- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Weeks of conversation take place before most trades are executed, and in a lot of cases, the first talks are theoretical feelers. No hard offers, no firm proposals, just an idea tossed out, like part of a brainstorming exercise.
This was the vein in which the Phillies first raised the idea of a possibly dealing Cole Hamels or Shane Victorino weeks ago. Philadelphia did not play well in the first days of the season, and with Hamels and Victorino eligible for free agency in the fall -- and neither close to a new deal -- the Phillies called around to lay the first groundwork for a possible swap of the two veterans.
There may not be another call made. The Phillies could start playing better -- they beat the Padres on Friday night -- and they would continue to go about the business of trying to extend their consecutive streak of division titles.
But if the Phillies never turn it around -- if they don't get a boost from the return of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- then they at least have an early idea of who may or may not be interested in making a deal for Hamels, who is among the pre-eminent left-handers in the league, or Victorino, a plus defender with speed and power.
You can bet this, too: Very, very few rival executives -- if any -- would call the Phillies unsolicited in April or May to ask about any of their players, because of professional courtesy. To make that kind of overture could be construed as circling like a vulture over a team's opening struggles. "This is a team that won 102 games last year," one official said. "You wouldn't call them to ask about one of their prime guys this early."
Said another: "Calling them [in April or May] would take a lot of [guts]. Nobody's really talking trade this time of year, and if you called a team that's off to a bad start like that, you might get your head taken off."
The Phillies could have an ulterior motive in having these theoretical trade discussions drift into public view. As they work to clarify the negotiation position of Victorino and Hamels, a suggestion that they're willing to trade them could pressure the two veterans to the table -- although in both cases, it appears that there is a significant gap between what the Phillies are willing to pay and what the player is asking for.
The Phillies made some roster changes.
• The Dodgers' Dee Gordon and James Loney have struggled terribly at the outset of this season. Gordon has nine errors already, and with five hitless at-bats Friday, his batting average has fallen to .218, and Loney has just one homer and eight RBIs, with a .227 batting average. But the team's 21-11 start has created flexibility for the team in waiting for the two regulars to dig their way out of their early-season troubles.
The team has been happy with Gordon's daily effort, and his work habits, and believe he is much closer to being the type of player he was in September, when he hit .304 in 56 games and stole 24 bases. And the Dodgers have seen in the past that Loney can be a better player than he has been so far this year.
Keep in mind, however, that the Dodgers are in a very different place now under new ownership, and will be able to be more aggressive in taking on salary in midseason deals.
What follows is pure speculation: You wonder whether the Dodgers could be a good landing spot sometime this summer for Kevin Youkilis, if Loney doesn't hit and the Dodgers look for an upgrade at first and determine that Youkilis is healthy enough to take on for the rest of this season.
• Josh Beckett's demeanor and choices are under a lot of scrutiny these days, but as he has noted, he is not pitching well -- and these days, he is working with very different weapons. His velocity has diminished, and rival evaluators think his breaking stuff isn't nearly as dynamic as it has been in the past.
From Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info:
"Beckett's fastball velocity is down from 93 mph to 91 mph this year. He's thrown 17 of his 298 fastballs at 93 mph or higher this year; last year, 826 of his 1,541 fastballs were at 93 mph or higher.
"He's had a lot of trouble finishing off left-handed hitters with two strikes:
2011: 531 two-strike pitches, 102 strikeouts
2012: 95 two-strike pitches, 13 strikeouts
"Within that, his curveball is lacking versus lefties."
2011: 149 two-strike curves to lefties -- 36 strikeouts, six hits
2012: 26 two-strike curves to lefties -- two strikeouts, three hits
Beckett compared his past three days to being on a reality show. Beckett wants to be part of the solution. Bobby Valentine won't legislate off days. Bob McClure addressed the timing of Beckett's golf outing, within this Scott Lauber piece.
By the way: Beckett's remark that players only get 18 days off a year is not getting a lot of sympathy from within the baseball community. "He's a starting pitcher," said one former player. "That means he can play golf three times a week. I'm not feeling his pain."
• The Blue Jays don't have a master plan for Vladimir Guerrero, as he prepares to join the organization. They signed him for essentially the same reason that the Rays signed Hideki Matsui: as organizational depth. If Guerrero shows in Triple-A that he can be a productive player, and a need arises for the Jays, then he could be promoted. If not, then the Jays lose nothing. If a need doesn't develop and Guerrero has a better opportunity elsewhere, they'll let him pursue that.
• Carlos Ruiz's strength at catcher, Hamels said the other day, is that he is "unpredictable. He won't let [pitchers] fall into patterns. There's no way for a hitter to know exactly what's coming next."
Recently, Hamels reached a count of three balls and no strikes, and almost uniformly in these situations, the pitcher will throw a fastball. Ruiz called for Hamels' best pitch, the changeup -- just in case the hitter was looking to hack 3-0.
Ruiz has continued to grow as an offensive player, as well. In going 3-for-3 on Friday, he improved his batting average to .340, and his OPS to .987. Matt Kemp would be the NL MVP if a vote were taken today, but Ruiz would be somewhere in the top 10.
There is little evidence that the Angels can stand up to the Rangers, writes Bill Plunkett. Texas is now eight games ahead of the Angels.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Dale Sveum will pick his closer on a daily basis.
5. The Giants added a veteran pitcher.
6. Oakland summoned an outfielder.
Dings and dents
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Gonzalez shut down the Reds:
A) Gonzalez threw 78 percent fastballs, his highest in a start since June 2011. Gonzalez elevated the fastball on 44 of 90 pitches, getting eight outs with six by strikeout.
B) Gonzalez stayed to the arm side (away to righties, in to lefties), throwing 53 pitches (46 percent). The Reds went 1-for-10 with seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch to Gonzalez's arm side.
C) The Reds swung and missed at 22 of Gonzalez's pitches, matching the highest total in the majors this season.
Harper loves to get booed.
11. The Giants couldn't deal with Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt.
14. The Pirates' offense came up with nothing.
15. The Mets blew a lead, as Anthony McCarron writes.
20. The Marlins got to frolic.
By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats & Info
4: Marlins walk-off wins this season (second in the majors behind Nationals' five).
11: Adam Dunn's home runs this season. He had 11 all of last season.
25.1: Consecutive scoreless-innings-pitched streak owned by Dodgers' Chris Capuano that was snapped in the sixth inning by the Rockies.
40: Consecutive games in which Matt Holliday has reached base against the Braves (second-longest active streak in MLB).
49: Consecutive saves streak by John Axford that was snapped Friday (was fourth-longest in MLB history).
• The Twins' hitting coach is staying positive.
• On this day in 1995, the Red Sox admitted something that everybody knew.
• Don't blame ballparks for the Rockies' road woes.
One talent evaluator who saw the Rockies earlier this year believes that the team's outfield defense is much less than what Colorado expected it to be.
• A Rangers pitcher had a wardrobe malfunction.
• Tony La Russa's No. 10 was retired.
Some Braves helped with the La Russa ceremony.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes that the Phillies have already tried to gauge teams' potential interest in Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, so if they continue to struggle they'll have a sense of what the trade market is for both players.