The Week Ahead: Hey, isn't that Johnny Damon?

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damon-100509.jpgIt’s reunion time in Detroit as the New York Yankees come to town to take on the Tigers. And this means the Yankees get a chance to see Johnny Damon and show him how little they miss him.

OK, so that’s a bit harsh, but at 21-9, New York is cruising right along. Remember the hand wringing when the Bronx Bombers decided to save their Damon money and go with Brett Gardner/Marcus Thames/Randy Winn in left field? Yeah, that was all for a whole lot of nothing wasn’t it?

The Yankees and Tigers already met up in spring training, but the contests in this four-game series count, so I doubt we’ll see any applause from A-Rod this time around.

Damon, who played a huge role in the Yankees’ championship run last season, is having a fine year so for in Detroit, hitting .302/.409/.443 with 22 runs and 14 RBIs as the Tigers sit at 17-14.

Curtis Granderson, the former Tiger acquired by the Yankees in the offseason, will reluctantly miss the trip as he works to heal from a strained groin.

“I was looking forward to seeing friends and teammates that I haven’t talked to over there,” Granderson said. “I’ve got to stay back and get better. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything; I’d still be inside getting treatment.”

In addition to a reunion with Damon, the Yankees will get a nice up-close look at Austin Jackson, the player they sent to Detroit in the Granderson deal. Jackson is hitting .370 with nine doubles, three triples and a home run in 29 games for the Tigers.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Nationals at Mets, May 10-12:
Believe it or not, this is a good matchup in the standings, as both teams are 17-14, two games behind the NL East-leading Phillies. Enjoy it while you can, fellas.

A’s at Rangers, May 11-13: Where are the Angels and Mariners? Battling it out for cellar space, that’s where. These two are your top two AL West teams – at least for the moment – with  the Rangers (18-14) holding a slim lead over the A’s (17-15). Both teams are getting some surprisingly good pitching.

Padres at Giants, May 11-13: Neither of these teams figured to have enough offense to compete this season, but that should only serve to teach us not to figure. San Diego (19-12) is tied for the second best record in the NL, with the Giants just a half-game behind.

Twins at Yankees, May 14-16: The Yankees can’t go after Joe Mauer anymore, so they’ll just try to be unfriendly hosts and steal some games over the weekend instead. These Twins, however, don’t look like the same old team the Yankees always seem to beat up on in the playoffs.

Indians at Orioles, May 14-16: They can’t all be Yankees-Red Sox, right? Both of these teams are pretty bad, but that could make for some entertaining viewing in itself. And if the game itself doesn’t make you laugh, maybe the postgame show will.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Astros at Giants (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mariners at Rays (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.: Twins at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

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Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.