What happened to all the Twins' bunt hits?

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Last year the Twins tied the all-time MLB record
for bunt hits in a season with 68, while no other team managed even 40.
Carlos Gomez led baseball with 30, which would have ranked sixth among teams,
and Alexi Casilla was second in the AL with 16 despite playing only 98
games. Along with Gomez and Casilla combining for 46 bunt hits, Nick
Punto chipped in seven, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Matt Tolbert had
four apiece, and nearly five percent of the Twins’ total hits came via
bunt.

This season has been a much different story,
as the Twins rank just sixth in bunt hits and are on pace to finish
with fewer than half as many as they had last year. Much of the
decrease in bunt hits comes from Gomez being relegated to the bench for
32 of 77 games after starting 143 times last season and Casilla playing
his way back to Triple-A, because they obviously can’t rack up bunt
hits from the dugout or Rochester. With that said, bunting less often
even when they’re in the lineup has also been a factor.

Gomez laid down a bunt in 11 percent of his plate appearances last
year, reaching safely 45.5 percent of the time to become just the fifth
player since 1959 to bunt for at least 30 hits in a season. This year
Gomez has bunted in just six percent of his plate appearances while
reaching safely 27.3 percent of the time. In other words, he’s bunted
about half as often and done so about half as successfully. Much has
been made of Gomez’s decline at the plate, but bunting accounts for
nearly the entire change.

Gomez is hitting just .225 with a .358 slugging percentage on
non-bunts this year, which while terrible is no worse than last season
when he hit .233 with a .348 slugging percentage on non-bunts. In terms
of actual hitting
he hasn’t changed at all, but the difference is that bunts accounted
for over 20 percent of his hits last year and Gomez batted .455 when he
laid one down. This year bunts have accounted for just eight percent of
Gomez’s hits and he’s batted just .273 when he lays one down.

Twins fans have heard all about Gomez’s supposed potential
offensively since the team acquired him as the centerpiece of last
offseason’s Johan Santana trade, but through over 900 plate appearances
in the majors he’s hit .227 with a .337 slugging percentage when not
bunting. Those are putrid numbers and cast serious doubt on Gomez’s
ability to develop into an impact hitter, but the good news is that he
remains one of the game’s fastest players and is a career .433 hitter
when dropping a bunt down.

Because of his great glove in center field Gomez will always have value
regardless of how poorly he’s doing at the plate, but given his success
bunting and how horrible he’s been when swinging away it makes no sense
for him to be laying one down half as often this year. Hitting coach
Joe Vavra surely has him focusing on putting together better at-bats
and taking the ball the other way, which have the potential to make him
a competent hitter, but in the meantime his only real weapon has gone
missing.

Casilla bunted almost as often as Gomez last year, laying one down
in nine percent of his trips to the plate, and was nearly as successful
by reaching safely on 43 percent of his attempts. In addition to the
bunting Casilla was also more successful than Gomez on non-bunts,
hitting .265 with a .368 slugging percentage. Those non-bunt numbers
still weren’t good, but they’re positively Mauer-esque compared to
Casilla hitting .162 with a .210 slugging percentage on non-bunts this
season.

As a team the Twins have gone from bunting once every 36 plate
appearances and reaching safely 40 percent of the time in 2008 to
bunting once every 51 plate appearances and reaching safely 28 percent
of the time this year. That might not seem like a huge difference and
certainly the lineup’s dramatically increased power is a much more
important change overall, but when it comes to the light-hitting speed
guys like Gomez, Casilla, Tolbert, and Punto all struggling the lack of
bunts is definitely curious.

Jose Bautista: “I haven’t had to” pay for a meal in Toronto since famous bat flip

Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista flips his bat after hitting a three-run home run against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Division Series, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Arguably the most memorable moment of the 2015 season came in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the ALDS between the Blue Jays and Rangers. The game was tied 3-3, but the Jays were threatening with runners on the corners and two outs. Jose Bautista launched a 1-1 Sam Dyson fastball for a no-doubt tie-breaking three-run home run that would send the Jays into the ALCS to face the eventual world champion Royals.

Bautista didn’t immediately run to first base after hitting the home run. He admired it, looked at Dyson, and then flipped his bat triumphantly. As far as bat flips go, it was a 10 out of 10. Yasiel Puig was proud.

The six-time All-Star admitted “I haven’t had to” pay for a meal in Toronto since that moment in the ALDS, as Jonah Birenbaum notes for The Score. Bautista also served as the assistant coach for musician Drake at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. As Drew noted earlier, Bautista had a pretty nice view at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest as well.

The Jays are hopeful to sign Bautista, 35, to a multi-year extension. In six seasons since breaking out with the club in 2010, he has hit .268/.390/.555 with 227 home runs and 582 RBI in 3,604 plate appearances. No one has hit more home runs since the start of the 2010 season, as Miguel Cabrera is the closest at 199. And only Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, and Albert Pujols have driven in more runs in that span of time. It’s easy to see why, despite his age, the Jays want to keep Bautista around a little while longer.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.