Kaz Matsui may be out of a job in Houston

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Astros manager Brad Mills is being non-committal about whether Jeff Keppinger has taken the second base job from Kaz Matsui, but it certainly seems like Matsui is now the backup.

Mills was asked if Matsui is now the utility guy: “I
don’t want to label it that way yet. We’re still just a dozen games into
the season. Let’s wait and see how everything plays out. I’m congnizant
to get (Matsui) out there and get him on a roll. It’s tough, but it’s
tough to not get the other guy (Keppinger) out there.”

 The “other guy” is hitting .371/.450/.486.  He and Michael Bourn are the only two Astros even pretending to hit, so it makes sense that Keppinger continues to get playing time.

Still, the more playing time Keppinger gets, the more he’ll start to look like what Kaz Matsui will give the Astros with more playing time himself. Ask the Reds who, after Keppinger had a fairly spectacular 267 at bats in 2007, tried to make him into a full time player the following year. The results: .266/.310/.346. Some of that was no doubt due to a knee injury he got in May of that year, but a lot of it was simply a function of him being exposed as something less than a full time player.

Keppinger more or less kills lefties, but if you give the guy 500 plate appearances, he’s not going to do much more for you than Matsui is going to do. In light of that it makes sense for Mills not to make some big announcement regarding who the starting second baseman is, play the hot hand and enjoy Keppinger’s production while it lasts.

Robinson Cano hit his 300th home run last night

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Last night Robinson Cano hit a solo homer in the ninth inning of the Mariners’ loss to the Texas Rangers. It was his 22nd on the season. Though it was insignificant to the outcome of that game, it was significant to Cano: it was his 300th career homer.

While we’ve become accustomed to not caring much about home run milestones south of, say, 500, 300 homers for Cano is a big deal, as he’s only the third second baseman to cross that threshold in baseball history. The other two: Jeff Kent, at 377, and Rogers Hornsby at 301.

Cano, who turns 35 next month, has a career line of .305/.354/.495 and 1,179 RBI, 512 doubles and 33 triples to go with those bombs. He’s in his 13th big league season and still has six more years left on his deal with the Mariners. He’s averaged 24 homers a year since coming to the Mariners. While he’ll obviously trail off at some point — and while great second baseman’s have this weird habit of just suddenly falling off a cliff — it’s highly likely that he’ll finish his career as the all-time home run leader among second baseman. If he remains healthy he should also get over 3,000 hits in his career.

Cooperstown, here he comes.

Reds sign catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year deal

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Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports that the Reds have signed catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year contract extension. The terms: $16 million total, with a $7.5 million club option for the 2022 season that has a $500,000 buyout. He also received a $1.75 million signing bonus.

The deal buys out all three of his arbitration years — he was going to be eligible for the first time this offseason — and the first year of his potential free agency. The club option buys a second. Barnhart made $575,000 this season.

Barnhart, 26, is finishing his second season as the Reds primary catcher. This year he’s hitting .272/.349/.399 with six homers and 42 RBI in 113 games. For his career he has a line of .257/.328/.366 in 330 major league games. His real value is defensive, however. He leads the National League in caught stealing percentage and number of base stealers caught (31-for-70, 44%) and leads all players at any position in the league in defensive WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com.