Tag: Fernando Martinez

Rick Ankiel

Astros designate Rick Ankiel for assignment


The Astros, sitting at 8-24 in last place in the AL West, have designated outfielder Rick Ankiel for assignment, tweets Houston Chronicle beat writer Brian T. Smith. It was one of a handful of moves the Astros made day, also designating Fernando Martinez for assignment, calling up Jimmy Paredes and Trevor Crowe, demoting Brandon Laird to Triple-A Oklahoma City, and activating J.D. Martinez from the disabled list.

Though Ankiel had five home runs and a .731 OPS in 65 trips to the plate, he was hitting .194 with a .231 on-base percentage, about as all or nothing as you can get at the Major League level. In late April, Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated highlighted Ankiel’s “three true outcomes” approach:

In fact, it would be more accurate to describe Ankiel as a One True Outcome player. Yes, he has five home runs, but he has just one walk. Rather 28 of his 34 True Outcomes, a whopping 82 percent, have been strikeouts. Having struck out in his only two official at-bats on Thursday night, Ankiel has now struck out 28 times in 45 plate appearances, or 62 percent of the time he steps into the batter’s box. Not only would that be a record for strikeout percentage by a non-pitcher in a minimum of 45 plate appearances if the season (or Ankiel’s involvement in it) ended today, it means that Ankiel is striking out more often that Cust accomplished any of the Three True Outcomes in the most extreme TTO season in major league history.

Updating those figures as of today, Ankiel has the five home runs, three walks, and 35 strikeouts, representing 66 percent of his plate appearances. The Astros have been outscored by 75 runs in 32 games, so the decision to DFA Ankiel is quite understood.

It may be the 33-year-old’s last hurrah as he hasn’t shown any signs of improvement and teams have little use for a player who can’t get on base at least 30 percent of the time, particularly one that strikes out 12 times for every one walk.

2013 Preview: Houston Astros

New look Astros

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 2013 season. Up next: The Houston Astros.

The Big Question: Will the Astros be historically bad?

Maybe this isn’t the biggest question facing the Astros this year, but it’s one that’s sort of been sticking with me for a couple of weeks as I’ve made the rounds on various radio shows previewing the 2013 season. Almost all of the hosts ask me how bad the Astros will be and almost all of them are assuming this is going to be some sort of 1962 Mets situation or something. I actually had one guy take the under on an over/under of 45 wins for them. Which seems kind of nuts.

Look, the Astros aren’t going to be good, I’ll agree with that. But we have to be realistic here and note that in the 162-game era, only two teams have failed to win 45 games: the 1962 Mets and the 2003 Tigers. Indeed, unless I’m overlooking someone, I do not believe any team has won fewer than 50 games in a full 162 game season apart from those two teams.  Every season brings us some bad teams, but teams that putrid are few and far between. And really, there is no reason to think that these Astros, as thin as they are, will be historically bad.

Part of this is a gut feeling, based on the usual composition of awful teams. They tend to be teams who have not yet begun the full rebuilding process yet — or expansion teams — which feature a lot of old guys and castoffs on the roster. The sorts of players who can fool a GM into thinking, “well, maybe we’ll be OK because I’ve heard of that guy,” and thus causes them to forego real substantive fixes. That was the 2012 Astros, right? Home of Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. A team which gave Armando Galarraga a shot because, hell, he almost had a perfect game once, right? A team which went on a 7-43 stretch at one point because, eh, just because?

The 2013 team is not a talented one, but the moves to make them better have begun. The Jed Lowrie trade, which brought back Chris Carter, Max Stassi and Brad Peacock is the sort of move I like: boring ones to most fans, but moves which constitute the dirty work of a rebuilding process. Getting depth and incremental improvement. That, along with a pretty substantial overhaul of the minor leagues, represents an all-in approach which is admirable and rare in rebuilding. Let’s just forget for a moment that Carlos Pena, currently slated to be the Astros’ DH, was on that 2003 Tigers team, OK?

