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Astros’ AJ Hinch finds pitch-tipping paranoia ‘funny’

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NEW YORK — Astros manager AJ Hinch has heard the chatter — that Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was offering a sneak peek on his off-speed deliveries, that Houston had a poker-worthy tell on Yankees hard throwers James Paxton and Luis Severino.

All that pitch-tipping paranoia?

“I think it’s kind of funny,” Hinch said.

A year after suspicions on sign stealing made headlines when a man associated with the Astros was caught pointing a cellphone into opposing dugouts, Houston is giving pitchers pause again, perhaps with nothing more than the naked eye.

There’s no rule against noticing a tipped pitch, and Hinch stated plainly during this AL Championship Series who is at fault if Houston knows what’s coming.

“If they don’t want to tip their pitches,” Hinch said, “then they should take consideration into doing the same thing over and over again.”

Batter’s box espionage can take two forms — pitch tipping or sign stealing. The first is totally legal, just a matter of good scouting. Hitters might get an idea from the angle of the pitcher’s glove or the wiggle of his wrist.

On sign stealing, legality can get blurrier. A runner on second base has a clear view of the catcher’s signals, and there’s no rule against taking a peek and discretely relaying that info to the batter — although the opposing battery might still take issue. That’s a practice as old as Cracker Jacks.

Smart devices and other fresh tech have opened another frontier for potential pilferers. Even before alarms were sounded in Cleveland and Boston last fall about the Astros’ man with a phone, paranoia about cameras, Apple Watches and other devices has made intricate signaling a full-time practice.

Major League Baseball has instituted rules to crack down on digital spying, especially because MLB said “a number of clubs” called commissioner Rob Manfred to express concerns about video equipment being used to steal signs last season.

Although teams surely remain suspicious about the Astros and sign stealing, Houston’s ability to recognize discrepancies in a pitcher’s delivery has caused concern this month.

After getting tagged by Houston in the decisive fifth game of the AL Division Series last week, Glasnow noticed on video he was broadcasting his breaking stuff.

“It was pretty obvious as far as the tips go,” he said.

More suspicions were raised in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series, when the Astros jumped on Paxton. Television cameras caught Alex Bregman saying “glove” to Houston’s dugout after drawing a walk, a moment many interpreted as Bregman sharing a tell on Paxton’s delivery.

Bregman has denied using such info this postseason and expressed annoyance Tuesday at social media sleuths searching for hints of it. But Yankees fans have good reason to be suspicious. Paxton was informed by former New York player Carlos Beltran after a start in April that Houston almost certainly knew what was coming.

Another former Yankees star is sure Severino was tipping in Game 3, when he threw 36 pitches in a rocky first inning of a 4-1 defeat.

“If you look at Astros’ hitters body language, this screams tipping,” Alex Rodriguez, who is now a broadcaster with ESPN, tweeted.

It may be that Houston is noticing a wayward glove waggle in the moment, but cameras can also help _ and legally, too.

The Yankees are cautious even about what TV cameras might see in the dugout — after homering off Astros ace Justin Verlander in Game 2, slugger Aaron Judge walked up and down the bench whispering to teammates, using his batting helmet as a face shield. Whatever he knew, he didn’t want Houston — or the public — finding out.

Judge’s covert message didn’t hinder Verlander, who pitched two-run ball for 6 2/3 innings.

Hinch wouldn’t find Judge to be out of line if it did. He believes hunting for pitch tells is basic recon work in today’s game. Does a guy turn his glove grabbing at a change? Tend to throw fastballs in 2-0 counts?

All of it, fair game.

“It shouldn’t overshadow the quality of play or the players or what’s going on on the field,” Hinch said. “The paranoia is real, though. And it’s real across 30 teams.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Cardinals, Adam Wainwright reach one-year deal

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The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to bring back free-agent pitcher Adam Wainwright on a one-year deal for 2020, the team announced Tuesday.

Terms were not announced.

Wainwright, 38, is coming off his best season since 2014. The right-hander went 14-10 with a 4.19 ERA and 153 strikeouts. He made two starts in three postseason appearances, pitching 16 2/3 innings with 19 strikeouts and a 1.62 ERA.

The 15-year veteran — all with the Cardinals — ranked sixth in the National League in wins and ninth in walks allowed (64).

For his career, Wainwright has a 162-95 record with 1,776 strikeouts and a 3.39 ERA.

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NL Central offseason preview — Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers all need refresh

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With free agency underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?

We now turn to the NL Central, where the top three teams have each won the division once in the past three years.

NL East team-by-team preview

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals always have pitching, but how will they evolve on offense?

2019 record: 91-71
2020 World Series odds: 20-1

The Cardinals ranked 11th in OPS and 10th in runs scored in the National League in 2019 despite trading for Paul Goldschmidt last offseason. After a good power year in 2018, St. Louis reverted to some of its old ways: They led the league in stolen bases but had the fewest home runs of any playoff team.

With Marcell Ozuna expected to reject St. Louis’ qualifying offer to become a free agent, the Cardinals can embark on increasing their production at third base and in the outfield. One place they’re bound to get it is with a full season from the dynamic Tommy Edman. His .850 OPS in 92 games led the team as his play teased of what he could become: a four-plus-tool player who can wreak havoc on the opposition. Third base is more murky. Matt Carpenter will turn 34 later this month and transitioning to a super-utility role could be best for the team while it pursues a slugging third baseman. Josh Donaldson anyone? — Jesse Rogers

Milwaukee Brewers: Will the Brewers target innings-eaters?

