Umpire John Hirschbeck goes looking for trouble, finds it

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I have long believed that an umpire is best seen and not heard, a line often used to describe children. Like children, some umpires tend to think they are the center of attention and their offenses are of the utmost importance. John Hirschbeck was among them this afternoon, when he went looking for a confrontation and found it in Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

Harper check-swung on a 2-2 slider from Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez, which just barely escaped the edge of the strike zone. Home plate umpire Bob Davidson appealed to third base umpire Hirschbeck, who ruled that Harper had swung at the offering. Harper, exasperated, expressed his disagreement with the call some 100 feet away. Hirschbeck immediately threw up his hands and yelled at Harper, like a drunk guy looking for trouble in a bar. He walked towards home plate, continuing to gesticulate and shout as Harper quietly talked to Davidson from the batter’s box. Third base coach Trent Jewett intercepted Hirschbeck as he stomped towards Harper, but it was no matter as Hirschbeck ejected Harper from the game shortly thereafter.

This reminds me of an altercation a few years ago between Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and third base umpire Scott Barry. The circumstances were similar, though much later in the game. Barry, like Hirschbeck, was looking for a fight and got one. He ejected Howard in the bottom of the 14th inning, which forced the Phillies to use Roy Oswalt in left field.

I bring that up only as a secondary example to what happened this afternoon. An umpire should never be looking for a fight; rather, an umpire should always be striving to prevent one when possible. Like a customer service employee being yelled at by an unhappy customer, an umpire should stand statuesque, speaking calmly (or not at all). Hirschbeck’s behavior this afternoon is Exhibit A  when baseball fans plead for less reliance on “the human element”.

Watch the conflict:

Report: Orioles interested in Alex Cobb

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MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that the Orioles have interest in free agent right-hander Alex Cobb, who rejected his one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rays earlier this week. Cobb was most recently linked to the Cubs, who reportedly reached out to his agent during the GM Meetings and garnered mutual interest from the righty, but nothing appears to be set in stone yet.

Cobb, 30, completed his sixth season with the Rays in 2017. He went 12-10 in 29 starts and turned in a respectable 3.66 ERA, 6.4 SO/9 and career-best 2.2 BB/9 in 179 1/3 innings. Despite losing a couple of weeks to turf toe, he remained healthy for most of the year and showed no signs of the elbow issues that robbed him of the majority of his 2015-2016 campaigns.

It’s still fairly early for any deals to come to fruition, but Morosi notes that the Orioles seem to be focused on bulking up their rotation during the first few months of the offseason. It’ll take more than a healthy Alex Cobb to right that ship, however: Orioles’ starters earned a collective 5.70 ERA and 5.5 fWAR in 2017, good for worst and fourth-worst marks in the league, respectively. Behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy (and perhaps Gabriel Ynoa/Miguel Castro), they still need three viable starters to compete in 2018. Whether or not they can afford to spring for a single starter with Cobb’s price tag (four years, $48 million, per MLB Trade Rumors) remains to be seen.