Little upside at the moment, but fewer gaping holes and a lot of hungry young players who are happy to be anywhere make for a much better vibe than last year’s 107 loss team possessed and, I have a feeling, will help stave off some sort of historically bad showing.  Perhaps that doesn’t make Astros fans feel better at the moment, but merely believing that this team will not set records for futility is a compliment. One that, for some reason, a lot of people are unwilling to offer. I think that’s both ahistorical and kinda sad. Think positively, Houston!

What else is going on?

  • Positive thoughts and the avoidance of ignominy are one thing, but this lineup isn’t gonna scare anyone:

1. Tyler Greene, SS
2. Jose Altuve, 2B
3. Carlos Pena, DH
4. Chris Carter, LF
5. Brett Wallace, 1B
6. Justin Maxwell, CF
7. Jason Castro, C
8. Fernando Martinez, RF
9. Matt Dominguez, 3B

Jose Altuve is legit and will likely be the last dude left from this bunch when the Astros next win 90 games, but I don’t know where the runs are gonna come from. Maybe Carlos Pena has one last good year in him. Maybe he can check the pockets of the pants he wore back in 2009.

  • How’s about that rotation?

1. Bud Norris
2. Lucas Harrell
3. Jordan Lyles
4. Philip Humber
5. Erik Bedard

Hmm. Phil Humber. Let’s forget that comment I made about Armando Galarraga and signing someone just because they once did something interesting above too.

  • The Astros may play poorly, but they’ll look awesome doing it. They will be sporting what are easily the nicest new uniforms any team has switched to in years if not decades.
  • That’s pretty, but you know what’s ugly? Moving to the American League West. With the Angels and Rangers being two of the most talented teams around, the defending champ Oakland A’s always being solid and with an improved Mariners team, the Astros are gonna have way tougher competition this year than they’ve seen in the past.

So, how are they gonna do?  Not good!  I will refrain from predicting loss totals, but I’ll give a range of somewhere between 100 and 110. And if things break awesome in six different ways and they lose only, like, 97, well then they should be allowed to crack champagne. Because it’s not 2013 that matters for this franchise. It’s the future. And no matter how dark the present may be, they’re finally doing the heavy lifting they’ve long needed to do in order to make that future bright, so bully for them.

That said: Fifth Place, AL West.

Five new players tied to Biogenesis clinic; sources say Gio Gonzalez did not purchase PEDs

biogenesis records

From investigative reporters T.J. Quinn and Mike Fish of ESPN.com comes word that Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, A’s left-hander Jordan Norberto, Astros outfielder Fernando Martinez, Padres right-hander Fautino De Los Santos and Mets outfield prospect Cesar Puello have also been discovered in the records of the Miami-based Biogenesis clinic.

The players “were on a list as having received performance-enhancing drugs” from the clinic’s director, Anthony Bosch, according to ESPN.com.

Also in the ESPN.com report is an update on Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, whose name was discovered in the Biogenesis records by the Miami New Times last month. A source told Quinn and Fish that Gonzalez “did not receive banned substances from Bosch or the clinic” and is “the only Bosch client named thus far who did not receive performance-enhancing drugs.” Which would seem to implicate the other players who have been linked.

Gonzalez had urine and blood samples taken two days after that initial New Times article came out.

It’s quite clear that Quinn and Fish have well-connected sources, meaning there’s probably more to come.

Fernando Martinez heard the Astros’ message loud and clear

Fernando Martinez Getty

A few weeks ago Astros manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters that Fernando Martinez’s chances to make the Astros could be negatively impacted by his participation in the World Baseball Classic. Many people tut-tutted that comment as being wrongheaded because the WBC is supposed to be wonderful and everything, but for his part, Martinez got the message:

“I’m not going to play,” he said. “I’m going to stay here and prepare for the season … I just thought about and I figured it would be a lost couple of weeks and I want to make the team here.”

Good call. The Astros, potentially anyway, are gonna put food on Martinez’s table. Playing for the glory of Spain isn’t gonna do a whole heck of a lot.

