Joe Mauer, plate appearances, and hitting .400

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Joe Mauer won Player of the Month honors
for his ridiculous May performance, hitting .414 with 11 homers and 32
RBIs in 28 games after spending all of April on the disabled list with
a back injury. And he’s actually raised his batting average so far in
June.

Mauer went 4-for-4 last night,
making him 26-for-57 (.456) this month while raising his overall
average to .429. Missing the first month of the season leaves him 20
plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title, but Mauer
has been so amazing that even going 0-for-20 in those imaginary trips
to the plate would leave him with an MLB-leading .381 mark.

Three years ago Mauer became the first catcher in AL history to win
the batting title and the first catcher in MLB history to lead all of
baseball in batting average. Then last year Mauer became the first
catcher in AL history to win two batting titles. And this year he looks poised to become the first catcher, in either league, to win three batting titles.

Or maybe even make a run at .400. Of course, all you need to know about
how hard it is to hit .400 for an entire season is that Mauer has
batted .429 through mid-June and, if he continues to walk at the same
rate, would need to hit .382 over the remainder of the season to get
there with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

He ultimately needs at least 317 more trips to the plate to qualify
for the batting title and the list of players who’ve hit .380 or higher
during a season in which they had 300 or more plate appearances over
the past 50 years looks like this: Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Rod Carew.
Of course, the list of highest career batting averages over the past 50
years also looks like this:

                     AVG
Tony Gwynn .338
Albert Pujols .334
Ichiro Suzuki .334
Roberto Clemente .329
Wade Boggs .328
Todd Helton .328
Rod Carew .328
JOE MAUER .325
Vladimir Guerrero .322
Kirby Puckett .318

With a .429 average in mid-June and a .325 career mark to go along with
the lack of April plate appearances, Mauer is as well-positioned to
make a serious run at hitting .400 as someone can be 66 games into the
season. And yet as Brett, Carew, Gwynn, Todd Helton, John Olerud,
Chipper Jones, Nomar Garciaparra, Larry Walker, and basically everyone
since Ted Williams in 1941 has learned he still has very little chance
of actually getting there.

Yankees trade Sonny Gray to the Reds

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The deal was much talked about all weekend and now the deal is done: The Cincinnati Reds gave acquired starter Sonny Gray and lefty Reiver Sanmartin from the Yankees in exchange for second base prospect Shed Long and a 2019 competitive balance pick.

The key to making the deal happen: Gray agreeing to a a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The Reds will likewise hold a $12 million club option for 2023. The deal had been struck and a window granted through close of business today to get Gray to agree to the extension and, obviously, he has.

The Reds will get a pitcher coming off of a bad season in which he posted a disappointing 4.90 ERA in 23 starts and seven relief appearances. He was hammered particularly hard in Yankee Stadium but pitched better on the road. Great American Ballpark is not a great pitcher’s park itself but any change of scenery would be nice for Gray, who had become much unwanted and unloved in New York. In Cincinnati he has the assurance of a spot in the rotation and, even better for him, he will be reunited with his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, who joined new manager David Bell’s Reds staff earlier this offseason. If he bounces back even a little bit, the Reds will have a useful starter at a below market price for four years. If he doesn’t, well, they haven’t exactly gone bankrupt taking the chance.

The Reds will also get Reiver Sanmartin, 22, who started in the Rangers system before being traded to the Yankees. He’s a soft-tosser who figures to be a reliever if he makes the big leagues. He played at four different levels last season, with one game at Double-A and the rest below that, posting a composite 2.80 ERA in 10 starts and 13 overall appearances while striking out 7.8 batters per nine.

The Yankees will get Shed Long, who is ranked as the Reds’ seventh best prospect. The 23-year old second baseman hit .261/.353/.412 at Double-A in 2018 and has hit very close to that overall line for his entire six-year minor league career. He strikes out a bit and may not stick at second base long term, shifting to a corner outfield slot perhaps, but he’s a legitimate prospect.

The Reds get another starter with some upside. The Yankees get rid of a problem and gain a prospect and a draft pick. Sonny Gray gets some job and financial security at a time when it is not at all clear what his future holds. Not a bad baseball trade.

UPDATE: Welp, the Yankees don’t have a prospect anymore. They just traded long to the Mariners for outfielder Josh Stowers. Stowers was a second-round pick in last year’s draft. He’s 21 and batted .260/.380/.410 with five homers and 20 steals over 58 games in Short-Season ball in 2018. He’s ranked by MLB.com as the Mariners’ No. 10 prospect, but now he’s New York bound.