To-do lists for Orioles, Angels, Nationals 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia & Matt WilliamsUSA TODAY SportsManagers Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia and Matt Williams have the luxury of coasting to the playoffs.
BALTIMORE -- There will not much rest at all for Miguel Cabrera, it appears, no chance for him to stay off his right ankle and let the pain from his bone spur subside. If Wade Davis becomes weary in the next 14 days, he probably won't have much choice but to push through it; the same could be true for Tony Watson, Justin Wilson and Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, and for the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez. If Sean Doolittle isn't quite 100 percent, his 98 percent or 90 percent or 85 percent will just have to do.

David Robertson threw 35 pitches Friday, 11 more on Saturday, then made another appearance Sunday … and had absolutely nothing, giving up three consecutive extra-base hits in a walk-off loss to the Orioles. The Yankees' playoff hopes are dying, and Robertson's effort was like CPR; he had to do what was required in the moment. This is the stretch drive, the last mile in the Major League Baseball marathon, and the players for the Tigers, Royals, Pirates and other teams will have to push through.

But there are a handful of contenders who likely will secure playoff bids in the next few days, leaving them time to be much more specific in their preparation for the postseason.

For instance, you have the Orioles. After their comeback win against what appeared to be a completely exhausted Robertson on Sunday, Baltimore's magic number for clinching the AL East is down to three, and while manager Buck Showalter has spent recent days running away from any hypothetical suggestion that the Orioles might make the playoffs, you'd have to imagine a to-do list like the one below might be forming in his head:

1. Keep shortstop J.J. Hardy properly rested.

Davis' mistake may cost him eight figures 

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
Chris DavisAP Photo/Gail BurtonChris Davis' OPS is down 300 points this season, and he now has a PED suspension on his record.
BALTIMORE -- This cannot be overstated: Chris Davis is a really nice person. Routinely gregarious, cheerful, helpful, self-deprecating. He is eminently likeable in the way that a wagging St. Bernard is, and that great demeanor is probably what will prevent at least some of his Baltimore Orioles teammates from absolutely blasting Davis publicly, and saying out loud what some of them really feel.

If you gave some of his teammates truth serum, some of them would tell you that his act of taking Adderall after having already tested positive once -- and getting a mulligan -- was at the very least absolutely inexplicable, and at worst, incredibly selfish. There is anger in the Orioles’ clubhouse about Davis’ 25-game suspension because he violated union rules that the players built and agreed to follow, but mostly because the Orioles have a chance to win the World Series, and now one of their few power hitters won’t be available for at least one round (and maybe two) of the postseason.

Sure, if the Orioles play deep into October and Davis becomes eligible to play and demonstrates he can help, they’d take the big lug back, because they need him and they like him. Plus, it’s not going to help anybody for his teammates to crush him with words, because the 28-year-old Davis already has done enormous damage to his career.

The timing of this suspension, occurring at the end of what has been an incredibly disappointing season, could not be worse and will cost him a lot of money beyond the $1.5 million or so lost while he is serving his penalty.

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Oakland's collapse could be worst ever 

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
Geovany SotoAP Photo/Paul BeatyThere have been many collapses over the years, but baseball now offers the parachute of expanded wild-card play.
On the morning of Aug. 10, the Oakland Athletics not only had a 4-game lead over the Angels in the American League West, they also had the majors’ best record: 72-44, on a pace to win 96 games. They were regarded as the best team in baseball, with the most prolific offense (to that moment), a dominant bullpen and a rotation that had been bolstered by the addition of World Series hero Jon Lester.

Sure, the Angels had made up some ground in the standings, but Oakland was positioned to win the division for the third straight year. Making the playoffs? A foregone conclusion, given how well Oakland had played and the enormous gap in the standings between the Athletics and the teams that might be involved in the wild-card race -- Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle, for example. At the time

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Stanton's injury could cause MLB change 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
Giancarlo StantonAP Photo/Morry GashMarlins star Giancarlo Stanton is likely out for the season after being hit in the face by a pitch Thursday.
On this date in 1952, the Pittsburgh Pirates did something no other team had done before. From

At Forbes Field, the Pirates become the first team to use protective head gear, a precursor to the batting helmet that protects the players' temples. Branch Rickey's innovation, worn both at the plate and in the field in the Bucs' twin bill split with Boston, is a plastic hat with a foam layer attached to the hat band.

