Daily Dose: Tigers get Huff from Orioles

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Detroit added Aubrey Huff to the mix Monday, sending 2008 fourth-round pick Brett Jacobson to Baltimore for the 32-year-old veteran. Huff was one of the best hitters in baseball last season, but has seen his OPS drop nearly 200 points this year while batting .253/.321/.405 in 110 games. Those numbers would be Huff’s worst since he was a rookie in 2001, so he figures to bounce back, especially versus righties.
However, finding a spot for him defensively could prove difficult for the Tigers. Huff has played only first base and designated hitter this season, was a terrible defensive third basemen even when he was playing there regularly, and hasn’t spent a single inning in the outfield since 2006. He’s not going to bump Miguel Cabrera from first base and Carlos Guillen seems entrenched at DH, so things could get tricky.
In theory he provides a backup plan at third base should Brandon Inge’s knee issues linger, but going from Inge to Huff would be a massive downgrade defensively. His best fit is probably in left field, platooning with the right-handed Marcus Thames, but the Tigers could also use Huff as a way to lessen Magglio Ordonez’s playing time as he nears the plate appearances needed to trigger next year’s $18 million option.
While the Tigers pick up a useful left-handed hitter and the Orioles get a decent relief prospect, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Vicente Padilla signed a three-year, $33.75 million contract extension after going 15-10 with a 4.50 ERA in 200 innings spread over 33 starts in 2006, but has posted a 5.09 ERA in 70 starts since. Texas designated him for assignment last week and released him outright Monday, eating the rest of his $12 million salary for this season while dropping another $1.75 million to buy out his $12 million option for 2010.
Padilla hasn’t had an ERA below 4.50 since 2003, has dealt with several injuries that includes a recent bout with swine flu, and the Rangers’ pitching staff is significantly improved, so simply cutting him loose has little chance of keeping general manager Jon Daniels up at night. With that said, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a contender take a flier on Padilla down the stretch, because he’s still a reasonable fifth starter.
* Speaking of veteran pitchers getting released Monday, as expected the Red Sox cut John Smoltz loose. Smoltz reportedly balked at a possible move to the bullpen and the Red Sox had obviously seen enough of him as a starter after eight mostly terrible outings. He’s now free to sign anywhere and there’s speculation that at least a half-dozen teams could be vying for his services.
I’m still convinced that Smoltz can get big-league hitters out, but would certainly give him a shot in middle relief long before letting him take the mound as a starter again. He generally pitched fairly well during his first trip through the order and was pretty effective against right-handed batters, so bullpen work seems like the best remaining bet for the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer.
AL Quick Hits: No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley agreed to a last-minute deal with the Mariners that’s reportedly worth nearly $10 million … Meanwhile, the Rangers failed to sign first-round pick Matt Purke … Joe Mauer came up a triple short of the cycle Monday and also stole a base while boosting his batting average to .380 … Justin Morneau left Monday’s game with dizziness, either from the Texas heat or sickness from watching the Twins’ pitching staff … Vladimir Guerrero went deep twice and knocked in five runs Monday, giving him six long balls in 10 games … Matt Harrison (ribs) said Monday that “there’s a chance” he could pitch again this year … Francisco Liriano could be headed to the bullpen or the disabled list after coughing up seven runs in two innings Monday … Tigers first rounder Jacob Turner landed a big-league deal worth as much as $7 million, which is pretty amazing for a high-school pitcher.
NL Quick Hits: With just a few minutes remaining before Monday’s midnight signing deadline, No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals agreed to a deal that will reportedly pay him over $15 million … Tommy Hanson improved to 8-2 with another solid outing Monday and has 16 strikeouts versus zero walks in his last two starts … Garrett Jones went deep again Monday, giving the career minor leaguer 13 homers in 158 at-bats … Nate McLouth (hamstring) was placed on the disabled list Monday, so the Braves will shift Ryan Church to center field with Matt Diaz manning right field … Hiroki Kuroda (concussion) will miss his next start, but hopes to avoid the DL … Max Scherzer gave up nine runs Monday, but his own error made six of them unearned … No. 3 overall pick Donavan Tate will bypass college after inking a $6.25 million deal with the Padres … Todd Wellemeyer (elbow) has been cleared to resume throwing.

Jose Fernandez was remarkable on and off the field

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Pitcher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins poses for photos on media day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 24, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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Jose Fernandez’s love for baseball was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. It was there, alongside childhood friend and St. Louis Cardinal Aledmys Diaz, that he devoted hours to makeshift games of baseball. Often alone, often without a teammate, a playing field, or even a baseball, Fernandez would spend hours lobbing baseball-sized rocks in the air, hitting them with sticks, and circling imaginary bases.

The dream was to play in the Cuban National Series, a 16-team league that formed when the original Cuban League disbanded in 1961. When Fernandez became a teenager, however, his stepfather, Ramon Jimenez, defected to the United States. It took Jimenez 13 attempts before he made a successful escape, and soon he sent for his wife and children. Whatever baseball aspirations Fernandez had took a backseat to his own treacherous journey from Cuba to Florida.

After two unsuccessful attempts and two months in a Cuban prison, 15-year-old Fernandez, his mother, and his stepsister tried again. The voyage was tumultuous; at one point, Fernandez’s mother fell overboard. Fernandez dove in after her and helped her swim 30 yards back to the boat. It took another month and change before Fernandez was settled in Florida with his family, and from there, his baseball career appeared to flourish overnight. He enrolled in Braulio Alonso High School and pitched during two championship runs with the Florida Class 6A state champions, working a 13-1 record and 2.85 ERA in his senior year with two no-hitters.

