Category Archives: MLB

Zack Wheeler joins Phillies on five year deal

The Philadelphia Phillies have signed free-agent starting pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year deal worth $118 million, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Wheeler, 29, ended the 2019 season with a 11-8 record and a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts (in a career-high 195 1/3 innings) for the Mets. The right-hander posted a 1.26 WHIP with a career-high 195 strikeouts last season. 

Wheeler, whose fastball averaged nearly 97 mph in 2019, was considered one of the top second-tier starters on the free-agent market behind top-end arms Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.

CBS Sports ranked Wheeler as the seventh-best available free agent on the market this offseason. He became the second notable starting pitcher to sign with an NL East team on Wednesday after veteran lefty Cole Hamels agreed on a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves.

Wheeler ended 2019 averaging 8.98 strikeouts per nine innings and struck out 23.6 percent of the batters he faced, compared to just 2.30 walks per nine innings. The 2019 season also saw Wheeler post double-digit wins for the second year in a row.

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Wheeler rejected his one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Mets in November, and the club will now receive third-round draft-pick compensation.

Over the last two seasons, Wheeler has proved to be a solid starter, averaging 30 starts while posting a 3.65 ERA and a 3.37 WHIP.

He missed both the 2015 and 2016 seasons following Tommy John surgery and subsequent setbacks, but worked his way back to earn a spot in New York’s rotation.

Wheeler was a highly coveted arm this winter and also reportedly had interest from the White Sox, Reds and Rangers. The White Sox offered Wheeler more than $118 million, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

Wheeler’s wife is from New Jersey and the proximity to Philadelphia played a role in Wheeler’s decision, Rosenthal reported.

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Dustin Garneau agrees to deal with Astros

The Houston Astros have agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent catcher Dustin Garneau, presumably as a backup for the position.

Dustin Garneau will reportedly join the Astros organization on a one-year contract barring the completion of a physical. It’s assumed that Garneau will be competing with Garrett Stubbs to be the backup to who Houston signs as their main backstop.

The 32-year-old has been in the Major Leagues for five seasons with four different teams. He started his career with the Colorado Rockies, who drafted him in the 19th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft. He split last season between Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics.

Garneau has spent his career as a backup catcher with only 123 games under his belt. The most games he has ever played in one season was in 2017 when he had 41 total matches with the Rockies and the A’s. Garneau has been known more for his defensive capabilities than with his bat.

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He has shown much more promise at the Minor League level than what he’s been able to produce in the big leagues.

Garneau’s slash line in the Minors is  .253/.341/.459 and an .800 OPS. But as a pro, he has only slashed .207/.290/.343 with an OPS of .633. But he did show some improvement this past season batting .244/.350/.407 in 35 matches and 86 at-bats.

He will join Garrett Stubbs as the only two catchers on the Astros’ 40-man roster. Stubbs had a very disappointing showing last year in his travels up and down between the Majors and the Minors.

In 19 games, he batted just .200 with seven hits, 2 RBIs, 8 runs and no homers. This creates a competition between Stubbs and Garneau to be the Astros’ backup catcher to whoever Houston picks up as their primary backstop.

Both of their catchers from last season, Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado, are free agents.

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Twins Jorge Polanco undergoes ankle surgery for chronic injury

Polanco underwent surgery Nov. 22 to address a right ankle impingement and is expected to resume baseball activities in six weeks, Dan Hayes of The Athletic reports.

The recovery timeline should allow Polanco to return to full health by the time spring training arrives.

Polanco will be confined to a walking boot for the next couple weeks before resuming strengthening work for the ankle, which had been a chronic worry for the 26-year-old.

The Twins stated Wednesday that Polanco underwent a debridement procedure Friday in Los Angeles with Dr. Richard Ferkel to address a chronic impingement injury stemming from repetitive stress.

The ankle issue never forced Polanco to miss any action in 2019, as he suited up for a career-high 153 matches and slashed an ramarkable .2925/.356/.485 en route to earning his first All-Star nod.

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He had never before hit more than 13 long balls in a single season, though, so be careful not to overvalue him in fantasy drafts in 2020.