On Sept. 9, 1979, Bob Montgomery -- the backup catcher for Boston’s Carlton Fisk -- took the final at-bat of his career, a moment notable because it was the last helmet-less at-bat by any hitter in a major league game.

When the rule requiring batters to use helmets was put in place eight years before, all the players who hit without them to that point were grandfathered into the regulation and allowed to continue to hit without the additional protection for the sake of their comfort.

The composition and shape of helmets has changed many times through the years, from something that was little more than a lined hat to the high-tech stuff we see now, when the composition of the helmets has been through military-style testing. All with regard for player safety.

There was no protection in place for Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, when he was hit directly in the face by a pitch thrown by the Brewers’ Mike Fiers; Stanton suffered dental damage and fractures.

Chase Headley
AP Photo/Kathy WillensChase Headley of the Yankees will miss a few games after being hit by a pitch Thursday.
A few minutes after Stanton was hit, Chase Headley was drilled in the chin; Headley is likely to miss a few days.

Stanton is expected to miss the rest of the season, and just as the Buster Posey injury of 2011 spurred a lot of conversation about home plate collisions and player safety, the injury to Stanton -- one of the game’s greatest stars -- will inevitably spur this question: In the name of player safety, can more be done to protect hitters?

The answer, without question, is yes.

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Could be a quiet offseason in New York 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
AldersonAP Photo/Mark HumphreyMets GM Sandy Alderson seems unlikely to up the team's payroll for the 2015 season.
As one small-market general manager said recently, Major League Baseball is at its strongest when the big-money teams are thriving and driving interest in the largest pools of potential customers. Parity is nice, and it's a good thing when fans in Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Kansas City are reminded that winning is possible.

But MLB is better off in those times when Chicago's Cubs are threatening to break through, or when Los Angeles' Dodgers have a chance to be great. The business of the sport needs to be utilitarian at its heart: The most good for the most people.

Which brings us to the strange state of baseball in New York.

In one borough, the Yankees have been trying to win so much that they have spent themselves into a corner, and in another, the Mets don't seem to be prepared to do much of anything.

The other day, Mets GM Sandy Alderson appeared to be signaling to the fan base that the team's payroll -- which ranks in the lowest third of the majors -- is probably not going to grow for next season. This is what he said:
"… [I]mproving a team isn't always a function of just dollars spent," Alderson said Monday while visiting veterans at the VA Hospital in Manhattan, prior to the Mets' 3-2 win against the Rockies. "Most of the improvement that came from the Mets this year had little to do with the overall [spending] … so it doesn't equate. We'll have some flexibility. We'll be able to do some things. We just have to see what's there."

The truth is that the expectation within the organization is that the team's payroll will again be in the range of $82-85 million, with $36 million of that, of course, absorbed by the salaries of two players, David Wright and Curtis Granderson.

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MLB should act now on domestic violence 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
Rob ManfredAP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoRob Manfred should see the NFL's failures as a call to action for MLB.
It’s as if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has fully mapped a minefield for MLB commissioner-elect Rob Manfred through trial and error, with pieces of Goodell’s reputation scattered all over as a result. As Manfred prepares to take over four and a half months from now and begin his own legacy, he can have a full understanding of how domestic violence -- once something not to be spoken of by previous generations, once expected to be a private matter -- is now regarded as intolerable by a society that has gained tolerance in so many other ways.

The high ground can be clearly seen and identified, and Manfred has an opportunity to do the right thing, in the way that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver did in the Donald Sterling case, and what Goodell did not do in the Ray Rice situation.

Manfred should go where other sports have not gone before, without fretting over the possible response of the players' association, and announce that Major League Baseball will have a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence.

If you hit your spouse, Manfred should announce, if you physically abuse your children, you will not be employed by Major League Baseball or any of its 30 teams -- as a player, as a coach, as a manager, as someone working in the front office. If you hit your spouse or children, you will not own a baseball team.

