Breakfast Links: Astros swing Lowrie to Oakland, Bucs closing in on Sanchez, Webb retires

Bob Levey

Hello, and good morning!

Let's get straight to it:

The Big Three

1. The Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics -- newly-minted division rivals -- completed an under the radar five-player trade yesterday, sending shortstop Jed Lowrie and right-hander Fernando Rodriguez to the East Bay while first baseman Chris Carter, right-hander Brad Peacock, and catcher Max Stassi head to Texas. The deal beefs up the A's infield depth considerably and knocks a few million more off of the Astros' already minuscule 2013 payroll. Oakland now has options at short beyond Hiroyuki Nakajima, and Lowrie can also fill in at third if the Donaldson/Sogard platoon doesn't work out. Houston now sits at just $14.575 million in guaranteed salary for the upcoming season, over $10 million less than the second-lowest spender (the Marlins, of course) and nearly 7x less than the league's average payroll. If Jeff Luhnow's goal for this year was to hit the reset button, he's done a pretty damn good job of it. Wandy Rodriguez is the highest paid player on the club this year at $5 million, and they're paying him to pitch for the Pirates. The AL West is going to be able to feast on the 'Stros this year and the next, but they should be highly competitive after that if all goes according to plan.

2. The Pittsburgh Pirates are closing in on a minor-league deal with left-hander Jonathan Sanchez. This deal wouldn't normally register here in the Big Three except for the fact that the Bucs are still mired in negotiations with fellow southpaw Francisco Liriano. If Sanchez shows even the slightest glimpse of improved control next week when camp opens, look for the Bucs to cut the cord on Liriano and put him back on the open market. Liriano reportedly fell and fractured his non-throwing arm just days after informally agreeing to a two-year deal with Pittsburgh. Sanchez was downright terrible for the Royals and Rockies last season, but that doesn't mean the Pirates aren't holding out hope that he still has a bit of 2010 magic (read: help from the low BABIP dragons) left in the tank.

3. Multiple outlets reported yesterday that right-hander Brandon Webb has finally decided to put a halt to his four-year-long comeback attempt and retire. Several teams were showing interest in bringing Webb in on a minor-league deal this season, but the sinker-baller elected to call the whole thing off. The 33-year-old was one of the top five pitchers in the game when shoulder injuries cut his career short. The 2006 NL Cy Young winner (not to mention '07 & '08 runner-up) retires holding a career 3.27 ERA and 7.3 K/9 rate in 198 starts over seven big-league seasons.

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The Not-So-Big Three

1. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski's clean sheet, so far as arbitration hearings go, will carry on for at least a 13th season. Detroit got perilously close to a hearing this year with right-hander Max Scherzer, but the two sides came to an agreement on a one-year, $6.725 million contract yesterday to avoid arbitration. Scherzer has one more year of arb-eligibility remaining. Check out all the arb-eligible players still out there right here.

2. The Miami Marlins were reportedly close to a deal with free-agent closer Jose Valverde yesterday, but then they weren't. ESPN Deportes carried the original report, which was then torn to shreds over the course of the day by Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, who in the end blamed the whole thing on Scott Boras. When in doubt, blame Boras. A-Rod on steroids? Boras. Super Bowl blackout? Boras.

3. The Cleveland Indians are still considering bringing Jim Thome back for a final hurrah as a DH option. I'm rooting for it, if only because I like when players return "home" to cap off a long, illustrious career. Also, there's no way Thome can be worse than Chris McGuiness, the guy I've never heard of who's currently slotted at No. 1 on the club's DH depth chart.

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Extra Innings

- I've never seen the Pride of the Yankees, but I've heard great things about it. One of the more miscellaneous things I have heard over the years was that the director had Gary Cooper (playing Lou Gehrig) do everything essentially in reverse for the batting scenes because his swing looked awful from the left side of the plate. Well, Tom Shieber has taken an incredibly detailed look at the film and determined that perhaps that isn't actually the case. Cool stuff.

- That article reminds me of this great bit of sleuthing by Ben Lindbergh over at Baseball Prospectus, who takes us on a journey through the craziest half-inning in baseball, as seen in the pilot episode of "Elementary," CBS' modern riff on Sherlock Holmes (a good show, but it doesn't hold a candle to the BBC series).

- Tales from the Caribbean Series in Hermosillo, Mexico. Great stuff from Eric Nusbaum and Craig Robinson (of flipflopflyball fame).

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