Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

Snowed out

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Only one playin today is this dude!

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The New York Mets were indeed snowed out on Monday, so the New York debut of Gabe Kapler’s Bullpen Follies has to wait until tonight.

Instead, I watched the Houston Astros beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-1 in their home opener. Before the game, the Astros unveiled their 2017 World Series Championship banner (with the help of a leafblower.)

I found it interesting that while the Astros have won seven division championships and three wild card berths, it looked like they only have two banners on display – their 2005 National League pennant and the 2017 World Series one. I think I like the “keeping to essentials” approach.

The Astros are a fun team to watch. Charlie Morton may be the best number five starter in baseball, but as good as their pitching is their hitters are better. At this stage, everyone knows about Jose Altuve… but George Springer is every bit as exciting. Alex Bregman impressed me with his hitting and defense and Marwin Gonzalez impressed with his versatility.

I could easily see the Astros successfully defending their World Series title.

Other odds & ends:

Posted in Baseball, New York Mets

January thaw

Like the temperatures in the Northeast, Major League Baseball’s frozen hot stove season experienced a brief thaw late last week.

The New York Mets got things started by signing Jay Bruce to a three-year, $39 million contract Wednesday, and added Adrian Gonzalez over the weekend. The Pittsburgh Pirates shipped former Cy Young Award contender Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for a package of four middling prospects. We finally have some actual news to discuss instead of just rumors.

The Mets’ moves are not exciting, but they should help the team.

Bruce is a consistently productive hitter with inconsistent defensive ratings, though the eyeball test is going to tell you that you’re in trouble if you ever consider him one of the best defensive players on your team. He can help provide power in the middle of the batting order and buy time for Michael Conforto to fully recover from last year’s shoulder injury, even though Conforto will likely be forced to play center field when he does return. And Bruce proved versatile enough to play first base, if there is a need.

Gonzalez is a low-risk, moderate reward signing. With the Atlanta Braves on the hook for all but $545,000 of his $21.5 million contract, Gonzalez can provide spring training competition for Dominic Smith. He can be a veteran bat off the bench if Smith wins the first base job, and Gonzalez can be released if he shows he can’t play at a high enough level to help the Mets.

After all, neither Smith nor Gonzalez had good seasons at the Major League level last year. Gonzalez hit .231 / .287 / .355 with three home runs in 231 at bats in an injury shortened season that saw him lose his job to rookie Cody Bellinger. As a late-season call-up, Smith hit .192 / .262 / .395 with nine home runs in 167 at bats.

For a rebuilding team, it would be an easy call to see if Smith could grow into a starting role. A team that sees itself as a contender needs a fallback plan. fans can’t be criticized for hoping that plan would be more ambitious than Gonzalez. But Gonzalez makes the Mets a better team and shouldn’t preclude them from continuing to shore up their infield by adding a second baseman or third baseman join Asdrubal Cabrera and Amed Rosario and the winner of the first base competition.

Here’s hoping that infielder is coming…and I wouldn’t mind another starting pitcher. Even Bartolo Colon on a minor league deal wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The Cole trade is more of a head-scratcher. Sure, it’s a easy win for the Astros — the defending World Series champs add to an already-good starting rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton.

Even if pitchers Joe Musgrove and Michael Feliz, infielder Colin Moran, who was Houston’s No. 5 prospect and outfielder Jason Martin, who was Houston’s No. 15 prospect, pan out for the Pirates, the Astros made a move that helps them defend their title with minimal impact on their 2018 roster.

The Pirates are getting young, Major League-ready talent… but no one who projects with enough upside to be a star. Their fans are still left wondering if Cole was the first step of a full rebuild or an attempt to reload for another run with Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison. And they’ve got to be coming to the realization that if the return for Cole – a 27-year-old with two years of team control – was disappointing, McCutchen – a 31-year-old in the final year of a seven-year contract – may not bring back anyone of note at all.

With less than a month to go before players start reporting to spring training, hopefully we’ll get some more actual baseball news to talk about instead of rumors created for the sake of page clicks.

And hey, if we don’t? Those “Player X is in the best shape of his life” stories might be a little more interesting if Player X is still looking for a job when they run.

Posted in Autographs, Uncategorized

Early Billy Wagner autographs

Billy Wagner didn’t have a Hall of Fame career, but he was a pretty good closer for a long time. In a 16-year career, Wagner earned 422 saves and went to the All-Star game seven times.

So I was a little surprised to find a pair of autographed baseball cards in a five-for-$10 box along with the likes of Jorge Toca and Geoff Getz at the collectibles shop I visited in Pennsylvania earlier this month.

Autographed 1994 Signature Rookies Billy Wagner card
Autographed 1994 Signature Rookies Billy Wagner card

Wagner’s first certified autograph came in the 1994 Signature Rookies set, released a year after the Houston Astros made him the 12th overall pick in the amateur draft. Can you believe Signature Rookies asked him to sign 8.650 of these cards?

Continue reading “Early Billy Wagner autographs”

Posted in Baseball, Uncategorized

Houston hires Hudgens

Signed Dave Hudgens autograph card from my collection
Signed Dave Hudgens autograph card from my collection

Former New York Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens will be filling that position on new Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch‘s staff. (Jose De Jesus Ortiz and Evan Drellich, Houston Chronicle)

“He’s a seasoned major league coach,” Hinch said. “I think he’s got a real understanding of how to coach an offensive approach and produce runs. I think his demeanor, his connection with players — he’s managing in Venezuela right now — overall everything he brings to the staff is high quality.”

Hudgens did not turn out to be a good fit for the Mets, though whether that was due to his skill as a coach or the Mets’ skill as hitters is something I don’t know how to judge. It will be interesting to see how he does in Houston next season.

Posted in Baseball, Uncategorized

Appel & the Astros

There are things to like about the Houston Astros.

Jose Altuve. George Springer. Dallas Keuchel. Nifty uniforms.

But there’s also plenty to be unhappy about, starting with a 42-63 record through 105 games.

So it’s disappointing to read about a clubhouse culture where the “veteran presence” has a problem with a minor league prospect getting promoted from Single-A to Double-A and throwing a bullpen session for front office members and the major league coaching staff at Minute Maid Park this weekend.

Mark Appel, the number one overall pick in the 2013 draft, has struggled with the Single-A Lancaster Jethawks in the notoriously hitter-friendly California League. Appel’s home ballpark is the second worst for pitchers in the league, likely contributing to his 2-5 record and 9.74 ERA this year.

Considering what the Astros invested in Appel, are you really surprised that the team would want to have senior officials take a look at how he’s throwing? Or that they’d want to move him to an environment that they hope will be more beneficial to his development? Who cares if that bullpen session happened at the major league ballpark before an Astros game?

Yes, Appel is getting preferential treatment – he received a $6.35 million signing bonus as the number one draft pick in baseball last year. The Astros are not going to invest that kind of money and treat Appel the same way they would a 20th round pick that got a $50,000 bonus.

That’s kind of the way things have been going forever in baseball.

The Astros’ current players should focus more on improving their own game, or some of them might find someone getting promoted to the majors to their jobs.