Justin Verlander is the latest player to contribute towards the COVID-19 relief effort, as the Astros ace and his wife Kate Upton announced (via Twitter) that Verlander’s weekly paycheck will be donated to a different organization every week. “We’ll also be highlighting the organization that we choose so that that everyone can see the amazing work they’re doing right now,” Upton said. As per the terms of the recent agreement between the MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball, Verlander is part of the group of players (who have reached salary arbitration or are on guaranteed contracts) that will receive roughly $5K per day in both April and May. Now, all of the money Verlander receives from those payments will go to a variety of worthy causes.
I posed this question to many of MLB’s top-ranking baseball operations executives. Just like the rest of us, these people are currently sheltered in place with their families trying to get some work done in these difficult and strange times. The following ten execs kindly took the time to answer my question: Ross Atkins of the Blue Jays, Jeff Bridich of the Rockies, Ben Cherington of the Pirates, James Click of the Astros, Mike Elias of the Orioles, Derek Falvey of the Twins, Matt Kleine of the Brewers, Dayton Moore of the Royals, Brodie Van Wagenen of the Mets, and Dick Williams of the Reds. Their answers are below.
There’s no magic bullet, no secret code to getting into baseball. All of us have a unique story about how we got here, so play to your strengths and put yourself in as good a position as possible to take any job that you’re offered, even if – especially if – it’s not in the area in which you see yourself long term. Every job is an opportunity to show what you can do, a chance to gain valuable experience and perspective on how the game works, and to make sure that this lifestyle is something you want to take on. Finally, don’t get discouraged! It took a lot of us a long time to get into the game, but it’s worth it. – James Click, Astros General Manager
Right-hander Corbin Martin, one of four players the Astros sent to Arizona in the Zack Greinke blockbuster, had been on the Diamondbacks’ radar for awhile, writes Zach Buchanan of The Athletic (subscription required). They’d first targeted him in the 2017 draft and again in trade talks with the ’Stros centered around Paul Goldschmidt — but Houston wasn’t keen on including him in such a deal. At the time, Martin was 22 and fresh off 122 innings of 2.51 ERA ball between Class-A Advanced and Double-A, while Goldschmidt only had a year of control left.
Martin made his MLB debut in 2019 but underwent Tommy John surgery in July and was suddenly on the shelf for a win-now Astros club. Thus, D-backs GM Mike Hazen inquired again, and the Astros were more willing to listen the second time around. A package of Martin, J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer and Josh Rojas (plus plenty of cash to help offset Greinke’s salary) got the job done. Martin may not be an option for the Snakes until 2021, but he’s a second-rounder with a career 2.58 ERA in the minors who has ranked on Top 100 lists in both of the past two offseasons, making him an intriguing piece down the road. D-backs and Astros fans alike will want to check out the piece for thoughts from Hazen and assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye on the club’s longstanding interest in Martin.
Burly backstop-turned-DH Evan Gattis confirmed that his playing career is now finished in an appearance on the 755 Is Real Podcast with The Athletic’s David O’Brien and Eric O’Flaherty (audio link; profanity warning). The 33-year-old says he’s “done playing” professionally.
This news was obviously expected. Gattis did not play in 2019 after wrapping up his tenure with the Astros. Last we heard, he was not seeking playing opportunities. His productivity waned in 2018, though surely Gattis would’ve caught on somewhere had he pursued a deal.
It’s sad to see Gattis depart the scene. His mythical emergence with the Braves as something of an everyman Paul Bunyan is one of the most interesting tales of contemporary baseball. After battling mental health issues and taking a prolonged detour, Gattis improbably returned to the game and carved out a six-year MLB career, slashing .248/.300/.476 with 139 career long balls.
While the main plot points of his personal story were already known, it’s quite another thing to hear Gattis humbly and thoughtfully narrate his epic tale. The above-linked podcast is highly recommended listening.
In news that slipped under the radar when it was announced, former top Astros prospect AJ Reed has announced his retirement. Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle highlights the decision and analyzes it from the perspective of his former organization.
Reed, a former second-round pick, was once considered one of the game’s premium hitting prospects. He showed an intriguing blend of power and patience on his way up the farm. Reed generally made loud contact and plenty of it, with hefty batting averages on balls in play and unconcerning strikeout rates.
When he debuted with the ’Stros in 2016, Reed seemed quite likely to hit in the majors. After all, he mashed at every level on his way there. The real question was whether he’d do so enough to be a highly valuable player, given his limitations on the field (first base only) and on the bases.
