Buster Olney: Chicago Cubs

George Springer Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images
George Springer probably will file a grievance against the Houston Astros sometime in the weeks ahead, because what the Astros will do in the weeks ahead will make no sense in any world other than Major League Baseball.

On one hand, the Astros think so much of the outfield prospect that they offered him a $23 million contract, to be paid out over a seven-year deal, even though he has never had a major league at-bat. (He turned down the offer.) Springer, 24, had an OPS over 1.000 across Double- and Triple-A last season, and is regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball.

On the other hand, when the Astros' season begins next week, the team will do what has become standard operating procedure for major league clubs: They will hold Springer down in the minors until they can mitigate, as best they can, the financial advantages he might gain from being promoted.

Think about how dumb that really is for the industry of professional baseball.

Did the Indianapolis Colts bury Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck in some developmental league? No, they played them when they thought they were ready to play.

Did the Cleveland Cavaliers concoct false pretenses to prevent LeBron James from playing in the NBA? Of course not.

But every year, Major League Baseball teams will tether their best prospects to the minors because it makes financial sense for them to do so.

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper weren't promoted by their respective teams until the end of April in 2012.

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Starlin CastroAP Photo/Matt YorkStarlin Castro is a piece of the future the Cubs have already invested in -- with mixed results.
Earlier this week, we looked for some holes in the Top 300 fantasy rankings for Messrs. Berry, Karabell et al. In the name of fairness, it’s worth expressing some regret over the placement of a particular team in our Future Power Rankings, which came out Thursday.

Namely: I’m really, really surprised we have the Cubs as high as No. 7.

That's over the Tigers, who have made the playoffs every year lately. Over the Braves, who just locked up one of the youngest cores of stars in the big leagues -- Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran -- and had the second-most wins among NL teams last season. We had the Cubs over the Tampa Bay Rays, who have won as many postseason games in the past six seasons (12) as the Cubs have won in the past 78 years. We have the Cubs over the Yankees, who may not have run the most efficient franchise or farm system in the past decade but who have a habit of qualifying for games in October.

If you reverse-engineer the polling results, you can figure out how it happened

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Starlin CastroNuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty ImagesStarlin Castro and the Cubs are not getting help from their early-season schedule.

In following Tuesday's column ranking the American League's early-season schedules, Wednesday we have the National League. The teams are ranked toughest to easiest in caliber of early-season schedule.


1. Chicago Cubs

Games vs. teams with records of .500 or better in 2013: 31 of first 40.
Home/away: 18 of their first 40 are at home.
Notables: The Cubs basically get to run an NL Central gauntlet in the first quarter of the season, with 21 of their first 40 games against the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates.

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Rick RenteriaAndy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty ImagesRick Renteria, a former bench coach of the Padres, was named Cubs manager in November.
Rick Renteria dreams in two languages: Spanish and English. This is not unusual for folks who know more than one language. But when he speaks in his sleep loud enough to wake up his wife, there's one common denominator. He's talking about baseball.

Renteria is the new manager of the Chicago Cubs, bearing a reputation for having a personality that pushes players. "His personality is a big driver," said Josh Byrnes, general manager of the San Diego Padres, for whom Renteria worked as a coach before being hired by Chicago. "He's definitely got an infectious personality."

But Renteria's ability to speak two languages fluently has been viewed by potential employers as a major attribute, and he is thought to be especially good at connecting with young players, partly because of his understanding of language.

"The best managers connect to all players," Byrnes said.

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Boston being unfair to Torey Lovullo 

November, 6, 2013
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Epstein, Lovullo, HenryGetty ImagesTorey Lovullo appears to be caught between Theo Epstein and Red Sox owner John Henry.
The Yankees haven't issued uniform No. 6 since Joe Torre left after the 2007 season, because the folks at the top of that organization recognize that there will be a day -- possibly next summer -- when Torre will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Torre was an excellent player, with 2,342 hits, nine All-Star appearances and an MVP Award, but his 12 seasons as manager of the Yankees push his candidacy over the top: He was the on-field leader of baseball's last dynasty, with the Yankees accumulating four championships and five World Series appearances in the span of six years. He was the perfect personality to manage a near-perfect roster, and the success of those teams, in the post-free-agency era that began in 1976, is unparalleled.

Torre is an important part of the Yankees' history, which is why the time will come, after he is celebrated in Cooperstown, that No. 6 will be retired in Torre's honor, with all of the attending pomp and circumstance.

