Cardinals strike gold, get Goldschmidt from Diamondbacks
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, December 6
PHOENIX (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals struck gold in their search for a big hitter, acquiring slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in a blockbuster trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday.
Eager to push for the playoffs after a three-year absence, St. Louis sent pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, minor league infielder Andy Young and a 2019 draft pick to Arizona.
A six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner at 31, Goldschmidt was among the top players available in the trade market. He hit .290 with 33 home runs and 83 RBIs last season.
“We’ve been busy this offseason working to upgrade our lineup, and today we are excited to announce the acquisition of one of the game’s premier players,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said in a statement.
Goldschmidt has a $14.5 million salary next year, receives a $1 million assignment bonus for the trade and will be eligible for free agency after next season. The Cardinals have a history of acquiring top hitters and then signing them to long-term deals, including Mark McGwire and Matt Holliday.
St. Louis went 88-74 last season and felt it needed a boost in the middle of a lineup that includes Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna and Yadier Molina to compete with the likes of Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. The Cardinals’ postseason drought is their longest since 1997-99.
Free-agent slugger Bryce Harper has supposedly been on the Cards’ wish list, too, with the winter meetings coming up this weekend. Last offseason, the Cardinals had worked out a deal with Miami for NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, but he refused to waive his no-trade clause.
Arizona went 82-80 in the NL West and finished behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado, which both made the playoffs.
The Diamondbacks parted ways with a homegrown player who grew to be the face of the franchise but is nearing the end of an extremely team-friendly contract. The quiet slugger was selected by Arizona in the eighth round of the 2009 draft and made his major league debut in 2011.
In 2013, Goldschmidt hit 36 home runs and drove in 125. In 2017, he matched that home-run high with 36 and drove in 120. He is a .297 career hitter with 209 home runs, and was runner-up in the NL MVP voting in 2013 and 2015.
“Certainly this is a bittersweet decision on our part,” Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said on a conference call. “I don’t think I could overestimate the impact that Paul had on our team.”
Hazen said the key to the deal was what the Cardinals offered in return. If there was no trade, the Diamondbacks faced the prospect of Goldschmidt leaving as a free agent after next season.
“There are decisions you want to do and there are decisions you know you have to do,” Hazen said.
He said he understood fans’ disappointment.
“Paul is possibly the best player in the National League,” Hazen said. “We understand that. We’ve understood that for a long time.”
Despite an awful start to last season, he bounced back to once again become a powerful force. Goldschmidt was the Diamondbacks’ franchise leader in slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
“This was an extremely difficult decision given how much Paul has meant to our team both on and off the field. He represents everything it means to be a D-back, and we are very thankful to him for all that he has done for our franchise and our fans,” Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall said.
Weaver, a 25-year-old right-hander, was 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA last season. He was long rated among the top St. Louis prospects and Hazen expects him to immediately join the rotation.
The 24-year-old Kelly has played for the Cardinals in parts of the past three seasons, batting .154. He is highly regarded for his defensive ability.
Young, 24, hit a combined .289 in Double-A and high-A ball.
The draft choice that Arizona got will come after the second round, likely a pick somewhere in the high 70s or low 80s.
Free agency had already cost the Diamondbacks, who made the playoffs and beat Colorado in the NL Wild Card game a year ago before being swept by the Dodgers. They were priced out of any chance of re-signing left-hander Patrick Corbin.
Corbin signed a $140 million, six-year contract with the Washington Nationals. Center fielder A.J. Pollock remains on the free-agent market but it seems unlikely the Diamondbacks would re-sign him.
Hazen said it’s premature to say Arizona is in a full-scale rebuilding mode, noting the team still has plenty of talented players.
But another Arizona question is whether it can trade ace right-hander Zack Greinke, a move that probably would require the Diamondbacks to eat a chunk of his formidable salary.
Hazen wouldn’t offer a guess on whether Greinke would be on the team next season but said “We’re exploring everything possible to make this organization stronger.”
MLB players concerned about retooling teams, attendance drop
By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
Thursday, December 6
NEW YORK (AP) — Baseball players are concerned the Seattle Mariners have become yet another rebuilding team and may be joined by others following a season of steep attendance drops among clubs that faded early and never contended for the playoffs.
