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HOUSTON ASTROS
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Purchased the contract of 2B/OF-L Tony Kemp from Triple-A Fresno. [5/16]

I’ll issue an up-front disclaimer that Kemp was one of my favorite players to come through the Cal League in 2014, and that was a season in which the Cal League saw approximately 8,546,321 awesome future big leaguers take the field. A former SEC Player of the Year and fifth-round pick of the Astros, Kemp has successfully battled uphill his entire career to reach the majors in spite of his diminutive size and persistent questions about how the ol’ hit tool would hold up as he climbed the ladder.

He's answered the bell at Triple-A so far this year to the tune of a .298/.410/.405 line that’s just about par for the course of his 1,600-some-odd professional plate appearances. The swing is as compact as his frame, with closed hips and little leverage of which to speak. His strong wrists and quick hands help him keep up with velocity and make adjustments mid-swing, but he struggles to drive the ball much at all. It’s bottom-of-the-scale power, but his plus speed helps it play up into 30 game-utility range on account of his instincts and knack for stretching hits into extra bases.

Kemp’s approach is the primary driver of his success at the plate. He is a smart hitter with a demonstrable plan and ability to sequence along with pitchers. He sees spin well from right-handers and shows an advanced command of the zone. Paired with the short stroke and a knack for spoiling pitches when beaten, the package is one with limited swing-and-miss to go along with outsized walk rates to drive a solid on-base percentage. He showed some vulnerability to inner-third velocity in my looks along with some trouble tracking same-handed spin, and I noted at the time a likely platoon issue that has indeed manifested in the high minors. Still, the whole package adds up to a high-contact, high-on-base profile with above-average potential for the hit tool.

I got run times ranging from 4.06 to 4.13 for him out of the box, though the plus raw foot speed doesn’t always play to full utility on the bases on account of a start-up that lacks explosiveness. The foot speed helped him generate average range at second base, where he showed the tools of an average overall defender. The fundamentals and quick transfer were there, and they had to be in order to cover for a fringe-average arm. His baseline athleticism, speed, and intelligence offered optimism that his subsequent return to outfield play (where he logged ample time in college) could yield playable versatility, though the arm strength limits him to left field with can-fake-it utility in center.

Kemp probably won’t be the savior the Astros could desperately use right now, but he’s a solid player who plays above his tools and offers a sound approach that can translate against big-league pitching. The versatility and on-base ability should be welcome additions to the 25-man roster. —Wilson Karaman

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Signed OF-B Robbie Grossman to a minor-league contract. [5/17]

Last month the Twins signed veteran outfielder David Murphy to a minor-league deal with the intention of quickly calling him up to replace one of their struggling young outfielders. Instead he hit .194 in 10 games at Triple-A and, when the Twins informed Murphy they still wanted to call him up anyway, the 34-year-old retired. Like, he literally decided to stop playing baseball instead of going back to the majors with the Twins.

Minnesota has now signed Robbie Grossman to a minor-league deal and it's easy to see similar writing on the wall for Eddie Rosario or Danny Santana (last time Byron Buxton was also in that mix, but he's already been demoted to Triple-A). Grossman is nearly a decade younger than Murphy and has little success in the majors, hitting .240/.337/.341 in 190 games for the Astros. However, the 26-year-old former Pirates sixth-round pick still has the potential for some upside if his hit tool can ever be even mediocre enough to let his on-base skills take over.

