Pujols tired of just homering, now calling his shots

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Albert Pujols went 4-for-5 with two homers, a double, and six RBIs
yesterday, including a game-breaking grand slam that he apparently
“called” shortly before the at-bat:

After opening the third inning with a fly out, Pujols returned to
the Cardinals clubhouse to review video. There he predicted to
assistant hitting coach Mike Aldrete that his next at-bat would
ricochet off the yet-to-open Royals Hall of Fame behind the visitors
bullpen in left field. “He didn’t say he might hit the Hall of Fame. He
said he would hit the Hall of Fame,” Aldrete recalled.

Pujols returned in the fourth inning against Royals starting pitcher
Gil Meche with the bases loaded and one out in a 4-4 game. Pujols and
Meche reached a full count. By then Meche had shown Pujols every pitch
in his repertoire except a change-up. When Meche finally threw the
pitch, Pujols swatted it some 423 feet off a Hall of Fame window.

Not quite Babe Ruth territory,
but amusing nonetheless. Actually, my favorite part of the whole story
is how Pujols’ teammates reacted when asked about his grand slam after
the game. Here are some examples …

Kyle McClellan: “If it’s 3-2 and he gets a strike, he’s going to hit it. He’s going to drive it. There’s not a question.”

Adam Wainwright: “Face it, I’m playing with the best player of all
time. It’s ridiculous. You almost have to focus on what you’re doing
because you can get caught up in what he’s doing. He’s that good.”

Khalil Greene: “He makes it look easy. I mean, how many guys in the league try to do that?”

Skip Schumaker: “After the second home run we just laughed. It’s
just so easy. It’s a higher level. It’s like he’s here and everybody
else is at Triple-A.”

One of the surest signs of greatness is when the amazing becomes
routine, and judging by those quotes from his teammates Pujols has
definitely reached that stage. Even setting aside the whole “called
shot” aspect yesterday’s grand slam was his third in four at-bats with
the bases loaded this season and tied him with Stan Musial for the most
in Cardinals history with nine.

Pujols is hitting .329 and leads the league in on-base percentage
(.448), slugging percentage (.722), and OPS (1.169) while being on a
60-homer, 160-RBI pace. As manager Tony La Russa put it: “He does it
over and over again. It’s impossible to describe how great he is.”

Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.