Manfred is a smart person and he would know that the implementation of a no-tolerance policy against domestic violence would be subject to labor grievances, to lawsuits. But Silver faced the same complications as he considered discipline of Sterling, and decided that whatever the cost faced by the NBA would be worth it in the end. Because he now has rebranded his NBA, his leadership, as fully principled.
[+] EnlargeAdam Silver
Andy Marlin/USA TODAY SportsAdam Silver's quick action on Donald Sterling was lauded.

Manfred should do the same thing, because it's the right thing to do, but also because he knows by now that there will be a day, maybe today, maybe next month, maybe next year, when Major League Baseball will face the issue of domestic violence because of the actions of one of its own. Some player or club employee is going to have an incident, sadly. It's inevitable.

Something will happen, and a society that has reframed its view of domestic violence through the Ray Rice case will stare down Manfred and ask: What are you going to do now?

There is no reason for Manfred to wait for that time to respond. He has the chance to be progressive, to declare where baseball stands on this, just as Silver did with racial intolerance.

Major League Baseball was slow to react to the growing backlash to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but after the infamous congressional hearing of March 17, 2005, Bud Selig moved from playing defense to playing offense. He has pushed for tougher testing, toughened the policy. Now, he does not miss an opportunity to say that Major League Baseball has the toughest drug-testing policy in professional sports, a rendering vetted by drug-testing agencies. He has earned that right.

Manfred could do this right now on the question of domestic violence. Yes, there could be a day when a high-profile player valued by Major League Baseball would be lost to the sport because of a no-tolerance policy, and there’s no way to know for sure if an arbitrator would back a suspension and loss of salary. But Manfred cannot be wrong in doing the right thing on this issue. All he has to do to know that is to see how Goodell’s leadership is disintegrating, after he did the wrong thing.


• During two days of being around

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Suggested rule for repeat PED violators 

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
Melky Cabrera im Rogash/Getty ImagesMelky Cabrera, center, who will miss the remainder of the 2014 season, is headed for free agency.
DETROIT -- An injury has ended the season for a 10-year veteran, and a strong season it was: .301 batting average, .351 on-base percentage, 54 extra-base hits, 81 runs. He is 30 years old and a switch hitter, and he will have suitors.

But the extent of the market for Melky Cabrera, who suffered a finger injury Friday and will miss the last three weeks, may be largely defined by what has happened in the past rather than what he did in 2014.

Club executives speak privately of the guessing game they must play when a player has a history of using performance-enhancing drugs, and Cabrera, of course, was suspended in 2012 after testing positive while with the San Francisco Giants.

He managed to get a two-year, $16 million deal from the Blue Jays that offseason, and he'll probably do better than that this time around.

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The secret to Posey's hot streak 

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
Buster PoseyLeon Halip/Getty ImageGiants backstop Buster Posey homered off David Price Saturday, his 20th of the 2014 season.
DETROIT -- Tilted back in his chair in the visitors clubhouse at Comerica Park on Saturday morning, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy started to explain Buster Posey's recent hot streak by talking about his history as a great hitter, about a swing that has always been simple and effective.

But in the midst of that, Bochy veered and focused on a tangible change that Posey has made. Bochy said he might’ve gotten too passive in his plate appearances earlier this season, perhaps getting himself in a hole in the ball-strike count.

As if to demonstrate the point, Posey came to the plate against David Price, a pitcher who issues few walks and fills the strike zone with fastballs, and Posey jumped on a first pitch for his 20th homer of the year, the fifth run in San Francisco’s 5-4 victory on Saturday.

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A.J. PierzynskiAP Photo/Elise AmendolaHitters aren't powerless, but hitting numbers have plunged across the game.

My favored theory about the decline in offense is drawn, to some degree, from what we’ve seen in recent years in the postseason, when scouting and specialized in-game decisions are routinely taken to the next level.

Night after night in last year's AL playoffs, the question of whether Max Scherzer or Anibal Sanchez or Justin Verlander or Sonny Gray or Jon Lester might throw a no-hitter seemed open-ended. Yes, the Detroit Tigers had a great rotation in the championship series against Boston, but remember, the Red Sox led the majors in runs scored with a deep lineup in 2013, and in that series against Detroit the Red Sox had 73 strikeouts in 193 at-bats, and hit .202.

