Catcher J.R. Towles the fall guy for Astros' abysmal start

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j.r. towles.jpgJ.R. Towles had to know his margin for error was pretty slim at the start of the year. That he beat out 2008 first-round pick Jason Castro for a starting job was partly a financial decision — the Astros had quite a bit to gain there by sending Castro down for another two months — and partly a nod to the fact that, at age 26, he deserved one final chance to show the organization what he could do.
That chance figured to extend two months. After June 1, the Astros could call up Castro without fear that he’d be a free agent after 2015 or arbitration eligible after 2012.
But what no one counted on was the Astros’ 8-18 start. And since the team has so many expensive veterans locked into jobs, there was no easy way to get to the root of the problem. Becausee doing nothing was no longer an option, Towles was sent down on Tuesday and replaced by light-hitting veteran Kevin Cash.
It’s a ridiculous move designed only to show that GM Ed Wade isn’t asleep at the wheel. A change for the sake of making a change. Towles was hitting .191/.235/.319 this season, but it was just 47 at-bats. Despite starting only 13 of the Astros’ 26 games, he was third on the team with eight RBI.
Humberto Quintero, now the Astros’ starting catcher, has been worse than Towles, hitting .214/.250/.286 with three RBI in his 42 at-bats. The 30-year-old Quintero is a career .231/.273/.322 hitter in 590 major leaguer at-bats. Cash, 32, has hit .186/.248/.287 in his 527 at-bats.
When it comes to defense, Quintero is almost certainly an upgrade over Towles. Towles, though, had been far from bad this year. He was 3-for-11 throwing out basestealers, and he hadn’t allowed any passed balls. His catcher ERA of 4.55 was higher than Quintero’s 4.01 mark, but that’s due the fact that the Spanish-speaking Quintero was used as the personal catcher for Spanish-speaking No. 2 starter Wandy Rodriguez.
In the long run, it’s really not going to matter. Castro is the future, even though he’s been quite a disappointment while hitting .221/.369/.250 in 68 at-bats for Triple-A Round Rock. Quintero is just keeping his seat warm. Towles was likely on his way out of the organization even if he came through with a solid 2010 as a starter. Of course, any chance that he’d have some actual trade value now appears to be gone.

Report: Marlins intent on adding a big-three reliever

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 28:  Aroldis Chapman #54 of the Chicago Cubs pitches in the 9th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the White Sox 3-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Marlins are intent on adding one of the three best relievers available on the free agent market, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports. Those three, of course, are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon.

As Ashley noted earlier, Melancon is reportedly fielding multiple four-year offers in excess of $60 million. The price tags for Chapman and Jansen are likely to match or exceed that. The Marlins haven’t typically been eager to whip out the checkbook for free agents but with the bullpen being the name of the game in baseball these days, GM Michael Hill may feel the need to match his rivals.

The Nationals, Giants, Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers are the teams most often linked to the “big-three” group of relievers, so it won’t be easy for the Marlins.

A.J. Ramos handled the closer’s role for the Marlins this past season and did an admirable job, saving 40 games with a 2.81 ERA and a 73/35 K/BB ratio in 64 innings. There’s no doubt, though, that Chapman, Jansen, or Melancon would represent a significant upgrade in the ninth inning.

Bryan Price likely to use Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani, and Michael Lorenzen in closer’s role

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Raisel Iglesias throws in the first inning of their opening day baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Reds manager Bryan Price is likely going to use a trio of pitchers in the closer’s role: Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani, and Michael Lorenzen. At RedsFest on Saturday, Price said:

I’d say right now that we have a series of guys that I’m comfortable with in the ninth inning and that would include (Raisel) Iglesias, (Tony) Cingrani and (Michael Lorenzen). Should we stay with this format – which I intend to do – all three of those guys and maybe more could have opportunities in save situations. At this point in time, there’s no defined closer. There are multiple options and I’d like to stick with the philosophy that we’re going to have our multi-inning guys, so we’re going to need multi-closers.

This seems to be part of the new bullpen zeitgeist in which managers are shying away from strictly-defined roles for their relievers. Indians manager Terry Francona’s postseason success using Andrew Miller likely had some degree of influence on Price’s willingness to go with a three-headed giant.

Iglesias started the 2016 season in the Reds’ rotation but missed two months with an injury, then moved to the bullpen in late June. Price put him in the closer’s role down the stretch in September. The right-hander overall finished the season with a 2.53 ERA and an 83/26 K/BB ratio in 78 1/3 innings.

Cingrani battled control issues in his 63 innings of work this past season, finishing with a 4.14 ERA and a 49/37 K/BB ratio. He’s left-handed, though, and gives Price some matchup flexibility in the late innings.

Lorenzen impressed in his first full season as a reliever, ending the year with a 2.88 ERA and a 48/13 K/BB ratio in 50 innings. The right-hander uses a fastball that sits around 96 MPH on average along with a cutter and slider.