- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
In the aftermath of the Ryan Dempster trade, a smart person in baseball said the other day he wondered whether there would be a moment on the pitcher's flight to Texas when Dempster might think: "My God, what have I gotten myself into?"
Dempster had complete power to essentially steer himself to the team of his choice or remain with the Cubs, given his power to veto any trade. And Dempster used it. But in the end, the 35-year-old pitcher landed in the more difficult league, in arguably the most acute hitters' park in the AL.
The timing for this could not be worse, because Dempster just started what is essentially a two-month audition for his next job. He is eligible for free agency in the fall, and any serious struggles will damage his market value. In his first start for the Rangers against the Angels, Dempster -- caught in the vortex of a four-day steel-cage match between the two AL West superpowers -- didn't make it through five innings. He allowed eight runs in 4 2/3 innings while watching baseballs fly through the jet stream that blew toward right field.
Dempster has a chance to be part of something great and memorable in Texas. Maybe he'll start Game 7 of the World Series and wind up in the middle of a champagne shower among teammates overjoyed after getting the last strike of the last out of the last inning of the last game. He first pitched in the big leagues at age 21, but this is probably the best team he's been on; Dempster has just two postseason appearances.
But as colleague Tim Kurkjian noted, Greg Maddux -- an adviser with the Rangers -- is one of the smartest people in baseball, and he never threw any of his 5,008 1/3 innings for an American League team for a reason. Maddux smartly avoided the AL in the half-dozen times he switched teams. It's a much more difficult challenge, because the designated hitter lengthens the lineups and there is no end-of-the-lineup breather for the pitcher. Teams in the AL don't give away as many outs as NL teams do. Choosing to work in the AL rather than the NL is like opting to climb into a snake pit rather than walk around it entirely.
Dempster had never pitched for an AL team before Thursday night, and he could have stayed in the NL. The Atlanta Braves wanted him and were willing to trade Randall Delgado for him, a deal that the Cubs wanted. Dempster could have gone to Atlanta and remained in the NL, and with the Braves, he could have worked with a catcher he knows, Brian McCann, in one of the best pitchers' parks in the majors, spacious Turner Field. He could have faced the relatively sparse lineups of the NL East. Besides the Braves, here are the rankings of the NL East teams in runs scored:
12. Mets, 479
17. Washington, 445
19. Philadelphia, 439
30. Miami, 383
But Dempster wanted to go to the Dodgers, where his longtime friend Ted Lilly pitches. When the Cubs brought the proposed trade to the Braves to him, Dempster didn't embrace it; he used the trusted congressional tactic, the pocket veto, by not responding. The Cubs were forced to move on.
However, there was one unexpected development. The Dodgers never pushed to get Dempster. Oh, sure, they were interested, but the team's modus operandi before this year's deadline was to improve the team without surrendering its small core of good prospects. When the Cubs asked for certain players, they were rebuffed initially. The Dodgers never wavered on that stance, and never aggressively sought the right-hander.
So about four hours before the deadline, the Cubs explained to Dempster that they had no offers in hand and wouldn't be able to move him unless he became more flexible. Given the late decision to play the last two months with the Cubs or with a pennant winner, Dempster went along with the Cubs as they spoke with the Yankees -- who were never really that serious about obtaining the right-hander, whom they believed to be an imperfect fit for the AL -- and with the Rangers, who were suddenly in dire need of starting pitching after injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz.
It was only about five minutes before the deadline that the Cubs and Rangers agreed on a deal, and Dempster agreed to the agreement.
This is how Dempster was on the mound in Texas on Thursday, in a place where he had never really considered until late Tuesday morning, and then allowed more runs in a start than he had allowed in his previous seven in the NL.
He'll get more chances to make it better, but there could be rough waters ahead in what one GM called "the big boy league."
Dempster went through an initiation in the Rangers' blast furnace, writes Randy Galloway.
Olt looked really good in his at-bats, showing a quick bat; I'd bet a lot of pitchers will be targeting the outside part of the strike zone against him, because he showed the ability to jump on inside pitches in Thursday's game.
These two AL West foes had an offensive slugfest during their four-game series, as the chart notes.
After leaving Texas in the offseason, C.J. Wilson has put together a good season against everyone except the Rangers. His ERA versus Texas is 7.27 but just 2.72 against the rest of the league. Same deal with his WHIP, which is 1.90 versus Texas, 1.16 against everybody else.
Albert Pujols won't lament Dempster's decision. Pujols hit a sac fly, RBI double and single in three plate appearances versus the pitcher. That continues a trend where Pujols has owned Dempster especially since 2010. In 23 plate appearances against him, Pujols has nine hits, a .529 average, and five home runs. He's slugging an effective 1.588.
The obligatory Mike Trout note of the day, as the 20-year-old continues to amaze: He's played in 82 games and scored 82 runs.
• The Pirates and Reds have a whole lot at stake this weekend.
• A fascinating dynamic has developed in the AL West. The Rangers have a suspect rotation and a great bullpen. The Angels have a great rotation and a suspect bullpen. And Oakland has the best pitching staff in the division overall. On Friday the Athletics will start Dan Straily; he is arguably the best pitching prospect in the minors, Susan Slusser writes. Oakland's intent is to keep Straily in the big leagues, writes Tim Kawakami.
