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Luis Valbuena, José Castillo die in car accident

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MLB passed along tragic news early Friday morning: Luis Valbuena and José Castillo died in a car accident. According to Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times, The crash occurred after a winter league game in Venezuela, the native country of both players. The two were in a car with former major leaguer Carlos Rivero and a chauffeur when the car collided with a rock. Rivero and the chauffeur survived the crash. Valbuena was 33, having just celebrated his birthday on November 30. Castillo was 37.

Valbuena had an 11-year major league career from 2008-18, playing for the Mariners, Indians, Cubs, Astros, and most recently the Angels. His best years came in 2014-16, when he posted an aggregate .776 OPS with 54 home runs and 147 RBI over that three-year span. Valbuena mostly played third base, but was quite versatile, spending a fair amount of time at second base, first base, and shortstop as well.

Valbuena was a bit of a flashy player, occasionally flipping his bat and not always on home runs. He always looked like he was having fun on the field, something to which all players should aspire.

Castillo spent parts of five years in the majors from 2004-08 with the Pirates, Giants, and Astros. He put together a career .675 OPS playing mostly second and third base, and occasionally shortstop. Castillo also spent some time playing baseball in Japan and Mexico as well as the Venezuelan Winter League.

Castillo’s claim to fame was starting a triple play against the Padres on May 30, 2008. Alex Hinshaw allowed a single and a walk to Brian Giles and Adrián González. When Keiichi Yabu relieved Hinshaw, Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a grounder to Castillo at third base, who started a 5-4-3 triple play.

We send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Valbuena and Castillo, as well as the respective organizations for which they played.

Rakuten Golden Eagles sign Jabari Blash

Jabari Blash
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Former Angels outfielder Jabari Blash has signed a one-year deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, the team announced Friday. Per the Japan Times, the deal is said to be worth around $1.06 million. Blash was released from his contract with the Angels at the end of November.

The 29-year-old outfielder has had a rough go of it in the majors, where he failed to duplicate the promising results he delivered in the minors. While he consistently batted above .250 with 20-30 home runs per season at the Double- and Triple-A level, he petered out in back-to-back gigs with the Padres and Angels and slumped toward a .103/.200/.128 finish across 45 PA for Anaheim in 2018.

The hope, of course, is that the environment in NPB will help him get a better handle on his issues at the plate — in a best case scenario, resulting in a full-scale transformation that could make him more marketable to MLB teams in the future. To that end, Blash expects to be utilized as a cleanup batter in the Eagles’ lineup and will focus on assisting the club as they make a run toward the Japan Series.