Houston is going for it: Astros acquire left-hander Scott Kazmir from A’s

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Houston just made the first big splash of trade deadline season, acquiring left-hander Scott Kazmir from Oakland to bolster the rotation in exchange for minor leaguers Jake Nottingham and Dan Mengden.

Kazmir went from 22-year-old All-Star and Rays phenom to totally out of the big leagues in 2012, but resurrected his career with the Indians in 2013 and has been brilliant for the A’s since signing a two-year, $22 million deal as a free agent last offseason. Kazmir posted a 3.12 ERA in 50 total starts for Oakland, including a 2.38 ERA and 101/35 K/BB ratio in 110 innings this season with a big payday via free agency waiting around the corner.

He’s a legit top-of-the-rotation starter and now pairs with Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who was arguably the AL’s best pitcher in the first half. Houston is pushing some of their chips into the middle of the table after going from rebuilding to contending much more quickly than expected, starting the season 53-43 after losing 92, 111, 107, and 106 games during the past four years. They have tons of young talent headlined by rookie shortstop Carlos Correa, the Astros lead the league in homers and are third in runs scored, and now they have a pair of excellent southpaws atop the rotation. General manager Jeff Luhnow and company are going for it.

Neither minor leaguer the A’s received for Kazmir is considered a top prospect, but that’s to be expected given his impending free agency in two months. Nottingham was a 2013 sixth-round pick who struggled in his first two pro seasons, but the 20-year-old catcher/first baseman has hit .326 with 14 homers and a .941 OPS in 76 games at Single-A this year. Mengden was a 2014 fourth-round pick who’s pitched well at Single-A this season as a 22-year-old, throwing 88 innings with a 3.46 ERA and 84/26 K/BB ratio.

Next up for the A’s: Trading fellow impending free agent Tyler Clippard and Ben Zobrist.

Japanese Baseball to begin June 19

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Japanese League commissioner Atsushi Saito announced that Japan’s professional baseball season will open on June 19. Teams can being practice games on June 2. There will be no fans. Indeed, the league has not yet even begun to seriously discuss a plan for fans to begin attending games, though that may happen eventually.

The season will begin three months after its originally scheduled opening day of March 20. It will be 120 games long. Teams in each six-team league — the Central League and Pacific League — will play 24 games against each league opponent. There will be no interleague play and no all-star game.

The announcement came in the wake of a national state of emergency being lifted for both Tokyo and the island of Hokkaido. The rest of the country emerged from the state of emergency earlier this month. This will allow the Japanese leagues to follow leagues in South Korea and Taiwan which have been playing for several weeks.

In the United States, Major League Baseball is hoping to resume spring training in mid June before launching a shortened regular season in early July. That plan is contingent on the league and the players’ union coming to an agreement on both financial arrangements and safety protocols for a 2020 season. Negotiations on both are ongoing. Major League Baseball will, reportedly, make a formal proposal about player compensation tomorrow.