Astros sign Houston product Crain to bolster bullpen

Astros sign Houston product Crain to bolster bullpen

Right-hander joins club on one-year deal after making ’13 All-Star team with White Sox

By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com | 12/31/2013 5:54 P.M. ET

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6/22/13: Jesse Crain pitches a scoreless eighth inning, extending his streak of scoreless appearances to 29

HOUSTON — After watching his team struggle to hold leads late in games last season, especially following the trade of closer Jose Veras to the Tigers, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow had no bigger assignment this offseason than improving the bullpen.

With that in mind, the Astros signed veterans Chad Qualls and Matt Albers — both of whom were drafted by the team — earlier this month, and on Tuesday put the wraps on 2013 by agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Jesse Crain, who played at the University of Houston and lives in the area with his family.

“It’s exciting,” Crain said. “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into with family and friends and all that. We’re real excited to spend time at home. Having three young kids definitely played a huge decision in signing here.”

Crain was an All-Star in a 2013 season in which he posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 games with the White Sox, striking out 46 and walking only 11 batters in 36 2/3 innings, including a 29-innings scoreless streak. He didn’t pitch after being traded to the Rays on July 29 because of biceps tendinitis that eventually required surgery, but he could be ready for Opening Day.

“I think there’s a chance,” he said. “But obviously that would be awesome if I could do that. Like I said, having this [signing] past us and getting a contract, I’m going to work on being healthy and moving on from there. It’s better to take your time up front and make sure you’re healthy instead of trying to rush through it.”

Crain said he’ll start throwing in the next two weeks.

“I feel good about the time table he’s on, and he’ll be able to contribute for a vast majority or all of the season,” Luhnow said.

Crain, 32, will join Qualls, Albers, Anthony Bass, Darin Downs and Raul Valdes as newcomers to an Astros relief corps that has been revamped over the course of the last few weeks. In 2013, the Astros ranked last in the Majors with a 4.92 bullpen ERA, and their 29 blown saves tied for the most.

“When [Crain] is healthy, he’s as good as it gets out of the bullpen,” Luhnow said. “This definitely shores up one of our big weaknesses of the team last year, which was the bullpen. I like our young guys, but I feel adding experienced relievers will help with their development and help them mature and help us win some games.”

The Astros got an extended look last season at several rookie relievers who will be competing for spots next spring — a list that includes Josh Zeid, Kevin Chapman, Chia-Jen Lo and Josh Fields. Unlike last year, the Astros will have depth and experience in the bullpen, but it remains to be seen who will close games.

Crain was the closer at UH in 2002 and closed throughout the Minor Leagues, but he never got the chance at Minnesota with Joe Nathan entrenched in that role.

“That’s something I always wanted to do,” he said. “I did it all the way up until I came to the big leagues … Sometimes when you’re good at a role, they don’t want to kind of take you out of it, and that’s where I was with the White Sox, and I never got a chance to do that. If you look at my career, I’ve thrown two or maybe three times in the ninth inning in save situations. It’s something I would love to get an opportunity to try.”

Fields and Lo briefly handled the closer’s role last year, and none of the veterans the team has obtained have much experience as closers in the Major Leagues.

“I think it will take all spring to figure that out,” Luhnow said. “We’ll leave that up to [manager] Bo [Porter] and has staff. There’s certainly plenty of innings to go around, and we have some good arms. There should be a good, healthy competition, and that includes the young guys from last year.”

In 10 Major League seasons with the Twins (2004-10) and White Sox (2011-13), Crain has posted a 45-30 record with four saves in 532 appearances (all in relief) with a 3.05 ERA and a .229 opponents’ average. His 45 wins in relief since his debut in 2004 are tied with Qualls for tops in the Majors in that span.

“As far as the last three or four years, I feel like I’ve gotten better every single year,” Crain said. “Last year, I started throwing my curveball more and showed some good results. Before, I had my slider, and that’s usually what I was known for. I was in the AL Central for 9 1/2 years, which is a long time, so you try to do new things and show something different. That’s what I tried to do last year.”

Crain played at both San Jacinto Junior College in Houston and UH, earning all-conference honors at both schools. He was taken in the second round of the 2002 Draft by the Twins and made his Major League debut two years later.

After revamping the bullpen, trading for center fielder Dexter Fowler and signing veteran starting pitcher Scott Feldman, the Astros’ 40-man roster is full. They appear to be finished with their major moves, but Luhnow said some things could still happen.

“We’re talking to some teams about trades and are still in touch with some free agents, but at this point, we feel good about what we’ve accomplished,” Luhnow said. “We’ll continue to be opportunistic, and if something developed we felt could improve our team, we’re not going to be hesitant to do it.”

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Hot Stove roundup: Betancourt drawing interest

 

 

 

Hot Stove roundup: Betancourt drawing interest

Yankees in pursuit of Tanaka; Pirates, Rangers swap Mikolas, McGuiness

By Quinn Roberts / MLB.com | 12/31/2013 12:50 A.M. ET

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With the new year quickly approaching, the Hot Stove was relatively quiet on Monday. However, a few attention-grabbing tidbits popped up.

