Your 2014 Home Run Derby Preview

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Yes, I poo-pooed the Home Run Derby earlier today, but it’s still a thing that’s happening so it’s not like we’re going to ignore it. Indeed, let’s break this thing down. At least to some degree.

The captains, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista have picked their teams, and they break down like this:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Troy Tulowitzki
Giancarlo Stanton
Yasiel Puig
Todd Frazier
Justin Morneau

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Jose Bautista
Josh Donaldson
Adam Jones
Brian Dozier
Yoenis Cespedes

Some big names with big power there. I tend to like the NL Field better, as it has the guy with the most raw power in all of baseball in Giancarlo Stanton, a highly-underrated power guy in Todd Frazier — he has hit several 450-foot+ homers this year — and a former Derby champ in Justin Morneau. Not that the AL field is bad. Cespedes won it last year and no one can doubt Bautista’s power. I just think the NL has to have the edge here.

The format may be the biggest star, however. It’s different this year, designed to keep guys fresher longer. Which has been a problem in the past, as performers who light it up early often run out of gas in the later rounds (think Josh Hamilton in 2008). This year players will be limited to seven outs, instead of 10. Also, the two guys who lead their league in first-round homers will get a second round bye and head straight to the semi-finals, thus rewarding the quick starters with a nice break.

Six players will advance out of the first round (the two league leaders and the four guys at large) and two will advance out of the second round to face the two bye-recipients in the semis. The two finals participants will get seven outs apiece, and, if it comes down to a tiebreaker, they’ll get three swings apiece.

Here is how Vegas breaks it down:

Giancarlo Stanton: 2/1
Yoenis Cespedes: 5/1
Jose Bautista: 5/1
Yasiel Puig: 6/1
Troy Tulowitzki: 13/2
Josh Donaldson: 10/1
Adam Jones: 12/1
Brian Dozier: 12/1
Todd Frazier: 12/1
Justin Morneau: 15/1

Like I said last week, I think Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau are being slept on somewhat. Maybe Brian Dozier too. But, as always, we have no real clue until they start to grip it and rip it tonight.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”