Bill Baer

In this April 21, 2012, photo, Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Phil Humber throws in the third inning while pitching a perfect baseball game against the Seattle Mariners in Seattle. The Houston Astros have claimed Humber off waivers from the White Sox and agreed to a one-year contract with him. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Phil Humber retires

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The Padres recently reassigned pitcher Phil Humber to minor league camp. Rather than accept the assignment, Humber has retired from baseball, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

Humber, 33, will always be remembered for the perfect game he threw as a member of the White Sox against the Mariners on April 21, 2012. It was the 21st perfect game in baseball history and the third perfect game in White Sox history. As fate would have it, it was also the first complete game of Humber’s career.

Humber is also known for his inclusion in the February 2008 Johan Santana trade. Humber was sent, along with Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, and Kelvin Mulvey, to the Twins for the ace left-hander. At the time, Humber was considered a top prospect, earning a #26 overall ranking from Baseball Prospectus going into the 2007 season.

Last season, Humber played for the Kia Tigers in the Korean Baseball Organization.

Much ado about nothing? Royals deflect “payback” report

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Getty Images
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Earlier today, Craig discussed a report from Newsday’s Marc Carig, who heard “the Royals have been quietly signaling their intent to seek retribution against the Mets on Opening Night.”

Why? Noah Syndergaard threw a pitch up and in to Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar during Game 3 of the World Series last year.

After word got around to the Royals, manager Ned Yost, pitcher Dillon Gee (a former Met), and Edinson Volquez quickly deflected the rumor. Via Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star and MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

Much ado about nothing? We’ll see. The two clubs open the season against each other in Kansas City on April 4.

2016 Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals exchange high-fives other before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Monday, March 21, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals won 100 games last season, but were quietly expelled from the playoffs in four games by the Cubs in the NLDS. It was a premature ending to a great season. The good news is that the bulk of their success in 2015 can be attributed to young players, many of whom are back in bigger roles this year.

Outfielder Randal Grichuk, 24, broke out, putting up an .877 OPS with 17 home runs and 23 doubles in 350 plate appearances and will now handle everyday duties in center field for the Cardinals. Stephen Piscotty, 25, wasn’t far behind with an .853 OPS in 256 plate appearances and is now the club’s everyday right fielder. Second baseman Kolten Wong, 25, had a comparatively paltry .707 OPS but had 43 total extra-base hits with 15 stolen bases while playing solid defense.

Of course, the Cardinals also enjoyed a great year from Jason Heyward, who left to sign with the division rival Cubs. Heyward hit 33 doubles and 13 home runs with a .797 OPS. Baseball Reference credited him with 6.5 WAR, his second consecutive 6+ WAR season. Replacing him will be tough, but the Cardinals seem to be in a good position.

Veteran Matt Holliday will handle left field. He put up a quality .279/.394/.410 line in 227 plate appearances after returning from a quadriceps injury. The Cardinals have toyed with the idea of using him at first base, but as the club already has Brandon Moss and Matt Adams at the position, it seems that Holliday will stick in left.

At third base, the Cardinals are banking on Matt Carpenter to provide an encore of his 2015 power breakout. Carpenter’s career-high in home runs was 11, set in 2013, but he smacked 28 of them with a league-best total of 44 doubles last year. The projections aren’t too keen on Carpenter getting back into the 20-homer club, with both Steamer and ZiPS expecting 16. And gosh darn it, that’s reasonable.

The Cardinals are hurting at shortstop after losing Jhonny Peralta for 10-12 weeks due to a torn ligament in his thumb. The club signed Ruben Tejada to take his place, but those are some big shoes to fill. Peralta hit 17 home runs last year; Tejada has 10 home runs in his entire career spanning 580 games.

Behind the dish, Yadier Molina returns after undergoing thumb surgery and battling a foot injury during spring training. He’s coming off of his worst offensive season in a decade, finishing with a .270/.310/.350 line with four home runs and 61 RBI in 530 plate appearances. Even if Molina isn’t able to hit at the league average, the Cardinals will still value him highly for his defense, ability to call a game, and the way he handles the pitching staff. In case of emergency, Brayan Pena is there as Molina’s back-up.