Union head Tony Clark and new collective bargaining director Bruce Meyer said Wednesday their members also are concerned about rapid change in the way games are played, such as the increased use of relief pitchers, and are willing to speak with management this offseason about whether counteracting changes are needed.
Altering the amateur draft to include an NBA-style lottery for the top picks, the 10-day disabled list and the 10-day minimum for the recall of players optioned to the minors are among the topics the union is prepared to talk about as part of a wider discussion. So are possible rules to counter offense-suffocating defensive shifts.
And the union maintains its agreement is necessary for any changes in anti-gambling rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that allows more widespread legal betting.
But Seattle’s decision to trade Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Jean Segura and Edwin Diaz raised concern among players already angered by Baltimore, the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami and Pittsburgh jettisoning veterans.
“We have seen some things that are eerily similar to last offseason,” Clark said. “One of the concerns in general has to do with the level of competition or interest in competition across the teams in general. … When you have teams who are as we’ve seen already moving considerable amounts of their roster and/or other teams who are talking about doing so, it raises concerns about how that’s going to affect the market.”
Hours after Clark spoke, Arizona dealt All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis for prospects, perhaps signaling an exodus of veterans from the desert.
Players have taken to calling the process tanking, while management calls it the type of normal rebuilding that has been going on throughout Major League Baseball’s history. There were three 100-loss teams this year for the second time since 1985 and eight 95-loss teams for the first time in big league history.
“There are teams that are effectively announcing at the beginning of the year that they’re not going to be competitive that year, and in some cases that they’re not going to field the best players that they have,” said Meyer, who spent two years in a similar role for the NHL Players Association before switching to baseball in September.
MLB points to data showing 27 percent of teams had 90 or more losses in each of the last three years, a figured that has fluctuated between 20 percent and 33 percent since 2000.
“Last offseason, the union filed a grievance against four clubs that it claimed were not trying to win,” said MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem, citing a case against Miami, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. “One of those clubs made the playoffs, another club won 90 games and a third club was in contention through the trade deadline. I don’t think the players’ association has any credibility on opining on how clubs will perform.”
Attendance has gotten the attention of both sides. Toronto and Miami each had attendance drops of more than 800,000, Kansas City by over 500,000, and Baltimore, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Texas in excess of 400,000.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred attributes part of the drop to unusual weather that led to 54 postponements, the most since 1989, and many more games played in cold. Players see lack of competitiveness as a bigger factor.
“We have teams … talking about a three-, four-, five-, six-year plans,” Clark said. “We saw how that manifested itself last year and have concerns about how it’s going to manifest itself this year.”
The union refused last offseason to agree to management’s proposal to install pitch clocks but did not block a new rule limiting mound visits that contributed to a 4 1/2-minute drop in the average time of a nine-inning game to 3 hours, 44 seconds. A wider discussion appears likely to take place this offseason.
Players are concerned about the drop in offense. The big league batting average dropped to its lowest level since 1972 at .248, strikeouts topped hits for the first time and defensive shifts increased by another 30 percent while innings and pitches per starting pitcher dropped again.
“To this point, there truly hasn’t been a definitive position taken on the ‘shift/no shift’ issue from among the player group,” Clark said. “But players thus far have been willing to talk about it as part of a much broader conversation.”
A lottery for the top draft picks could discourage some teams from rebuilding, which leads to losses, high selections that add top amateurs at relatively low prices and a path to success years later.
“There are a lot of pieces to the conversation. I think the draft is one of them,” Clark said.
Altering the disabled list or option recall rules could decrease the supply of fresh arms available to managers each game, which could start to reverse the increased use of relief pitchers. But players have benefited from the 10-day DL, which began in 2017; disabled players accrue major league service time along with their replacements, and that service time is needed to be eligible for salary arbitration and free agency.
“There’s an acknowledgment that it may be a part of the conversation based on what we’ve seen certain teams do over the last couple of years,” Clark said. “It has lent itself to more players getting more major league service as a result of that movement.”
Players also want to be part of the discussion of betting prohibitions. MGM Resorts International became MLB’s official gambling partner last week. MLB and club employees, including players, are prohibited from betting on baseball. MLB is considering updated policies that would prohibit them from causing bets to be made and from distributing confidential information that could impact betting, a person familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press last week. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the policies were not final.
