News from around the league …
- Cuban second baseman Jose Miguel Fernandez was officially declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, and will now begin searching for his stateside team. Fernandez, 27, was ranked as the third best player still in Cuba by Baseball America back in 2014, after hitting .326/.482/.456 with 65 walks and just 10(!) strikeouts in 314 plate appearances. He is an offensive force in the middle infield and will be exempt from the international bonus pool restrictions, due to his age and experience. He hasn’t played since October 2014 (because of the tricky defection process), but is expected to hold an open showcase in the D.R. later this month. According to Ben Badler (Baseball America), Fernandez is ready to step into the top half of a Major League team’s lineup right now, so you should expect him to command quite a hefty contract. I wouldn’t expect any involvement from the Chicago Cubs, who are unlikely to spend big on another positional free agent any time soon, but there could be a significant impact to the Cubs, and other contenders, depending on where Fernandez lands.
- Sonny Gray was scratched from the Oakland A’s opener last night after coming down with a case of food poisoning. So, stepping in for the A’s ace was former Cub Rich Hill. Unfortunately he was … unable to replicate Gray’s typical production, lasting just 2.2 innings, giving up 4 runs (2 earned) on 3 hits, 1 walk and 3 Ks. And, if you’re wondering why a 36-year-old Rich Hill (who pitched just 29.0 innings in 2015), was the best replacement Oakland had to offer, you’ll find a simple reason: the A’s rotation is a mess right now (Gray was out sick, Felix Doubront is injured, and a grand total of seven pitchers are on the disabled list). Rough start to the season.
- Despite acquiring Ken Giles from the Phillies this offseason, the Houston Astros plan on using Luke Gregerson as the team’s primary closer in 2016. Despite the assumption that Giles was acquired to be the team’s closer, a weak Spring Training performance apparently contributed to the change of mind. “I’m going to have Giles pitch in a couple different roles,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday at Yankee stadium, “depending on what the highest leverage situation of the game would be.”
- I have to say, I’m not a fan of strict bullpen roles – I prefer that the situation dictate the pitcher, not the inning or title – but I am coming around to the Justin Grimm-style pitcher. In other words, its nice to have another dominant reliever to use, not as a setup man, but as mid-game closer, so to speak; someone who can come in throughout the middle innings and get out of a tight jam, to preserve a lead or stop a rally. After all, a run in the sixth counts the same as one in the ninth, and sometimes that run in the sixth is the one that swings an already-tight game.
- At Baseball is Fun, Bryce Harper leans further into his comments about baseball being “tired,” with a hilarious, spot on call to “Make Baseball Fun Again.” I’m slowly beginning to love this guy.
- As I’m sure you know by now, Diamondbacks star center fielder A.J. Pollock will miss most of the 2016 season with a fractured elbow. Although the club intends on evaluating their in-house options, they aren’t ruling out acquiring a new center fielder to replace Pollock for the season. Although it would likely cost them an arm and a leg to acquire anyone impactful at this point of the year, it might not be the worst idea, given how seriously they “went for it,” this offseason.
- Back in February, MLB changed its policy on reckless slides into second base, and last night the rule was employed for the very first time. Braves outfielder Nick Markakis slid passed the bag at second base and – despite a late throw to first – the double play was granted by the umps, because Markakis “failed to slide so that he is able to or at least attempts to stay on the base.” Regardless of you feel about the rule, it does appear the umps got this one right.
- Pirates lefty Francisco Liriano hardly ever throws strikes and has thrown the fewest percentage of pitches in the zone, but continues to be a dominant starter (who, incidentally, struck out 10 Cardinals on Sunday afternoon). So at FanGraphs, August Fagerstrom discusses one unique strategy to beat Liriano (at least, in theory), and it boils down to one simple idea: just don’t swing. It’s actually a fascinating read with relevant .gifs and graphs, so I encourage you to give it a look.
- Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar is quietly one of the best in the game, and he made another incredible catch yesterday, which ended with him plowing his face into the wall.
- Zack Greinke had a rough start to his Diamondbacks career, giving up 7 earned runs on nine hits and one walk in just 4.0 innings pitched. He also gave up three home runs, in his outing, including two to Trevor Story, a rookie shortstop making his Major League debut. Great night for Story, a rough one for Greinke and the Diamondbacks.
- About that game – Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale got a little sensitive about the expectations for the season and today’s pitcher Shelby Miller:
Dbacks manager Chip Hale didn't seem too pleased his team was receiving media attention. pic.twitter.com/IJYbHNqP7s
— Nick Piecoro (@nickpiecoro) April 5, 2016
- We’re far away from this point, but Jon Morosi and a Vancouver News Outlet shared a “logical 32 team alignment, if MLB expands to Montreal and Vancouver.” The Cubs new division would feature the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and, of course, themselves. With Montreal and Vancouver entering into the American League, the Rays would swing into the NL, and join Miami, Atlanta and Washington in a new division:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) April 5, 2016
- Ninja Turtles at the Yankees game, courtesy of HBO’s John Oliver: