Bo Porter

We’re not going to pretend that Bo Porter had no idea what he was getting into, are we?


At the outset, allow me to say that none of this is a defense — or an indictment — of the Astros front office. I have no idea what really goes on there, and neither do you.

We have had reports in recent days that there was a lot of strife between fired manager Bo Porter and GM Jeff Luhnow. We have heard that there was dysfunction. But we don’t know how much dysfunction there truly has been. We don’t know if the strife between Luhnow and Porter was one guy’s fault or the other’s, although most of the time such things are a two-way street. We can likely expect to hear more about this in the coming days and, in all likelihood, sometime this offseason. It’s possible Houston is a nuthouse. It’s possible Porter and Luhnow simply didn’t get along in the way lots of GMs and managers don’t get along when teams lose a lot. Let’s wait and see about that.

But one thing I think that deserves some pushback at the moment is the notion — which I’ve seen creep up in the past 24 hours — that Bo Porter was somehow wronged in terms of how the Astros chose to rebuild. That he was sold a bill of goods about what his situation would be like or that he somehow had the rug pulled out from under him after he took the job.

The strongest argument in that regard comes in Buster Olney’s column this morning (sorry; ESPN Insider only). It starts out like this:

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we know a lot more about the position that Bo Porter signed up for in the fall of 2012, when he became manager of the Houston Astros. Whether he knew it or not at the time, this is what the job notice probably should’ve looked like . . .

After which Olney offers a lot of comments implying that it was unknown at the time that the Astros were going to have an extremely low payroll and run out a lot of not-ready-for-prime-time talent in the first couple of years of what was and continues to be a massive rebuild job. Also, that it was unknown that GM Jeff Luhnow was going to rely on his front office staff to an extremely high degree and take an approach that made the “Moneyball” A’s look like poster boys for laissez-faire front office management.

I have no idea if the Astros’ rebuilding plan is a good one. On the one hand, that organization was a smoking pile of rubble when Luhnow took over and new ownership came in, so perhaps something radical was called for. On the other hand, the Astros’ tear-down/rebuild has been really extreme, the losses have been close to unprecedented and there are lots of examples of teams who have rebuilt while still putting more resources into “win-now” efforts than the Astros have. Veterans that, while unlikely to be part of the next good ballclub for that city, at least push them closer to 90 losses a year than 110. Whether this is truly something worthwhile is something people debate, but it has been done. Maybe the Astros made a mistake in not doing that. Maybe they’ll be shown to have done OK with the approach they took.

But no matter what you make of all of this, it’s impossible to say that Porter had no idea that was what was coming. The Astros made all kinds of headlines in 2011 and early 2012 when they hired Luhnow.  He, in turn, made unconventional hires like a “Director of Decision Sciences,” and made several hires from the sabermetric community and/or online analysis world, such as Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein and Colin Wyers. The notion that this was a going to be a tear-down unlike that seen in recent years was pretty darn clear. Also clear: that a lot of baseball writers have scoffed at what the Astros have been doing, presumably because it’s either unconventional or because they are reflecting the displeasure of their baseball sources. Olney himself has engaged in this before.

Again, none of this is to say that the Astros are doing the best things or even the right things. It’s possible that the strategy ends up a failure. It’s possible that three years (and possibly more) of copious losing does more to undermine the team in the eyes of fans and others than the presumed reward at the end of the process gains them. It’s also possible that, yes, Luhnow is a flaming jackwagon and the Astros’ front office is a mess. I have no idea.

But to suggest that Bo Porter was somehow surprised and wronged by the low payroll, the piles of losses and the idea that this was going to be a front office which took an extremely active role in day-to-day decisions is just fiction. At least as far as those things go he, and everyone else, knew what he was getting into.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.