Tommy Hunter expected to take over closer role for Orioles

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Now that Fernando Rodney has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $14 million contract with the Mariners, Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com writes that Tommy Hunter is expected to take over the closer role for the Orioles.

Of course, that wasn’t the original plan. After the Orioles traded Jim Johnson to the Athletics in early December, they soon agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with Grant Balfour. However, the signing was nixed due to concerns raised in a physical and Balfour eventually landed with the Rays. While the Orioles were linked to Rodney, they will now go in-house to replace Johnson.

Hunter was a full-time reliever for the first time last season, posting a 2.81 ERA and a 68/14 K/BB ratio over 86 1/3 innings. He also notched four saves. The 27-year-old right-hander has experienced a big velocity spike in the bullpen, though it hasn’t translated to an elite strikeout rate. Hunter doesn’t induce grounders like Johnson did and left-handed batters have been a trouble spot for him, so it might not be a smooth transition.

Hideki Matsui thinks Shohei Otani should pitch and hit in MLB

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Yankees’ special advisor and former outfielder Hideki Matsui expects to help the club “convince or recruit” Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani, according to a report from MLB.com’s Deesha Thosar. The Yankees are currently viewed as the favorites to sign Otani, though there still figures to be plenty of competition for his services when he finally becomes eligible to enter Major League Baseball.

Matsui also told Thosar that while he hasn’t seen a player find success as a hybrid pitcher/slugger in the majors, he’s taken notice of Otani’s success in both areas. “He’s done well in Japan, so as a baseball fan I’m looking forward to how he’s going to do here in the Majors and in the U.S.,” Matsui said, later adding, “If [pitching and hitting is] something he wants to do, and the team wants it, then why not?”

Neither the Yankees nor any other suitor should be too concerned with Otani’s ability to translate his .332 batting average and 3.20 ERA to MLB — at least, not just yet. There are still a few roadblocks in his path to the major leagues, most notably the lack of approval from the Players Association. Per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the union doesn’t want to sign off on an agreement that would give the Nippon Ham Fighters a $20 million posting fee in exchange for Otani’s services. According to the posting system rules, Otani himself would be eligible to receive no more than a $4 million signing bonus.

The good news in all of this? The union agreed to reach a final decision by Monday, November 21, so there’s still a chance Major League Baseball will see the talented two-way player bring his unique skillset to the field in 2018.