Verlander had a great fastball last fall, Sanchez had a nasty changeup, and Scherzer painted. But that type of dominance isn't going to happen without detailed scouting, without pitchers and catchers and managers and coaches knowing how to use the information.

And more and more, the level of detailed information and implementation has climbed during the regular season. Hitters are under siege, because

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Marlins in Price-like bind with Stanton 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
Giancarlo StantonRob Foldy/Getty ImagesGiancarlo Stanton leads the National League in two Triple Crown categories (homers and RBIs).
The dollar amount of the long-term contract Giancarlo Stanton will sign, according to industry expectations, is growing with every home run, every RBI, every piece of confirmation that Stanton is going to be a franchise anchor for years to come.

But the question lingers: For which franchise?

Stanton is only 21 months older than Mike Trout, and whether he wins the National League's Most Valuable Player Award or not, he has established this summer that he can stay on the field without repeated trips to the disabled list and that his production is monstrous in an era when offensive numbers are in decline, which only increases his value. On Wednesday, he homered for the third straight game.

He has 36 homers, tied for the most in the majors. His 102 RBIs are the most in the majors. His .968 OPS is the highest in the National League and the second-best in baseball. He has 90 walks. His defense has improved.

But Stanton is not signed to a long-term deal yet, and with his free agency just two winters away, some evaluators believe that his next deal will be something in the range of $250 million to $300 million.

It's possible the Marlins will be open to a massive investment for a homegrown slugger such as Stanton, whose outsized power still translates in their cavernous ballpark. They have almost no payroll obligations and could afford him as their franchise centerpiece.

But a lot of rival officials believe Stanton won't sign long term with the Marlins, that it's inevitable he will depart. They believe the Marlins soon will have to face the reality that they need to trade him, or lose him to free agency, the same quandary that forced the Tampa Bay Rays to deal David Price on July 31.

And the looming cost of what it will take to trade for Stanton and then sign him will effectively allow him to dictate exactly where he wants to go, rival executives say.

All Stanton needs to do is stick to the same line, said one official: That he doesn't intend to sign until he reaches free agency. So if Stanton, a California native, really wants to play for the Dodgers (or whatever team, for that matter), he could simply respond to any trade proposal to any other team by saying he won't commit to a long-term deal.

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Bo PorterBrian Blanco/Getty ImagesManager Bo Porter was fired by the Astros just after his team posted a winning record in August.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we know a lot more about the position that Bo Porter signed up for in the fall of 2012, when he became manager of the Houston Astros. Whether he knew it or not at the time, this is what the job notice probably should've looked like:
Wanted: Manager of a Major League Baseball team
(Note: Your team will be designed to lose more games than any other. It has been stripped down completely, with all 25 players making less money combined than CC Sabathia or the MLB commissioner.)


Tremendous opportunity to travel and see the whole country, with big league accommodations. Good pay.
(You will be paid less than other managers.)

Tremendous opportunity for growth.
(We'll stock your team with what rival executives rate as Double-A talent, a lot of young guys who really aren't close to being finished products as players and will be completely overmatched in the big leagues.

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Sizing up offseason salary-dump market 

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
B. J. Upton Leon Halip/Getty ImagesIt's been another long season for B.J. Upton. Could he be on his way out of Atlanta?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- August may be over but these are the dog days of player evaluations, the time of year when teams are ready to turn the page, ready to say something hasn’t worked and isn’t going to work. They’re looking for something different.

It’s the time of year when executives are beginning to mull over the possible salary dump in the offseason, and some are scanning other rosters for matches. “Your trash contracts for somebody else’s trash contracts,” as one official noted the other day.

Here are 16 players (and contracts) who figure to be analyzed and perhaps discussed in deals after this season ends.

1. B.J. Upton | Atlanta Braves
Owed: $46.35 million over the next three seasons

He’s batting .205 this season after hitting .184 in 2013, and he’s already posted his sixth straight season of 150-plus strikeouts. The Cubs could again have interest after trade talks that involved Edwin Jackson crumbled earlier this season. There might be a match with the Indians, as well.

