Phillies decline to upgrade, sign Castro for bench

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juan castro.jpgBecause the market for shortstops long past their primes was suddenly short an Omar Vizquel, the Phillies simply didn’t dare wait any longer. On just the fifth day of free agency, they agreed to terms with 37-year-old Juan Castro.
Sadly enough, Castro is coming off one of his better offensive seasons, as he hit .277/.311/.339 in 112 at-bats for the Dodgers. The 650 OPS was just a bit off his career-best mark of 678 from 2003. He’s a career .230/.270/.332 hitter in 2,484 at-bats over 15 seasons.
In his prime, Castro was an excellent defensive shortstop, but his bat was still so weak that he’s never received more than 320 at-bats in a season. These days, his range has mostly evaporated. UZR has rated him well below average at shortstop in his limited action there the last two seasons. He can still cover second and third well enough, but so can dozens of minor leaguers capable of running circles around him offensively.
The Phillies will have Castro replace Eric Bruntlett, who also wasn’t much of a shortstop or a hitter. So, it’s not a move that’s going to have any real effect on their ability to make it back to the World Series next year. Omar Quintanilla and Brian Barden have more to offer than Castro and probably would have come cheaper than the $1 million or so Castro is getting, but given that Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins hardly ever sit out when healthy, it probably wasn’t worth spending $2 million or so to bring in a quality backup like Craig Counsell or Juan Uribe. Even if one of the two does get hurt, it’s typically pretty easy and inexpensive to acquire middle infielders during July and August.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.