Matthew and Drew covered the bases on the Diamondbacks’ firings last night, but I’m still thinking about it.
I think it’s apparent that Hinch had to go. All reports I’ve read reveal that he had lost the confidence of the clubhouse. And he maybe never had it. I was a cautious fan of his hiring last year because I’m a sucker for unconventional moves, but it’s clear now that plucking a young guy from the front office who neither (a) had any coaching experience anywhere; and (b) was never a big enough deal of a player himself to at least give him a temporary pass, credibility-wise, was a big gamble. The Diamondbacks have a lot of problems, but given how people default to blaming the manager no matter what’s happening, Hinch stuck out and his fate was sealed.
Byrnes is a more interesting case. The first take on it I read was Matthew’s. I take mild issue with some of his arguments — you’ll be shocked to learn that we don’t engage in groupthink at HBT — but there are a lot of people coming to Byrnes’ defense this morning that aren’t addressing, say, the Dan Haren trade in terms of the talent he gave up and the Dbacks’ place on the success cycle at the time or, for that matter, questioning the choice of Hinch from the point of view of risk management and self-preservation. I don’t think I would have fired Byrnes based on his transactions, but I don’t think it’s an atrocity like some people are saying this morning. There are arguments on both sides of the equation. There almost always are.
But I think one thing we can maybe all agree on is that the Diamondbacks’ ownership is lost at sea at the moment. The timing is what gets me mostly. We’re less than a month from the trade deadline and the Diamondbacks are poised to unload a lot of talent. Haren maybe. LaRoche. Kelly Johnson. Possibly Edwin Jackson. If the owners had questions about Byrnes’ ability before last night, they should have gotten rid of him before all these moves needed to happen. Of course if they did have reservations earlier, they shouldn’t have let him handle the signing of a big free agent in LaRoche and run one of the bigger trades in team history over the offseason in the Scherzer/Granderson/Austin Jackson trade.
Given his very long contract you figure ownership was willing to take the long view with Byrnes. Given that he was allowed to make those moves this past winter but can’t be trusted to handle the trades that are necessary this month, that trust disappeared rather quickly. Either something notable and negative happened in the past couple of months to sour the owners on Byrnes, or else the owners are panicky and are laying the team’s bad year at his feet.
Given how these things tend to go — people with futures like Byrnes’ rarely dish dirt — we’ll probably never know. Something just doesn’t seem natural about this firing, however, and I bet there’s more to the story.
The Nationals are trying to go big this offseason, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes that they are still in trade talks for White Sox’ left-hander Chris Sale and Pirates’ center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Both players figure to command a big return, as Sale delivered another Cy Young-worthy performance in 2016 and, despite a downturn in his production rate, McCutchen is still one of the more coveted sluggers in the National League.
In 2016, Sale led the league in complete games, with six, and turned in a 3.34 ERA and 5.2 fWAR in 226 2/3 innings. While teams have been sniffing around the White Sox’ ace since the trade deadline, the club is expected to maintain a high asking price — so high, said FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, that it may keep the left-hander in Chicago for the foreseeable future.
According to Heyman, four other teams are reportedly in the mix for Sale, including the Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, and Braves, though parts of Rosenthal’s tweet hinted that the Red Sox were maintaining their interest in hopes of striking a more affordable deal. Should the Nationals pursue a deal for Sale, it’s likely that they’d have to move shortstop/center fielder Trea Turner, which they appear reluctant to do.
McCutchen, meanwhile, is also drawing interest around the league after batting .256/.336/.430 with 24 home runs in 675 PA during 2016. He didn’t appear to lose much power in his eighth season with the Pirates, but took considerably fewer walks and struck out at a career-high clip.
The Nationals were said to be in the lead for McCutchen on Thursday, and there was some expectation that the club would wrap up a trade for the center fielder by the non-tender deadline on Friday. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi pointed out that the Rangers were also talking to the Pirates, however, and no deal has come to fruition as of yet.
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: