Mets Sunday Brunch 2/18/18: New Skipper; Sandy’s Offseason; David Wright and Donald Trump Jr.

By Paul DISCLAFANI

Welcome to the 2018 edition of Mets Sunday Brunch!

Grab a fresh cup of Joe and let’s talk a little Mets baseball, shall we?

A NEW MANAGER AND A FRESH START

At first, the thought of a new skipper that had never managed a baseball game at any level sent chills down my spine. But the more I listen to Mickey Callaway speak, the more I like him. He is bringing fresh ideas to a team that was stagnating. As fans, our biggest complaint in 2017 (except for injuries) was how Terry Collins and Dan Warthen we mishandling the pitching staff. Now we have a guy that was not only a former pitcher and a pitching coach, but he thinks like a pitcher and understands pitching. When healthy, no team can touch the Mets staff. Maybe Callaway can keep them healthy and on track.

SANDY’S OFF SEASON HAUL – FREE AGENTS GALORE!

The 2017 Mets left lots of holes to fill. About the only position we felt good about was Shortstop. We needed a power hitting outfielder to protect against Michael Conforto’s injury possible keeping him out until June. We needed a real third baseman. We needed a real first baseman. We needed a catcher. We needed bullpen help and we needed another left handed starter. Problem was, we had no trade chips.

GM Sandy Anderson went out and got most of what he needed by shopping at Target instead of Lord and Taylor’s.

  • Jay Bruce will hit 30+ home runs and that allows Brandon Nimmo or Juan Lagares to play their natural positions in CF until Michael Conforto is ready to come back.
  • Todd Frazier is a professional third baseman who is a veteran presence in the locker room and will bring us 25 more home runs. Shortstops and second baseman that are moved to third don’t know how to play the position. They don’t understand that you don’t need to catch every ball. Frazier is going to help Arman Rosario more than you know by staying out of the way and letting him make the plays a shortstop with his skills can make.
  • Adrian Gonzalez is a professional first baseman who can mentor Dominic Smith, who just wasn’t ready last year, but still managed 9 HR and 26 RBI in just 167 AB’s. Smith is already motivated and 25 pounds lighter.
  • Were you not paying attention when Sandy signed Anthony Swarzak? This kid struck out 91 batters in 77 innings. Now we have Swarzak, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Jeyrus Familiar at the back end of the bullpen. Callaway says he is going to use them as needed and not follow a formula, which was very successful in Cleveland. It makes no sense to save your closer for the ninth inning if the game is about to be lost in the seventh.  Just remember that new pitching coach Dave Eiland said that Familia will still most likely get the bulk of the save opportunities.  I like it this way.  Baseball is a game you need to get 27 outs to win.  Most games are not won (or lost) in the ninth inning.
  • We had so many starting pitchers at the start of 2017 that they decided we didn’t need Bartolo Colon anymore. Turns out only one pitcher avoided the DL and guys like Tyler Pill were starting in the major leagues and we needed to use Rafael Montero for more than 100 innings! Alderson waited for the right time and plucked Jason Vargas off the vine. Vargas won 18 games for the Royals last year, a team that finished under .500. He is a lefty version of Colon, a change of pace pitcher that will eat up innings.

If you want to beat up Alderson for whiffing on a catcher, so be it. We still need that, but at least we have two guys at that position who are actual catches.

Alderson was able to avoid losing draft picks and International pool money for some of the other more high profile free agents out there, but these guys are here for the short term (all are two years except for Bruce’s three years) and will only make a $36M hit on payroll this season.  You really think San Diego made a good deal for eight years with Eric Hosmer at $144M?  Like the Mets, the Padres had a lot of holes to fill.  Instead, they filled one hole with gold-plated tar ($21M for the first five years) and now can’t fill the other holes.  You tell me what you would rather Sandy have done?  This is the type of move a team makes when they are just one or two players away from a Championship.

DAVID WRIGHT IS NOT COMING BACK

One of the most difficult things for an athlete is to admit the end is near.  Although David Wright is still giving it the old school-yard try, the team has finally begun planning for it.  Mets nemesis Chipper Jones, one of this year’s Hall of Fame Inductees, said that Wright would someday have been along side him if not for injuries derailing his career.  “I’d love to play again, but my body’s got to hold up and it’s got to cooperate with me a little bit,” Wright said.

It has to be difficult for him to see all the players arriving at Port St. Lucie knowing that he can’t even go out on the field with them and run sprints.  But like I always tell my children when they are faced with a dilemma, I rather say that I wasn’t able to do something than I should have done something.  The Captain is going to continue his rehab in hopes of one day getting back onto the field.  If it never happens, so be it.  “When it’s all said and done,” he said, “I want to be able to say I did everything I could.  If it works, that’s obviously the goal and if it doesn’t work, I’ll rest easy knowing that I gave it my best shot.”

