Smoltz hits the links, with eye on U.S. Open

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john smoltz headshot red sox.jpgEven though he has yet to find a team interested in his services for the 2010 season, John Smoltz isn’t ready to call it quits. He might, however, be getting a head start on a post-baseball career on the golf course.

Smoltz, a future Hall of Fame pitcher who is working as a broadcaster for MLB Network and Turner Sports while he ponders retiring from baseball, is preparing to play in his first U.S. Open local qualifier next Monday. He’ll be among 9,000-plus golfers playing at 111 different courses, all with a dream of playing in the U.S. Open.

If he makes it out of the first round, he’ll compete in a 36-hole sectional qualifier event held at 33 different courses on June 7. Only a few from that round will play in the U.S. Open.
Smoltz, 43, tells Mark Bowman of MLB.com that he doesn’t expect to be among the handful of players to end up qualifying for the major.

But he’s no slouch as a golfer, and he’s taking it very seriously as valuable experience in his goal to someday play on the Champions Tour.

“The other day somebody asked what I thought my chances of qualifying were and I said, ‘They’re impossible,” Smoltz said. “But I still feel like I can do something neat.”

With a 2-handicap and the confidence created by multiple rounds of 65 that he has completed this year, Smoltz will tee off at the Marietta Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga., next week with the understanding that he is at least capable of advancing to the next round.

“I want to see what it’s like,” Smoltz said. “Maybe I’ll throw a strange number out there and then see what happens. It’s really just an experience. This year, I really haven’t been able to wake up and gear up to compete like this. It’s going to be fun. “

Smoltz is correct in thinking his chances of qualifying for the U.S. Open are highly unlikely. He’ll be facing a field filled with college stars, club pros, seasoned players who have lost their PGA Tour cards … guys who play golf all the time.

Smoltz has handled the big stage plenty of times in his baseball career, but this is – literally – a whole new ball game. Still, I’ll be rooting for him to do well. After all, his attempt will be much cooler than this.

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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.