As it turns out, there was a bigger problem lurking. Reed’s strikeout rate had ticked up a bit at Triple-A in 2016. It exploded in the majors. As it turned out, he’d end up taking 199 total plate appearances at the game’s highest level, carrying a 14.2% swinging-strike rate and 35.7% strikeout rate. Reed’s power stroke never played, either. All told, his career batting line sits at an awful .149/.241/.234.
The Astros gave Reed lengthy stints at Triple-A in hopes he’d find his groove. While he was still an above-average hitter there in 2017 and 2018, the trajectory didn’t trend back up. Per Rome, “his weight and conditioning were often problems.” The Houston ultimately gave up hope last year after watching Reed struggle at the highest level of the minors.
Reed landed with the White Sox on a waiver claim, with the rebuilding organization hoping a change of scenery might help. Instead, he struck out in more than four of every ten plate appearances he took at the MLB and Triple-A levels. Reed was outrighted from the 40-man roster in August.
Despite the obvious difficulties, it remains a bit surprising to see Reed hang up his spikes at just 26 years of age. No doubt some organization would’ve been willing to invest resources in hopes of spurring a turnaround. Then again, it’s understandable that Reed would prefer to move on after experiencing such a frustrating turn of fortunes. MLBTR wishes him the best in his future pursuits.
- Astros ace and reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander seems to be making progress in his recovery from the right groin surgery he underwent on March 17. General manager James Click told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com: “The last I heard, everything’s going great and he’s ready to get back out there as soon as he possibly can. I haven’t heard anything bad. As far as I know, he’s right on schedule and he’s recovering very well.” That’s reassuring for the Astros, who – if there is a season – will count on Verlander and Zack Greinke to carry a rotation that lost Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley in free agency.
What was supposed to be Opening Day across baseball may as well have been called Optioning Day. As seen on this site, several teams cut down their rosters Thursday. Here are several that we haven’t covered yet:
- The Red Sox made their minor league signing of utilityman Yairo Munoz official, assigning him to Triple-A Pawtucket, and sent down pitchers Colten Brewer, Chris Mazza, Matt Hall and Jeffrey Springs. Brewer’s the most notable name among the pitchers. The 27-year-old ranked fifth among Red Sox relievers last season in innings (54 2/3). Brewer recorded a passable 4.12 ERA with 8.56 K/9 and a 50.3 percent groundball rate along the way, but he also walked 5.6 batters per nine.
- The Twins optioned right-handed reliever Sean Poppen and outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr., Betsy Helfand of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. Poppen had a rough 8 1/3-inning major league debut last year, but he logged solid production as a member of Triple-A Rochester, with which he pitched to a 3.84 ERA, struck out just over 10 hitters per nine and induced grounders at a 57 percent clip. The disciplined Wade impressively drew more walks than strikeouts at both the Triple-A and big league levels last season, though low batting averages and a lack of power limited his impact.
- The Astros optioned infielder Jack Mayfield, catcher Garrett Stubbs and lefty Blake Taylor to Triple-A Round Rock, according to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. Mayfield and Stubbs posted subpar production last year during their MLB debuts, though they only combined for 104 plate appearances. Taylor, 24, spent most of 2019 as a member of the Mets’ Double-A affiliate, with whom he managed an excellent 1.85 ERA with 10.38 K/9, 2.77 BB/9 and a 50.5 percent GB rate in 39 innings. He joined the Astros in the package they received for outfielder Jake Marisnick over the winter.
- The Rangers sent down southpaw Taylor Hearn and outfielder Scott Heineman. The 25-year-old Hearn endured an injury-limited 2019, but he was seen as one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects before then. While Heineman raked in Triple-A ball (.340/.412/.553 in 182 plate appearances), he slumped to a .213/.306/.373 line in 85 PA with the Rangers.
- The Cubs optioned hard-throwing reliever Dillon Maples to Triple-A Iowa, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Despite great strikeout totals, the 27-year-old righty has gotten knocked around to the tune of an 8.06 ERA in 22 1/3 frames as a Cub since 2017. Walks have been a major problem for Maples, who has doled out almost 8.5 free passes per nine in the bigs. He wasn’t much better in that department in Triple-A last year, when he walked more than 7.5 hitters per nine. Nevertheless, thanks in large part to a whopping 16.53 K/9 and a tremendous GB percentage of 62.1, Maples pitched to a respectable 3.77 ERA in 43 innings.