The Cardinals will make their success with their pitching staff. Adam Wainwright returned late last year after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon, but made three relief appearances. It’s tough to know exactly where he’s at, as 15 spring innings – in which he has a 4.80 ERA with an 11/6 K/BB ratio – aren’t enough to clue us in. Even Wainwright at 90 percent of his previous effectiveness is a force to be reckoned with, but he’ll turn 35 this year and Father Time catches up with us all eventually.

The club will also be gambling on the continued health of Jaime Garcia. The lefty made only 20 starts last season, but they were quality, as he compiled a 2.43 ERA. Like Wainwright, Garcia has also had a tough spring and is currently dealing with a blister on his pitching hand. And the last time he made 21 or more starts in a season was 2011. If this is the year Garcia finally stays healthy, the Cardinals are in for a fun ride.

Ever-dependable, Michael Wacha is coming off of another solid year, going 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA and a 153/58 K/BB ratio in 181 1/3 innings. Then there’s Carlos Martinez, who transitioned from reliever/swingman to the rotation last year and flourished, compiling a 3.01 ERA with a 184/63 K/BB ratio in 179 2/3 innings. The Cardinals also added Mike Leake, inking the right-hander to a five-year, $80 million deal. He isn’t one to miss bats, but his ability to induce ground balls helps him limit the damage.

Last season, the Cardinals finished with the third-lowest aggregate bullpen ERA at 2.82, trailing only the Pirates and Royals. Of their four relievers to throw 40-plus innings, three of them – Kevin Siegrist, Trevor Rosenthal, and Carlos Villanueva – put up a sub-3.00 ERA. Rosenthal, of course, is back in the closer’s role while Siegrist and new additions Seung-hwan Oh and Jonathan Broxton will help handle high-leverage innings in front of him. Oh was a lights-out reliever in Korea, owning a 1.81 ERA over 11 seasons in the KBO.

The NL Central has plenty of competition, as the Cubs and Pirates are poised to potentially win it all. For the Cardinals to defend their dominance of the NL Central, they’ll need Wainwright and Garcia to stay healthy, Carpenter to show that his power surge last year wasn’t a fluke, and for their young players to continue to flourish. All told, I think the Cardinals are banking on too much to go right and play in too tough a division. If they were in the NL East, I’d be more confident about their chances.

Prediction: 88-74, third place in the NL Central.

2016 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Baltimore Orioles.

If you thought the Orioles were a “three true outcomes” team last year, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. “Three true outcomes”, for those not familiar, refers to a player who rarely puts the ball in play, so his plate appearances end in a strikeout, walk, or home run. Adam Dunn was the “three true outcomes” king for a while. Last season, the Orioles hit the third-most homers (217) and recorded the fifth-most strikeouts (1,331) but ranked 24th in walks (418). As a percentage of total plate appearances, those three outcomes made up 32.7 percent for the O’s in 2015. Only the Cubs, Astros, Nationals, Dodgers, and Mariners ranked higher.

Perhaps in an effort to move up the TTO standings, the Orioles acquired Mark Trumbo in a trade with the Mariners, and signed Pedro Alvarez. They also re-signed Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million contract. Trumbo’s TTO percentage over his six-year career is 36.1 percent. For Alvarez, it’s 43.1%. And for Davis, 46 percent.

Let’s hop off the TTO theme for a minute and go over the other acquisitions. Catcher Matt Wieters accepted the Orioles’ $15.8 million qualifying offer, making the safe play as he had accrued just 101 games played over the previous two seasons due to elbow problems, which eventually required Tommy John surgery. The Orioles have played it safe with him this spring and while he’s expected to break camp with the club, he could be used as a DH rather than behind the dish to begin the season.

The O’s signed reliever Darren O’Day to a four-year, $31 million deal. It’s kind of passe to overpay for relievers these days, but O’Day has been elite basically his entire career, his rookie season and 2011 notwithstanding. In four years with the Orioles, the right-hander has a 1.92 ERA with 283 strikeouts and 62 walks over 263 innings. While Zach Britton isn’t relinquishing the closer’s role anytime soon, barring injury, the Orioles have a capable backup plan who will otherwise handle the eighth inning with aplomb. Britton has quietly been money in the ninth inning, saving a total of 73 games with an aggregate 1.77 ERA and a 141/37 K/BB ratio in 142 innings over the last two years.