What more can you want from your Team Captain?

SHARK FISHING AND DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR

Is it really controversial that the Mets Shark Fishing expedition ran into Donald Trump Junior on a beach in Florida and took some photos?  In what was supposed to be a fun event that the Mets media was ready to tweet and Instagram about turned into a controversy for no reason at all.  “He just happened to be on the beach fishing,” Manager Mickey Callaway said of running into the First Son.  “It would be the same if we walked into a restaurant and somebody is in there eating, don’t think we could control that.”

Although the social media reaction was both positive and negative, the Mets took down the polarizing picture of Matt Harvey, Kevin Plawecki and Callaway on the beach with a shark and Trump Jr.

Isn’t the real story why Callaway would organize a Shark fishing expedition with his team, who seems to always lead the league in strange and bizarre injuries?

THIS AND THAT…

Nice to see that Zack Wheeler is backpedaling on his recent comments regarding the signing of Jason Vargas and his possibly going to the bullpen.  Wheeler knows that his stuff is great, but we need to see him stay on the field before he can comment on where and when he should be used … Nice to see the Yankees putting pressure on themselves to win the World Series before they even take the field in a Spring Training game.  The Evil Empire is back! … Full squad reports to Port St. Lucie on Monday and this week it is going to be 70 degrees in New York.  Coincidence? … Mets are scheduled to play two games before April 1st at Citi Field.  How ridiculous is that?  Looking at the opening weekend schedule, I wonder what Major League baseball is thinking sometimes.  There are six (6) teams that have domes.  Two of them are playing on the road in a warm weather city:  Houston at Texas and Milwaukee at San Diego.  Why not schedule the Mets, Baltimore and Detroit at these stadiums?  And why have the Angels play in Oakland and the Giants play at Dodger Stadium?  Come on baseball, we know you can’t control the weather, but you could certainly put the teams in the best possible conditions if you want to start the season in March, can’t you?

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Chicago Cubs Make Their Pitch for Greatness…

During this 2017-2018 MLB offseason wherein “nobody did anything”, the Chicago Cubs only did the following:

Inconsistency in the starting rotation was a problem for the 2017 Chicago Cubs.  They did what they could in season when they dealt their star prospect to the South Side of Chicago in return for hard-luck LHP Jose Quintana.  Once joining the North Siders, Quintana saw all his numbers improve.  By now acquiring Chatwood and Darvish to replace Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and the parade of guys who filled the 5th slot, the Cubs rotation (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood, Darvish) went from decent to one of the best in all MLB.  I would assume Lester, Quintana, and Darvish will slot in some order 1,2,3.  Maddon most likely will go with the matchups to make this decision.  That will leave Hendricks at 4 and Chatwood at 5.  Ponder that for a moment.  The guy with a career postseason 1.160 WHIP. The guy who has already compiled an 11.8 WAR in only 3 1/2 MLB seasons.  The guy with ice in his veins…will be taking the mound against other teams’ fourth best guy.  This rotation simply will NOT allow losing streaks to happen in 2018.  Not to mention a guy (Chatwood) who has career numbers tainted by Coors Field. Scouts rave about his spin rate, as he has one of the nastiest curveballs out there.  Breaking balls just never did well for Rockies pitchers.  Released from the high altitude, look for Chatwood  to be a plus (WAR 1.5+) pitcher for the 2018 Cubs.  All this adds up to a high energy starting rotation.

And what of the bullpen?

In 2017, the bullpen suffered from a lot of the same inconsistencies as the rotation.  While Cubs relievers had a very respectable K/9 innings rate (9.98), they also had a tied for last BB/9 innings rate (4.25).  Young fireballer Carl Edwards, Jr struck out almost 1.5 men per inning, but also walked more than five per nine innings.  Mid-season acquisition Justin Wilson just couldn’t find the strike zone in his 3 months in Chicago, walking 19 men in less than 18 innings. Even All-Star closer Wade Davis (who signed with Colorado in the offseason) had an alarming 4.30 BB/9 rate.  Enter Cishek and Morrow.  Cishek has pitched 8 quality seasons, and has always been stingy with regards to base runners (0.90 WHIP for 2017) while Morrow seems to have found command after the Padres moved him to the bullpen after being almost exclusively a starter in Toronto after an inconsistent rookie bullpen year in Seattle (2007).  Since transitioning to a National League reliever, Morrow’s walk rate is less than 2/9 innings.  With Cishek and Morrow anchoring the 8th and 9th innings, Edwards, Wilson, Duensing, Pedro Strop, and the enigmatic Mike Montgomery will do their part to shorten games to 5 or 6 innings.

The Cubs seriously needed to fix their pitching staff if they were serious in contending for another World Series title in 2018, and they did so in impressive style. With any amount of hitting, this team could once again be very special.

