In addition to the $18.5 million he will receive over the next three years from the Astros, relief pitcher Luke Gregerson told MLB.com on Thursday the chance to be reunited with manager A.J. Hinch played a big role in his decision to come to Houston.
Gregerson, in Houston to take a physical, said he had a lot of respect for the first-year Astros manager and talked to him often when they were together in San Diego. Hinch worked in the San Diego front office for four years before joining the Astros. Gregerson pitched for the Padres from 2009-13 before playing for the A’s last year.
“I’m really excited to see A.J. Hinch over here,” he said. “I got to spend some time with him there in San Diego, so that was another deciding factor in me coming in. I see a lot of potential. In San Diego I go to talk to him a whole bunch on plane flights. I got to talk to him about baseball and his life and whatever. I love his knowledge of the game and I think he’s going to have a lot to say about this team.”
The Astros are scheduled to introduce Gregerson and fellow newcomer Pat Neshek at a press conference Friday at Minute Maid Park. The relievers will shore up a bullpen that’s been among baseball’s worst the last few years. Gregerson, Neshek and Chad Qualls were all on the Padres in 2011, though Neshek bounced between the Majors and Minors.
“Obviously, you’ve seen it over and over again,” he said. “If you can’t hold onto a lead late in the game, it’s hard to win a lot of ballgames. They’ve definitely taken the right steps in making sure that doesn’t happen this year.”
Gregerson will make $6 million in 2015, $6.25 million in ’16 and $6.25 million in ’17. The contract also has enough incentives written into it that Gregerson could make as much as $21 million total over the three-year span.
Gregerson, 30, has long been one of the most dependable setup men in the game. His ERA has steadily dropped since his first season, 2009, when he went 2-4 with a 3.24 mark in 72 games for San Diego. Last season, his first with the A’s after five with the Padres, he went 5-5 with a 2.12 ERA in 72 outings. He has made at least 61 appearances in each of his six big league seasons, and at least 72 in five of them.
He hasn’t had a chance to close because he’s been on the same teams as Heath Bell and Huston Street, but he wouldn’t mind the opportunity.
“I’m ready for whatever they’ve got in store for me,” he said. “I’ve always said I feel like the seventh, eighth, ninth inning they’re all very similar. It’s a mental block you have to get past knowing it’s the last inning and that’s one of the most important and make sure you get the last three outs of the game and get your team the win. I’m up for whatever they have in store for me.”
Gregerson faced the Astros nine times last year and was impressed with the improvements the young team made.
“That’s an important part of the game,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of young guys that are transitioning to the big leagues a little quicker than they used to, maybe, and I think the way this team was fun to watch, and not so fun to pitch against.”
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow wasn’t joking when he said Wednesday the team planned to use as much time as necessary to set its 40-man roster in advance of Thursday’s 10:59 p.m. CT deadline. And with an hour to spare, the Astros made a late addition.
Hard-throwing right-hander Michael Feliz, who was left off the 40-man in the announcement the Astros made earlier in the day, was added to it about an hour prior to the deadline, putting the roster at 39. Luhnow said the Astros were working on a trade that didn’t come to fruition, prompting them to put Feliz on the roster.
Earlier on Thursday, the Astros added right-hander Vincent Velasquez and infielder Ronald Torreyes to the roster, while losing right-hander Josh Zeid to waivers to the Tigers and outrighting right-hander Anthony Bass to Triple-A Fresno. Bass was arbitration eligible, which gives him the option to elect free agency or accept the outright assignment.
“We intentionally did not say that was our final roster because we knew we had until 11 o’clock tonight,” Luhnow said. “There’s always a lot of discussion the day of the roster setting. It’s a good opportunity for teams to talk and see if someone needs to be protected and maybe another team wants him you could swap guys like that. We had a couple of things cooking and nothing came to fruition.”
When asked if the team was working on a deal involving Feliz, Luhnow declined to elaborate.
“All along, I said we were going to use our available time and we were working on something that didn’t come to fruition and the end result of that is we’re putting Feliz on the roster,” Luhnow said.
The Astros have one roster spot remaining to add a free agent or acquire a player in the Rule 5 Draft, though Luhnow hinted Wednesday the Astros might be inclined not to make a selection. The Astros could still open some 40-man roster spots as well.
Feliz, the Astros’ seventh-ranked prospect, is perhaps the hardest thrower in the system, sustaining mid-90s mph over the course of seven innings. He has starter potential and is making strides developing his secondary pitches.