At the right price, however, he’ll be a solid shortstop option once the elite names are off the board.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli had hinted towards the end of the season that Polanco had been playing while dinged up, but the club had to rely on its shortstop due to a severe rash of injuries elsewhere in the infield and outfield.

Polanco appeared in a team-leading 153 games and finished fifth in the American League with 704 plate appearances. No other Twins player appeared in more than 137 games.

Polanco signed a long-term deal with the Twins that will keep him in Minnesota through the 2023 season with a chance for 2024-25.

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Jose Abreu agrees to 3 year deal with White Sox

First baseman Jose Abreu has agreed to a three-year, $50 million extension to stay with the Chicago White Sox through the 2022 season.

The club announced Friday that the 32-year-old will receive a $5 million signing bonus and will see an increase in salary as the contract progresses.

Abreu will have a full no-trade clause in 2020 and a limited one in 2021, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

Abreu was scheduled to be a free agent this winter, but Chicago’s decision to extend a qualifying offer could have affected his market, as any team that signed him would have had to surrender a draft pick. Rather than deal with an unclear market, he accepted the one-year, $17.8 million deal.

Under terms of the new contract, Abreu will have an $11 million base salary in 2020. Since signing a six-year, $68 million deal in October 2013, Abreu has been a force in the White Sox lineup. He has hit 22-plus home runs in all six of his big league seasons, and he has driven in 100-plus runs five times.

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He is coming off a season in which he slashed .284/.330/.503 with an .834 OPS, piling up 33 home runs and an American League-best 123 RBI. He also earned his third career All-Star selection.

Abreu was the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year and has a pair of Silver Slugger Awards on his resume.

Not only that, but he has also received AL MVP votes four times, receiving both a seventh- and 10th-place vote this year.

As productive as Abreu has been with the bat, the White Sox have not made the postseason since 2008. They made a 10-win jump this past season as they went 72-89. Their third-place result in the AL Central is their best finish since 2012.

Abreu’s extension marks the second lucrative contract the White Sox have handed out in as many days. Chicago signed two-time All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal Thursday, the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history.

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Joe Dillon hired as Phillies new hitting coach under Joe Girardi

Joe Dillon has been hired as hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies under new manager Joe Girardi. Dillon served as assistant hitting coach for the Washington Nationals for the past two seasons and previously spent two seasons as the minor league hitting coordinator for the Miami Marlins.

Dillon began his coaching career with the Nationals in 2014 as hitting coach for Triple-A Syracuse for two seasons.

Under Dillon and hitting coach Kevin Long, the Nationals led the National League in on-base percentage (.338) and ranked second in batting average (.259), runs (1,644), OPS (.775) and walks (1,215) over the past two seasons. Washington’s 20.7% strikeout rate was the fifth-lowest in the majors.

Dillon played parts of four seasons in the majors with the Florida Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays from 2005-09. He combined to slash .263/.344/.378 over 137 games in his major league career.

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He has gained recognition around the game for marrying new-age science with old-school principles in coaching hitters. Long, in fact, has called Dillon “the best assistant hitting coach in the baseball.”

Dillon succeeds Charlie Manuel, who assumed the hitting coach position on a temporary basis when the Phillies released John Mallee in August.

The former Nationals assistant hitting coach has earned recognition as an ascending coach and his resume was only bolstered by Washington’s championship season.

For two seasons in Washington, Dillon was the assistant to hitting coach Kevin Long, who spent seven seasons as Girardi’s hitting coach with the Yankees.  The relationship between Dillon and Long dates back to Dillon’s playing days when Long was one of his hitting coaches.

The two worked together during offseasons, and Long later brought him aboard when he got the Nationals hitting coach job in 2018.

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Yankees release Jacoby Ellsbury

The Yankees opened wide Wednesday night and swallowed hard when they released Jacoby Ellsbury, whom they owe $21 million for the 2020 season and a $5 million buyout on a $21 million option for 2021.

By 8 p.m. the Yankees had to set their 40-man roster to make room for prospects they wanted to protect from being taken in next month’s Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings in San Diego.

With their roster at 36 and not counting Domingo German — likely to be suspended for the start of the 2020 season — the Yankees added six minor league players, released Ellsbury and designated first baseman Greg Bird and lefty Nelson Cortes Jr. for assignment.