The Athletics have a logjam with their rotation, and you'd presume that as Brandon McCarthy makes his way back from the disabled list and hits the waiver wire -- whenever that happens -- one of the AL teams in need of starting pitching, like the Red Sox or the Orioles, would take a shot at him.
• To receive draft-pick compensation, a team will have to make a qualifying offer that is based on the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players, and sources say they expect that number to be about $13.3-13.4 million.
• There are no deferred dollars in Cole Hamels' new contract with the Phillies, meaning it was a total white-flag surrender by the team in these negotiations. Last fall -- just nine months ago -- the Phillies had hoped to sign Hamels to a deal in the Jered Weaver range of about $85 million; instead, Hamels' deal could pay him $162 million. The specifics of Hamels' deal are here. He gets a $6M signing bonus, payable in 2012, and the year-by-year salaries look like this:
2013, $19.5 million
2014, $22.5 million
2015, $22.5 million
2016, $22.5 million
2017, $22.5 million
2018, $22.5 million
In 2019 there is a club option for $20 million, with a $6 million buyout, which means that at the very least, Hamels will get $144 million. There is also a $24 million vesting option, based on factors related to his ability to stay healthy, which means that the total deal could be worth $158 million over seven years or 7/$162 million.
• Before the Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the Giants, they asked the Pirates for top outfield prospect Starling Marte, reliever Brad Lincoln and more. Pittsburgh passed on that asking price, smartly, and made the more measured investments in outfielder Travis Snider and first baseman Gaby Sanchez. The Pirates didn't surrender as much in prospects as they would have had to for Pence, and both Snider and Sanchez could improve with some necessary adjustments.
• The Reds won again, because they seemingly never lose; Johnny Cueto rolled to his 14th victory. From ESPN Stats & Information: Cincinnati improved to 17-3 after the All-Star break, setting a franchise best mark for most wins in the first 20 games after the break. The Reds, who own the best record in the majors at 64-41, are 23 games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 4, 2010. This is their best 20-game stretch immediately after the break since 1939, when they went 16-4. They went 15-5 twice in the "Big Red Machine" years of 1973 and 1976. They also did it in 1940.
The Red Sox placed Daniel Nava on the 15-day DL on Wednesday, making it the 27th time the Sox have sent a player to the DL in 2012. With Josh Beckett facing a potential DL trip (back spasms, pending bullpen session), the Red Sox seem destined to set the record for most uses of the DL in the past 25 years. Here's the list:
2008 Nationals: 30
2004 Rangers: 29
2012 Red Sox: 27
2011 Twins: 27
2008 Rangers: 27
2002 Padres: 27
1993 Rangers: 27
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Information
1: Walk-off loss for the Indians this season (only the Orioles haven't lost a game in walk-off fashion)
4: Straight games with a home run for Josh Rutledge, just one shy of the Rockies record
8: Run margin of victory for the Mets over the Giants, largest since 1996 (won 14-5)
20: Game hit streak for Jose Reyes, tying his career high
353: Feet for Mark Trumbo's first inning home run, tying shortest homer of his career
542: Career doubles for Chipper Jones, passing Rogers Hornsby for 29th on all-time list
Moves, deals and decisions
1. As the Diamondbacks asked about possible combinations in conversations about Matt Garza, Starlin Castro's name did come up, naturally; Arizona needs a shortstop. But both sides quickly moved on, and a deal was never close.
2. Cliff Lee is on waivers, and now we'll see if the Dodgers place a claim. Before the deadline, the Phillies made it clear to any team interested in Lee that not only would they not pick up any of the $97 million owed to the left-hander, they also would want top prospects in return. So it'd be a shocker if the Phillies moved Lee in a waiver deal.
3. Don't be surprised if the Orioles go hard after Derek Lowe. He was cut by the Indians, who were sad to make the move, writes Paul Hoynes. You wonder if he'd be a good fit for the Nationals, at a time when Washington is preparing for the Strasburg shutdown.
Dings and dents
1. Howie Kendrick is dealing with a sore calf.
3. The Reds are short-handed because of injuries.
5. A top Twins draft pick had surgery.
• A Rockies rookie had a good night.
• The Giants struggled for runs.
• The Royals wrapped up a sweep.
• The White Sox pitchers are learning to pace themselves.
• The Cardinals finished a road trip of missed opportunities, writes Derrick Goold. St. Louis is quickly nearing the moment in its season when it has to make a stand, because the Reds have managed to stop losing.
• The Phillies were shut out.
• The Braves rolled with an early burst of runs.
• The Mets won, and they're playing a whole lot better of late.
• The Jays have dropped five in a row.
• This is how the Orioles stack up against the other contenders in the division.
• Bill Geivett is ready to embrace his new challenge with the Rockies.
• The Mariners are better off without Ichiro, writes Steve Kelley.
• Clint Hurdle tells his team: There needs to be trust.
• This is what the Cubs have learned from the trade deadline.
• A Roberto Clemente bat sold for more than $41,000.
• A Mets rookie got a talking-to after wearing a T-shirt.
And today will be better than yesterday.