UPDATE: Not only are the Rays getting Hanigan from the Reds as their new starting catcher, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that they’re also getting reliever Heath Bell from the Diamondbacks as part of a three-team trade.
Bell has become sort of a punchline in recent years, but he was quietly fairly effective for Arizona with a 4.11 ERA and 72/16 K/BB ratio in 66 innings. He served up too many homers, but the bat-missing and control are certainly enough to think he can give the Rays some solid innings.
Rosenthal says the rest of the three-team swap includes the Diamondbacks getting Single-A right-hander Justin Choate and a player to be named later from the Rays and the Reds getting left-hander David Holmberg–a decent prospect who made his MLB debut in August–from the Diamondbacks. And of course there’s money changing hands to pay for Bell’s salary.
Tampa Bay just re-signed Jose Molina to a two-year, $4.5 million deal, but the Rays aren’t done at catcher. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that they’re acquiring Ryan Hanigan from the Reds.
Hanigan has long been underrated because of his excellent on-base skills, but he hit just .198 in 75 games this year at age 32. However, he posted an on-base percentage above .350 in each of the previous six seasons and Hanigan’s career mark of .359 ranks sixth among all active catchers. He also grades out very well in pitch-framing, which the Rays emphasized in signing Molina in the first place.
He’ll presumably take over as the Rays’ primary backstop, with Molina sliding into more of a true backup role that he filled for so many years before getting a bigger opportunity in Tampa Bay recently. Jose Lobatan, who appeared in 100 games for the Rays this year, is likely now trade bait.
This move signals that Cincinnati is ready to hand the starting job to 25-year-old former top prospect Devin Mesoraco, with free agent pickup Brayan Pena backing him up.
Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.
Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.
Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.
It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.
After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.
The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.
Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.
The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.
Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.
Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.
After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.
According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.
The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.