Matthew Pouliot

Madison Bumgarner
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

2016’s hot new trend is batting the pitcher eighth

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Tony La Russa started it with the Cardinals way back in 2007. Joe Maddon’s Cubs and later Bryan Price’s Reds gave it a try last year. It’s 2016, though, that is shaping up as the year of the pitcher batting eighth. Three of the six NL teams playing day games today are going that route:

San Francisco: CF Denard Span, 2B Joe Panik, C Buster Posey, RF Hunter Pence, 1B Brandon Belt, 3B Matt Duffy, SS Brandon Crawford, SP Madison Bumgarner, LF Angel Pagan

Milwaukee: RF Domingo Santana, SS Jonathan Villar, LF Ryan Braun, C Jonathan Lucroy, 1B Chris Carter, 3B Aaron Hill, 2B Scooter Gennett, SP Wily Peralta, CF Keon Broxton

Cincinnati: SS Zack Cozart, 3B Eugenio Suarez, 1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, RF Jay Bruce, LF Adam Duvall, SP Raisel Iglesias, CF Billy Hamilton

Even if none of the NL teams playing later tonight follow suit, just three pitchers batting is a huge rarity. It would have been unheard of before 2015. In the 40 years from 1958-1997, pitchers hit eighth a total of eight times. Even as recently as 2013, there were just three games in which a pitcher hit eighth (and only one of those was by an NL team).

But the pitcher batting eighth seems to make a lot of sense. No. 9 hitters in the AL, even though they’re considerably worse than No. 8 hitters, score more frequently and drive in about 97 percent as many runs (after taking homers out of the equation). In the NL, No. 9 hitters batting behind the pitcher won’t get those RBI opportunities. Still, with all of the quality bats following at the top of the order, ninth is simply the more valuable spot.

Interestingly, though, Joe Maddon, the man who really got this started by hitting his pitcher eighth 140 times last year, is planning on going back to the pitcher in the ninth spot this year. That’s because he thinks Addison Russell, last year’s primary No. 9 hitter, is simply too good not to be put into RBI situations, and he doesn’t feel anyone else would fit there.

5 p.m. EDT update: Make it four teams; the Diamondbacks are going with Zack Greinke eighth and Nick Ahmed ninth tonight.

A’s, White Sox working on Brett Lawrie deal

Brett Lawrie
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Ignoring all of the fun possibilities a Jed LowrieBrett Lawrie infield affords, the A’s are set to trade Lawrie to the White Sox for a pair of prospects, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reports.

In an unrelated move, the A’s are also moving close to adding John Axford to the bullpen, Slusser states.

It’s unclear who the A’s will be getting back from the White Sox in the deal, but it seems they’ve been playing to move Lawrie since the end of the season, if not well before. The 25-year-old hit .260/.299/.407 in what’s expected to go down as his only season in Oakland. He was acquired from the Jays in the Josh Donaldson deal last winter.

The White Sox need all of the infield help they can get, particularly after declining Alexei Ramirez‘s option for 2016. If the season started today, they’d probably open up with Carlos Sanchez at second, Tyler Saladino at shortstop and Mike Olt at third base. None of those are ideal solutions, though Sanchez at least has a very good glove. Shortstop prospect Tim Anderson could arrive at midseason to push Saladino into the utility role for which he’s best suited.

Oakland had been publically stating that Lowrie would play second base next year, but that’s back open again now. Lowrie and Marcus Semien will occupy two of the three non-first base infield spots, with Lowrie probably at second or third and Semien remaining at short. Ideally, they’d do better than Eric Sogard for the remaining starting spot.

Mariners pick up reliever Evan Scribner from the A’s

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Needing to add to their pen after trading Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen and every other reliever they’ve developed in recent years, the Mariners acquired right-hander Evan Scribner from the A’s in exchange for right-handed prospect Trey Cochran-Gill.

It’s a minor deal, for sure, but it should be noted that Scribner is coming off the most remarkable season ever for a reliever with a 4.35 ERA.

Yes, Scribner had a 64/4 K/BB ratio in his 60 innings. Only Eck had ever done better. No one else has even come in over 13:1.

So, how did he end up with a 4.35 ERA? He gave up a whopping 14 homers. He’s the only pitcher in history to end a season with at least three times as many homers allowed as walks issued. After Scribner’s 3.5:1. the next highest ratio of homers to walks was Carlos Silva’s 25 HR/9 BB season in 188 1/3 innings in 2005.

Cochran-Gill, 22, is a decent relief prospect in the Dan Otero mold. He could help the A’s in 2017.

The Marlins’ asking price for Jose Fernandez sounds pretty reasonable

Jose Fernandez
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I mean, as long as one of those isn’t Vin Scully, we got a deal.

D’Backs trade No. 1 overall pick to Braves for Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller
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The Braves wanted a haul if they were going to give up Shelby Miller and they got one from Arizona, landing 2015 first overall pick Dansby Swanson, as well as outfielder Ender Inciarte and right-hander Aaron Blair, in a deal agreed to Tuesday.

The Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro was the first to report the players involved.

Miller, 25, was a very attractive piece in trade talks after posting a 3.02 ERA in 205 1/3 innings for Atlanta last year. He’s proven durable thus far, and he’s still three years away from free agency. If he keeps pitching like he did last year, he gives the Diamondbacks a second No. 2 starter along with Patrick Corbin behind ace Zack Greinke. They can then round out the rotation with Robbie Ray and either Rubby De La Rosa or Chase Anderson.

Still, it’s a real whopped of a price to pay. Swanson, a 21-year-old shortstop, hit .289/.394/.482 in low-A ball in his pro debut last season. He projects as a top-of-the-order guy and he should be able to stay at shortstop, though he could also move to second with fellow top shortstop prospect Ozhaino Albies in the Braves system.

Inciarte has quietly been a very valuable player these last two years, hitting .292/.329/.386 in 942 at-bats while playing top-notch defense throughout the infield. He’ll step in as the Braves’ center fielder over Michael Bourn, and if he keeps hitting, he should be able to hold off prospect Mallex Smith to retain the job.

Blair is known for his sinking fastball, and though his strikeout rate fell well off in the upper minors last year, he’s still well regarded as a future middle-of-the-rotation starter. He’ll likely open 2016 in Triple-A.

This makes three of the Braves’ top five or six prospects that came from the Diamondbacks system, with Swanson (the new No. 1) and Blair joining Touki Toussaint, who was picked up in a salary dump last summer.

UPDATE: The Diamondbacks are also getting 20-year-old left-hander Gabe Speier in the deal. Speier, who ranked somewhere in the bottom half of the Braves’ top 30 prospects, was picked up by the Braves last month from the Tigers in the Cameron Maybin trade.