Rangers take $5 million gamble on Colby Lewis' return from Japan

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Colby Lewis was one of the game’s best pitching prospects while coming up through the Rangers’ farm system, with Baseball America ranking him as their No. 32 overall prospect in 2003, sandwiched between Adrian Gonzalez at 31 and Josh Hamilton at 33.
That season he made 26 starts for the Rangers as a 23-year-old rookie, posting a hideous 7.30 ERA while opponents batted .317 with a .952 OPS in 127 innings. Shoulder surgery followed in early 2004 and Lewis didn’t return to the majors for 27 months. Over the next two seasons he was let go by the Rangers, Tigers, Nationals, A’s, and Royals while posting a 6.20 ERA in 40.2 innings as a reliever. And then that was it.
Lewis headed for Japan, but after back-to-back dominant (and healthy) seasons for the Hiroshima Carp he returned to the United States last month and has re-signed with the Rangers. Lewis inked a two-year, $5 million deal with a $3.25 million team option for 2012, and yesterday Texas general manager Jon Daniels made it clear that he’s guaranteed a spot in the rotation going into spring training:

We expect Colby to be one of five in our Opening Day rotation. This was not the development program we had in mind. It may be a little different path, but he has had a lot of success and a lot of experiences that make us feel that Colby will be a strong addition to our staff.

Lewis has the seventh-worst ERA in baseball history among pitchers with at least 200 career innings, but the former first-round pick is still just 30 years old and went 26-17 with a 2.82 ERA and exceptional 369/46 K/BB ratio over 354 innings in Japan. Had a Japanese-born pitcher posted those same numbers he’d have little trouble finding a deal for more than $5 million. For example, Kenshin Kawakami got $23 million from the Braves last offseason and Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Dodgers for $35 million two winters ago.
MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan notes that the Yankees, Twins, A’s, and Pirates were also interested in Lewis, but his familiarity with the Rangers and a guaranteed spot in the rotation no doubt led to a Texas return. Perhaps he’ll struggle again, but if you view Lewis as simply a pitcher who performed extremely well in Japan for two years rather than a former prospect bust it certainly makes sense for the Rangers to take a $5 million risk.

Watch: Mike Trout ties MLB record with his 25th home run

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It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:

In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.

Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.

Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.

Blue Jays acquire Tom Koehler from Marlins

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The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.

The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.

Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.