Mets Baseball 2018 – It Can’t Be As Bad As Last Year, Right?

By Paul DiSclafani

mlb.com

Welcome back to baseball, Mets Fans!

After the euphoric 2015 campaign, we went into 2016 with high hopes, only to come crashing down as Connor Gillaspe became this generation’s Mike Scioscia in the Wild-Card game.  But even with all the injuries that almost derailed the 2016 season, we knew 2017 couldn’t possible be as bad.  We were getting back Zack Wheeler and the pleasant surprises of 2016, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, would provide pitching depth.  Hell, we had so many starting pitchers now, we let Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, go.

Instead, 2017 was worse, much worse.

Noah Syndergaard, who was going to be the NL Cy Young in 2017, was gone after just 30 innings.  Matt Harvey, returning from Thorcic Outlet Syndrome, was suspended because he broke up with his girlfriend and lost his ability to pitch at this level.  Michael Conforto injured his shoulder just swinging the bat.  We lost our closer, Jeuyrs Familia to a blood clot and Yoenis Cespedes only played half a season (81 games).  Instead of saying “Brruuuccceeeee” for Jay Bruce, fans were booing him and he was traded at the deadline.  So was Lucas Duda.  The unbelievable depth at starting pitching the Mets had during spring training dissipated before our eyes day after day.    Steven Matz was awful before finally being shut down.  Wheeler finally came back from his 2015 Tommy John surgery after missing all of 2016 and started promisingly, but he had to be shutdown in July after a “stress reaction”.  By the time the season was over, guys like Tommy Malone, Tyler Pill and Adam Wilk were starting games.

So after a 92 loss season miserable came to an end, heads just had to roll, starting with Terry Collins, Dan Warthen and some of the other coaches.  Then the medical staff was axed.  With a depleted farm system, the Mets need a lot of help at a lot of different positions and don’t have a lot of bullets left in the chamber.  What’s a GM to do?

Although 2018 can’t possibly be as bad as 2017, wasn’t that what we all thought about the 2017 season after the debacle of 2016?

But this time it just feels different.

Sandy Alderson went out and got a quality manager that plays to his team’s strength – starting pitching.  Mickey Callaway, who had never managed at any level, takes over for Collins.  His area of expertise is pitching, a huge need for this organization.  For the first time, the Mets have a skipper that not only was a pitcher, but understands the mechanics and the psyche of pitching.  One of the biggest complaints every Mets fan had last year, outside of injuries, was how Collins and Warthen were mishandling the pitching staff.

While the bandwagon Mets fans were howling about the off-season activity of that other NY team in the Bronx (like Stanton was really going to come to the Mets), Alderson was slowly filling the numerous pot-holes that have been derailing the Mets wheel alignment for years.

With the uncertainly of the return of Conforto, he went out and signed back Jay Bruce, who he traded to Cleveland for relief pitcher Ryder Ryan in 2017.  Now the Mets don’t have to rush Conforto back and Bruce should be able to provide 30+ homer runs for an offense that is going to once again rely on the home run.

Worried about Dominic Smith at 1B?  So was Alderson, so he signed Adrian Gonzalez to hold down the fort and tutor Smith, who reported to training camp 30 pounds lighter and ready to learn.

Although it tugs at our heartstrings, it’s time to stop waiting for David Wright to make it back.  Alderson plugged a huge hole by signing Todd Frazier, a professional third baseman.  The man can play the position, be a veteran leader in the clubhouse and hit 25-30 home runs.  What’s not to like?

Anthony Swarzak will plug the Addison Reed hole in the bullpen.  Except he throws 95 mph and is coming off the best season of his career, averaging 10.6 strikeouts per 9 innings.  He appeared in 70 games (77 innings) and struck out 91.  That gives the Mets a solid late inning bullpen with Swarzak, Jerry Blevins, AJ Ramos and Jeurys Familia.

What about the starters?  Although only deGrom escaped the DL in 2017, there was only one lefty starter on the roster – Steven Matz.  Alderson bides his time and then goes out and signs a guy who won 18 games last year, Jason Vargas.  The soft tossing lefty could fill the hole left by Colon as a consistent, veteran that takes the ball every five days and gives you six or seven quality innings.

And all it cost was money.  Not that the Met’s had anything to trade, but some of the other free agents out there come at the price of a draft choice and cash from their International pool.  When your farm system is ranked 28th in baseball, you can’t afford to give those things away.  This allowed Alderson to build up the roster depth the Mets sorely lacked last year, while not mortgaging the team’s future.  None of these free agent deals is over two years long.

Time to see how all these new pieces come together as the first full squad workout begins on Monday.  It just can’t be as bad as last year, right?