Grossman has been a walk-drawing machine in the minors, averaging 90 per 150 games at Double-A and Triple-A. He's also hit just .270 with modest power in the minors, which is why a switch-hitting outfielder with great plate discipline is still trying to stick in the big leagues. That extreme plate discipline may also be why Grossman in particular drew the Twins' interest, because the Rosario/Santana duo that his signing puts on notice for a possible benching/demotion has drawn a grand total of 45 walks (versus 329 strikeouts) in 366 career games for the Twins. —Aaron Gleeman

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Fired manager Fredi Gonzalez; named Brian Snitker interim manager. [5/17]

This move has been years in the making. Gonzalez gave away the 2013 NLDS, and that wasn’t even the first (or worst) offense of his tenure. He wasn’t a good in-game manager, especially when it came to the bullpen (and late-game situations in general). By most measures–how much he got out of some very good players, for instance, both developed from within and signed or acquired as veterans–he also wasn’t good at the intangible things that make a manager an asset to an MLB team. He presided over the disastrous 2011 and 2014 collapses that saw very good teams miss the playoffs; the latter one prompted the franchise-wide temper tantrum that shook up the front office and saw a great young core off-loaded for parts.

It’s not a surprise Gonzalez was fired; it’s a surprise he was just fired now. By sticking with him throughout 2015 and into this spring, the Braves–especially John Schuerholz, Gonzalez’s long-time supporter and protector–signaled a misguided faith that Gonzalez was the man to pilot them through their rebuild and back into contention. I can’t imagine what has changed the team’s mind in the last six weeks, but we’re just quibbling over timing, now. Good on Atlanta for moving on from a skipper they probably never should have hired.

In Gonzalez’s stead, Snitker gets his big break. It won’t be forever; he’s just an interim helmsman. Still, it must be a thrill for the 60-year-old Braves lifer who's coming up on 40 years of continuous service with the organization. He’s been the team’s third base coach and he’s managed 19 years in their minor-league system, albeit with a losing aggregate record. Good managers don’t get their first whiff of the job at 60. Snitker isn’t the future, and the Braves didn’t take any step, not even a small one, toward redeeming their cynical and less-than-optimal rebuilding plan Tuesday. They just made a change, and the silver lining of what becomes a darker cloud all the time is that a long-time employee gets some hard-earned time in the spotlight. —Matthew Trueblood

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
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Signed C-R Francisco Cervelli to a three-year, $31 million contract extension. [5/17]

This one fell out of the sky, and for the Pirates it’s manna from heaven. National TV money, revenue sharing, and the effectiveness of the luxury tax rules have done a good job of smoothing out inequality of opportunity for teams based on market size over the last 20 years, but clubs like Pittsburgh still need to occasionally get a player to agree to a wildly under-market deal in order to string together contending seasons. That’s precisely what they’ve done here.

Cervelli’s career has been marred by injuries, and there was a Biogenesis suspension in 2014 that was sure to come up when he hit the free-agent market this winter. Still, he’s one of the games best framers, and one of its best overall defensive catchers. He also has a batting line of .293/.373/.394 since the start of 2014, in 812 plate appearances. He’s a well-rounded, star-level talent, worth 5.7 WARP last season and on his way to something close to that this year.

It’s profoundly strange that Cervelli would accept this deal at this stage of the campaign. He wouldn’t have gotten Russell Martin money this winter, but four years and somewhere north of $55 million were reasonable goals. If the inevitable rule changes that will modify the qualifying offer system this winter favored his situation, he might even have done a bit better. That he passed up that chance either tells us he’s very risk-averse, or demonstrates an admirable (if misguided) loyalty to his employers. The Pirates get points for whatever culture they’ve developed over the last few years, in the wake of this news. It paid off in a big way. —Matthew Trueblood

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ggdowd
5/18
Matthew - thank you for a Fredi-firing analysis that doesn't read as if he was an otherwise good manager being blamed for a bad teams's poor performance; I've been seeing a startling amount of that from non-Braves sources. How Braves' management surveyed the wreckage of 2014 and decided the only thing worth keeping was Fredi is just one of many baffling and aggravating decisions made over the last few years.

Now they just need to find someone with qualifications other than "Bobby Cox's drinking buddy."
gtgator
5/18
The Braves didn't keep Fredi after 2014 because they thought he was a good manager. They kept him because they needed a manager through what they knew would be a tough transition while they rebuilt the farm system Wren destroyed. They knew they wouldn't get anyone good if they were selling a rebuilding job. So they went with the guy everybody liked as a person.

