Daily Dose: Pena's unique season ends

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Carlos Pena’s strange season came to an end Monday when CC Sabathia broke two fingers on his left hand with a fastball in the first inning. Pena will miss the remaining four weeks after hitting .227/.356/.537 with 39 homers and 100 RBIs in 135 games, leaving him with the highest OPS in baseball history among players with a sub-.230 batting average. In fact, it isn’t even close.
On the strength of 39 homers, 25 doubles, and 87 walks Pena finishes with an .893 OPS. No one else has cracked even .830 while hitting under .230 and qualifying for the batting title, and Gene Tenace in 1978, Roy Cullenbine in 1947, and Pat Seerey in 1946 are the only guys to top .800. Pena also narrowly missed finishing with more homers (39) than singles (41), which is just Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire territory.
While the Rays turn to Willy Aybar to replace one of the AL’s most productive hitters, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin is getting a few games off this week after struggling recently, so Chris Carpenter took matters into his own hands Monday afternoon with a complete-game shutout versus the Brewers. Jody Gerut’s double in the fifth inning was the lone hit allowed by Carpenter, who needed just 99 pitches to record 27 outs and racked up double-digit strikeouts for the third time this season.
His first shutout since 2006 and 11th straight victory allowed Carpenter to pass Zack Greinke for MLB’s lowest ERA at 2.16 and he trails only teammate Adam Wainwright in wins with 16. Tim Lincecum once seemed like a lock for back-to-back Cy Youngs, but he’s now 13-5 with a 2.34 ERA and 233/55 K/BB ratio in 200 innings compared to Carpenter at 16-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 129/30 K/BB ratio in 167 frames.
* Jamie Moyer was bumped from the Phillies’ rotation for Pedro Martinez last month, but came up big when called upon to make a spot start Monday. J.A. Happ suffered a strained oblique muscle while taking batting practice over the weekend, so Moyer stepped in for him Monday afternoon and held the Astros to two runs over six innings before Chan Ho Park blew what would’ve been his first win as a starter since July.
AL Quick Hits: Josh Hamilton (back) will be sidelined until at least the weekend after receiving a second root-nerve injection Monday … Tim Wakefield (back) has been scratched from his Friday start and will likely be given the next two weeks off … Mark Buehrle threw seven innings of one-run ball Monday to win for the first time since his perfect game on July 23 … Zack Greinke will get some extra rest after throwing 125 pitches Saturday … Aaron Hill left Monday’s game after three innings when his wife went into labor … CC Sabathia and Matt Garza got stuck with no-decisions Monday by matching each other with seven innings of one-run ball … Brett Gardner came off the shelf Monday and will resume splitting time with Melky Cabrera … Josh Beckett lost Monday, but turned in his first Quality Start since August 12 … Billy Butler went deep twice Monday and is hitting .300 with 59 extra-base hits … Jed Lowrie (wrist) returned from the disabled list Monday, but will be eased back into the lineup.
NL Quick Hits: Brad Penny tossed seven innings of two-run ball Monday, making him 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA for the Giants … Carlos Marmol is now 6-for-6 converting saves since taking over at closer following Monday’s perfect inning … Ryan Braun missed Monday’s game with a sore shoulder and Mike Cameron (hamstring) will be out until at least Friday, but Corey Hart (appendicitis) is due back Tuesday … Troy Tulowitzki exited Monday’s game with a strained back … Kyle Lohse came off the shelf Monday and is slated to start Saturday, but will be available in relief for now … Chris Young followed up Sunday’s three-homer game with another bomb Monday … Dave Bush figures to remain in the rotation after Monday’s outing was his first Quality Start since May 19 … Casey Blake (hamstring) sat out a third straight game Monday as Ronnie Belliard went 3-for-4 with a homer in his place … Freddy Sanchez returned from the disabled list Monday, so Juan Uribe shifted to third base and drove in five runs.

