$3 million down the drain for Astros

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Apparently satisfied with finishing in fifth place, the Astros have opted to pick up Brian Moehler’s $3 million option rather than exercise a $250,000 buyout.
It was actually a mutual option — the kind that never seems to get exercised — but Moehler was quick to jump all over the kindhearted gesture. Certainly, no one else was going to be quick to pay him $3 million after a season in which he went 8-12 with a 5.47 ERA and averaged only 5 1/3 innings per start.
Because he averaged so few innings per start, he missed qualifying for the ERA title and finishing with what would have been the NL’s worst ERA over Livan Hernandez.
Moehler had more runs allowed than strikeouts this season. He had more than twice as many hits allowed as strikeouts. He even got worse as the year went on, finishing 1-6 with a 6.12 ERA during August and September. In those two months, he allowed 73 hits, walked 21 and struck out 28 in 57 1/3 innings.
There’s just so little upside here. Moehler turns 38 this winter. He hasn’t had an ERA under 4.50 as a starter since 1998. He hasn’t qualified for the ERA title since 2000. He’s spent his entire career pitching for clubs that were average or worse, largely because he’s always been average or worse.
But this is Ed Wade for you. There’s a modest chance Moehler will be worth the $3 million he makes next year, but it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll be worth more and quite possible that he’ll find himself off the roster by June 1. When the Astros spend next year whining about how they can’t afford to take on more payroll, remember this completely unnecessary move. There’s little doubt the Astros could have had Moehler back for $1 million had they just exercised a little patience.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.