The Yankees added outfielder Estevan Florial, and right-handers Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Brooks Kriske, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure to the roster.

Releasing the 36-year-old Ellsbury, who hasn’t played since the 2017 ALCS due to a buffet of injuries that included hip surgery late in the 2018 campaing, puts an end to the seven-year, $153 million contract the Yankees dumped on the left-handed hitting center fielder before the 2014 campaing.

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Ellsbury’s final season at $21 million wasn’t going to be insured. Even after his release, Ellsbury and his annual average value of nearly $22 million would count toward the Yankees’ 2020 luxury-tax figure.

Paying $26 million to a released player could impact what the Yankees do in free agency since it will count toward the luxury-tax threshold.

The move arrives at a time when the Yankees could use outfield help, as Aaron Hicks will likely miss the first two months of the season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

In four years with the Yankees, Ellsbury batted .264 with a .330 on-base percentage and posted a .716 OPS. The previous seven seasons with the Red Sox, Elllsbury batted .297 with a .350 on-base percentage and .789 OPS.

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Reliever Chris Martin back with Braves on 2 year deal

Pitcher Chris Martin and the Altanta Braves have agreed to a $14 million, two-year contract, a deal that brings back the right-hander after he closed 2019 with the club.

The 33-year-old Martin was acquired by Atlanta from the Texas Rangers for left-hander Kolby Allard at the July 31 trade deadline.

Martin was 1-1 with a 4.08 ERA in 20 games with the Braves. He had 22 strikeouts and one walk in 17 2/3 innings. It’s the third notable relief pickup of the past week for the Braves, who already snagged arguably the top reliever on the market last Thursday when signing Will Smith to a three-year, $40MM contract.

Atlanta also re-signed veteran righty Darren O’Day to a one-year, $2.25MM deal in the early stages of the offseason.

Between Smith, Martin, O’Day, Mark Melancon and Shane Greene, the Atlanta bullpen will head into the 2020 campaing as both a much more established and much more expensive collective unit than it did in 2019.

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This past season, Martin posted a career-high 95.7 mph average fastball and logged career-high marks in swinging-strike rate (12.4 percent) and opponents’ chase rate (38.3 percent). The only pitcher in baseball (min. 50 innings pitched) who boasted a lower walk percentage than Martin’s 2.3 percent mark was Atlanta teammate Josh Tomlin (2.2 percent), but Martin’s 30.1 percent strikeout rate was nearly double that of Tomlin.

The extent to which he can replicate his enormous gains in swinging-strike, chase and walk rates will determine Martin’s success in his second stint with the Braves, but there’s little denying that he was among the most appealing arms available on the market this winter.

Early in the season the Braves will continue to deploy Melancon as the club’s closer, general manager Alex Anthopoulos recomended following the signing of Smith. That should lead to a primary setup corps of Smith, Martin, Greene and O’Day, with a number of the Braves’ young arms combining to round out the bullpen mixture. 

Luke Jackson, Grant Dayton, A.J. Minter, Chad Sobotka and Jacob Webb will be among the names considered by the Atlanta brass, barring additional bullpen acquisitions and or roster moves that send some of those incumbent options elsewhere.

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Pirates officially hire Ben Cherington as new GM

The Pirates made official the hiring of Ben Cherington as the 13th general manager in their history on Monday morning. The Pirates will introduce Cherington with a noon press conference at PNC Park.

Most interesting in the statement were the thoughts given by Cherington and those in Pirates management about the longtime member of the Boston Red Sox. Cherington, charged with charting the Pirates’ new direction, most recently was working as vice president of baseball operations with the Toronto Blue Jays.

“This is an important step forward for our organization,” Pirates owner Bob Nutting said in a statement. “Ben has an incredible track record of success having been a part of three world championship teams in Boston, one as general manager, and setting the table for a fourth. “His passion and ability to identify, infuse and develop talent at every level, including at the Major League level, is exactly what we need to be successful in Pittsburgh.”

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Cherington has done a little bit of everything throughout his career while specializing in scouting and player development. Although Boston clearly spent a bunch of money, Cherington was adept at discovering talent and developing it the right way.      