Hyun-soo Kim joined the Orioles out of Korea on a two-year, $7 million pact. The 28-year-old is coming off of a 28-homer, 121-RBI season with the Doosan Bears. However, he hit a paltry .182 with zero extra-base hits during spring training, so the Orioles aren’t planning on adding him to the 25-man roster. He could accept an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk, or the Orioles could return him to Korea.

Yovani Gallardo was the Orioles’ last big addition, agreeing to a two-year, $22 million deal in late February. Gallardo, because he had draft pick compensation attached to him for rejecting the Rangers’ qualifying offer, was passed over the entire winter and had to eventually settle shortly after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. The stats don’t portend future success for Gallardo, as his strikeout rate has been in free fall. It was at nearly 24 percent as recently as 2012, but went down to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent in the next three seasons. It seems to be related to fastball velocity, as Gallardo averaged 90.4 MPH, a career-low among any of his full seasons. The Orioles don’t appear to be relying on Gallardo to be an ace, valuing him more for his ability to pitch 175-plus innings.

Are these additions good enough for the Orioles, who finished 81-81 last season? Perhaps in another division, but the Orioles will have their work cut out for them with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees at minimum. Furthermore, the Orioles’ starting rotation is not one to lend any confidence. Chris Tillman will serve as the de facto ace, starting on Opening Day against the Twins. The right-hander was solid in the previous two seasons, but stunk up the joint last year, finishing with a 4.99 ERA over 31 starts. Nothing in Tillman’s peripherals speak to someone who just experienced a bout of bad luck. His K-rate shot down five percent compared to 2013 and his walk rate nearly reached a career high.

Miguel Gonzalez fits into the middle of the rotation and, like Tillman, he had a monumentally poor 2015 showing after appearing rock solid in prior years. From 2012-14, he had a 3.45 ERA. Last year? 4.91. Gonzalez’s peripherals don’t offer any explanations aside from a slightly lower soft contact rate and a slightly higher medium contact rate, according to FanGraphs. But his retrodictors, like FIP and xFIP, always had him as a pitcher in the mid-4.00s, so perhaps it finally caught up to him.

Ubaldo Jimenez, who showed his best control last season, slots in behind Gonzalez, but he’s having a putrid spring. In four appearances spanning only 7 1/3 innings, he has allowed 10 runs on 12 hits and six walks with five strikeouts. The veteran right-hander has finished with a sub-4.00 ERA in only one of his last five seasons. Neither his recent performances nor his spring numbers make one confident that he’ll finally turn things around in 2016. And behind Jimenez is Kevin Gausman, if he’s healthy enough to pitch, or Mike Wright. Gausman has been battling shoulder tendinitis. Wright appears to be cut from the same mold as pitchers like Kyle Kendrick, which is to say you’d rather have somebody else starting that day if possible.

The Orioles are going to hit a bunch of homers, which means they’ll win a few lopsided games. That’s always exciting. And once they bring a lead to O’Day and Britton in the eighth and ninth innings, they should wind up with a win. That being said, the starting pitching will be the downfall of this team and likely means they’ll fall behind in the AL East if all five members are unable to defy expectations. A big splash ahead of the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, in which a big time pitcher is added, could give them a second-half second wind, but as presently constructed it looks like the O’s have a tough road ahead of them.

Prediction: 79-83, fourth place in the AL East.

Report: Padres scouting Pablo Sandoval

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The Padres are scouting Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe is reporting. He also speculates that the two sides could swap big contracts, with Sandoval potentially going to the Padres and starter James Shields would go to the Red Sox.

Sandoval has had a shaky start to his tenure in Boston after signing a five-year, $95 million contract in November 2014. As Cafardo notes, the Padres were one of the teams interested in Sandoval that offseason. This past season, the 29-year-old hit a disappointing .245/.292/.366 with 10 home runs and 47 RBI in 505 plate appearances. Sandoval’s weight issues have made him a lightning rod for criticism from the Boston media, so a change of scenery might help him rebound.

Obviously, just because a scout was watching Sandoval doesn’t mean a deal is in the works, but it’s not surprising that the Red Sox would pursue a trade. The Padres match up as a trading partner as well, as they could move Yangervis Solarte off of third base and use him more as a utility infielder. With Sandoval out of the picture, the Red Sox could make Travis Shaw their full-time third baseman.