Paul DiSclafani is a featured writer on “A View From The Bench”, which has been recognized by Major League baseball as one of the top 100 blog sites.

Juicebox Heroes: I Heart Baseball 2/14/18

And although still a bit nasty for Houston’s standards, Spring has arrived for the pitchers and catchers of our World Champion Houston Astros! Position players join them on the 19th at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches for their first full squad workout. The first spring training game set for the 23rd vs The Nationals. Hope SPRINGS eternal. Baseball is back and with that the dreams of all ball clubs as the boys of summer limber up and push to make squads, contracts and championships.  Every team is in it, except maybe the Marlins. (Who am I kidding no other team has a shot….GO ASTROS!)

palm beaches

Photo: Discover The Palm Beaches

 

Filthy I tell you, FILTHY.

This season the Astros return the core of the their 2017 roster intact, minus Carlos Beltran (retired), Joe Musgrove (trade to MIA), Mike Fiers (to DET), Luke Gregerson (new closer for STL) and various bench players that have yet to sign anywhere in Maybin, Liriano and Clippard.  They also made some key acquisitions to the pitching staff.  Gerrit Cole (from PIT via trade) as a starter, and Joe Smith (from CLE Free agent) and Hector Rondon (from CHI Free agent) as relievers. Of course you also get Mr. Upton errr Cat Daddy errr Justin Verlander for a whole season.

Cat Daddy

Cole projects to be a middle of the rotation arm which essentially means the Astros will have one of the deepest and most talented starting rotations in all of the majors.  They will be FILTHY. Verlander, Kuechel, Cole, McCullers and Morton should eat innings, keep you in games. and keep the bullpen rested.  Barring injury any one and all of these pitchers will push 20 wins with Verlander almost a lock to get that many.  This essentially leaves Brad Peacock and Colin McHugh out of the rotation.  Peacock will return to his long relief role while McHugh has been rumored in trade talks with Baltimore.  The Astros had been interested in Zach Britton last season to bolster their bullpen however with Britton recovering from a ruptured Achilles he won’t likely be pitching until July.

Rosenthal reports Baltimore’s interest in McHugh

The additions of Smith and Rondon  bolsters an already capable bullpen.  Smith struck out 71 batters in 54 innings of work while pitching for both Toronto and Cleveland last season. He has a plus slider that has a lot of movement due to his sidearm delivery and gives the Astros the odd look out of the pen they haven’t had since Pat Neshek left. Rondon likely wants to improve on his performance last year as he struggled with a 4.24 ERA while allowing over a base runner per inning.  He also struck out 69 in just over 57 innings of work for the Cubbies. He’s just two years removed from his championship with the Cubs and three years since he saved 30 games.  He has a 97 mhp 4-seam fastball and great command of the slider and sinker.  He will also bring some toughness to our pen.

Hector Houdini

Joe Smith Funk

The rest of the bullpen remains intact. Ken Giles will be back as the closer much to some people’s chagrin. While Giles seemingly imploded in the playoffs pushing him into a multiple inning role was not what he was accustomed to during the season.  With only 4 blown saves out of 38 chances he actually did pretty well during the regular season.  He also dropped his ERA by almost 2 runs while striking out 83 in just over 62 innings of work.  The base runners remain an issue and it certainly seems like it is an adventure with him but its his job to lose. His fastball remains his go to pitch. Teams will catch up to it occasionally.

100 Miles Giles

Along with Giles, Rondon, and Smith the bullpen will round out with Chris “Devo” Devinski, Will Harris, Brad Peacock and McHugh (barring a trade) as virtual locks while the rest of the spots come down to some questionable situations. Sipp, Gose, Boshers, Gustave, Hoyt, Martes, Paulino, Guduan, Rodgers, Perez, will all compete for the remaining spots. Hopefully a couple of these guys pan out.

Is that a Sipp jersey?

The Juicebox Heroes return

The Astros offensively will look to dominate again this season.  2017 saw the team first in almost every major offensive category. Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa anchor a lineup that has very few holes.  Alex Bregman is a soon to be All Star at third base and Marwin Gonzales returns at his role as super utility man (let’s get him into the All-Star game this season). Josh Reddick, Brian McCann, Yuli Gurriel, Jake Marisnick and Derek Fisher will round out the fielders.  Fisher will need to prove he belongs with a glut of talent that will be pushing him in the OF or for the bench spot.  Evan Gattis benefits the most from Beltran’s departure as he is slotted to get more at bats as our DH. He should easily improve on Beltran’s average of .231  from the DH spot last season. Gurriel will open the season with a five game suspension for his questionable gesture about Darvish in the World Series.