2019 record: 89-73
2020 World Series odds: 18-1

The definition of an innings-eater has changed drastically over the years, but whatever your current parameters might be, the Brewers didn’t have one in 2019. There were four teams that didn’t have a single ERA qualifier, including the Brewers. GM David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell have done a remarkable job of piecing together staffs of “out-getters” the past couple of seasons. Their task would be so much simpler with at least three-fifths of a stable rotation, and with bloated September rosters now a thing of the past, there may no longer be another choice.

One pitcher we know isn’t the answer: Chase Anderson, who finished strong and was second in innings for Milwaukee. He’s gone, having been dealt to Toronto in one of the offseason’s first trades. However, Brandon Woodruff might be ready to become a staff anchor, a pitcher capable of putting up 180-190 above-average frames. Now it’s a matter of augmenting him. Based on Cot’s Contracts payroll projections, Milwaukee should have $40 million to $50 million to spend before reaching last season’s payroll level, plus a modest increase. You figure an increase is warranted as the Brewers look to make the most of the two years left in which they can count on having Christian Yelich around.

The Brewers won’t be a factor in the Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg chases, but they should be in play for any pitchers among the tiers beneath those stars. Milwaukee has other needs — a catcher, an infielder — but the mantra ought to be innings, innings, innings. — Bradford Doolittle

Chicago Cubs: What will the Cubs look like in 2020?

2019 record: 84-78
2020 World Series odds: 14-1

Retooled. Already, they’ve done a coaching and behind-the-scenes purge as they change things up after missing the playoffs for the first time in five years. The Cubs want their team to grow with first-year manager David Ross. He’ll likely do that with several new players as the organization continues to move further and further from its 2016 championship season.

When the Cubs take the field again in March, there may be only a handful of players left from that team, with a star or two likely to move this offseason. Theo Epstein has declared no one is untouchable, a normal sentiment expressed by executives, but one that might ring true for Chicago this winter. — Rogers

Cincinnati Reds: Will they pay the price to contend?

2019 record: 75-87
2020 World Series odds: 40-1

The Reds might have been among the unluckiest teams in baseball, winning five fewer games than expected per their run differential, but this is not a roster strong enough to rely on “positive regression.” They’re weak up the middle in every sense, offensively and defensively, and away from their homer-happy home park, their lineup was a feeble 12th in the NL in weighted on-base average (wOBA).

Their core strengths are straightforward: Four strong starting pitchers and some rotation depth behind them. Eugenio Suarez in his prime as an MVP-caliber hitter. And a good pair of young corner outfielders to believe in, Jesse Winker and Aristides Aquino, plus counting on Nick Senzel‘s growth as a hitter. That’s a strong enough group to keep the Reds in games, which is why everything else should be questioned if they want to paint themselves into the playoff picture.

One problem they can’t do much about is Joey Votto‘s decline at the plate — his $107 million due through 2023 will keep him rooted atop the payroll. Cincinnati is stuck hoping that he can bounce back while on the downslope of his 30s. Recognizing there isn’t much help to be found in center available on the market might keep Senzel there, but the right trade for a center fielder could make him a long-term answer for their hole at second. — Christina Kahrl

Pittsburgh Pirates: Can you blow up something that was already bad?

2019 record: 69-93
2020 World Series odds: 150-1

The Pirates aren’t just in the midst of a rebuild. They’ve seen their attempted retrenchment around players like Chris Archer and Gregory Polanco blow up in their faces at the same time that their reputation for a well-stocked farm system provided more than a few hiccups. Now the cream of their young pitching talent is injured, shelved and/or overrated, while the lineup lacks its former depth. Belatedly noticing a disaster exacerbated by their cheapness, the owners have fired everybody they could and need to choose a new GM, manager and sense of direction.

Whoever the Pirates hire, more than a few front-office candidates might try to sell the owners on tanking outright, but barring something really depressing — like putting Josh Bell on the block — there isn’t a lot of value to peddle that might radically alter the franchise’s fortunes. Two years of control of Starling Marte would at least find a few takers, while it will be up to the new manager’s new pitching coach to see if they can rehabilitate Archer’s performance and value.

Whoever winds up calling the shots, salvaging Archer, seeing if Kevin Newman can cut it at shortstop and enjoying Bell’s bashing might be the best-case scenario for Bucs fans in 2020. — Kahrl

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Tampa Bay Rays GM Erik Neander voted MLB Executive of the Year

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tampa Bay Rays general manager Erik Neander has been voted Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year.

Tampa Bay was 96-66, the second-most wins in team history, despite a big league-low payroll of $66 million. The Rays beat Oakland in the American League wild-card game, then lost to Houston in a five-game AL Division Series.

Neander’s moves included acquiring outfielder Austin Meadows and pitcher Tyler Glasnow at the 2018 trade deadline from Pittsburgh for pitcher Chris Archer, and signing free agent pitcher Charlie Morton ahead of the 2019 season.

The 36-year-old Neander became the Rays’ general manager in November 2016 and one year later replaced Matt Silverman as the team’s top baseball official.

New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman was second in voting announced Monday night on the first day of the annual GM meetings. Oakland Athletics executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and Minnesota Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey tied for third.

Each team has one vote for the award, which began in 2018 and was won by Beane in its initial year.

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