the future to put it all in for this year. But we do feel like we have a chance to win, so we’re going to make the investment we need to.”
On the surface, it seemed like the Astros overpaid Morton after he was limited to four starts with the Philadelphia Phillies last season before suffering a torn hamstring that required surgery.
However, Morton did go a combined 25-32 with a 3.74 ERA in 84 starts over a four-year span from 2011-14. He figures to be a solid starter at the back of the rotation, especially if left-hander Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Lance McCuller return to full health and effectiveness in 2017, as the Astros believe.
“We feel like we’re going to be in contention every year for the foreseeable future,” Luhnow said. “The reality is that every season is going to turn out differently than you expect.”
At the same time Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona won his second American League Manager of the Year Award this week, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts won his first National League Manager of the Year.
Francona, though, might not have ever been in that position without Roberts having one of the most memorable stolen bases in history.
It was Roberts who swiped second base for the Boston Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. The Red Sox were down 4-3 and trailed 3-0 in the best-of-seven series.
Roberts scored the tying run, the Red Sox won the game in extra innings and became the first team in major league history to capture a seven-game series after falling behind 3-0. The Red Sox then swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series title since 1918.
At the time, Francona was in his first year as the Red Sox’s manager. In his other previous manager’s job, he went 285-363 in four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1997-2000.
The Red Sox fired Grady Little as manager following the 2003 when they lost to the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS. It stands to reason Francona could have gotten the axe if the Red Sox had been swept by the Yankees.
Instead, Francona won two World Series during an eight-year stint with the Red Sox from 2004-11. He has led the Indians to winning records in all four seasons in his current job and guided them to the AL pennant this year before they lost in seven games to the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
“The truth of it is, it probably would’ve been completely different,” Francona said. “There’s always a Dave Roberts-being-out from being the other way.”
Questions are again being raised about whether the Los Angeles Angels should sell high on center fielder Mike Trout so they can begin an overhaul of their roster.
The idea makes some sense since the Angels finished 74-88 this year, just two years after their 98-64 regular-season record was the best in the major leagues. Their farm system is generally regarded as the most fallow in the major leagues and trading Trout could quickly rectify that problem.
Trout’s value has never been higher after winning his second AL MVP award Thursday and finishing in the top-two in voting for five straight years. He is just 25 and under contract for four more seasons at a total of just over $122 million.
However, Angels GM Billy Eppler shot down any idea of a Trout trade last week.
“Mike is the best player in the game and you don’t trade someone like him,” Eppler said. “He’s the guy we want to build around.”
Some Toronto Blue Jays’ players called for the implementation of robotic home plate umpires after what they felt was inconsistent calling of balls and strikes during their loss to the Indians in the ALCS.
Tom Glavine made a Hall of Fame career as a pitcher who consistently hit black on the outside corner of the plate. Now part of the Atlanta Braves’ television broadcasting crew, he isn’t ready to see human beings replaced as umpires.
“I think it’s one of those things that right here, right now, I’m not a big fan of it,” Glavine said on MLB on TuneIn Live. “To be honest with you, with replay I get the whole notion of wanting to get calls right and do all that stuff. I also kind of miss the human element of that. I miss the jockeying of a manger coming out and arguing with an umpire, even when he knows the call was probably made correctly against his team, but he’s fighting for the next close call. That stuff has been lost, we don’t have any of that anymore.”