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Time off was transformative for Duffy 

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
Danny Duffy Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAfter previously trying to overpower hitters, Danny Duffy now displays more nuance to this game.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rehabilitating an elbow after Tommy John surgery can be the working definition of monotony, and Danny Duffy's experience was no different than that of many who preceded him. When he was going through the process at the Kansas City Royals' facility in Arizona, he would arrive at the ballpark by 9:30 a.m., finish all the work he was allowed by midday, and then hang out by the pool.

The early evenings presented the best part of Duffy’s groundhog days; he would head to the same restaurant for Mexican food, always ordering carne asada to enjoy from the same seat, and he would watch the other Royals do what he couldn’t wait to do again: play baseball.

“I didn’t miss a game,” Duffy recalled. “As painful as it is to watch knowing you can’t play, it’s important to stay on that learning track.”

This was a crucial part of Duffy’s mental and physical makeover, and when he takes the mound against Cleveland on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN), the Royals will either be a half-game ahead or behind Detroit in the AL Central. Duffy is well-suited to bear the responsibility of the moment.

Duffy ranks fifth in ERA (2.47) among all MLB pitchers with at least 130 innings. That's a little ahead of Corey Kluber and Jon Lester, a shade behind Johnny Cueto.

He absorbed a lot while eating rice and beans in baseball purgatory. Before that, Duffy was renowned for his big arm, but also for what he did not know about pitching efficiently, about controlling his effort.

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Bud SeligAP Photo/Paul SancyaBud Selig was honored in San Diego this week in what turned out to be an unpopular decision.
Only five months remain in Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner, and with his successor chosen (Rob Manfred), most of his remaining duties are ceremonial. After stopping at a few more parks in his farewell tour, he'll crown the champion at the World Series and move on shortly thereafter, perhaps to do the teaching that he has spoken of.

But in the days ahead, he has the opportunity to make a decision which, within the span of his time in office, wouldn't be nearly as important to the sport as a whole as the addition of the wild-card teams or the television contracts. For one set of executives with one franchise, however, a move by Selig could be absolutely crucial.

On Tuesday, Selig was in San Diego as the Padres announced that they will name a ballpark plaza at Petco Park after Selig. Mike Dee, the team's president and CEO, explained the rationale. From Corey Brock's story:
"It's tough to find something to give someone who has the experience and background he does," Dee said. "I think at this point in his career, his legacy speaks for itself. But to commemorate it here today was not only fun for us, but important for us to do."

Later in the article: "We wanted to do something to recognize his contributions here in San Diego because they are unique," Dee said. "Make no mistake, his contributions to the creation of Petco Park are profound. For those of us who were around and know the trips he made and conversations he had with local officials."

Selig said he was "very, very grateful," and as far as the Padres were concerned, this was a done deal.

But the backlash from Padres fans has been resounding -- overwhelmingly negative.

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Andrew McCutchenAP Photo/Keith SrakocicThe banged-up Andrew McCutchen and his Pirates are just 1 1/2 games from an NL wild-card spot.
After Andrew McCutchen banged into the center-field wall making a catch Tuesday night, he paused for a moment, bent at the waist, and was probably doing one of three things:

1. Assessing whether his injured ribs had been knocked free from his body.

2. Catching his breath.

3. Managing the pain.

Maybe he was doing all the above, all at once, but McCutchen probably wouldn't tell you exactly what was going through his mind, because he seems to be another disciple of the Ripken-Jeter-Miggy Cabrera School of Grin and Bear It, where the mantra is that if you are on the field, you don't really acknowledge your injuries.

But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle saw McCutchen hit the fence, and probably knows from precise trainers' reports how McCutchen is faring, and Hurdle removed the reigning National League MVP from the game in the late innings Tuesday. You wouldn't have blamed McCutchen if he had sat out Wednesday afternoon's game a mere 14 hours after the completion of Tuesday's game.

But McCutchen was back in the lineup in the third and final game of the series against the Cardinals, and he was hacking aggressively, as was Russell Martin, who had caught the night before.

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