One of Cherington’s first/biggest tasks will be rebuilding the Pirates farm system. He did plenty of that in Toronto.

The Blue Jays farm system was ranked third-best in the industry in 2019, according to Baseball America.

“Ben is exactly what we need,” Pirates president Travis Williams said in a statement. “He knows how to develop a winning culture. He also has a track record of attracting and developing talent, both on the field and in the front office.

Ben is constantly challenging himself, his people and the processes that are in place. He knows that our ability to drive innovation and stay ahead of the game will be important to our long-term success.”

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Astros´ Justing Verlander wins second career AL Cy Young Award

For the second time in his near undeniable Hall of Fame career, the honor goes to Justin Verlander after a vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

In the NL, Jacob deGrom made history by becoming just the 11th pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Youngs.

Verlander edged out teammate Gerrit Cole by 12 points. It’s the first time teammates have received all 30 first and second-place votes. Verlander was named first on 17 ballots. Cole on 13. Their former teammate, Charlie Morton, finished third. Morton currently pitches for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Verlander is the fourth Astros pitcher to conquer the award, joining Mike Scott (1986), Roger Clemens (2004) and Dallas Keuchel (2015). Verlander previously won the award in 2011 as a member of the Detroit Tigers. He’s finished top three in the Cy Young voting on four other opportunities, including runner up finishes in 2012, 2016 and 2018.

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Performance-wise, not a lot separated Verlander and Cole from one another. Verlander remained dominant and durable in his age-36 season, leading MLB with 223 innings pitched and finishing with exactly 300 strikeouts. That mark was a new career-high for the 15-year veteran.

Verlander also pitched his third career no-hitter, won 21 games, posted a 2.58 ERA and for the second consecutive season posted the best WHIP in MLB at 0.803. That is despite allowing a career-high 36 home runs.

Cole, 29, led the league with a 2.50 ERA while setting a franchise record with 326 strikeouts. Despite missing one start because of an injury, Cole enjoyed a stronger finish to the season. Over his final 22 starts, Cole was 16-0 with 226 strikeouts over 146 2/3 innings. During that stretch, Cole joined Hall of Famer Martinez as the only pitchers to post at least 14 strikeouts in three consecutive starts.

Both résumés are impressive. As is the résumé of Charlie Morton. The 35-year-old right-hander joined the Tampa Bay Rays in free agency and filled the role of ace after 2018 Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell missed time with injuries. Morton won 16 games, posted a 3.05 ERA and was vital in helping the Rays clinch a wild-card spot.

The dispute between Verlander and Cole is one that will likely continue far beyond Wednesday’s announcement. But there was no clear wrong choice on the matter.

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Giants name Gabe Kapler as Bruce Bocky´s replacement

Kapler has been hired as San Francisco’s manager a month after being fired from the same job by the Philadelphia Phillies. Kapler received a three-year contract to replace Bruce Bochy, a beloved figure who retired at the end of the season following 13 years and three championships with San Francisco.

The Giants made the statement late Tuesday and planned a formal introduction Wednesday afternoon at the ballpark. Kapler is the second big hire in a matter of days by Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations. On Monday, Zaidi introduced new general manager Scott Harris, most recently an assistant GM for the Chicago Cubs.

Zaidi and Kapler are now reunited from their time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where Kapler served as director of player development and Zaidi the general manager.

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“The most important trait, if we could have summarized it in one sentence for the next manager, was somebody who was capable of building trust and relationships with both the players and the front office,” Zaidi said. “And in my experience with Gabe, and as we went through the interview process and got to learn more about him, it became clear to us that he was the person who could best execute on that.”

The 44-year-old Kapler was fired Oct. 10 after going 161-163 over two seasons with the Phillies.

With slugger Bryce Harper their blockbuster asset, the Phillies ended 81-81 this year for their first non-losing season since 2012.

Harris said he was impressed with the reference checks done on Kapler around the game. The Giants also received feedback from current San Francisco players.

A former outfielder, Kapler played parts of 12 major league seasons with six teams and was a career .268 hitter. Bochy stated in February at spring training that he would retire after the season. He managed the Giants to World Series championships in 2010, ’12 and ’14. San Francisco went 77-85 in his final year.

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