Nationals hitting coach breaks GM-imposed silence

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Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo gave hitting coach Rick Eckstein orders to avoid talking to reporters for the past several weeks, apparently fearing that Eckstein would be too hard on himself about the team’s offensive struggles.

Eckstein finally chatted with the media yesterday and sure enough he was very tough on himself:

I’m going to blame myself. That’s the way I’ve always been. I don’t point fingers at anybody else. Where we were in a lot of categories were below where we want them to be. We want to go out and be able execute under any circumstances, and when that doesn’t happen, the first person I look at is myself.

As the hitting coach, I take every at-bat home. It’s something that, I think it through. I try to pick apart where I make mistakes. I try to make sure that every plan for each player is the right plan. I beat myself up about it. So, yeah, I do take it personally. When the success does start to show, I’m very happy for the player, because I know how hard they worked for it. But I continue to pick myself apart.

Fair enough, but on the list of Nationals being criticized for the team’s continued poor play Eckstein probably doesn’t even show up. At least not right now. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche have been hurt, Jayson Werth has been mediocre, and young pupils Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa have done well enough to cancel out Ian Desmond going backward in his development. And other than that he just doesn’t have much to work with.

In other words, Eckstein might not be doing a particularly good job, but there’s enough wrong with the Nationals that no one should be pointing fingers at him. Heck, Rizzo still thinks the lineup’s problem is lack of success with runners in scoring position even though they’ve been no better or worse in those spots than they are overall (which is to say terrible).

The Astros’ pursuit of Sonny Gray is “heating up”

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Jon Morosi of MLB Networks reports that talks are “heating up” between the Astros and Athletics on a Sonny Gray trade. Gray, obviously, would represent a big upgrade for the Astros’ rotation. He has a 3.66 ERA and has struck out 85 batters while walking 28 in 91 innings.

Morosi adds that Gray is not the only option for the Astros, as they are also talking to the Tigers about a potential acquisition of Justin Verlander and Justin Wilson. That would obviously be a much tougher deal to negotiate given Verlander’s 10/5 rights giving him veto power over any trade, not to mention the massive amount of money he’s still owed on his contract.

Also: I’m pretty sure that it’s in the MLB rules that any trade between the Tigers and the Astros has to involve Brad Ausmus, C.J. Nitkowski and Jose Lima, and that’s not possible given their current occupations and/or their deaths in 2010.

Marlins trade David Phelps to the Mariners for four prospects

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The Miami Marlins have sent reliever David Phelps to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for four prospects. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and Ken Rosenthal had rumors of the deal first, Jon Morosi, Jeff Passan and Jon Heyman (among others) all reported the trade at virtually the same time.

Phelps, 30, had a fantastic 2016 season, posting a 2.28 ERA in 64 games while striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings. He’s not been as strong this year, but he’s still been a solid setup man, posting a 3.45 ERA in 44 games while striking out 51 batters and walking 21 in 47 innings. He throws in the mid-90s and induces grounders. The Mariners could probably use rotation help more than bullpen help, but solid innings are solid innings at one point and improving your pen takes some of the pressure off of your rotation. Phelps will help Seattle with that. He’s under team control for next year too, so this is more than a rental.

The top prospect in the deal is Brayan Hernandez, a 19 year-old outfielder from Venezuela, currently playing in low-A ball. Also in the deal: righty Brandon Miller, righty Pablo Lopez and righty Lucas Schiraldi who, yes, is the son of ex-big leaguer Calvin Schiraldi. None of these guys are blue chippers, but you never know what’ll happen. It’s a volume return for the Fish.

We’ve already seen some big bullpen names move, including David Robertson, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. Among others who could be moved:  A.J. Ramos (Marlins); Justin Wilson (Tigers); Addison Reed (Mets); Jerry Blevins (Mets); Brad Hand (Padres); Tony Watson (Pirates); Juan Nicasio (Pirates); Brad Brach (Orioles); Drew Storen (Reds); and Raisel Iglesias (Reds).