Carlos Correa’s future with the Astros is a legitimate question, but we can’t say that about Lance McCullers any longer. Per multiple reports, the two sides have agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract extension which will run through 2026.
Mark Berman of FOX 26 was first to report the news while Jeff Passan of ESPN reported the total value involved. According to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, McCullers will receive a $3.5 million signing bonus along with his $6.5 million salary for this year while the new deal will include salaries of $15.25 million in 2022 and 2023 and $17 million from 2024-2026.
McCullers, 27, was previously due to hit free agency following the 2021 season. This might seem like an uncharacteristic choice for a client of Scott Boras, but given McCullers’ injury history, it would appear to be a wise one.
While McCullers’ talent can’t be questioned, he’s never thrown more than 128 1/3 innings in a season before. He dealt with a sore shoulder and right elbow discomfort in in 2016 and a back issue in 2017 before requiring Tommy John surgery in November of 2018 and missing the entire 2019 season. He returned last year and posted a 3.93 ERA and 56/20 K/BB ratio in 55 innings in the regular season before putting up a 4.91 ERA over three starts during the postseason.
This deal is really a win-win. McCullers guards against the potential of another injury and the Astros secure some stability and upside to the changing face of their rotation.
McCullers holds a 3.70 ERA and 565/198 K/BB ratio in 508 2/3 regular season innings in his career. Those are pretty good numbers, but it has always felt like he might have another level in him. The stuff has always been nasty and he’s been experimenting with a new slider this spring. McCullers has an ADP (average draft position) of 131 in Yahoo leagues this spring, which makes him the 47th pitcher (including relievers) off the board.
Tuesday was a pretty awful day for injuries around the game and we can only hope that we won’t look back on Wednesday the same way. The White Sox certainly hope that’s the case, as Eloy Jimenez was forced to exit after injuring left his shoulder while trying to rob a home run up against the left field fence.
Jimenez extended his arm over the fence trying to catch the Sean Murphy drive and was in obvious pain after landing on his feet. He crouched down on the ground before team trainers escorted him off the field. The White Sox are calling it left shoulder discomfort for now, with more information to come following an evaluation on Thursday. Fingers crossed.
While not known for his defense, the 24-year-old Jimenez has emerged as one of the best young hitters in the game. After posting an .828 OPS with 31 homers over 122 games as a rookie in 2019, he took a step forward with a .296/.332/.559 batting line and 14 homers over 55 games in the truncated 2020 campaign. He’s had an ADP (average draft position) of 36.2 in Yahoo leagues this spring as part of a potent White Sox lineup. Let’s hope we can see it in full force on Opening Day.
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Because this week hasn’t been tough enough on closers, Rays reliever Nick Anderson is dealing with an elbow issue. It was all on display in his appearance against the Twins on Wednesday, as he showed diminished velocity while allowing two runs on four hits over two-thirds of an inning.
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Anderson was clocked in the 90-91 mph range with his fastball on Wednesday after averaging 95.2 mph on his heater last year. The issue first arose on March 17, where he felt some tightness. He dealt with some soreness and inflammation from there and took a week off before pitching on Wednesday. He said he was more focused on getting his mechanics in check on Wednesday, but Rays manager Kevin Cash admitted after the game that there’s a “level of concern.”
Anderson has been the Rays’ most important late-inning reliever since coming over from the Marlins in 2019, posting a 1.43 ERA with 67/5 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 regular season innings. He allowed just one earned run in 16 1/3 innings last year while leading the team with six saves. Of course, the postseason was a different story, as he allowed nine runs on 16 hits (including three homers) and four walks over 14 2/3 innings. He later admitted that he dealt with physical and mental fatigue, though there was no word about any elbow issue.
The Rays have no problem sharing the love with their late-inning approach, as 12 different pitchers saved games for the club last year despite only 60 games being played. This is the major reason Anderson hasn’t been included among the elite fantasy closers. The uncertainty over his elbow will only dock him further. Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks loom as alternatives depending on how things shake out here. Both were already pretty good late-round selections in mixed league drafts, but move them up even more now.
MLB Plans Crackdown on Foreign Substances
Evaluating pitchers is going to be difficult enough after the unique nature of the 2020 season, but here’s another thing to keep in mind. As first reported by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, MLB plans to use Statcast data to crack down on the use of foreign substances by pitchers.
The aim is to utilize this Statcast data to flag increases in spin rate compared “with both career and in-game norms.” According to a memo which was sent to all 30 teams on Tuesday and reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN, this data will be complemented by increased monitoring from compliance officers at the ballpark as well as inspections of game-used balls by a third party lab.
Foreign substances have long been a part of baseball, often sitting in this nebulous space where it’s accepted despite it actually being against the rules. Pitchers from both teams benefit and there’s something to be said for pitchers getting a better grip on the ball and having some increased command of their stuff, especially when so many pitchers are throwing in the high-90s these days. Still, with strikeouts through the roof and spin being something that can be altered with substances, we may have reached a tipping point.
