Catcher J.R. Towles the fall guy for Astros' abysmal start

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j.r. towles.jpgJ.R. Towles had to know his margin for error was pretty slim at the start of the year. That he beat out 2008 first-round pick Jason Castro for a starting job was partly a financial decision — the Astros had quite a bit to gain there by sending Castro down for another two months — and partly a nod to the fact that, at age 26, he deserved one final chance to show the organization what he could do.
That chance figured to extend two months. After June 1, the Astros could call up Castro without fear that he’d be a free agent after 2015 or arbitration eligible after 2012.
But what no one counted on was the Astros’ 8-18 start. And since the team has so many expensive veterans locked into jobs, there was no easy way to get to the root of the problem. Becausee doing nothing was no longer an option, Towles was sent down on Tuesday and replaced by light-hitting veteran Kevin Cash.
It’s a ridiculous move designed only to show that GM Ed Wade isn’t asleep at the wheel. A change for the sake of making a change. Towles was hitting .191/.235/.319 this season, but it was just 47 at-bats. Despite starting only 13 of the Astros’ 26 games, he was third on the team with eight RBI.
Humberto Quintero, now the Astros’ starting catcher, has been worse than Towles, hitting .214/.250/.286 with three RBI in his 42 at-bats. The 30-year-old Quintero is a career .231/.273/.322 hitter in 590 major leaguer at-bats. Cash, 32, has hit .186/.248/.287 in his 527 at-bats.
When it comes to defense, Quintero is almost certainly an upgrade over Towles. Towles, though, had been far from bad this year. He was 3-for-11 throwing out basestealers, and he hadn’t allowed any passed balls. His catcher ERA of 4.55 was higher than Quintero’s 4.01 mark, but that’s due the fact that the Spanish-speaking Quintero was used as the personal catcher for Spanish-speaking No. 2 starter Wandy Rodriguez.
In the long run, it’s really not going to matter. Castro is the future, even though he’s been quite a disappointment while hitting .221/.369/.250 in 68 at-bats for Triple-A Round Rock. Quintero is just keeping his seat warm. Towles was likely on his way out of the organization even if he came through with a solid 2010 as a starter. Of course, any chance that he’d have some actual trade value now appears to be gone.

Report: Hanley Ramirez “eyed” in federal and state investigation

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Former Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez is reportedly being “eyed” in an ongoing federal and state investigation, per Michele McPhee of ABC News. McPhee did not elaborate on the exact nature of the investigation itself, but provided a few more details during an interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub on Friday:

“Obviously, I know absolutely nothing about sports or Hanley Ramirez’s stats, but what I do know is crime,” McPhee said. “And there has been some reports about a FaceTime phone call that was made between a man during a car stop. After that car stop, police recovered a significant amount of drugs. And during that car stop, the suspect claimed that one of the items found in the vehicle belonged to Hanley Ramirez and then FaceTimed [Ramirez] in front of police. And that car stop coordinated with the timing of his release from the Red Sox.”

McPhee further clarified that she thinks the suspect — who was reportedly transporting 435 grams of fentanyl and a “large amount” of crack cocaine — was tied to “a sweeping federal case involving a substantial ring that’s being operated out of Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

Ramirez, the Red Sox, and Major League Baseball have all denied knowledge of any current investigation. According to the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, Red Sox VP of media relations Kevin Gregg insisted that Ramirez had been dropped from the team for baseball reasons alone and had not been made aware of an investigation at the time of his release.

“Hanley has no knowledge of any of the allegations contained in this media report and he is not aware of any investigation,” the infielder’s agent, Adam Katz, added Friday.

The 34-year-old Ramirez was designated for assignment on May 25 and became a free agent on June 1. Prior to his release, he batted .254/.313/.395 over 195 plate appearances, 302 shy of the 497-PA threshold he would have needed to cross in order to activate his vesting option for 2019. He’s still owed the remainder of his $22 million salary for 2018.