Fernando Martinez and the Astros show why the World Baseball Classic still has so far to go

Fernando Martinez Getty

Fernando Martinez stands as one of several players in the mix to make the Houston Astros’ outfield. But he has more up against him in that quest than just competition from Rick Ankiel, Justin Maxwell, J.D. Martinez and Brandon Barnes. He has up against him his participation in the World Baseball Classic, where he will play for Spain.

His general manager, Jeff Luhnow, admitted as much. From Brian McTaggart’s story at Astros.com:

“The big challenge is … a guy like Fernando Martinez, who’s trying to make our club, [being] gone for an extended period of time. I think that potentially hurts him, even if he does well in the Classic,” Luhnow said. “It hurts him because he’s not there with our coaches, being seen firsthand. It makes it a little bit more difficult. The fact he’s playing for Spain means he’s not going to be gone the whole month. Nothing against Spain, but they’re not likely to make it past the first round.”

I understand that we’re supposed to be all-in on the World Baseball Classic and that players who don’t take it seriously have the wrong attitude and are otherwise “idle heroes,”** but I’m sorry: if a general manager for a baseball team is saying that participating in it is going to have negative implications for you, you should not be playing in the WBC. If I’m Martinez’s agent I have him call the Spanish manager, say “smell you later,” and make sure my client’s butt is in Osceola County Stadium from the first day of Spring Training until the team breaks camp so as to give him the best chance to win a job.

As for what this says about the Classic itself, yes, I acknowledge that Martinez is a borderline major leaguer at best, and I acknowledge that Morosi’s point yesterday was that the big stars should be participating, not the Fernando Martinez’s of the world. But this little example is still telling with respect to the WBC’s true place in the baseball hierarchy and still explains why many big stars, quite understandably, choose not to participate.

For one thing, for Spain anyway, Fernando Martinez is a big star. He’s the best they can do in their outfield. And if the WBC is to become what Morosi and everyone who rah-rahs it wants it to be, every team has to put its best possible lineup out there. Watching all the American, Japanese, Korean, Cuban and Dominican superstars trounce the relatively empty rosters of other teams — which is what will happen if Jeff Luhnow’s sentiments are shared by GMs of other players like Martinez — will not turn this into the World Cup Part Deux, which is the ultimate aim Morosi and those who think like him about the WBC want it to be. It will keep it as a curious exhibition, best ignored until the late rounds at the most.

But more broadly, this little episode reveals that the teams and executives don’t value the WBC anywhere close to how they value the MLB season, even if they’re strongly encouraged to say they do by Major League Baseball and strongly wished to by WBC backers like Morosi. That has direct consequences for guys like Martinez, but you can’t tell me that superstars aren’t impacted by this too. They want to win in the MLB season and they want to be on the same page as their manager, their coaches and, yes, their front office.  No, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper won’t lose their jobs if they don’t play for Team USA, but it’s bleedin’ obvious that they have greater priorities and, if forced to be truthful, Jerry Dipoto and Mike Rizzo would prefer them to be in camp all spring rather than playing in the WBC.

It is not a lack of patriotism or a poor attitude that keeps all the superstars from playing in the WBC. It is the disconnect — the tremendous, tremendous gulf between the importance of the MLB season and the importance of the WBC — that keeps all the superstars from participating. And, contrary to what Morosi and other say, this gulf cannot be crossed merely by putting a nation’s colors on the uniform and simply asserting that it matters for flag and country.

**An earlier version of this post characterized Jon Paul Morosi’s criticism of players who do not participate in the WBC as one based on the players’ lack of patriotism. My reason for saying so was that it was my view, based on the entirety of his column, that he was, in fact, questioning players’ patriotism even if he did not intend to.  

In the past few hours Morosi and I have had an offline discussion in which he explained what he was getting at with yesterday’s column. Rather than lack of patriotism, he explained, he was criticizing the attitude of players who have an “insufficient perspective and awareness” of their obligations and the importance of the WBC.  While Morosi and I still likely disagree about all of this, I appreciate that questioning the patriotism of others is a serious charge and that, whatever my takeaway from Morosi’s column was, it was not his intention to do such a thing.