The big question is what sort of penalties pitchers or teams could face. Also, what can be done about pitchers who might not have a big tip-off with their spin rate relative to their career norm because it was already artificially inflated in the first place. Will pitchers change their practices now that this is out in the open? What could the implications be for their results? This is going to be fascinating to follow.
American League Quick Hits: Angels manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday that he is leaning toward batting Mike Trout third this season … Bo Bichette went 3-for-3 with a pair of home runs in Wednesday’s win over the Yankees … Cavan Biggio is day-to-day after jamming his right pinkie finger, with X-rays coming back negative … Teoscar Hernandez slugged a two-run homer and drew a walk in his two plate appearances against the Yankees on Wednesday … Liam Hendriks hasn’t pitched in a week due to a kidney stone, but he could return to Cactus League action by the weekend … Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that the Astros offered Carlos Correa a six-year, $120 million extension, but that there’s no traction on a deal at the moment … Though it hasn’t kept him off the mound, Nick Anderson said he’s dealt with some mild elbow inflammation and soreness this spring … Chris Sale (elbow) has yet to throw off a mound this spring … Tarik Skubal and Julio Teheran will officially begin the year in the Tigers’ starting rotation … Sean Murphy went 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBI against the White Sox on Wednesday … White Sox president Ken Williams indicated to Bob Nightengale of USA Today that service time will not be a factor in whether prospect Andrew Vaughn begins the season in the minors … Rays manager Kevin Cash indicated Wednesday that Yoshi Tsutugo is a candidate to bat leadoff for the club this season … Likely on the outside looking in for a rotation spot with the Yankees, Deivi Garcia yielded four runs over just three innings Wednesday against the Blue Jays … The Rangers have exercised manager Chris Woodward’s option for 2022 … Jake Odorizzi was hammered for seven runs — including four homers — in one inning of work Wednesday against the Nationals, though he said after the game that he was more focused on getting his work in than the results … Nathan Eovaldi fired 5 2/3 scoreless inning against the Orioles on Wednesday … The Tigers placed right-hander Spencer Turnbull on the COVID-19 injured list … Justin Wilson is day-to-day after an MRI on his left shoulder showed no structural damage … Jose Quintana continued his strong spring Wednesday by allowing just one run in 4 1/3 innings against the Royals … Brock Holt has won a spot on the Rangers’ Opening Day roster … Khris Davis will miss 3-4 weeks with a Grade 2 left quad strain.
National League Quick Hits: Padres manager Jayce Tingler said Wednesday that he expects Fernando Tatis Jr. (shoulder) to return to the lineup in the next couple of days … Christian Yelich went 1-for-2 with a grand slam and a walk against the Rockies on Wednesday as he continues to feast in Cactus League action … Ian Anderson allowed four runs in six innings with one strikeout in his latest tuneup Wednesday against the Pirates … Stephen Strasburg (calf) allowed four runs on three hits and five walks over four innings in his return to action Wednesday against the Astros … Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that the Pirates made an extension offer to young third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes but “there’s no traction” toward getting a deal done … Dinelson Lamet (elbow) made his Cactus League debut Wednesday against the Giants, allowing a solo homer in one inning of work … Kevin Gausman has been named the Giants’ Opening Day starter … Trent Grisham (hamstring) is nearing a return to game action … In his 100th start against the Mets this spring (that’s just a rough estimate), Carlos Martinez struck out five batters over six scoreless innings on Wednesday … Jordan Hicks walked one batter in a hitless ninth inning against the Mets on Wednesday … Josh Bell mashed his fifth homer of the spring Wednesday against the Astros … Harrison Bader is expected to miss at least four weeks due to a forearm injury … Giants manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday that there’s no plans for Buster Posey to play first base this season … Austin Nola (finger) could take batting practice as soon as this weekend … Miles Mikolas (shoulder) is expected to throw a bullpen session before camp ends next week … Austin Riley homered twice and knocked in all three runs for the Braves against the Pirates on Wednesday … Starlin Castro was sent for an MRI on Wednesday after leaving Tuesday's game with a hamstring cramp ... The Mets sent Jordan Yamamoto to Triple-A on Monday, seemingly awarding Joey Lucchesi a rotation spot to begin the year … Anthony DeSclafani struck out eight batters over four-plus innings of one-run ball against the Padres on Wednesday ... Steven Brault has been shut down for a month with a left lat strain … The Braves optioned Kyle Wright to Triple-A, setting up Bryse Wilson to begin the year with a rotation spot … JT Brubaker gave up three runs in five innings with six strikeouts Wednesday against the Braves … Tejay Antone is likely to open the season in the Reds’ bullpen … Adrian Morejon allowed two runs -- one earned -- with six strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings against the Giants on Wednesday night ...The Reds learned Wednesday that outfielder Aristides Aquino is now out of minor league options … Meanwhile, Cardinals outfielder Justin Williams will have an additional minor league option for this year … Jon Gray was hit hard for seven runs over 2 1/3 innings against the Brewers on Wednesday, with a comebacker to his pitching hand playing a part in the bad results … Cole Tucker was among the Pirates’ cuts on Wednesday … John Nogowski continued his push for a roster spot with the Cardinals on Wednesday, going 2-for-2 with a homer and a walk against the Mets.