He went 8-6 in 25 appearances (19 starts) with Quad Cities (Class A) in 2014 with a 4.03 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings pitched. Feliz, who was originally signed by the Astros as a non-drafted free agent in 2010, participated in the 2014 All-Star Futures Game as a member of the World Team roster.
“He pitched an inning in the Futures Game, and that was his coming out part to the industry and we definitely feel worthy of a roster spot,” Luhnow said.
The Astros, like all Major League teams, face a 10:59 p.m. CT deadline Thursday to set their 40-man roster in advance of next month’s Rule 5 Draft. After the trade two weeks ago that brought catcher Hank Conger to Houston, the Astros have 38 players on their roster, so they have two additional slots to add to players to protect them from getting exposed in the Rule 5 Draft.
Here are the 38 players on the 40-man roster:
Pitchers (19) – Anthony Bass, Jake Buchanan, Kevin Chapman, Luis Cruz, Sam Deduno, Darin Downs, Scott Feldman, Josh Fields, Mike Foltynewicz, Will Harris, Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock, Chad Qualls, Tony Sipp, Alex White, Asher Wojciechowski, Josh Zeid.
Catchers (4) – Jason Castro, Hank Conger, Carlos Corporan, Max Stassi.
Infielders (7) – Jose Altuve, Matt Dominguez, Marwin Gonzalez, Marc Krauss, Gregorio Petit, Jon Singleton, Jonathan Villar.
Outfielders (7) – Dexter Fowler, Robbie Grossman, L.J. Hoes, Jake Marisnick, Alex Presley, Domingo Santana, George Springer.
DH (1) – Chris Carter.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he will use as much time as necessary to decide which players to protect in advance. One of the factors the Astros take into consideration when deciding which players to protect is whether that player is likely to stick on another team’s Major League roster. Players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on the team’s 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back to their original club.
Players not on the team’s 40-man roster who signed at age 19 or older and have been in the organization for four years or were signed at age 18 or younger and have been in the organization for five years can be taken in the Rule 5 Draft. The Draft his held Dec. 11 at the end of the Winter Meetings in San Diego.
“You have to prepare for the possibility of signing some free agents prior to the Rule 5 Draft, which means that you’ve got to leave a couple of spots open,” Luhnow said. “You have to take a guess as whether that’s one, two three or four spots you need to leave open, and you’ve got to consider the risk of leaving players exposed to the Rule 5, and that’s really the biggest consideration.”
Here’s a list of Astros Minor League players eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft if not added to the 40-man.
Right-handers — Ruben Alaniz, Agapito Barrios, Jamain Cotton, Chris Devenski, Jonas Dufek, Michael Feliz, Edison Frias, Jandel Gustave, Angel Heredia, Krishawn Holley, Juan Minaya, Jose Montero, Tyson Perez, Francis Ramirez, Richard Rodriguez, Jason Stoffel, Fredrick Tiburcio, Vincent Velasquez, Andrew Walter, Kyle Weiland
Left-handers — Colton Cain, Ambiorix De Leon, Evan Grills, Reymin Guduan, Mitchell Lambson, David Rollins, Tommy Shirley, Blaine Sims.
Infielders — Delino Deshields Jr., Matt Duffy, Jose Fernandez, Alex Gonzalez, Jonathan Meyer, Jiovanni Mier, Chad Moon, Jose Solano, Ruben Sosa, Ronald Torreyes
Outfielders — Ydarqui Marte, Jorge Martinez, Brandon Meredith, Telvin Nash, Ariel Ovando, Jordan Scott, Danry Vasquez.
Catchers — Jobduan Morales, Robert Pena.
Alan Zinter played in more than 1,800 Minor League games, but only 67 Major League games, so he doesn’t taking putting on a big league uniform lightly. He was 34 years old when he made his Major League debut in 2002 when he played in 39 games for the Astros, and he had a cup of coffee with the D-backs a couple of years later.
He’s the definition of a baseball grinder, a man who’s worked hard and paid his dues just to get a taste of life in the big leagues. And he hasn’t stopped since his playing days ended. Zinter, 46, spent the last three seasons as Cleveland’s Minor League hitting coordinator (2012-14) after serving as a hitting coach in Arizona’s minor league system from 2008-11.
The goal was to get back to the big leagues. The Astros hired him on Tuesday to be their assistant hitting coach, giving Zinter a second life as a Major Leaguer.
