The Astros' offseason gets off to a pathetic start

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Manny Acta was drafted by the Houston Astros when he was 17 years old, spent six years toiling in their system, then spent nearly a decade coaching and managing in their system as well.  Mere weeks ago, he called the possibility of managing the Astros “too good to be true.”

And now we learn that the Astros lost out on him, not because the Indians were quicker on the draw, but because they weren’t as cheap:

Astros general manager Ed Wade confirmed on Sunday that the team made an offer to Manny Acta to be its next manager before he opted to fill the same position with Cleveland, and Wade said he was confident the club would be able to hire a quality manager.

According to sources close to the negotiations, Acta turned down the Astros’ offer of a two-year deal plus a one-year option to manage the team in favor of Cleveland’s three-year deal with a one-year option for 2013. Acta said Sunday he wouldn’t comment on contract negotiations, but Wade confirmed with he and president of baseball operations Tal Smith met with Acta on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

Maybe Manny Acta isn’t the alpha and omega of managerial candidates, but given that Acta was clearly the guy the Astros wanted, why on Earth wouldn’t they match the three years Cleveland was offering? The only possible explanation that doesn’t make the Astros look bad here is that Acta didn’t give Houston a chance to match the Indians’ offer. But that flies in the face of Acta’s previous comments regarding his desire for the Astros’ job and his reputation as a standup guy.  It’s also worth noting that, at present, no one has said that Acta didn’t give them a chance, and under these circumstances, someone probably would have said so by now if it was true.

As Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle notes, why now, after giving all kinds of money to the Carlos Lees and Mike Hamptons of the world, would the Astros draw the line at paying a manager an extra year at roughly the same rate of a middle reliever?  Does it gall them that they’re still on the hook for Cecil Cooper for $800K next year?  Why wouldn’t they do what they needed to do in order to get the man they obviously wanted?

An even bigger question: What’s the biggest problem facing the Astros these days? The lack of young talent, or the lack of front office sense?

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero
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Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.

Marlins announcer Tommy Hutton was let go because he was “too negative”

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We heard earlier this week that Marlins television analyst Tommy Hutton was let go after 19 seasons on the job. By all accounts, he’s well-liked and respected, so it smelled a little fishy with a team that has owner Jeffrey Loria calling the shots. Well, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald was told by a source close to the Marlins that Hutton was let go because he was “too negative.”

Jackson was also able to get in touch with Hutton, who provided some details about how things went down.

“I know there were times I was negative, but I thought those times were called for,” he said. “Ninety percent of what I said was positive. I tried not to be a homer, but you could tell I wanted the Marlins to do well.”

After being told that his salary wasn’t a factor in the decision, Hutton suspected that his candid, blunt analysis might be the impetus for his ouster.

So after learning his fate on Monday, he asked that question – whether they thought he was too negative — to both a Fox producer (at a meeting at Starbucks) and the Marlins’ vice president/communications (by phone).

He said the question was met with silence by both executives.

“I couldn’t get a yes or a no,” he said.

Hutton said there were three incident in recent years where he was told the Marlins were uncomfortable with something he said. He disclosed one example where he was exasperated at the ballpark’s dimensions after former catcher John Buck flew out to the warning track for the final out of a game. He was told by a Marlins vice president after the game that Loria prefer he not talk about the ballpark’s dimensions. Of course, the team is moving in the fences this winter.

To be clear, Hutton said he was told it was a “mutual decision” between the Marlins and FOX to let him go, but Jackson’s source hears that the concern about his “negativity” came from the team.

Hey, do you know the best way to prevent “negative” talk about your team? Fielding a winning baseball team without a dysfunctional ownership and front office. Crazy idea, I know, but it could be cool?