- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals went crazy after clinching the NL East, the Detroit Tigers partied in Kansas City, and the Oakland Athletics sprayed champagne all over the place after wrapping up a playoff spot.
But all was quiet where Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers called from, in the last hours of the Diamondbacks' disappointing season. A year ago, Arizona came very close to playing for the NL championship, and this year they are among those who must watch others celebrate.
"Last year, we exceeded expectations," said Towers. "This year, we fell below them."
So Towers is like most baseball executives these days, planning adjustments, preparing for changes. Because of rotation struggles and injuries, three young pitchers -- Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs -- were pushed into the rotation, probably a little sooner than the team expected. Miley is among the leading candidates for the NL Rookie of the Year, Corbin and Skaggs have performed well, and Towers believes all three will be better for their experience. Arizona actually scored about as many runs as it did last season.
But the Diamondbacks ran the bases atrociously, and they have a clear need at shortstop and a glut of outfielders. There would seem to be almost no chance that the group of Justin Upton, Chris Young, Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra and Adam Eaton will return intact. One or more of them is likely to be moved.
Rival executives believe that Young will be traded -- and in fact, some say that they think Arizona would have let Young go on waivers if he had been claimed in August. Young is set to make $8.5 million next year, and he has an $11 million option for 2014 (with a $1.5 million buyout, which means that he's guaranteed $10 million). He started well this season, but injuries limited him to 100 games, and in those he hit .231 with 14 homers and 79 strikeouts. At age 29, he is regarded as a good defensive outfielder; he ranked very well in FanGraphs' UZR/150.
But the most central question that hovers over the Diamondbacks has carried over from the trade deadline: Will they move Upton?
Towers has been on record as saying he will listen to offers on any players, and he leaves it at that. Some rival executives, however, sense that Towers is less likely to move Upton this winter than he might have been a year ago or even before the trade deadline for several reasons:
1. While there will be teams willing to give up good packages of prospects for Upton, it may be that nobody is going to surrender a deal worthy of a superstar-level player -- and that is how Upton's potential has generally been viewed early in his career. And now that Upton is about to get more expensive -- he'll make $9.75 million next year, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015 -- the offers will be mitigated by the pay increases.
2. Upton is coming off a subpar season where he hit .276 with 17 homers. Even if Arizona wanted to deal him, now would not be the best possible time.
3. Upton is just 25 years old, and there is always the concern -- if the D-backs were to trade him, it would be fear, really -- that he is going to blossom into a monster offensive player. Scouts who watched the Diamondbacks this year felt that Upton lost his way in his approach at the plate, taking too many pitches and getting himself into unfavorable counts, and they thought that too often, he clung to what he perceived to be wrong ball-strike calls by home plate umpires. In other words, they thought that if a call went against him on the first pitch of the at-bat, it would affect the rest of that at-bat and the at-bats that followed.
"That's not unusual," said one talent evaluator. "He's a young player. He's 25 years old. We all make mistakes at that age. Once he figures that out, I think he's going to come back and be a really great player."
The Diamondbacks have a nice core of young pitching, but Towers would like to add a veteran starting pitcher as well. These are things Arizona and other clubs will be thinking about, as meaningful games are played elsewhere in October.
For the readers: If you were running the Diamondbacks, would you trade Upton this offseason?
• The combined salaries for the players in the Boston lineup on Monday night were about $12.5 million, and there were five players in the Yankees' lineup who make more than that by themselves. This all says a lot about the Boston Red Sox's demise this year after opening the season with the second-highest payroll in the majors, and the New York Yankees flat-out embarrassed Boston with a nine-run, four-homer second inning. The Yankees lead the AL East by a game.
CC Sabathia was again dominant, completing eight innings. In his past three starts, he has allowed four earned runs in 24 innings with 28 strikeouts, partly because of how he is using his changeup -- a pitch that has confounded him for a lot of this season.
"I think it's just a matter of throwing it more," he said after the game.