By 2011, several weeks before his 19th birthday, Fernandez was selected by the Miami Marlins in the first round of the MLB draft. His ascension through the minor leagues was even more remarkable. In his first season with Single-A Greensboro, Fernandez contributed six innings of a combined no-hitter, pitched to a combined 1.75 ERA and 158 strikeouts between Greensboro and Advanced-A Jupiter, and was distinguished as the preeminent Marlins minor league pitcher of the year.

If the transition from Miami’s minor league circuit to the big league stage was a rocky one, Fernandez hid it well. He debuted with the Marlins on April 17, 2013, holding the Mets to five innings of one-run ball and striking out eight of 19 batters. Only six major league pitchers under 21 years old had struck out at least eight batters during their major league debut; at 20 years old, Fernandez was the seventh.

The rest of his rookie season was no less groundbreaking. Fernandez worked a 2.19 ERA, second only to Clayton Kershaw’s 1.83 mark among qualified starting pitchers, appeared in his first All-Star Game, was named Rookie of the Month in two consecutive months, and capped his year with a staggering 4.1 fWAR. The Marlins didn’t just find their next ace in Fernandez; they found one of the best starting pitchers of the decade.

This isn’t to say that Fernandez was perfect — no player is. Reports surfaced in November 2015 that the 23-year-old hurler was working under a strained relationship with the Marlins’ brass, refusing to adhere to dugout protocol and asking president of baseball operations Michael Hill when he would be traded. Per Andy Slater of slaterscoops.com, the higher-ups in the Marlins’ organization weren’t the only ones frustrated with their star pitcher. Casey McGehee reprimanded Fernandez for showing up late to the clubhouse, and unnamed players also expressed their hope that Fernandez would struggle on the mound in future starts as a consequence for his arrogant behavior.

Following the report, several players stepped forward in Fernandez’s defense. According to a report by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the worst criticism levied at Fernandez was that he occasionally acted his age. (Brian McCann, who confronted Fernandez in a benches-clearing brawl after the rookie’s first career home run, might have agreed.) Others, like right-handers Dan Haren and Tom Koehler, vocalized their support for the pitcher despite any underlying tension surrounding his potential departure.

Whether or not the rumors had merit, Fernandez was spared the chopping block during his lengthy recovery process in 2014 and 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. In 2016, he again proved his dominance on the mound. Through 186 ⅔ innings, the 24-year-old posted 16 wins, a staggering 12.49 K/9 rate, a 2.86 ERA and career-high 6.2 fWAR. It should have been just the second outstanding season of a lengthy career; instead, it was his last.

In the wake of today’s tragedy, it is difficult to dwell on Fernandez’s professional accomplishments. We know that he was more than the sum of his innings pitched in Miami, more than a feel-good story or a testament to the resilience of other players who defected from their home countries in pursuit of a better life. By all reports, he was a man of incredible courage, a cherished son and grandson, and a remarkable talent on the field. His life, as with any other, should be valued not for what he did or did not do, but simply because he existed.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Sunday’s action

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker #44 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays in the fourth inning at Safeco Field on September 19, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The last time the Mariners qualified for a postseason berth, I was eleven years old. My lone memory of the Mariners’ historic 116-win season has been reduced to a brief conversation with my father over nachos at our local Mexican restaurant. The details of our conversation are lost to me now; with an upbringing specifically tailored to Seattle Seahawks football, even the best and brightest of the Mariners’ glory days appeared as little more than a blip on my radar.

The Mariners enter Sunday with a 14% chance of securing a ticket to the playoffs. They’ll kick off the series finale at 2:10 PM EDT, during which Seattle’s Taijuan Walker will take on Minnesota lefty Hector Santiago. Neither pitcher looked dominant on the mound last week, with both Walker and Santiago lasting just 5  innings in their previous starts and giving up three runs and six runs in their respective outings.

What should have been an easy sweep for Seattle turned ugly on Saturday night as the Mariners battled their way to a 3-2 loss in Minnesota. Nelson Cruz‘s mammoth two-run homer was the only saving grace for an offense that has produced at a .263/.334/.437 clip in September. With a three-game set against the Astros on Monday and a final homestand against the A’s next weekend, it’ll take a significant push to propel the Mariners into October baseball.

Should they beat the odds and snap a 15-year playoff drought, however, I’ll be following every step of the way this time — whether the postseason goes the way of the Double or a Geronimo Berroa home run. (Just don’t make me give up my nachos.)

You can find more from Sunday’s action below.

New York Yankees (Michael Pineda) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Marco Estrada), 1:07 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi), 1:10 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 1:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Detroit Tigers (Matt Boyd), 1:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jake Thompson) @ New York Mets (Robert Gsellman), 1:10 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Braden Shipley) @ Baltimore Orioles (Dylan Bundy), 1:35 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (A.J. Cole) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Tyler Glasnow), 1:35 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 2:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Daniel Wright) @ Houston Astros (Joe Musgrove), 2:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Taijuan Walker) @ Minnesota Twins (Hector Santiago), 2:10 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Oakland Athletics (Jharel Cotton), 4:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Tyler Anderson) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Brandon McCarthy), 4:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Ty Blach) @ San Diego Padres (Clayton Richard), 4:40 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Carlos Martinez) @ Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester), 8:08 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves vs. Miami Marlins: POSTPONED