Yuli mocks Yu

Diamond Players

Altuve will follow up his MVP campaign with hopes of repeating his past success.  Having won the batting title 3 of the last 4 years and having over 200 hits 4 years in a row it is hard to believe he has room to improve.  Maybe RBI’s? He is possibly the only player in the modern era that has a shot at batting over .400.  In the last 6 years he has had 30 stolen bases or more. He’s fast, patient at the plate (except when he drives the first pitch) , hits for power, hits for average, hits lefties, hits righties, hits the fastball, hits on the road, hits the curve, hits, hits, hits and he’s got mad hits like Rod Carew. He even won a Golden Glove in 2015. Mighty Altuve can do it all. He will compete for the MVP again this season. Don’t be surprised if he wins it. He’s a Sure Shot. Again.

Mad hits like Rod Carew

IMG_1419

Photo: 20th Century Fox and Roy Bonario Jr.

Altuve’s middle infield counterpart, Correa will also be looking to improve on his 2017 campaign. His thumb injury was a major concern last season but he overcame it just in time for the playoff run.  He showed no ill affects in the playoffs going a robust .288 with 5 HR’s and 14 RBI’s. He will return to his clean up spot in the Astros lineup where he ended up the initial 162 with a .315 BA along with 24 HR and 84 RBI’s . It could have been a whole lot more.  Arguably when he got injured last season he, along with Altuve, were both MVP candidates. This season will be his 4th and we still haven’t seen his ceiling. 30 HR power and 100+ RBI’s should become a staple year for him. He also pulled the smooth move and asked his girlfriend to marry him right after clinching game 7 in LA.  Hopefully he hasn’t been too distracted. That may be wishful thinking.

Steve Harvey on Correa Proposal

The Infield rounds out with a stud youngster, a wily veteran and a should be All Star.  Bregman proved last season that he has the talent to be one of the best third baseman in the league.  Starting with his grand slam on Derek Jeter night in NY, to his game winner off of Jansen in game 5 of the World Series. He just oozed clutch.  His throw out at the plate of Frazier vs NY in the ALCS was also a one in a million throw.  Nobody but nobody gets that out. But he did.  Don’t forget he hit down in the lineup most of last season, this season he should be hitting in front of Altuve. He will see a lot of pitches to hit which should prevent some of the slumps he has been prone to have over his first 204 big league games. He also went beast mode in the weight room for three months. BAM POW!

71A451AE-D0AA-4F38-9603-3BDBD7FDA592

Photo: Instagram-Thekevinpoppe Premier Baseball League of Texas

Gurriel despite his gestures and Sideshow Bob hair flirted with .300 all year long. He also hit a crucial game tying HR off of Kershaw in game 5 of the World Series. That hit changed that game and it was awesome to see him jog to first while looking at the dugout as if to say. “See. I told ya.” Worries about his glove and handling first base are largely gone now.  He is just a good fit for this squad. His numbers were virtually identical to Bregmans. Almost 20 HR, 75 RBI’s .290-.300 BA. Expect pretty much a repeat to those here in 2018.

Marwin Gonzalez plays all infield and outfield positions.  Need a Left Fielder? Marwin. Need a Shortstop, 1st base? Marwin. Pitcher? Marwin??? Well this player without an everyday spot probably could pitch after we saw him gun down Bird in Game 1 of the ALCS (After which he spent the night at the hospital welcoming his third child into the Astros family). His HR off of Jansen in game 2 of the World Series was also as clutch as it gets. He didn’t try to pull the pitch. Just swung where it was and tried to drive it. As contract situations loom for this squad many believe Marwin will be the odd man out. If he keeps the power numbers rolling and the average above .300 it will be a tough player to possibly let go.  He’s also the only switch hitter left in the lineup which again emphasizes his flexibility. How does a guy that finished 19th in the MVP voting not make the All-Star team?

MarWIN!!!

Outside the Diamond

Oh George. How we love thee. Your World Series MVP run is the stuff that legends are made of.  I will note that Hinch stuck with Springer despite his struggles in the ALCS vs the Yankees. Hinch’s confidence was repaid a thousand times over with 5 World Series HR. #SpringerDinger alone was responsible for over $100,000 being donated to #HR4HR the campaign T-Mobile tabbed as Hurricane relief during the World Series. He isn’t the prototypical leadoff batter but he certainly makes it work with 34 regular season HR’s and a .367 on base percentage.  He is also a plus defensive player in Centerfield even if he occasionally gambles as he did in Game 5 of the World Series.  His play will land him a gigantic contract soon and at least he was rewarded with a raise to break arbitration at 12 million per year for the next two.  He is an anchor for this club. His importance cannot be understated.  Hinch is right to have him in the leadoff spot because he simply sets the tone.

