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Hinch explains Game 7 plan for Cole

@brianmctaggart
November 1, 2019

HOUSTON -- Astros manager AJ Hinch, in meeting with the media on Friday morning at Minute Maid Park during the club’s annual postseason press conference, further explained what his pitching plans were for Gerrit Cole, who was available in relief in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday but

HOUSTON -- Astros manager AJ Hinch, in meeting with the media on Friday morning at Minute Maid Park during the club’s annual postseason press conference, further explained what his pitching plans were for Gerrit Cole, who was available in relief in Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday but didn’t pitch.

Cole, who started and won Game 5 on Sunday in Washington, went to the bullpen in the fifth inning of Game 7 against the Nationals and began playing catch. Hinch said Cole was just getting loose on his own and wasn’t warming up to come into the game. The two had talked earlier on Wednesday and come up with a plan in which Cole was going to pitch.

“There was some nervous energy, and he wanted to see where he was,” Hinch said.

Hinch said Cole wasn’t going to enter the game in the middle of an inning, nor was he going to pitch unless the Astros had the lead. Hinch pulled starter Zack Greinke after he allowed a homer to Anthony Rendon and issued a walk with one out in the seventh. Reliever Will Harris promptly gave up a two-run homer to Howie Kendrick that put Washington ahead for good, 3-2.

“He had never pitched in relief, he had never pitched on two days of rest,” Hinch said. “I wanted to be very fair to him and make sure that not only was he able to do it, but he was good.”

The debate, Hinch said, was how effective Cole was going to be on two days of rest, but the Nationals took the lead and he didn’t pitch. Astros president of baseball operations and general manager Jeff Luhnow, who traded for Cole in January 2018, wouldn’t say how hard Houston would pursue him on the open market.

“We clearly want the best possible team that we can put together, and we’re going to be looking at all free agents, including our own, and trying to put together a team next year that can take us as deep, if not deeper, than we went this year,” Luhnow said.

The Astros will certainly give Cole a qualifying offer ($17.8 million) for 2020, which he will reject. That will give them a compensatory pick in next year’s Draft. Re-signing Cole will be difficult considering Houston already has about $157 million in contracts next year, not including its arbitration-eligible players. Astros owner Jim Crane has said previously the club wouldn’t surpass the competitive balance tax ($208 million).

“We’ve been reaching all-time payrolls highs every year for the past four or five years, and that will probably continue next year,” Luhnow said. “How we allocate those resources is something we spend a lot of time thinking about it, and how we commit resources for the future as well. Committing resources for 2025 right now comes with a lot of risk.”

Ocampo leaving front office

Oz Ocampo, who served as a special assistant to Luhnow and was the team’s Spanish-language interpreter, is leaving after eight seasons in the organization. From 2012-17, he served as director of international scouting, where he helped sign Yuli Gurriel, Framber Valdez and Cionel Pérez, among others.

More changes could come to the front office in the coming weeks, as the Astros could restructure following last week’s firing of assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for his comments directed towards female reporters after Houston won the American League pennant.

Last winter, the Astros lost some key members of their front office, when Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal left for the Orioles and Mike Fast went to the Braves. In September, Taubman was given a contract extension and Pete Putila was elevated to assistant general manager.

“Any time we get into the offseason, we usually end up having some changes in the front office,” Luhnow said. “We have a really good group in the front office, and I’m really proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish and who’s there. At this point, we’re at the beginning of the offseason process. We’re plowing forward. We’re very capable of doing what we need to do. Whether there’s any additions or promotions internally, that remains to be seen.”

Meanwhile, Luhnow said he expects to have all his coaches back next season. Bench coach Joe Espada had interviewed for the Cubs’ and Giants’ managerial openings, and he said earlier this week he was set to have a second interview with San Francisco once the World Series was over.

Catching top priority

With veteran backstops Robinson Chirinos and Martín Maldonado both becoming free agents, catching will be the Astros’ top priority entering this winter, Luhnow said. The only catcher currently on the 40-man roster is Garrett Stubbs, who played in 19 games last year in his rookie season.

The Astros could choose to re-sign one, if not both, Chirinos and Maldonado. Among the top catchers on the free-agent market are Yasmani Grandal, Jason Castro (a former Astro) and Travis d'Arnaud.

“With both of our Major League catchers becoming free agents, that’s clearly something that’s at the top of our list,” Luhnow said. “We’ll be working hard to resolve that.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.