The numbers bear that out. From ESPN Stats & Information, how Sabathia beat Boston:
A) With nine righties in the lineup, Sabathia threw 32 changeups, his most since joining the Yankees in 2009. Red Sox hitters were 0-for-8 Monday in at-bats ending with a Sabathia changeup.
B) Seven of the eight outs Sabathia recorded on his changeup came before two strikes. All eight outs he recorded on his slider came with two strikes.
C) Six of Sabathia's seven strikeouts Monday came on his slider. It's his 11th start this season with six-plus strikeouts on his slider, three more than any other starter in baseball (Edwin Jackson is second with eight).
Ken Davidoff thought it made no sense that the Yankees left Sabathia in the game to pitch eight innings. I think Sabathia's outing was so easy, so stress-free, that they figured they'd leave him in to reach the 200-inning benchmark. (Joe Girardi and Sabathia both said they had no awareness of the milestone, which, for rotation anchors like Sabathia, is a benchmark for durability. Pitchers like hitting 200 innings for the same reason that elite runners finish marathons even when they don't win.)
• The Rangers' lead is down to one game.
Other unresolved playoff issues today:
1. The seeding in the American League, with the Yankees, Rangers, Athletics and Orioles now all within a game of each other.
2. The winner of the AL East.
3. The second NL wild-card spot.
4. The No. 1 seed in the NL.
• Among all teams, I think the Atlanta Braves have the most to lose with the new wild-card format. They've had an excellent season and have posted one of the best records in the sport. But Washington won the NL East, which means that Atlanta's postseason might last just one game. The Braves lost on Tuesday.
• With the Tigers and Giants getting into the postseason, and the Angels being knocked out, the guess here is that Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey will win the MVP award for their respective leagues. Torii Hunter says he would vote for Adrian Beltre and not for Mike Trout.
Cabrera is closing in on history, as Tom Gage writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info: The last player to win the Triple Crown while having sole possession of first in each of the three categories was Frank Robinson of the Orioles in 1966. Cabrera currently is first in batting average (.329), homers (44) and RBIs (137).
Cabrera's 44 home runs are tied for fourth on the Tigers' all-time single-season list. Hank Greenberg is first with 58 (in 1938).
Active players with 40 homers, 200 hits in a single season
Alex Rodriguez: 1998, 2001
Miguel Cabrera: 2012
Adrian Beltre: 2004
Albert Pujols: 2003
Todd Helton: 2000
• Dusty Baker is back with the Reds and says he feels truly blessed.
Playoff injuries and moves
1. This is why a lot of folks would prefer to be the No. 3 seed: The Tigers know when and where they will start the playoffs.
6. Brett Anderson will be a very interesting wild card for the Athletics, as they set their rotation for the wild-card game, because they know this about him: When he's healthy enough to pitch, he pitches pretty well. A.J. Griffin is another possibility, but he may be needed in the series finale against Texas if Oakland wins tonight.
8. Buster Posey left Monday's game with back spasms.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Bobby Valentine says it's not true that his players don't like him.
• The Phillies won, and the other team celebrated.
• The Rockies avoided their first-ever 100-loss season.
• John Farrell was ejected in the middle of the Jays' win.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
4: Hits for Trout and Cabrera. The first time this season that they both had a four-hit game on the same day.
3: Seasons of 30 home runs and 50 doubles for Pujols. He is the first player in MLB history with 30-50 in three seasons.
1,950: Career RBIs for Alex Rodriguez, tied with Stan Musial for fifth on the all-time list.
• The Marlins' attendance in the first year of their new ballpark was good but much lower than in other cities.
• MLB is investigating a slur that appeared on Derek Holland's timeline.
• As part of his on-going series, La Velle Neal writes that the Twins' prospects aren't ready yet.
• Another abuse lawsuit has been filed against a former Red Sox clubhouse man.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes that Arizona GM Kevin Towers is planning his offseason moves, and the biggest question he will face is an old one: Should he trade outfielder Justin Upton?