2/3 of the Earth is covered by water, the rest is covered by George Springer

Look, I can play, Centerfield

Josh Reddick will reprise his roll in Right Field.  Many will be quick to point out his .169 postseason batting average but that doesn’t tell the whole story on this veteran. His hit to tie Game 4 vs Boston was crucial. His presence in the locker room kept this team focused.  His channeling of Ric Flair got the “WOOOOOO”s going for the fans.  And his ceremonial  wrestling belts gave the team something to strive for daily and kept things loose.  A .314 average, 82 RBI’s and his gun in right field didn’t hurt either.  I think he was pressing some in the playoffs so he certainly gets the pass there.  His numbers should see no significant regression in 2018.

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

That leaves the Left Field spot which is generally up for grabs.  Whereas Marwin was a fixture there throughout the postseason either Derek Fisher or Jake Marisnick will man the short porched area in front of the Crawford Boxes during the 2018 campaign.  Marisnick is coming back from injury and more than likely will project as the defensive replacement for late innings or as a pinch runner.  Although his average topped out at .239 through the 106 games before injury he did find some pop in his bat stroking 16 HR’s. The interesting situation may be with Fisher. He batted .318 at Triple A last season with 21 HR’s in 84 games.  He will need to prove he is ready for the big leagues at the plate but he has the ability to field his position. He will struggle but should nail down a majority of the innings in Left Field barring another player having a stellar Spring.

Fisher has some wheels

Jake’s Gun

Channeling Ausmus

Brian McCann and Max Stassi look to be our catchers going into the season with Evan Gattis, as mentioned before,  primarily working in the DH spot.  McCann isn’t the offensive player he has been in the past but he still commands great respect at the plate and certainly knows his way around hitters.  His age is a concern and being that he may move on back to Atlanta following this season or next, I would not be surprised to see the Astros make a move in this area. The Astros have shown interest in the Marlins J.T. Realmuto but their asking price thus far has been fairly steep wanting phenom minor league OF Kyle Tucker. Realmuto projects to be one of the best catchers in the league for at least a 5 year window and trading for him might mean sharing some at bats out of the DH spot as well.  The other option is signing Astros fan favorite Jonathon Lucroy who is still a free agent. Formerly with the Rangers he likely will want an everyday roll again meaning he might have to take some at bats at DH if he signs here. I don’t think this position is settled as of yet.

Tucker for Realmuto

Best of the Rest

AJ Reed, Tyler White, Kyle Tucker, Tony Kemp and Max Stassi all look to compete this Spring for a roster spot.  Reed, White, Kemp and Stassi have all had at least a cup of coffee in the bigs.  None really doing enough to stick.  Tucker is the real deal and if he doesn’t make the squad it will be because they want him to develop some more at Triple A.  More than likely he will play for the Astros this season as a call up or injury replacement.  Reed and White are both vying for the similar spot on the roster so their battle seems to be against each other. Stassi may make it as the back up catcher. Kemp batted .329 in the minors but only .216 in 17 Major league games last season.

I’m just playing a Hinch

A.J. Hinch returns to helm this 101 win team from a year ago. The major coaching change being that bench coach Alex Cora will now be sitting in a dugout in Boston. Hinch really works at being a player’s coach. He worked diligently at creating a great atmosphere and keeping the attitude of his players positive despite injury struggles, slumps and Hurricane Harvey. Does he focus on analytics too much or too little? Is he making the right decisions with making pitching changes too late? Has he ever ordered a hitter to bunt a runner over? 162 different lineup cards? He has the luxury of moving a very versatile lineup around. Why wouldn’t you want to tinker some to keep players both sharp and rested for a long post season run.  He may lose a few games by having confidence in his players but sometimes it really truly works out. He will manage this team now with a huge target on its back.  He also will have more pitching at his disposal than he has ever had as a manager. Criticism aside he is one of the better managers in the MLB.

Bregman on Hinch

Projected Opening Day Lineup and Bench

Starters

1-Springer CF

2-Bregman 3B

3-Altuve 2B

4-Correa SS

5-Gurriel 1B

6-Gonzalez LF

7-Gattis DH

8-Reddick RF

9-McCann C

Rotation

Verlander, Kuechel, Cole, McCullers, Morton

Relievers

Giles, Smith, Rondon, Harris, Devinski, Peacock, McHugh, Sipp

Bench

Marisnick, Fisher, Reed

 

trophy parade

Photo: Associated Press

2018 Predictions

2016 showed that even with everything looking good on paper, teams can struggle. 2017 was a special year for the Astros. This season the Astros certainly look like an improved team.  They have the makings of a elite dynasty.  Teams will be circling their showdowns with the Astros and certainly the teams we played in the 2017 post season all have made incremental improvements.  This season will be hotly contested, especially in the post season.  I predict they will get to 100 wins again and win their division.  They should also be able to repeat their Championship run becoming the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to win back to back championships. Go Astros!