Because it's the right thing to do, no matter the strain that occurred as Torre left the organization. There are personal relationships that were damaged along the way, and most or all will never be repaired because of what was done and said when he departed and because of what is contained within the pages of Torre's book. The split was ugly, unquestionably.

But like two divorced parents who do right by their children, the Yankees and Torre have chosen to set their differences aside when it comes to the treatment of their shared history. Torre has not boycotted Yankee Stadium, nor turned his back on the Yankees' organization; the Yankees never exiled Torre.

When the Yankees honored Mariano Rivera at the end of the season, Torre was part of the ceremony, and introduced in the same way that Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada and others were introduced. There was no hint of bitterness.

Which was the right thing to do. Because they all understand that what they accomplished together belongs to the ages, to fans, and should never be overshadowed by lingering personal feuds and disputes.

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1918 and did not win another for the next 85 years. But finally, in 2004, they won again, with a memorable group of players that Johnny Damon dubbed as the "Idiots." The general manager of that team was Theo Epstein, and three years later, with Epstein serving as GM, they won again. Two championships in four years, transformative success for the Red Sox -- success shared by John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Epstein, Terry Francona, the staff and the players.

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Why Baker is out as Reds manager 

October, 4, 2013
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Dusty BakerAP Photo/Al BehrmanDusty Baker, after leading the Reds to a wild-card appearance this season, was fired Friday.
BOSTON -- There was a moment in the midst of the Reds' playoff loss to the Pirates the other night when Dusty Baker walked over to Johnny Cueto and looked directly into his eyes. He tried to connect, cajole and encourage. It was classic Dusty, whose strength as a manager was built on the fact that he connects with players -- not because of any X's and O's, but because he likes people, and supports people.

This is why scouts have always said that Dusty's teams have played hard for him.

But the Reds' front office clearly wanted more than that, which is why Baker was fired. Cincinnati's major league roster was steeped with talent this year, from its deep rotation to the presence of two on-base machines in Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto to the dominance of closer Aroldis Chapman. Club executives believed the team had the potential for a championship and instead it was bounced quickly from the postseason, fading down the stretch before playing just one playoff game.

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Mets' struggles creating value 

September, 28, 2013
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Sandy AldersonRich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Mets' disappointing season has likely earned Sandy Alderson's club a protected draft pick.
The New York Mets’ loss Friday was the 87th of their season. And it was a really important loss.

With that defeat, the Mets moved back into position to have the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft -- and if this holds over the last two days of the regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets’ first-round pick would be among those 10 that are protected against draft-pick compensation.

This past winter, the Mets’ pick was not protected, which affected their aggressiveness in trying to sign Michael Bourn and others. If they finish the year lined up for the No. 10 pick (or better), it could nudge them into pursuit of one of the better free-agent position players who will be available this winter. If they signed a Shin-Soo Choo or a Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mets would have to surrender only a second-round pick in compensation.

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Gold Glove winners, by the numbers 

September, 13, 2013
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Manny Machadooy R. Absalon/USA TODAY SportsHis bat has been the revelation. Everyone knew Manny Machado's glove would be good.
This is about the time of year when Gold Glove ballots are dispensed to coaches and managers, and based on my own experience in collecting the votes in past years, I’d say there are two different types of voting styles.

1. Some voters are devoted to turning in the best ballot possible, and will give lots of time and lots of thought to the process before picking their winners.
2. Some voters just want to get it over with and will pick out the first decent name that pops into their heads.

So, in other words, the Gold Glove voters are like the rest of the electorate in this fine democratic society.

Every week, I get an email from Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information noting the results of a conference call specifically held to talk about defensive metrics. He’s all over this kind of stuff, so I asked him to give me a pure statistical evaluation of who he thinks should be the Gold Glovers at each position, in each league.

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Why MLB must ban plate collisions 

September, 7, 2013
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Prince FielderAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezA hard collision at home plate caused Giants catcher Buster Posey to miss much of 2011.
A talent evaluator who works in baseball imagined the future testimony aimed at a team -- or all of Major League Baseball -- in a lawsuit filed by a catcher seriously injured while blocking home plate.

"'I was told in spring training by my catching instructor that this is something I need to do,'" the evaluator said, imitating the words that any catcher could say. "'I didn't block home one day and he called me a -----, and he said that blocking home plate is something that every catcher is expected to do.'"

The evaluator jumped into another role, imagining himself as the catcher's lawyer: "'What happened next?'"

