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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:

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.

Braves sign reliever Carlos Torres

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As first reported by Bill Shanks of Fox Sports 1670, the Braves have signed right-handed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Torres was waived by the Mets in January, somewhat surprisingly, and elected to become a free agent. The 33-year-old ultimately chose Atlanta, where he should have a good shot at an Opening Day roster out of spring training with the rapidly-rebuilding Braves.

Torres posted an ugly 4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season for the Mets, but he registered a gorgeous 3.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 97 innings in 2014.

If he gets off to a good start in 2016, he could become valuable trade bait.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.