Carlos Correa

So, the Astros are taking their prospects on trips now

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According to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggert, the Astros recently brought eight players and six staff members down to the Dominican Republic for a 10-day getaway:

The group spent the 10 days touring the country, with the players working out at the Astros’ Dominican Academy in the mornings, then interacting with the various communities and villages they visited in the afternoons. It was a learning experience, not only for the players from the States, but the Dominican-based players as well.

“There were a lot of things to it,” assistant director of player development Allen Rowin said. “We were trying to get the U.S. players to understand where their Latin brethren are coming from, to see firsthand where the guys come from in the Dominican, to see the complex and understand what they’re doing, and also for them to kind of have a feel for what the Latin guys go through when they come to the States.

The players on the trip were all draft picks from the last three years, including 2012 first overall pick Carlos Correa and a 2013 pick in Brett Booth.

All in all, it seems like a very good experience for the kids and maybe something more teams should do. It also, however, sounds like an extra benefit that prospects should not be entitled to given the strict draft cap rules now employed by Major League Baseball. Now, I highly doubt the Astros were using a trip to the Dominican Republic as a carrot to get Booth to sign with them a few months back. I’m assuming the Astros cleared the trip with MLB as well.

But this is one of the problems with salary caps in general: anything outside the norm that teams do for players needs to be monitored closely to make sure there are no unfair advantages. Just as NBA teams next summer won’t be able to promise LeBron James luxury boxes and such perks, MLB teams have to be limited in what they can do for prospects, given the rules in place.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.