Evaluator as catcher: "'I blocked home plate, as I was instructed to do, and now I can't walk.'"

This testimony could be especially effective, the evaluator noted, if it comes from someone sitting in a wheelchair, and if you think that can't happen, maybe you should watch this video of the hit that Harrisburg catcher Brian Jeroloman took in a Double-A playoff game the other night, when he was run over by Erie's Brandon Douglas.

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Where Robinson Cano could go 

August, 25, 2013
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CanoAP Photo/Gail BurtonYankees second baseman Robinson Cano's 4.8 WAR is among the best in baseball.
LOS ANGELES -- If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, then as of this morning, there are 33 games left in the career of Mariano Rivera.

But everybody saw that coming. There may also be only 33 games remaining in Robinson Cano's tenure with the Yankees if he leaves as a free agent when the season is over. He is their best player and they need him, and yet in recent years, teams have held the line with their own superstars -- for instance, the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and the Rangers with Josh Hamilton -- and those choices have been quickly vindicated.

The Yankees have their own experience in deciding whether to invest in a long-term star (Alex Rodriguez), and that hasn't turned out so well.

Cano is represented by Jay-Z and CAA, and the expectation among executives is that they will be looking to plant a flag with their contract -- something in the A-Rod/Pujols neighborhood.

But a big question that has come up among some rival officials is this: What teams will compete against the Yankees to sign him to create that leverage?

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Michael Weiner a true class act

August, 11, 2013
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Brad ZieglerESPN IllustrationArizona pitcher Brad Ziegler makes a Sunday column relief appearance for Buster Olney.
Buster Olney is on vacation this week, so for the second straight year, guest columnists are writing the lead of his column in his absence. Today, D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler chimes in on what makes union leader Michael Weiner such a special person.

This is a crazy game. If you had told me when I was growing up that I'd have at least six seasons of time in major league baseball, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic. While it was always a dream of mine to play, it also always seemed so far out of reach. Yet, here I am, blessed with so many things in my life, including a career that I truly enjoy. There are many other things, too: an amazing family (including the two friendliest dogs in existence), financial security and good health.

Good health -- something I'm thankful for every day. Something that not everyone in this life shares.

One of the most respected people in this game is in the fight of his life, and anyone -- everyone -- who has any part of this game is pulling for him. Players, coaches, general managers, owners, writers, umpires. Everyone.

As many of you know, Michael Weiner is currently serving as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association -- our union. And anyone who follows the game also knows that a year ago, Michael was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive and inoperable brain cancer.

I've been a player representative for the union since the start of the 2009 season. In the middle of that season, I got a phone call from Donald Fehr, informing me that he was retiring as executive director. After a few conference calls, we selected the obvious replacement that December: Michael Weiner. I hadn't yet met Michael. My agent, Rob Martin, had met him a few times and heard him speak a couple of times, so I asked what he was like. "The man is a human computer," he said. "He can probably quote you the entire basic agreement."

In my time getting to know Michael at various union events or even through casual phone calls, I can honestly say I have seen zero instances to dispute my agent's assessment. However, I can also honestly say that while his knowledge of the basic agreement and labor law in general is impressive, it isn't even close to his best asset.

His best feature is, far and away, who he is as a person. He's a devoted family man. He often speaks of his wife, Diane, and his three lovely daughters, and you can tell how much he cares for them. Furthermore, he genuinely cares about every single ballplayer. Never once has he started a conversation with me in which the first topic wasn't about how my family and I were doing. I'm guessing he's the same way with every other player. Those who've taken the time to get to know him know exactly what I'm talking about.

[+] EnlargeMichael Weiner
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIMichael Weiner's leadership on the issue of PEDs has been pivotal, writes Brad Ziegler.
As far as his professionalism, there's one thing that has really stood out to me: He genuinely cares about improving the game of baseball. Don't get me wrong, he wants things to be as good as possible for the players. And he can get downright angry and ruthless when he feels like the owners are attempting to encroach on the principles we, as a union, have stood on since our inception. But he also gets the big picture: What is best for the game in the long run?

In my opinion, never has this been more evident than when dealing with our Joint Drug Agreement. Michael has listened to the players. We want the game clean. No more PEDs. Period. We want to be the era that, down the road, is widely accepted as the group of players who cleaned up baseball. We certainly want to punish those who are caught with something illegal in their system, even if it's not intentionally ingested with the mindset of gaining an edge on the field.

