Joba and Hughes to be "programmed to start" and other Gammons notes

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Peter Gammons who, lest we forget, was working the news and rumors beat when Rosenthal and Heyman were watching “Superfriends” in their mammas’ rumpus rooms, has a number of nuggets this early afternoon:

— The Yankees are content to enter spring training with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes ready to work as starting pitchers, slotting in David Robertson and Damaso Marte as Mariano Rivera’s primary setup men.  Whether this is (a) the actual strategy; or (b) leverage for a future John Lackey negotiation (“starters? why would we need starters?”) is unclear, but it’s the right choice in my mind.  Give those two every conceivable chance to start and don’t pull the plug unless and until they unequivocally fail in the role.

— Contrary to all of the Granderson-Jackson-Cabrera speculation, Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch simply won’t allow a fire sale.  This matches up with my handicapping of the situation last week.  It’s easy to react emotionally in the early part of the offseason, but a clear-eyed assessment of the Tigers’ place in the universe right now suggests that they can and will strongly contend for the next few years, and that’s something they should focus on.

— People are questioning Aroldis Chapman’s integrity and character for leaving the agents who “got him out of Cuba.” Um, maybe. But it’s worth remembering that Chapman’s defection was not exactly some harrowing journey at sea. He walked to the lobby of his European hotel and got in a car.  There’s always two sides to every story. Do we know what Chapman’s agents promised him on the market? Do we know whether they’ve been honest with him? Do we know if there is some personal animus between the parties? Players leave agents all the time. Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad.  If I was interested in Chapman, I’d simply ask the guy what the deal was and go from there.

— Billy Beane is a Killers fan.  I’m too old to know if that makes Beane old or not, or cool or not.  The last album I bought was a Stax/Volt soul compilation, so I’m a little bit out of the loop with these things.

Orioles sign Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar
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The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.

Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.

Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.