 

Written by Trey Looney

@3TimesLooney

Treylooney99@gmail.com

 

Cubs Sign Yu Darvish to Deal; Bolsters Staff

wrigley field

By Richard Kagan

The Chicago Cubs made a big splash in the free-agent market today, signing starting pitcher Yu Darvish to a 6 yr – $126million deal.  The deal could reach $150M with incentives. Darvish 31, was one of the coveted pitchers on the market and the Cubs now have significantly improved their starting rotation.

Darvish did get hit hard in his 2017 World Series appearences. Apparently, he may have been tipping his pitches. But he virtually shut down the Cubs in the NLCS vs. the Dodgers, giving up a solo home run in 6.1 innings.  Sometimes, if you can’t beat ’em, sign him up.

The Cubs already signed Chris Ginemez, a catcher who was Darvish personal catcher with the Texas Rangers.  Darvish is a four-time all-star who was highly coveted last season. The Dodgers acquired him as it made a strong run to the World Series.  Darvish was 10-12 last season with the Rangers and Dodgers.  His ERA was 3.86. He struck out 209 hitters in 186.2 innings.

Darvish finished 2nd in Cy Young balloting in the American League in 2013. Then he underwent Tommy John surgery and did not pitch in 2014 and part of 2015.

The addition of Darvish helps make the Cubs with a formidable starting rotation, that includes Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and new addition, Tyler Chatwood.

Darvish has been pitching in high-pressure situations prior to and after his arm injury. The Cubs hope has has more gas in the tank.

Ghosts of Seasons Past

It has already been some time. For most that means the luster may have left a little, the excitement has waned. Maybe a few have even forgotten those moments of despair and struggle throughout October that were eventually overcome. (That is unless you obsessively watch the video of every run the Astros scored in Game 5 of the World Series. That pivotal, roller coaster ride of the century.) It was a great time to be an Astros fan.

Check out all the Astros’ runs from Game 5 of the World Series

htown strong la times

(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

A lot has been said too about Houston Strong, about the summer that saw our city soaked to the bones and our World Series bound Astros forced from home. About how Harvey brought a city together, brought a team together to get past their struggles, to prevail.  Houston has had their fair share of heartache and, Harvey aside, our sports teams have always struggled.  Until now the only glorious rise to the top was limited to the spring times of ’94 and ’95 when Hakeem the Dream Olajuwon lifted the whole of Houston and all of his Rockets teammates upon his back and carried them to the promised land. (Some even believe that because Jordan wasn’t in the league that the ’94-’95 Rockets championships are tainted.) It was a city that was in a quasi sports purgatory.  One that had celebrated great victories, great teams and even greater players, but by the grace of the sports gods always came up short.  There is a reason that when H-town natives and fans hear the name Frank Reich they shudder and possibly convulse.

Something has always happened. In ’80 JR had a stroke, in ’86 the Mets clipped Hatcher’s heroics. Buddy Ryan punched Kevin Gilbride and the House of Pain became painful for Oiler fans. The Twin Towers came up short vs Bird.  Renfro caught that ball but the refs stole that game for the Steel Curtain. The Chicago White Sox (had) swept the Astros in their only World Series appearance. Yao goes down vs LA. They are still looking for the ball Pujols hit off of Lidge.  Joe Montana twice gunned Houston down, once with Notre Dame, once with Kansas City. Valvano makes a great story but Phi Slamma Jamma should have never lost that game. Even the Texans, in their most successful season to date, wore letterman jackets to a showdown in New England only to further show Houston sports needed more schooling. Always coming up short.  Good enough to say we were close, not great enough to get past, Bad News Bears status, “Just wait until next year…”

10 most disappointing losses in Houston Sports History

 

That is until now.

reddick trophy

(K. Djansezian / Getty Images)

When the final out was cast. When the ball was trapped by Altuve and thrown on the infield side of first base. When Yuli gripped that ball in the back of glove. When the Astros beat the Dodgers in the seventh game of the World Series. At that moment there was a weight lifted. Downtown Houston went from below sea level to 10 feet above. At that moment the demons of many Houston failures were let loose. They were gone. Tears flowed, minds exploded, hell froze over (Or at least got flooded from Harvey.) They had won it for Houston. And that also meant they won it for a lot more.

