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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Baseball

Astros launch investigation into sign-stealing allegations

The Houston Astros are moving quickly to address a major story Tuesday alleging an electronic sign-stealing operation in the 2017 season.

In a statement, the Astros announced that they were launching an investigation in conjunction with Major League Baseball into allegations that they used a camera in center field and a tunnel monitor to steal the signs of opposing pitchers.

Notably, there is no denial here. Perhaps the Astros have learned a lesson from the disastrous PR fallout of their initial statement defending former executive Brandon Taubman.

There’s certainly a lot of intrigue here, and a lack of clarity where this leads. The Red Sox were fined for using an Apple Watch to steal signs in 2017, but that was not as elaborate and also discovered immediately. It will be interesting to see if the Astros may face some sort of retroactive punishment, and how harsh it would be.

Carlos Beltran says Astros stole signs in 2017, but only from second base

One member of the Houston Astros’ 2017 championship team is responding to the allegations that the team illegally stole signs that year.

On Tuesday, New York mets manager Carlos Beltran reacted to the claims made by ex-Houston teammate Mike Fiers, among other unnamed players on that team, that a video camera in the Minute Maid Park outfield was used by the Astros as part of an illegal sign-stealing operation that year.

“I’m not aware of that camera,” he said, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post. “We were studying the opposite team every day … “We took a lot of pride studying pitchers [on] the computer. That is the only technology that I use and understand. It was fun seeing guys get to the ballpark to look for little details.”

The former nine-time All-Star also acknowledged that the Astros did indeed steal signs but only from second base.

“The game of baseball for years, guys have given location and if the catchers get lazy and the pitcher doesn’t cover the signs from second base [then] of course players are going to take advantage,” he added. “I don’t call that cheating. I call that using small details to take advantage. I think baseball is doing a great job adding new technology to make sure the game is even for both teams. It’s easy to blame someone when they win.”

Beltran, who was hired by the Mets earlier this month, was only with the Astros for that 2017 season, not counting his prior stint with them back in 2004. The team won the World Series that year, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games, and marking Beltran’s only career championship.

Houston has already launched an investigation into the allegations, and we may be hearing from several other members of that 2017 team before long.

Gabe Kapler hired by Giants to be team’s next manager

Gabe Kapler

The San Francisco Giants were down to some finalists in their search for a new manager and have decided on Gabe Kapler.

The Giants were looking for a replacement for Bruce Bochy, who announced he would retire after the 2019 season (though he still may want to manage in the future). They were down to Joe Espada, Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro, and Kapler in their search, and decided on Kapler.

Kapler, who worked in the Dodgers’ front office at the same time as Farhan Zaidi, was said to be Zaidi’s choice all along.

Here is Zaidi’s statement on hiring Kapler:

Kapler played 12 seasons in the bigs and managed the Phillies the last two seasons. He was fired after going 161-163 in his two seasons.

MLB execs expect at least one superstar to be traded during winter

Mookie Betts

A number of MLB superstars have been mentioned as possible trade targets this offseason, and apparently executives are anticipating that at least one big move will be made on that front before the start of the 2020 season.

Multiple MLB team executives told Jon Morosi of MLB.com that they expect at least one of Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant or Francisco Lindor to be moved this winter.

Franchises typically build around players like Betts, Bryant and Lindor, all of who were All-Stars last season. However, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs are looking to trim payroll this winter, and Betts and Bryant are projected to command massive salaries in arbitration. Betts has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining while Bryant has two. The Red Sox have already admitted that keeping Betts and slugger JD Martinez in 2020 and beyond would be difficult, and Martinez chose not to opt out of his contract.

The Cubs could explore other possibilities for trades to retool under new manager David Ross, and Betts seems more likely to be traded than Bryant.

Cleveland is in a slightly different position. While the Red Sox and Cubs want to trim payroll to remain under the luxury tax, the Indians play in a much smaller market and have never had the payroll of teams like Boston and Chicago. Lindor is not set to hit free agency until after the 2021 season, but owner Paul Dolan already hinted that the team will not be able to keep him for long. We have heard of one team that could pursue Lindor if the Indians decide to move on from the star shortstop.

Report: Gerrit Cole is Phillies’ top free agent target

Gerrit Cole

The Philadelphia Phillies made one of the biggest splashes on the free agent market last year by adding Bryce Harper. It looks like they may be poised to do something similar this year.

According to Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Phillies plan to focus on upgrading their rotation this offseason and have made free agent pitcher Gerrit Cole their top target. The Phillies may also look at other free agent starters if they have to, and could add multiple arms, though it’s not clear if they would both be top-tier arms.

The Phillies have made improving their starting pitching the top priority of the offseason. It was a problem spot for them last season, as Phillies starters posted a 4.64 ERA. Only Aaron Nola had an ERA under 4 among Philadelphia starters.

Cole is coming off a Cy Young-caliber season that saw him post a 2.50 ERA. He should be in very high demand, though there’s been some indication that Philadelphia might not fit with one of his preferences for his free agent destination.

Report: Zack Wheeler has interest from three teams

The New York Mets look poised to lose starting pitcher Zack Wheeler in free agency.

According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, Wheeler is likely to reject the Mets’ $17.8 million qualifying offer amid free agent interest elsewhere. Wheeler has preliminary interest from the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, and San Diego Padres.

There is some belief that Wheeler could become the consensus third-best starter on the market behind Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, and he could be a backup choice for teams who fail to land either of them. That’s down to Wheeler’s relative youth — he doesn’t turn 30 until next May — and his success when healthy. He posted a 3.96 ERA last year.

In addition to the aforementioned teams, there’s an NL East team that reportedly has its eyes on Wheeler. He looks like he’ll be an in-demand starter.

Report: Blue Jays could be open to trading Lourdes Gurriel Jr

Lourdes Gurriel

Lourdes Gurriel Jr looked like a core building block for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, but this winter just might prove otherwise.

Scott Mitchell of TSN Sports reported Monday that the Jays could be open to moving the 26-year-old slugger, especially if it yields the right rotation arm.

Gurriel had a strong year in 2019, hitting .277 with 20 home runs and 50 RBIs in just 84 games. He is on an extremely team-friendly deal, under contract through 2023 and owed less than $18 million total over that span.

Granted, Toronto has enough young offensive firepower (Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, etc.) that Gurriel may actually be expendable. They also had one of the worst rotations in the league last season and recently traded away their best pitcher.