As for those who intentionally cheat? Ban them for a year. Or ban them for life. As for voiding their contracts, well, that time may be coming. Players are sick and tired of guys trying to beat the system, and at this point, we have no tolerance. We are tired of this being the focus of our sport, year after year. Baseball is an amazing game -- perfect in so many ways -- and we must keep the attention on the field, where it should be.

It has to be a tough spot for Michael to be in when it comes to this topic. He's supposed to represent all players and get the best possible outcome for them in every situation, right? No. Michael's response: "If they cheated, they should be punished -- I'm just here to help make sure they get a fair trial."

To me, that is someone who genuinely cares about our game and the way it's perceived publicly. We all leave a legacy in life, and he wants the game to be better when his time in the game is over than it was when he first got involved.

I recently had a casual conversation with an MLB general manager. We discussed Michael's medical situation, and he said something that really stuck out to me: "That guy is incredible. He's the best thing that's ever happened to this game."

And even if he said it in passing, I'm not sure he's far off.

Michael's legacy on this game has already been established. And whether he continues to build on it for the next 40 years, or if he's taken from this life sometime sooner, he continues to leave a mark on this game -- and on people's lives -- that won't ever be forgotten. It is an absolute privilege to work alongside you, Michael. And it's an even greater pleasure to call you my friend.

Notes and links (from Buster)

Hanley Ramirez will try out his right shoulder on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Dodgers never lose: After Zack Greinke's strong effort Saturday, they've now won 36 of their last 44. The Rays pulled off a hidden-ball trick.

• The Braves' winning streak ended.

Jordan Schafer was activated from the disabled list, and Fredi Gonzalez intends to use him. 

We had the Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball" the last two weekends, and our crew talked to Gonzalez about how he would structure his lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs. Gonzalez wasn't specific -- and he doesn't need to be -- but I walked away from those conversations convinced that his standards will be simple. He will play the best lineup he believes gives him the best chance of winning, regardless of contract size and track record. He reiterated that the Braves' collapse in 2011 changed the way he thinks, because now he's much more willing to make changes.

If B.J. Upton struggles early in September, he won't play as much in late September, I'd guess, and Schafer's presence gives Gonzalez an attractive alternative, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Brian McCann has a sore knee and was out of the lineup. The Braves' lead in the AL East gives Gonzalez the flexibility to liberally rest veterans such as McCann, and McCann has shown enough this season to demonstrate to teams that might be interested in him in the winter that he'll continue to be a productive player. He might be the most sought-after free agent of the winter, given that he could fit so many teams: Texas, Washington, the Yankees, Boston, San Francisco (with he and Buster Posey sharing catcher/first base duties), Philadelphia, the White Sox, etc.

Miguel Cabrera did it again. His current triple crown standing:

Batting average: .363 (first, by 33 points)

Home runs: 35 (he trails Chris Davis, who has 42)

RBIs: 109 (tied for first with Davis)

• White Sox GM Rick Hahn and the players believe in Robin Ventura, writes Paul Sullivan. 

Ryan Ludwick is nearing his return, and undoubtedly, the Reds need him to come back and produce. The Reds have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team since the All-Star break. 

Jason Hammel is hopeful that his forearm issue doesn't keep him out a long time. 

Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are getting more playing time, Paul Hoynes writes. 

• The Rangers regained first place with help from Alex Rios

Will Middlebrooks is getting a welcome chance to reboot, writes Nick Cafardo. 

Jayson Werth had a really big day

• The Astros are on pace to finish 52-110, with a run differential of minus-242. 

Jacoby Ellsbury led the Red Sox to victory. 

• The Rockies are collapsing, and it's open season on internal evaluations

Adam Eaton has been finding his groove at the plate. 

• The Phillies need to make a decision on Charlie Manuel, writes Bob Brookover. 

In some parts of the Philadelphia organization, it's already taken as a fait accompli that Manuel and some staffers will be let go. But it'll be interesting to see if the logic used in the re-signing of Chase Utley -- he's an important part of the team's history, and he is still productive -- will be used in Manuel's case. Because if the Phillies don't believe Manuel is the best person for the job now, they should've already fired him, and if they think that like Utley, he can still do the job, they should extend him.

Other stuff

• There is a reported BALCO and Biogenesis link: Alex Rodriguez.

The tide has turned when it comes to MLB cheats, writes Tom Haudricourt. 

Rodriguez is on a short leash with Yankees fans, writes Bob Klapisch.