Report: Koji Uehara close to signing with the Cubs

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game three of the American League Divison Series at Fenway Park on October 10, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports, citing a source as well as Nikkan Sports, that reliever Koji Uehara is close to signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Cubs.

Uehara, 41, finished the 2016 season with a 3.45 ERA and a 63/11 K/BB ratio over 47 innings. He missed some time in the second half with a strained right pectoral muscle. When Uehara returned from the disabled list on September 7, he tossed 11 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks through the end of the regular season. So there’s at least some evidence, albeit in a very small sample size, that Uehara has stuff left in the tank.

The Cubs recently acquired closer Wade Davis from the Royals. Uehara would join Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Jr., Justin Grimm, and Mike Montgomery in what is once again a very deep bullpen.

MLB implements another player-unfriendly rule, this time targeting draftees

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 28:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to the media before Game Three of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jon Morosi of MLB Network and FOX Sports reports that the MLB draft has a new program in which the top-50 pitching prospects are asked to undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI on their throwing arm. At first glance, it seems reasonable because, hey, pitchers are injury-prone and players sometimes hide injuries. It would feel bad if my favorite team drafted a lemon!

The reality is that this is just another player-unfriendly rule that shifts financial risk away from the owners and onto the players. The players, in this case, are often not wealthy and are about to begin life in the minor leagues where they earn less than $8,000 per year. Signing bonuses help alleviate some of the immediate financial discomfort of minor league life.

The pre-draft MRI is “voluntary” with quotes around it. Choosing not to undergo the MRI will only give prospective teams more reason to be skeptical of one’s durability. It’s a lot like those voluntary workouts in football that aren’t so voluntary due to superior and peer pressure. You don’t show up, you’re lazy, entitled, a bad teammate, etc. In this case, a pitching prospect refuses to undergo the MRI, it’s because he’s hiding an injury.

Ian Anderson was the first pitcher taken off the board in the 2016 draft, going to the Braves at No. 3. He got a $4 million signing bonus. Let’s say this new MRI program had already been instituted and Anderson refused, or something came up that caused the Braves to change their minds. Anderson’s draft stock falls, let’s say to 21 where the Blue Jays took T.J. Zeuch with a $2.175 million signing bonus. Falling 18 spots in this case costs Anderson about $2 million, perhaps more because he loses a lot of negotiating leverage. Maybe he falls further, even to the second round.

In a column for FanGraphs nearly two years ago, Nathaniel Grow showed that, as a percentage of total league revenues, player salaries have been declining since the early 2000’s. In 2002, player salaries made up 56 percent of league revenues. In 2014, it was only 38 percent.

In isolation, the MRI program isn’t a big deal. The injured player loses stock, but another player moves up to take his place and earns a bit more money. As part of the bigger picture, however, this is part of an ongoing trend in which owners abdicate financial risk and push it all onto the players. The new collective bargaining agreement, for example, capped international signings at $5-6 million per team per year. That removes any incentive for overseas stars like Shohei Otani from coming over to play Major League Baseball. If he wanted to anyway, he would make much less money than he otherwise would on an open market. The amateur draft itself is almost entirely risk-avoidant for owners and it’s terrible for the players because they, too, would earn much more on an open market. And let’s not forget how owners have fought tooth-and-nail to keep minor league salaries suppressed.

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick once paid $2.8 million for the Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. Let’s not act like these owners can’t afford to shoulder the risk on young pitchers.

EDIT (4:40 PM EST): As I’ve seen others mention it, it’s worth bringing up the Astros/Brady Aiken issue. The Astros took him first in the 2014 draft, but they took issue with his elbow health. The two sides had agreed to a $6.5 million signing bonus, but the Astros wanted to reduce it to $5 million as a result. Aiken didn’t end up signing with the Astros. He underwent Tommy John surgery and was later selected by the Indians 17th overall in the first round of the 2015 draft. He got a $2,513,280 signing bonus.