Here’s a look at some of the day’s news and notes from around the league:

• Free-agent infielder Yuniesky Betancourt continues to draw interest from a number of teams. It’s even possible he could find a starting role, according to MLBTradeRumors.com. Betancourt had drawn interest from the Marlins this offseason, but with the signing of Casey McGehee, Miami no longer has a need for him.

• The Nationals re-signed second baseman Will Rhymes to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Rhymes hit .274 for Triple-A Syracuse last season. In his big league career with the Tigers (2010-11) and Rays (2012), Rhymes has hit .266 with 29 RBIs in 130 games.

• The Pirates acquired first baseman Chris McGuiness from the Rangers in exchange for right-hander Miles Mikolas. McGuiness was designated for assignment Friday to make room for Shin-Soo Choo on Texas’ 40-man roster. Mikolas, who ranked third in the Pacific Coast League with 26 saves for Triple-A Tucson last season, was added to Texas’ 40-man roster and will compete for the closer’s job after free agent Joe Nathan signed with Detroit.

• The Braves are still in talks with reliever Eric O’Flaherty, according to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. O’Flaherty had Tommy John surgery in May and is expected to miss the beginning of the season.

• The Yankees continue to show their interest in Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, contacting his representatives. New York is one of the first clubs to make contact with agent Casey Close and could make an offer sometime this week.

Trey Griffey, Ken Griffey Jr.’s son, catches first career touchdowns against Boston College

Nick Bromberg

By                                  2 hours ago                             Dr. Saturday
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(USA Today Sports Images)

Trey Griffey caught the first touchdown pass of his Arizona career in Tuesday’s AdvoCare V100 Bowl with his father, Ken Griffey Jr., behind an end zone with a camera.

Griffey made a leaping grab on the 26-yard pass from quarterback BJ Denker to give the Wildcats a 21-6 lead over Boston College at the end of the first quarter.

However his dad, the former Seattle Mariners legend who finished his career with 13 All-Star appearances and 630 homers, was stationed in the other end zone’s photography area. But in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s blowout 42-19 win, Trey Griffey caught a second touchdown pass, this one in the end zone in front of his dad.

After not making a catch in any of Arizona’s first nine games, Griffey had 11 catches in the past three games for the Wildcats, including three for 25 yards in Arizona’s upset win over Oregon.

For those of us children of the 1990s, it’s jarring to see Ken Griffey Jr.’s son playing college football. He was the epitome of baseball cool for many of us when we were kids. And Trey’s not the only son of a famous 1990s era athlete to make his mark for a Pac-12 team this year either. Barry Sanders‘ son, Barry Sanders Jr., displayed some quick feet reminiscent of his father earlier this season against Washington State.

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Roy Halladay went as ex-teammate Jamie Moyer for an ’80s party

Roy Halladay went as ex-teammate Jamie Moyer for an ’80s party

By                                on Dec 30 2013, 11:34p

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Because Jamie Moyer played in the ’80s … and also played in 2012.

Roy Halladay enjoyed his retirement by going to an ’80s costume party. Most people go to ’80s parties in the typical ’80s gear — tight neon clothes, hairbands, etc. — so what better to represent the 1980s than a guy you played with in 2010?

Moyer, of course, played in the majors from 1986 until 2012, when he pitched his last ball for the Rockies at the age of 49. Unbeknownst to us, Halladay was on the tail end of his career when the two played together in 2010, but he had been just 9 when Moyer made his debut for the Cubs in 1986. This picture was tweeted by Jamie’s wife — that’s her making the heart gesture, right? — so we’re guessing Doc had Jamie’s blessing.

 

Poll: Should Yankees boot John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman in move to WFAN?

Poll: Should Yankees boot John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman in move to WFAN?

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                    Mike Goldstein (cq, background) from Montclair, listens to WFAN’s “Mike and the Maddog” every day from his home-based office and is a regular caller to the show. 06/25/07 PHOTO BY JIM WRIGHT/FOR THE STAR LEDGER

Brendan Kuty/NJ.com By Brendan Kuty/NJ.com The Star-Ledger Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 31, 2013 at 11:31 AM, updated December 31, 2013 at  3:55 PM

              

The Yankees might look like an entirely different team in spring 2014.

Should their broadcast team change, too?

The New York Daily News recently reported it’s likely Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling will remain calling the team’s games as they move from WCBS-AM to WFAN-AM.

Which could make sense. WFAN probably wants to make the switch for Yankees listeners as smooth as possible. The radio station has already begun airing short segments with Sterling’s voice, the report said.

WFAN may still need to negotiate new contracts for Sterling and Waldman, as the pair’s deals, negotiated with WCBS, haven’t expired, the report said.

But would you want a change? And, if so, who would you want in the broadcast booth?

Tell us in the comments and take our poll.

Should the Should Yankees boot John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman in move to WFAN?
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