• The ousted St. Louis radio duo of Jack Clark and Kevin Slaten are weighing their options

• Ken Griffey Jr. was part of the ceremony in which he was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame. He's a really complicated person.

And today will be better than yesterday.

The future of Alex Rodriguez 

August, 4, 2013
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Alex RodriguezRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAlex Rodriguez could face a ban through the 2014 season for PED use.
PHILADELPHIA -- The news conference that Alex Rodriguez gave the other night was astonishing because it was like he stole the script that Ryan Braun had used 17 months before.

Rodriguez was indignant, he was resolute, he hinted at conspiracy, and above all, he professed his love for baseball, which apparently is the thing you're supposed to say after you trample all over the sport. The problem for Rodriguez is that everybody has seen the act before, including commissioner Bud Selig, who is said to be very comfortable now in the role of a steroid-fighting Wyatt Earp.

Once extremely tentative in his steps toward the high ground years ago, Selig figured out before the commissioners of the other major sports that when you're running a multibillion-dollar industry, spending tens of millions in a hyper-aggressive effort to keep your sport clean is like buying pest control for your house: It's worth the investment.

Baseball officials were appalled and angered by Braun's performance at that news conference, the brazenness of the lies. And so Rodriguez, with his knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Selig isn't negotiating anymore, believing that he has the evidence to take down Rodriguez. Perhaps by Saturday night, Rodriguez fully realized how deeply he has buried himself in this mess because he declined to comment.

That won't last, of course, because Rodriguez can never really help himself for long.

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There is a consolation prize for those teams not at the top of their respective divisions: In August, they get to play crossing guard before every tradeable commodity reaches the No. 1 team -- holding the power to stop them from getting through.

This means that the John Hancock of all waiver claimers, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman -- a founding father of a new culture that developed around waiver claims in the late '90s, along with former New York Mets GM Steve Phillips -- will have a chance to block all three teams that sit above New York in the AL East standings.

The Cleveland Indians will have a chance to decide whether the Detroit Tigers get a shot at anybody.

The Cincinnati Reds can stop the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates from making moves.

For at least the next 31 days, being out of first place can be a position of power.

This is the way waivers work, generally: As teams place players on waivers this month -- and almost every player goes through, as a matter of process -- teams have an opportunity to place a claim on each player. If a player is claimed by multiple teams, then the clubs with the worst record gets the claim. The Houston Astros will get first shot at everybody, and as of today, the Pirates -- with the best record in the majors -- get the last shot.

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Jake PeavyJohn Rieger/US PresswireA multitude of teams are interested in acquiring 32-year-old Jake Peavy at the trade deadline.
ATLANTA -- There will be some deals in the next three-plus days before the trade deadline. But the fervor with which teams acted in the last week of July has largely disintegrated, because older players aren't valued and trusted as much as they were, and younger players are valued and trusted so much more.

Jake Peavy is the No. 1 starting pitcher on the market now because while the Phillies are open to listening to offers for Cliff Lee, and the Royals will take your phone call about Ervin Santana, nobody is sure whether Lee or Santana will actually be traded. In Peavy's case, rival executives are confident that the 32-year-old fastball slinger is going to get moved before 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

But it's in keeping with the recent luck of the White Sox that they are dealing a veteran player at the worst possible time to be marketing someone like Peavy, who is under contract through 2014 with a vesting option for 2015.

What the White Sox have indicated to other teams is that they want major league ready pitching in return for Peavy, which, in 2013, is like saying to other folks on a sinking ship that you want to acquire their lifeboat. Teams are not nearly as willing to part with that sort of commodity as they used to be.

Here are most of the teams involved in the Peavy trade talks:

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Alfonso SorianoHoward Earl Simmons/Getty ImagesIt's been a while since Alfonso Soriano put on the pinstripes. It appears he will again.
Here are the reasons the Yankees’ trade for Alfonso Soriano doesn’t make sense:

• He has a .287 on-base percentage.
• He’s limited in the positions he can play, either left field or DH, on a team that already has too many players whose best position might be DH.
• In some respects, he’s not really all that different from Vernon Wells, and the Yankees will face a logjam of DH/OF types almost immediately, after Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter come back. (Given that they’ll probably want to use the DH spot for A-Rod and Jeter.)
• His presence may box them in next spring (although Rodriguez will probably face some sort of suspension at the outset of 2014, whatever the length turns out to be.)

Here’s the reason it makes sense:

• Since June 28, Soriano has 10 homers; since June 28, the Yankees have eight.

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