Phoenix Bats

The players gotta get their bats somewhere. Some get them from Michelle Ismaj.

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This is Michelle Ismaj, the pro player rep for the Phoenix Bat Company. That fella next to her is Yoenis something. I didn’t write it down.

Michelle’s job: set up a table with her company’s wares outside of teams’ clubhouses, trying to get them to order Phoenix bats. Watching her work for a while and then talking to her, I have decided that her job is both fun and impossible.

The fun part: talking to ballplayers, trying to convince them that the wood from the Plain City, Ohio-based company is simply better than that noise from Louisville and other companies. There’s fun attitude to it all. Like sales reps in any business, Michelle hands out swag. The best: t-shirts with the company’s logo which say “Singles Suck” (which is also the company’s slogan, based on the web page) and “Walk me and save the embarrassment.”  The former of which ruffled the feathers of former MLB’er and current Team Israel hitting coach Mark Loretta, who told Michelle that he made his living hitting singles, so don’t knock ’em. Oh well, can’t please everyone.

The impossible part: trying to get players, coaches, clubhouse attendants and the other folks who make equipment decisions to go with a different company when there are so many other options and when baseball players are, by their very nature, creatures of habit. It’s an additional challenge when Louisville is an official MLB partner and gets to set up inside the clubhouses instead of outside.

But Michelle has a couple of advantages. For one, she’s been in this business for a while, previously repping for a different company, so she knows the competition. Second: her parents are from Mexico City and she grew up with Spanish as her first language, so she has an edge with players whose English isn’t strong. I tried to use my rusty college-level Spanish to hear what she and Cespedes were talking about but lost the thread within ten seconds. The key part, though: Cespedes ordered some Phoenix Bats, so I guess it all worked out.

Michelle gets to the park at 6:30 AM and she’ gone by 11:30, off to a minor league facility or to go pick up sample bats she let someone test drive for a previous day’s game. The next day she’s at a different park. When the major leaguers break camp she hits the extended spring season and the Arizona League and then the Arizona Fall League. We all take mini-vacations to the Cactus League. For her it’s a full time job.

I like talking to people like Michelle. There are so many people who make baseball run besides the conspicuous players, coaches and media. They’re all over Arizona and Florida right now, helping teams get ready. Selling stuff. Buying stuff. Playing some part in an increasingly big and complex industry, most of which we never see.

Jacob deGrom open to extension with Mets

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom talks during media day for the Major League Baseball World Series against the Kansas City Royals Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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The Mets are currently enjoying the spoils of the best young rotation in the game, but the big question is whether this is just a brief window or the start of sustained success. Given the huge prices on the free agent market, it’s going to be next to impossible to keep the band together, but at least one member of the rotation is open to sticking around for the long-term.

While there haven’t been any talks yet, All-Star right-hander Jacob deGrom told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he could see himself discussing an extension with the Mets.

“I’m a little bit older, so I might be more willing to do something like that,’’ deGrom told The Post at Mets pre-camp. “You just have to look at what is fair so both sides get a decent deal. It’s something I’d have to look into and make sure I agree with it.’’

It makes sense from deGrom’s perspective. He broke into the majors later than most prospects, so he’ll be 28 this June. Depending on whether he qualifies as a Super Two, he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time after either 2016 or 2017. Either way, he’s under team control through 2020, which means that he’s currently on track to hit free agency after his age-32 season. The market might not be kind to him even if he manages to stay healthy, so it could behoove him to get as much guaranteed money as possible right now. The Mets could always decide to play things year-to-year, but perhaps deGrom would be willing to settle for a discount in order to get them to buy out a free agent year or two. It’s a really interesting situation to think about, but odds are the two sides will wait on contract talks until he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time.

DeGrom owns a 2.61 ERA in 52 starts over his first two seasons in the majors. Among starters, only Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Clayton Kershaw have a lower ERA since the start of 2014.

Royals, Mike Moustakas avoid arbitration with two-year deal

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas celebrates after hitting an RBI single against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Seriesagainst the Toronto Blue Jays  on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Royals and third baseman Mike Moustakas have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $14.3 million deal, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

The deal, which was initially discussed last month, buys out Moustakas’ final two years of arbitration. Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports that it’s believed he’ll make $5.6 million in 2016 and $8.7 million in 2017.

The 27-year-old Moustakas posted an underwhelming .668 OPS over his first four seasons in the majors, but he enjoyed a big postseason in 2014 before breaking out last season by batting .284/.348/.470 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter throws to the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Miami, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
AP Photo/J Pat Carter
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.