Astros legend Jimmy Wynn passed away today at age 78, the team announced. The Astros’ official statement:
Today, we lost a very big part of the Astros family with the passing of Jimmy Wynn. His contributions to our organization both on and off the field are too numerous to mention. As an All-Star player in the 1960’s and 70’s, Jimmy’s success on the field helped build our franchise from it’s beginnings. After his retirement, his tireless work in the community impacted thousands of young people in Houston. Although he is no longer with us, his legacy will live on at Minute Maid Park, at the Astros Youth Academy and beyond. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Marie, daughter, Kimberly, son, James, Jr., to the other members of his family and to his many fans and admirers.
Wynn hit .250/.366/.436 with 291 homers, 225 steals, and 1105 runs scored over 8011 career Major League plate appearances, with the first 11 of his 15 seasons coming in Houston. Wynn first played for the Astros (then known as the Colt .45s) in 1963, the franchise’s second season in existence, and he was one of the headline stars of the early days of Houston baseball. Between his 5’9″ height and big throwing arm, Wynn also boasted one of the era’s best nicknames, becoming known as the “Toy Cannon.”
While Wynn’s numbers are already impressive on the surface, he is often cited as a player who true ceiling as a hitter may have been obscured by a pair of extra factors. Firstly, his prime years came in the 1960’s, the most pitching-friendly decade in modern baseball history. Secondly, Wynn played the majority of his home games in the huge Astrodome, which suppressed his power numbers.
Despite these obstacles, Wynn twice topped the 33-homer plateau while playing for Houston, including a 37-homer campaign in 1967 that stood as the Astros’ team record until Jeff Bagwell broke the mark in 1994. Even among all the great offensive players who have suited up for the Astros in more hitter-friendly eras, Wynn still sits prominently within the top ten in most of the franchise’s all-time offensive categories. Wynn’s 148 walks during the 1969 season set a new National League record for the time, and that total is still tied for the 14th-highest single-season walk total in baseball history
Wynn posted a 129 OPS+ and 130 wRC+ over his career, which also includes stints with the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, and Brewers. He was a three-time All-Star, with two of those appearances coming during his two seasons in Los Angeles. Wynn’s first year with the Dodgers, 1974, saw him bat .271/.387/.497 with 32 homers, helping carry the team to a National League pennant before falling to the A’s in the World Series.
We at MLBTR send our best wishes to Wynn’s family and legions of fans around the game.
We don’t really know whether or to what extent extension talks will continue during the coronavirus hiatus. But as I wrote recently, it seems reasonable to think they’ll be explored. Some may already have advanced nearly to completion before the global pandemic intervened.
While we may have to wait to learn who the targets are and see what deals get done, there’s a silver lining: more time for rampant speculation! Okay, we’re not going to speculate here; rather, we’ll tick through some interesting possibilities on paper. Remember, we’ve seen an increasing prevalence of deals with less-experienced players (even some without any MLB service) and with new player types (early-career relievers and utilitymen).
In the present MLB environment, value is king and the old forms are fading. We’ve already checked in on the NL East, NL Central, NL West, and AL East. Here are some possible extension candidates from the AL West …
It seems the Halos have some level of interest in trying to keep peerless defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons from reaching the open market. He’d be quite an interesting player to value after a down, injury-filled year. If he can continue producing otherworldly defensive work in 2020 while returning to league-average hitting, he’d be a fascinating player to watch in free agency.
There are a few other guys nearing free agency that could be considered. Tommy La Stella had a breakout in an injury-shortened 2019 season. He’s already 31 and there’ll be questions about sustainability. But perhaps the sides could share the risk and upside with a relatively modest accord. Reliever Hansel Robles and starter Andrew Heaney are both two years from free agency, though there’s no particular reason to rush into a commitment in either case.
Things get quite a bit more interesting when you look at players much further from the open market. Shohei Ohtani put a ton of faith in himself when he came to the majors for a pittance of a bonus. His two-way ability and near-limitless upside on the mound make him a highly intriguing extension candidate, though sorting out a fair value won’t be straightforward. There’s a clear map for a deal for elite outfield prospect Jo Adell, if both sides are interested, as the White Sox have reached successive pre-debut pacts with Eloy Jimenez ($43MM) and Luis Robert ($50MM). Beyond Ohtani and Adell, the Angels could consider much more modest pacts with utilityman David Fletcher and/or reliever Ty Buttrey.
There’s an abundance of star power to contemplate for a Houston organization in turmoil. Most pressing: outfielder George Springer, who’s entering his final year of arbitration. This is the final window to get a deal done; whether that’s a realistic possibility isn’t known. Not far behind him is shortstop Carlos Correa, who is two years from the open market. His huge ceiling and more modest recent play make this a suboptimal time to work out a deal, unless both sides are in the mood for compromise.
