Hunter Pence takes a seat on Houston’s bench

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With trade rumors swirling, Hunter Pence is on the Astros bench on Wednesday night.  However, it’s not because he’s been dealt, says the Houston Chronicle’s Zachary Levine.

Pence, mired in a 7-for-40 skid since the All-Star break, was told Tuesday that he’d get tonight off.

Pence has just one extra-base hit and two RBI in 11 games since his All-Star appearance.  He had 17 doubles, eight homers and 43 RBI in 55 games during April and May, but he has just seven doubles, three homers and 19 RBI in 42 games since.

Still, Pence’s trade value remains sky-high.  The Astros reportedly backed out of a deal with the Phillies that might have included two top prospects in right-hander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton.  The Braves could also redouble their efforts to land the right fielder after losing Brian McCann to the disabled list.

Then there are the Red Sox, who insist on testing the waters whenever an All-Star talent becomes available.

The Astros still appear unlikely to deal Pence, preferring instead to discuss starting pitchers Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez.  Still, given the dearth of talent in the organization, they’d be foolish to rule anything out.

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.