But now that the light is starting to show at the end of the tunnel, they went ahead and got rid of him. Hart and Coppy have both stated Fredi wasn't going to be the manager in 2017. So now is as good a time as any (especially if he's going to treat the young pitchers like Wisler the way he did on Sunday). They get a head start on trying to find someone good and also have a better future to sell to that guy.

In the end, as a fan, this is just another sign that the team expects to contend sooner than later. When Albies and Swanson arrive (presumably after the ASB/Aybar has been jettisoned), that light will be brighter. I'm just hoping the front office finds a competent manager and that the prospects are as good as many say they will be. At the very least, I won't have to watch Fredi making inane decisions any longer. I do wish him luck, though. By all accounts, he is a nice guy.
ggdowd
5/18
"The Braves did not keep Fredi after 2014 because they thought he was a good manager."

I would think its generally bad organizational practice for a team to keep a manager who they do not think is "good."
gtgator
5/18
I would think it would be bad organizational practice to trade away several of your best players - and then try and find a quality manager who'd be willing to manage what was left.

It's easy to sit back and criticize what the front office didn't do after 2014. But exactly who would they have hired after trading away Heyward, Upton and Gattis (among other moves)? Unless you can point to someone who was a known better option that would have taken the job, keeping Fredi was akin to the bird in the hand. He wasn't doing any harm, he went along with the plan (at least publicly) and he was/is liked as a person by several in the organization. There are worse reasons to keep a guy.
ggdowd
5/18
Look, I don't really disagree with you; once the decision was made to tear the whole thing down, the choice of manager was incidental. I think he was a poor tactical manager, and if he was making up for it with people management skills, I don't know what good that is if 2011 happens anyway. Any number of internal, well-liked, do-no-harm replacements could have been found (Snitker, Perez, Pendleton, etc.), if those are the criteria. I also think there probably dozens of ambitious, smart, qualified managerial candidates who would have jumped at the chance to have 1 of the 30 MLB managerial positions, even at the cost of a few bad seasons (a big raise, a long-term contract, and increased prestige are valuable to a lot of people). If you disagree, that's reasonable.

At the end of 2014, keeping Fredi didn't seem to be an afterthought. Wren wanted to replace Fredi. Apparently Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz made keeping Fredi one of the requirements for who they hired; only they know how big of a sticking point this was. By all accounts, they (Bobby especially) were instrumental in Fredi not being fired prior to 2014. There are worse reasons to keep a guy, and there are better reasons to keep a guy.

You seem optimistic about the direction of the franchise. I hope your optimism is warranted! It seems we at least agree that the Braves' future is a little more promising with a new manager on board for 2017.
gtgator
5/18
I agree that there are plenty of people who would have taken the job. The question is whether any of the good ones would have been interested. I'd venture no based on the circumstances.

At that point, you're left guessing if the guy you hired was good or not - and the only thing you'd have to evaluate him would have been two seasons managing a severely under-manned squad. I'm not sure that would have told you much.
ggdowd
5/18
I simply think that teams should try to identify the best person to manage the team and try to hire that person. My point was that there are always good candidates available given the short supply of managerial openings; its a matter of identifying them. If the front office can't identify a good candidate, it wouldn't matter when they hire him.

I also disagree that nothing good is likely to come from hiring a manager before the team is ready to win; the intervening time allows the manager to establish himself as an authority, shape the culture, and learn how to manage while expectations are low. People forget that Joe Maddon lost 198 games his first two years with Tampa, but I don't think he or the Rays front office would consider those as wasted years.
oldbopper
5/18
What a pleasure to read an article that does doesn't attempt to hide the truth behind the usual lame platitudes. Fredi Gonzales was a poor manager in Miami and it was surprising that the Braves hired him in the first place but it was no surprise that he played a major role in then destroying the Braves.