The ’Stros have a pair of slugging young left-handed hitters that could conceivably be candidates for aggressive early extensions. Yordan Alvarez burst onto the scene last year, but he has had a balky knee this spring and is mostly viewed as a DH. Meanwhile, Kyle Tucker is a surefire big leaguer with star upside, but he’s rather less established. On the pitching side, the Astros could potentially chase value by holding talks with Jose Urquidy, Josh James, or even Bryan Abreu. It may be early in all of those cases, but this organization did reach a then-unprecedented deal with Jon Singleton.
The Oakland org has a bunch of candidates that leap off of the page in just about every service class. After a monster 2019 season, shortstop Marcus Semien is slated to reach free agency at the end of 2020. It would probably take a franchise-record deal to keep him from testing the market. Perhaps there’s more room to work out a palatable price tag with reliever Liam Hendriks, who has emerged as one of the game’s most effective relievers since being designated for assignment and then called back up late in the 2018 season. Outfielder Mark Canha had his own recent breakout; perhaps he’s also a candidate with two years left until free agency.
What the A’s really hoped for was a pair of long-term pacts with corner infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. But both were not wooed by prior efforts and they’re both now within a season of arbitration. There is certainly still a window, but the Oakland organization will really have to open the wallet. Striking major pacts with either or both (not to mention Semien) would mark a big vote of confidence in the team’s plans for a new ballpark.
Further down the line in terms of service class are a host of intriguing candidates. Outfielder Ramon Laureano, catcher Sean Murphy, and prized southpaws Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk all carry eyebrow-raising talent. They’re also already controlled for quite some time. But this may be the optimal point for the A’s to achieve big value with a few of those players.
Having already inked lefty Marco Gonzales and pre-MLB first baseman Evan White, the M’s have already accounted for their most obvious candidates. And the best of the rest aren’t likely in consideration this winter. Mitch Haniger still needs to get back to full health; top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are probably a bit too green for even an aggressive deal.
But there are a few more to consider. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford each had solid showings last year and could make sense at the right price. Perhaps the Mariners could even consider less-experienced outfielders Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley, though that’d make for a surprise in either case. It’s frankly difficult even to suggest another candidate; reliever Austin Adams could’ve been of some interest but he’s rehabbing a major knee injury.
You could make a case for a few guys here. Young slugger Willie Calhoun might be a worthwhile target after a strong 2019 showing, though it took the club some time to find him a spot in the majors and he’s now nursing a broken jaw. Veteran starters Mike Minor and Lance Lynn are nearing free agency, with the former entering his walk year, though the Texas org already took on some pitching risk this winter and may not want to over-extend itself with older hurlers.
Really, the Texas extension situation is all about one man: slugging outfielder/first baseman Joey Gallo. The game’s preeminent three-true-outcomes batter, Gallo is in his first of three arbitration-eligible campaigns, so he has entered the big earning stage of his career but hasn’t yet been paid huge money. He was limited by injury (oblique, hamate) in 2019 but put up monster numbers when available, with 22 long balls and a .253/.389/.598 slash over 297 plate appearances. It’s easy to forget that Gallo is a valuable outfield defender and baserunner, making him one of the higher-ceiling all-around players in the game.
It wasn’t long ago that many regarded Jeff Luhnow as one of the best general managers in baseball. The former Cardinals executive took the reins of a horrible Houston team after the 2011 season, oversaw a couple atrocious campaigns and then helped it morph into a juggernaut. Thanks in part to Luhnow’s work, the Astros are coming off three straight seasons of at least 100 victories. They won their first-ever World Series in 2017 and took home the American League pennant in 2019 on Luhnow’s watch.
Despite the accomplishments the Astros piled up under Luhnow, he’s now disgraced, suspended for a year and unemployed. Everything came crashing down for Luhnow during the offseason because of an Astros sign-stealing scandal that has called their recent success into question. As a result, Luhnow may never work in baseball again, let alone as a GM. Nevertheless, it’s worth looking back on his tenure atop the Astros’ baseball operations.
