Collin McHugh calls out White Sox for manipulating Eloy Jiménez’s service time

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Astros pitcher Collin McHugh hasn’t been shy of sharing his point of view on the various issues surrounding Major League Baseball. He expressed solidarity with New Era workers last month, and has consistently been on top of the leagues’ service time manipulation issue. Last month, McHugh tweeted about Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (who has since suffered an injury), “They’re not even pretending to disguise their rationale anymore. This is not good. Fans deserve better.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the White Sox announced that outfield prospect Eloy Jiménez was among the players optioned to Triple-A Charlotte. Jiménez didn’t have a particularly great spring, albeit in a small sample size, batting .154/.154/.346. However, Jiménez is considered by MLB Pipeline — and many other reputable sources — to be the No. 3 prospect in baseball. He demolished minor league pitching to the tune of a .337/.384/.577 line last year between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Besides, it’s not like the White Sox outfield has anything going for it. If the season started today, the starting outfield would consist of Adam Engel, Jon Jay, Brandon Guyer, and Daniel Palka. PECOTA projects them, collectively, to be about replacement level. Jiménez is projected to be about two wins better than a replacement-level player.

McHugh called out the White Sox for sending Jiménez down. He tweeted, “Wishing Eloy the best of luck as he goes to AAA to work on…defense? baserunning? creating excess value for a $1.5 billion franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade? bunting?”

With wonks in every front office, every team has been guilty to some degree of manipulating its players service time, including McHugh’s Astros. It is assumed, generally, that because smart people think it’s a smart thing to do, then it must be smart. It’s not. Service time manipulation is actually against the rules, contrary to popular belief. That’s why front office executives dance around the issue every February and March.

Pitcher Eric O’Flaherty brought up a great point recently on Twitter. He said, “Braves could have manipulated Jason Heyward’s service time in 2010. They didn’t, and we clinched the NL wild card on the last day of the season.” In a follow-up tweet, O’Flaherty wrote, “JHey hitting a 450ft [three-run home run] on the first swing of his MLB career, with every single fan in a sold out, standing room only crowd chanting his name on Opening Day is a once in a lifetime sports moment that people will remember for the rest of their lives.”

To manipulate a player’s service time is also to be myopic. Gaining that extra year of service time might matter after the 2024 season, when Jiménez would become eligible for free agency if he were to break camp on the active roster. Who knows what the White Sox might look like heading into the 2025 season? What if the club performs above expectations this year and finds itself in contention for the AL Wild Card or, better yet, the AL Central title? It is an unlikely scenario, sure, but is it less likely than that extra year of control over Jiménez meaningfully affecting the fate of the White Sox franchise six years from now? Doubtful.

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.