“This is my second career,” he said. “I love the game of baseball. To be fortunate enough to play for such a long time and only have a little bit over a year, two different years at the end of my career [in the Majors], left me hungrier for more. I wanted to stay in the game and I wanted to be a hitting coach and I just wanted to make an impact and help the kids.
“My goal is to work with the best in the world and be a Major League hitting coach. This is obviously a really close step towards that in the big league. Luckily, now they have assistant coaches that are part of the staff. I’m very fortunate. This is awesome. This feels like when I just got called up in 2002 with the Astros. It ranks right up there with everything.”
The Astros have hired former Major Leaguer Alan Zinter as their assistant hitting coach, general manager Jeff Luhnow said. He had been serving as the Minor League hitting coordinator for the Cleveland Indians.
Zinter appeared in 67 career games – 39 with the Astros in 2002 and 28 with Arizona in 2004 –and has a solid reputation in baseball circles.
“There’s a lot of people in our organization that know him well,” Luhnow said. “He’s really developed as a hitting coach in Cleveland and he came strongly recommended. We’re happy to have him. He’s going to be a great complement to [hitting coach] Dave Hudgens and a good addition to our coaching staff.”
Ralph Dickenson, who served in the assistant hitting coach role last season, will be a roving Minor League instruction, joining Jeff Albert. The hiring of Zinter rounds out the Astros coaching staff.
Here is manager A.J. Hinch’s coaching staff.
Bench coach: Trey Hillman
First base coach: Rich Dauer
Third base coach: Gary Pettis
Hitting coach: Dave Hudgens
Assistant hitting coach: Alan Zinter
Pitching coach: Brent Strom
Bullpen coach: Craig Bjornson
With free agency set to start early next week, the Astros are already doing their homework in preparation of being active in the market, general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
The Astros, coming off a season in which they improved by 19 wins, are seeking to upgrade their bullpen, corner infield and add some power to the outfield and are willing to increase their payroll by at least $20 million more to achieve those goals.
Luhnow said the Astros have already targeted a list of players they want to go after and will be soon reaching out to their agents to express interest.
“It’s just a matter of how much interest they’re going to get and what kind of timetable they want to run,” Luhnow said. “But we’ll be there, we’ll be involved.”
Luhnow has already reached out to about a dozen teams and had relatively in-depth conversations about offseason needs while starting to explore the trade market. By the time Luhnow gets to the General Mangers’ Meetings in Phoenix early next month, he’ll have talked to every team prior to getting a chance to sit face-to-face with some teams.
“There’s been some turn over in front offices,” Luhnow said. “We think we know what players might be available, but you never know until the season’s over and people are taking stock of their areas of improvement and where they have excess and you never know where there’s going to be a match. You’ve just go to talk to everybody.”
When asked if the Astros would be active this offseason, Luhnow didn’t hesitate.
“I think we will sign a free agents, and I think we’ll make a trade or two,” he said. “That’s status quo for us. I don’t have anything necessarily in the works or specifically in mind right now. You definitely think of ways you improve your team every conversation you have.”
Astros right-hander Brad Peacock could miss the start of the 2015 regular season while he recovers from arthroscopic surgery performed earlier this month on his right hip to repair a torn labrum and remove bone spurs.
Peacock, whose surgery was performed by Dr. Thomas Byrd in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 6, said he will be on crutches for five more weeks before undergoing two months of rehab, but said Tuesday he’s already feeling better.
“I can already stretch my leg farther than I did before surgery,” he said.
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said Peacock’s rehab will put him behind at the start of spring camp next year, which could impact his readiness for the beginning of the season.
“It looks like he’s going to be rehabbing and will not be ready for the start of Spring Training, and at this point is questionable for the start of the season,” he said. “But we’re hoping it won’t be too far into the season he’ll be ready to go 100 percent.”
Peacock started the season in the bullpen before making 24 starts in the rotation, setting career highs in appearances (28), starts (24), innings pitched (131 2/3) and strikeouts (119). He went 4-9 with a 4.72 ERA.
Peacock, who tenuously held down the No. 5 spot in the pitching rotation late in the year, dealt with back problems in September, which could have been a result of his hip injury.
“My hip has locked up the last couple of years, but it didn’t really hurt when I pitched,” he said. “When [assistant athletic trainer] Rex [Jones] was stretching me this year, it kind of worsened and I couldn’t stretch my leg out. He wanted to get it checked out, and we did and I had surgery.”