The union insists change to major league rules need its assent.
“There’s a number of conversations that are going to need to be had,” Clark said.
Ex-major leaguers Valbuena, Castillo die in Venezuela crash
By FABIOLA SANCHEZ
Saturday, December 8
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Former major league players Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo were killed in a car crash in Venezuela caused by highway bandits who then robbed them, officials said Friday.
The 33-year-old Valbuena and 37-year-old Castillo died late Thursday when their SUV crashed as it tried to veer around an object on the road, Yaracuy state Gov. Julio Leon Heredia said on his Twitter account. Officials said some bandits place or throw objects on highways to force vehicles to stop or crash so they can rob the occupants.
Heredia said four people have been detained after being found with property of the athletes.
Valbuena and Castillo were teammates on the Cardenales de Lara team in the Venezuelan winter league and were returning from a game in the capital when the crash occurred en route to the city of Barquisimeto.
Third baseman Carlos Rivero was in the car and survived, according to the website beisbolplay.
Valbuena, an 11-year major league veteran, hit .199 with nine homers and 33 RBIs in 96 games this year for the Los Angeles Angels, who released him on Aug. 7.
“I will miss Luis’ banter, smile, genuine love for his teammates, and, of course, the bat flips,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said in a statement. “He was a beloved person whether he was on our team or across the field.”
Valbuena hit .226 with 114 home runs over 11 big league seasons with the Angels, Seattle, Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs and Houston.
“Luis was always smiling and was one of the happiest players in baseball,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in a statement. “He provided joy to his teammates and our fans. He helped our franchise turn a corner in 2015 and provided many cherished memories.”
Castillo played five seasons with Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Houston. He had a .254 average with 39 home runs.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in a tweet that “I join in the mourning that has overwhelmed the Venezuelan baseball family and all of its fans.”
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a statement calling it “a very sad day for our sport.”
“It is clear by all the stories today that they loved baseball and made an impact on their teammates and the Clubs they represented,” he said, expressing “my deepest condolences to their families, friends and fans, particularly those in their native Venezuela.”
By late Friday afternoon, the coffins with the players’ bodies had arrived in Antonio Herrera Gutierrez stadium in Barquisimeto where they were received amid tears by their teammates. A Mass was held to bid them good bye.
The Venezuelan Professional Baseball League announced that all three scheduled games Friday were cancelled and it said flags will fly at half-staff in all stadiums for three days.
League president Juan Jose Avila told Union Radio that he was evaluating the possibility of forbidding players from traveling in private cars to move between games, saying if the players had been on the team bus, “nothing would have happened to them.”
Venezuelan teams tend to travel in buses protected by security forces.
Venezuelan baseball fans mourn death of ex-major leaguers
Saturday, December 8
BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (AP) — Dozens of Venezuelans waited in line outside a chapel in the state of Lara on Saturday, hoping to bid farewell to former major league baseball player Luis Valbuena, who was killed in a car accident along with teammate Jose Castillo.
The corpse of Castillo was moved earlier in the morning to a different central-west state.
The 33-year-old Valbuena and 37-year-old Castillo were both former players for the Houston Astros.
They died late Thursday when their SUV crashed as it tried to veer around an object put on the road. Officials said some bandits place or throw objects on highways to force vehicles to stop so they can rob the occupants.
Yaracuy state Gov. Julio Leon Heredia said four people were detained after being found with property of the athletes.
Valbuena and Castillo were teammates on the Cardenales de Lara team in the Venezuelan winter league and were returning from a game in the capital when the crash occurred en route to the city of Barquisimeto in Lara.
No others details about the incident were available.
On Saturday, their deaths caused an outpouring of grief as fellow teammates, family members and fans wore shirts from the winter league and lined up to say goodbye.
Retired Cardenales player Robert Perez and Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera were both in attendance.
Cardenales third baseman Carlos Rivero, who survived the crash, visited the chapel wearing dark sunglasses and bearing a small bruise on his forehead.
Valbuena hit .226 with 114 home runs over 11 big league seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros.
Castillo played five seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros. He had a .254 average with 39 home runs.
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