The Giants win, the Braves are eliminated, Bobby Cox rides off into the sunset

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The last at bat of the game was pretty emblematic of this season. The Braves, undermanned, finished the game with a hitter who probably shouldn’t have been there, really. But you know what? Melky Cabrera took a good hack. He hit it fairly hard. He even ran hard. Maybe he did it because he realized that Bobby Cox was watching and he didn’t want to let his manager down.

Game 4 was much like all the other games in the end.  Not much punch for the Braves. A homer from Brian McCann and a sacrifice fly was it.  Defensive lapses, though nothing egregious from Troy Glaus, surprisingly enough.  A move from Bobby Cox that, in hindsight, was a bad one. Like I said earlier today, Bobby Cox has lived and died by trusting his players.  This day he died by it, leaving Derek Lowe in the game in the seventh inning against his better judgment. Lowe said he could get Pat Burrell out. He couldn’t. He walked him and extended the inning. If Cox decides not to trust Lowe there, maybe the Braves get out of the jam. If Cox doesn’t trust his players, however, he doesn’t manage for 29 years in the bigs.

Ultimately, though, this was about a team without enough talent. There weren’t enough bats. If there were Melky Cabrera and Diory Hernandez would never have been allowed to the plate. Not enough competent fielders. If there were, Glaus wouldn’t have been playing third base. Derek Lowe showed tremendous heart pitching six and a third strong innings on short rest. Brian McCann was tremendous both at the plate and behind it. But it takes more.

The Giants had that little extra that a team needs to move on. Cody Ross — a savvy midseason pickup — was responsible for both of the Giants earned runs.  Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson bent a bit, but never broke. The balls fell when the Giants needed them to. The pitchers made the pitches when they needed to. The opposition crumbled at the worst moments and the Giants took advantage. San Francisco never excelled, but they endured and, ultimately, survived.  They’ll now go on to face the Phillies in the NLCS.  I hope for their sake they step things up, because the Phillies are a much, much better team than the Atlanta Braves.

And thus ends the career of Bobby Cox. When the game ended and Cox emerged from the dugout, the Giants players stopped their on-field celebration and applauded the man. He deserved it. Not because he was the best manager ever. He probably wasn’t. Not because he was the most likable guy ever. God knows he wasn’t.  But because he’s been running baseball teams since before most of them were born, and that’s a pretty rare things these days.

Bobby Cox returned to Atlanta to take over as general manager for my Braves when I was 12 years-old. I’m 37 now. I loved that team even when they were still a laughingstock, but eventually the novelty would have worn off.  I’m not sure what would have happened to my baseball fandom if I had lost interest in the one team I could see on TV every day back in the late 80s and early 90s. Maybe I would have stuck with the lovable losers, but I suppose I may have just let it go too. Hard to say.  It’s a question I’m glad I never had to answer thanks to Cox building that team back to respectability and then taking it over to lead it to glory.

Thanks Bobby. Thanks for everything.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?