They won it for Mike Scott. For Jose Cruz and Nolan Ryan. For Glenn Davis, Daryl Kile and Craig Biggio. For Shane Reynolds and Jose’ Lima…..Ken Caminiti, Enos Cabell, Richard Hidalgo, Craig Reynolds, Joe Neikro, JR Richard, Sean Berry, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Hampton, Jim Deshaies, Julio Lugo, Gene Elston, Daryl Ward, Octavio Dotel, even Randy Johnson. It was for Larry Dierker, Ricky Gutiérrez, Phil Garner, Terry Puhl, Luis Gonzales, Mark Portugal, Lance Berkman, Art Howe, Roy Oswalt, Cesar Cedeno, Mike Lamb, Billy Wagner, Tim Bogar, Charlie Kerfeld, Scott Elarton, Kirk Saarloos, Buddy Bell, Casey Candeale, Matt Galante, and Brad Lidge. It was for Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn, Bud Norris, Jed Lowrie, Moises Alou, Dickie Thon, Brad Ausmus, Don Wilson, Hunter Pence, Miguel Tejada, Bill Spires, Luke Scott, Joaquín Andújar, Chad Qualls, Jason Lane, Bob Knepper and Bob Watson. For Alan Ashby, Eric Bruntlet, Tony Eusibio, Rafael Ramirez, Bill Doran, Pete Incaviglia Carlos Lee, Jeff Kent, Kevin Bass, Bob Aspromonte, Larry Anderson, Danny Darwin, Steve Finley and Derek freaking Bell. For Adam Everett, Wandy Rodriguez, Doug Henry, Curt Schilling, Morgan Ensberg, Carl Everett, Denny Walling, Wade Miller, Geoff Blum, Milo Hamilton, Bobby Abreu, Brandon Backe, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Rusty Staub, Roy Hofeinz, Don Wilson, Bill Virdon, Tal Smith, Doug Rader, Hal Lanier, Joe Sambito, Dave Smith, and Billy Freaking Hatcher. For Pete Harnisch, Chris Burke, Aubrey Huff, Willy Taveras, and Michael Bourn.

It was for Dan Pastorini. For Bum Phillips, For Earl Campbell and Carl Mauck. For Mike Renfro, Bruce Matthews, Haywood Jeffries, Ken Stabler and Warren Moon. For Lorenzo White, Greg Bingham, Dave Casper and Coach Glanville. For White Shoes Johnson, Elvin Bethea, Kenny Borrough and Vernon Perry. For Cris Dishman, Earnest Givens and Lamar Lathon. For Drew Hill, Ray Childress and Jack Pardee. Alonso Highsmith, Mike Rozier, Alan Pinket, Sean Jones and Ray Childress. For Mike Munchak and Eugene Seale. Mike Barber, Cody Carlson and Robert Brazile. Giff Nielsen, Will Fuller and Al Smith.

It was for every member of the Houston Cougars Phi Slamma Jamma.

It was even for Tracy Mcgrady, James Harden and Yao Ming.  For Carl Herrera and Ralph Sampson, For the Dream and Drexler…….

It was for the current Astros roster. The one that sweated three years of 100+ losses. That weathered a switch to the AL, Hurricane Harvey, and won in spite of Bud Selig. It was for a city that has taken so much disappointment in stride. It was for people tearing out the walls in their houses while listening to the game. It was for the world, but most of all it was for us, the Houston fans. For all the heartbreak.  The champions.  Thank you Houston Astros.  Thank you!

scott no hit

  (Howard Castleberry / Houston Chronicle, Houston Astros)

 

-Trey Looney

@3timeslooney

 

 

 

Who Are the Cubs Going After?

Cubs logo

By Richard Kagan

It’s almost in the single digits here on the East coast, and back in Chicago, you don’t even want to look at the wind chill temps.  So, it’s a perfect time to vent on the Hot Stove goings on with the Cubbies.

Players are being tossed around like cards on a poker table. El Mago going to San Diego? No way!  Arrieta back to the Cubs? I’ll take it already. The Cubs are flirting with Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb to sign as front-line starters. The winter days are short and already the countdown to spring training has begun.  The Cubs have shored up the bullpen but didn’t sign Wade Davis.  He would have been great.

Now, are the Cubs content with Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek, who signed recently?

The Cubs front office says the Morrow will be the closer although he rarely closed during last year with the Dodgers. He was great in the late innings, especially against the Cubs. If you can’t beat ’em, sign him up. That is what the Cubs did.

Now the name Alex Cobb of Tampa Bay floats about.  He had arm surgery and last year was his first full season after his recovery. He pitched pretty well, going 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA.  He struck out 128 in 179.1 innings pitched. Not exactly blowing them away.  He knows the new Cubs pitching coach and of course, Joe Maddon. He spoke in an interview and sounded like the door was open on his end. Are the Cubs interested in making a deal?  No one in Chicago really knows. The Cubs’ Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer flew to Dallas to speak to Darvish a few weeks ago. I am sure numbers were tossed around and discussed back in Chicago. Darvish had a good regular season and was a coveted signing for the Dodgers.  He just wilted in the World Series.

Speculation is that the Cubs might be interested in re-signing Jake Arrieta at $110 M for four years. Does Jake want the money or is he, or his agent Scott Boras, want a longer deal?  These questions are still up in the air.  Time is coming to make a decision.  Money is to be spent.

I just hope the Cubs make the right deal.