With Alex Rodriguez spending the season on the restricted list, this season will be the first since 1999 to begin without a member of the 500-homer club on a major league roster.
The last time MLB was played without a 500-HR guy was 15 years ago. Eddie Murray retired after the 1997 season, leaving a void until Mark McGwire joined the 500-homer club in Aug. 1999.
Of course, one could say this is all semantics. After all, there were no 500-homer guys on an active roster last Opening Day either, though A-Rod was just on the disabled list then. And while Rodriguez won’t be on a major league roster this year, he certainly still qualifies as an active player.
Regardless, the 500-homer club won’t be empty for too long: Albert Pujols is just eight bombs away at 492. He is the lone candidate to get there this year, though. Adam Dunn (440), Jason Giambi (438) and Paul Konerko (434) are next on the list, and all are likely entering their final seasons. David Ortiz (431) has a shot if he can remain a full-time DH into 2016. Alfonso Soriano is at 406 as he enters his age-38 season. After Pujols gets there, it’s possible no one will join him until Miguel Cabrera, who is at 365 through age 30.
Prior to 1999, it wasn’t uncommon for the league to be without a 500-homer guy. There were none from the time Mike Schmidt retired in 1989 until Murray joined in Sept. 1996. There were also none from 1981-Sept. 1984, when Reggie Jackson hit his 500th. The current streak of having a 500-homer guy active is the longest in history. Before this, the longest was Sept. 1965, when Willie Mays got there, until 1976, when Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson retired.
During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.
The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.