Ex-players die in car wreck
Venezuelan officials blame crash on highway bandits found with stolen property
Former major league players Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo were killed in a car crash caused by highway bandits who then robbed them, officials said Friday.
The 33-year-old Valbuena and 37-year-old Castillo died late Thursday when their SUV crashed as it tried to veer around an object placed in the road, Yaracuy state Gov. Julio Leon Heredia said on his Twitter account.
He said four people have been detained after being found with property of the athletes.
Valbuena and Castillo were teammates on the Cardenales de Lara team in the Venezuelan winter league and were returning from a game in the capital when the crash occurred en route to the city of Barquisimeto.
Third baseman Carlos Rivero was in the car and survived, according to the website beisbolplay.
Valbuena, an 11-year major league veteran, hit .199 with nine homers and 33 RBIS in 96 games this year for the Los Angeles Angels, who released him on Aug. 7.
“I will miss Luis’ banter, smile, genuine love for his teammates, and, of course, the bat flips,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said in a statement. “He was a beloved person whether he was on our team or across the field.”
Valbuena hit .226 with 114 home runs over 11 big league seasons with the Angels, Seattle, Cleveland, the Chicago Cubs and Houston.
“Luis was always smiling and was one of the happiest players in baseball,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in a statement. “He provided joy to his teammates and our fans. He helped our franchise turn a corner in 2015 and provided many cherished memories.”
Castillo played five seasons with Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Houston. He had a .254 average with 39 home runs. Mets: Jared Banner has been hired as the New York Mets’ executive director of player development after more than a decade with the Boston Red Sox. The Mets also promoted Ian Levin to senior director of baseball operations on Friday after two years as director of player development, an expanded role that also will include analytics, health and performance. The 32-year-old Banner is a New York native who was Amherst’s baseball captain and joined the Red Sox front office as a fellow in 2007. He was an assistant in player development (2008-09) and amateur scouting (2009-10), and then served as coordinator of amateur scouting (2010-12), assistant director of player personnel (2013-15), director of player personnel (2016) and vice president of player personnel (2017-18).
Cardinals: Now that he is with St. Louis, Paul Goldschmidt is not thinking beyond 2019 season. The six-time All-star was acquired from Arizona this week and will earn $14.5 million in the final season of a seven-year deal that will pay $46 million, including a $1 million assignment bonus for the trade. If he doesn’t sign a new contract, he would be among the top free agents next offseason. “Try not to have any distractions, so anything like that won’t be on my mind,” Goldschmidt said at his introductory news conference Friday. “I think the biggest thing is I’m excited to be here, excited to be part of this team and organization and just focused on getting ready for spring training and opening day and the season and trying to help us win.”
Diamondbacks: Right-hander Merrill Kelly is joining his hometown Arizona Diamondbacks, agreeing to a $5.5 million, two-year contract. The 30-year-old spent the past four seasons with SK Wyverns in South Korea. He was 4832 with a 3.86 ERA, including 16-7 in 2017. A Scottsdale native, Kelly attended Desert Mountain High School, Yavapai College and Arizona State. He was taken by Tampa Bay on the eighth round of the 2010 amateur draft and rose to Triple-a in the Rays’ system. Nationals: Patrick Corbin put on his No. 46 Washington Nationals jersey as rotation-mates Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looked on from the front row at the news conference to introduce the lefty starter with the $140 million, six-year contract. The Nationals announced the addition of free-agent Corbin on Friday, the latest in a flurry of offseason moves by general manager Mike Rizzo. One of the team’s other recent acquisitions, catcher Yan Gomes, and long-time first baseman Ryan Zimmerman were also at Nationals Park for the announcement. Rizzo said the deal with Corbin, 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA for Arizona in 2018, is “independent” of what might happen with right fielder Bryce Harper, who has played his entire career for the Nationals and is a free agent.
Padres: Free agent pitcher Garrett Richards and the San Diego Padres have finalized a $15.5 million, two-year contract. Richards will earn $7 million next year and $8.5 million in 2020 as part of the deal announced Friday. He can earn an additional $2.5 million annually in performance bonuses: $250,000 for each start from 21 through 30. Richards was 5-4 with a 3.66 ERA last season for the Los Angeles Angels before reconstructive surgery in July. The 30-year-old right-hander was 45-38 with a 3.54 ERA with the Angels since 2011.
Jose Castillo, left, pictured in a spring training game from 2007 and Luis Valbuena, in a photo from 2017 in Cleveland, died in a car accident in Venezuela. Officials blamed highway bandits for causing the wreck.