Peacock said an MRI at the end of the season showed some arthritis in the hip, and doctors weren’t sure what they would find until they performed surgery.
“He went in and I woke up and they told me what happened: torn labrum and a little piece of bone lodged in my hip,” he said. “They did some clean up.”
Luhnow said doctors believed surgery would be the best option.
“He felt it during the season, but it was kind of off and on,” he said. “We had the doctors look at it and they decided they wanted to take care of it. I think it will be beneficial for him in the long term, but it does mean he’s going to get off to a late start in the spring.”
Because the procedure was microfracture surgery, Peacock said it doubled the amount of time he’ll have to wear crutches and rehab.
“They said it could be causing my back problems and I was like, ‘Heck yeah, let’s do it,’” he said. “I’ve been having some back problems the past couple of years also. I wanted to go it as soon as possible.”
Astros outfielder Dexter Fowler said Saturday he had accepted an invitation to play for the MLB All-Star team during the All-Star Series 2014, which is a five-game series against Japan’s national team next month in Japan.
Fowler was invited by the Major League Baseball Players Association to join the tour, which includes Astros teammate Jose Altuve. Fowler hit .276 with a .375 on-base percentage and eight homers and 35 RBIs in his first season with the Astros.
“It’s an honor to be accepted to represent MLB in Japan for the Japanese tour,” Fowler said. “I’m very excited and humbled at the opportunity.”
The team, which will be managed by John Farrell, includes MLB All-Stars Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles, Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The first game will be held on Nov. 12 at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka, with games two through five at the Tokyo Dome Nov. 14-16. The fifth and final game will be No. 18 at the Sapporo Dome in Sapporo. Two exhibition games will complement the five-game series, with one game in Osaka (Koshien Stadium) and the other in Okinawa (Okinawa Cellular Stadium).
Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel is one of three finalists at his position selected Thursday as a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove Award, joining Mark Buehrle of the Blue Jays and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners.
Keuchel, a left-hander, is vying to become the first Astros pitcher to win a Gold Glove and the first Astros player in the American League to receive the honor. Houston hasn’t had a Gold Glove winner since outfielder Michael Bourn won his second in a row in the National League in 2010.
According to FanGraphs, Keuchel led Major League pitchers with 10 defensive runs saved compared to the average player at his position.
The winners will be revealed at 6 p.m. CT Nov. 4 on ESPN2.
The award is based 75 percent on input from AL managers and coaches and 25 percent on defensive metrics. As many as seven personnel per team may vote for the award, but voters are prohibited from selecting someone from their own team.
Buehrle is a four-time Gold Glove winner (2009-11 in AL, ’12 in the NL).
The Astros cleared a major hurdle in relocating their Spring Training operations to Palm Beach County, Florida, on Tuesday when county commissioners voted to approve a financing plan for a new facility the club will share with the Nationals. The teams have 90 days to find a location for the complex.
County commissioners voted, 5-2, to allocate $108 million in hotel tax revenue for the facility, which will cost $135 million to build. The Astros have two years remaining on their lease at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., and are aiming to hold their first Spring Training in south Florida by 2017.
“We still have a little bit of work to do to find the right location, but the funding for it has been approved,” Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe said.
Kibbe said the Astros are considering a list of four or five potential sites, one of which will not be a 160-acre spot in West Palm Beach where the teams were hoping to build. The county compiled a list of potential sites earlier this year.
“We have several locations that we’re looking at,” Kibbe said. “We just need to figure out which one is the best location for everyone involved, the teams, the county and the communities. But there are multiples sites to look at and I’ll get to work on that evaluation and hopefully get this moving forward was quickly as possible. Today was important in that the financing has been approved and we’re ready to go.”
By moving to south Florida, the Astros and Nationals would give the area five teams during Spring Training. The Cardinals and Marlins share a site in Jupiter, which is in northern Palm Beach County, and the Mets are in Port St. Lucie, which is 33 miles north of Jupiter.
The Astros have held Spring Training at Osceola County Stadium since 1985 and will likely have only two years remaining there before moving south. The Nationals have held Spring Training at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., since they moved from Montreal in 2005.
“The timing of it depends on what happens as far as how quickly we move forward with the location and when the construction will start,” Kibbe said. “It’s a little up in the air as to when the facility would open. If we find a suitable location we’ll start moving as quick as we can. I’m just not sure when construction will start. Our plan is to try to get the new facility open in January of 2017.”