With no real baseball going on for the foreseeable future, MLBTR’s Jeff Todd began a series Tuesday examining the trade histories of GMs. We might explore all current GMs’ swaps, but even though he’s without a job, Luhnow makes for a fascinating enough case to warrant his own post. With that said, we’ll take a look back at the notable trades Luhnow made in Houston. You can assess his trade history after reviewing it…
- Acquired 3B Matt Dominguez and LHP Rob Rasmussen from Marlins for OF Carlos Lee
- Acquired RHPs Joe Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski and Francisco Cordero, LHP David Rollins, C Carlos Perez and OF Ben Francisco from Blue Jays for LHP J.A. Happ and RHPs Brandon Lynn and David Carpenter
- Acquired RHP Matt Heidenreich and LHP Blair Walters from White Sox for RHP Brett Myers
- Acquired OF Robbie Grossman and LHPs Rudy Owens and Colton Cain from Pirates for LHP Wandy Rodriguez
- Acquired OFs Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss from Diamondbacks for 3B Chris Johnson
- Acquired RHP Brad Peacock, C Max Stassi and 1B Chris Carter from Athletics for INF Jed Lowrie and RHP Fernando Rodriguez
- Acquired OF Danry Vasquez for RHP Jose Veras
- Acquired LHP Josh Hader, OF L.J. Hoes and 2014 competitive balance pick from Orioles for RHP Bud Norris and international bonus slot
- Acquired OF Justin Maxwell from Royals for RHP Kyle Smith
- Acquired 3B Colin Moran, OF Jake Marisnick and RHP Francis Martes from Marlins for RHP Jarred Cosart, UTIL Enrique Hernandez and OF Austin Wates
- Acquired C Hank Conger from Angels for C Carlos Perez and RHP Nick Tropeano
- Acquired C Evan Gattis and RHP James Hoyt from Braves for RHPs Mike Foltynewicz and Mike Thurman and 3B Rio Ruiz
- Acquired INF Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily from Cubs for OF Dexter Fowler
- Acquired LHP Scott Kazmir from Athletics for RHP Daniel Mengden and C Jacob Nottingham
- Acquired OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Mike Fiers and international bonus slot from Brewers for LHP Josh Hader, OFs Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips, and RHP Adrian Houser
- Acquired LHP Oliver Perez from Diamondbacks for LHP Junior Garcia
- Acquired RHP Cy Sneed from Brewers for INF Jonathan Villar
- Acquired RHP Brendan McCurry from Athletics for INF Jed Lowrie
- Acquired RHP Ken Giles and INF Jonathan Arauz from Phillies for RHPs Mark Appel, Vince Velasquez, Thomas Eshelman, Harold Arauz and LHP Brett Oberholtzer
- Acquired C Erik Kratz from Padres for RHP Dan Straily
- Acquired RHPs Josh Fields and Guadalupe Chavez from Blue Jays for RHP Scott Feldman
- Acquired OF Yordan Alvarez from Dodgers for RHP Josh Fields
- Acquired RHP Tyler Clippard from White Sox for cash/PTBNL
- Acquired RHP Justin Verlander from Tigers for RHP Franklin Perez, OFs Daz Cameron and Juan Ramirez, C Jake Rogers
- Acquired RHP Brandon Bailey from Athletics for OF Ramon Laureano
- Acquired RHP Gerrit Cole from Pirates for 3B Colin Moran, RHPs Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, and OF Jason Martin
- Acquired C Martin Maldonado from Angels for RHP Patrick Sandoval and $250K in international pool money
- Acquired RHP Ryan Pressly from Twins for RHP Jorge Alcala and OF Gilberto Celestino
- Acquired RHP Roberto Osuna from Blue Jays for RHPs Ken Giles, David Paulino and Hector Perez
- Acquired INF Aledmys Diaz from Blue Jays for RHP Trent Thornton
- Acquired 2B Luis Santana, OF Ross Adolph and C Scott Manea from Mets for INF/OF J.D. Davis and INF Cody Bohanek
- Acquired RHP Andre Scrubb from Astros for INF Tyler White
- Acquired OFs Rainier Rivas and Raider Uceta from Angels for C Max Stassi
- Acquired RHPs Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini from Blue Jays for OF Derek Fisher
- Acquired C Martin Maldonado from Cubs for 2B/OF Tony Kemp
- Acquired RHP Zack Greinke from Diamondbacks for RHPs Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas, 1B Seth Beer and INF Joshua Rojas.
- Acquired LHP Blake Taylor and OF Kenedy Corona from Mets for OF Jake Marisnick
- Acquired RHP Austin Pruitt from Rays for OF Cal Stevenson and RHP Peyton Battenfield
No one knows whether Luhnow will get another chance as a GM. His history of trades may play a role in that. How do you think he did in that department during his reign in Houston? (Poll link for app users)