Underrated Loretta retires to join Pads front office

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After playing 15 seasons in the majors Mark Loretta retired this week and immediately joined the Padres’ front office as a special assistant to the baseball operations staff.
Loretta has lived in San Diego since having the best stretch of his career as the Padres’ starting second baseman from 2003-2005 and also knows new general manager Jed Hoyer from their season together with the Red Sox in 2006, so it was an easy decision:

When you say the word retirement, it sounds like your retiring from life. I’m looking at this as the next step. I’m interested in how teams market themselves and business development. We don’t have anything set in stone. Jed is allowing me to experience and learn a whole different side of things. I’m looking at this year as an open-ended situation. I think that it will allow me to make decision on what I want to do.

In other words Loretta will get a taste of front office life this season and then decide if he wants to stay behind the scenes or pursue another on-field career as a hitting coach or manager. As for his playing career, Loretta was often perceived as a super-utility man because of his defensive versatility, but he was more than that as a two-time All-Star and career .295 hitter who walked nearly as often (555) as he struck out (605).
In fact, since the mound was lowered in 1969 only 12 middle infielders have logged at least 5,000 career plate appearances with a higher on-base percentage than Loretta at .360. The complete list: Joe Morgan, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Chuck Knoblauch, Willie Randolph, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Bobby Grich, Luis Castillo, Craig Biggio, Lou Whitaker, and Nomar Garciaparra. Some pretty decent company for a guy most casual fans have probably never even heard of.

Astros sign Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Carlos Beltran #36 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The Astros have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent DH/outfielder Carlos Beltran for a one-year, $16 million contract, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The deal includes a complete no-trade clause, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Beltran elected to return to the Astros after fielding offers from the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. He appeared in Houston during the second half of 2004, batting .258/.368/.559 with 23 home runs in 399 PA and making his first postseason run to the tune of a .435 average and eight homers as the Astros battled their way through to a seven-game loss in the Championship Series. Beltran also played with Houston manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora in separate stints with the Royals and Mets, which the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan cited as possible influences in the Astros’ decision to pursue the free agent.

In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers after getting dealt at the deadline for a package of right-handed pitching prospects. He was stationed in right field for the majority of his time in New York, but was almost exclusively utilized as a designated hitter over 52 games in Texas. Between the two clubs, he batted an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers and earned his ninth career All-Star designation to boot.

The veteran slugger is expected to fill a similar role on the Astros, who need a full-time DH but could use some additional support in the outfield corner. Olney envisions a lineup with Beltran in the five-spot, per an earlier report:

Rays and Braves reportedly interested in Welington Castillo

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Catcher Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks on Friday, making him one of 35 additional players to enter the free agent pool. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Castillo was drawing interest from the Rays, among a bevy of major league clubs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien added that the Braves have “some interest” as well.

The Rays’ trifecta of catchers — Curt Casali, Luke Maile, and Bobby Wilson — did little to inspire confidence behind the plate in 2016, and with top free agent Wilson Ramos sidelined after suffering a torn ACL in September, it makes sense that they’d explore more affordable options. Castillo profiled well at the plate during his first full season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs in 457 PA. Behind the dish, he placed third among all qualified major league catchers with seven DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), though his league-leading 10 passed balls weren’t anything to write home about.

Unlike the Rays, the Braves have a serviceable catching platoon in Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Beyond that, their catching depth is fairly shallow despite the recent addition of former Mariners’ outfield prospect Alex Jackson. Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley, has not played behind the plate since high school, though GM John Coppolella is reportedly interested in trying him there again. A.J. Pierzynski is also rumored to be seeking a deal elsewhere in free agency, which could open the door for a multi-year deal with Castillo.