Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Three contenders most in need of help
By Buster Olney
With little more than a day before the trade deadline, these are the contenders most desperately in need of help:
1. Texas Rangers
Really, it's not even a debate; they need help. Yes, they added Matt Garza last week, but their offense has been absolutely dormant, ranking 21st in the majors in runs scored for the month of July – and in the days ahead, they may well lose their top power hitter, Nelson Cruz, to a performance-enhancing drug suspension.
(There is some thought that Cruz should act on behalf of his teammates and the organization and appeal the suspension, because an appeal would likely drag on into the winter. On the other hand, it's clearly in his self-interest to get the suspension behind him before he reaches free agency in the winter -- and isn't that how we got here in the first place in the PED conversation, with a handful of players acting in their own self-interest? If Cruz cheated to gain an advantage by taking PEDs, it would naturally follow that he'd do everything he could to help his own journey into free agency in the fall.)
The Rangers may need to find a replacement for Cruz, and other teams say they have called around with some fervor, trying to gain some traction in landing offensive upgrades. Meanwhile, they are leaking badly in the standings: As of this morning, the Rangers have the seventh-best record in the American League, and incredibly, have failed to gain ground on the Athletics in any of the last 28 days.
As of this morning, the Rangers are almost as close to the surging Mariners (6 1/2 games ahead) as Oakland (6 games behind). Whether they find help in August or in the next 30 hours, they need help.
GM Jon Daniels doesn't expect to make a trade anytime soon, as Gerry Fraley writes, and Manny Ramirez is not in the Rangers' plans.
Texas got a big win on Monday night.
2. Boston Red Sox
They believe that Clay Buchholz will be back and can help in the last month of the season, but they don't necessarily have a lot of depth beyond him -- so if Ryan Dempster's groin troubles take him down once and for all or if Buchholz has a setback, their trouble will be serious.
They already are thin in the bullpen, and you figure that the deals made by division rivals Baltimore, for Francisco Rodriguez, and Tampa Bay, for Jesse Crain, probably were driven at least in small measure to keep relievers away from Boston.
The Red Sox have been in the conversation for Jake Peavy and for Cliff Lee, to varying degrees.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
They are back to within a half-game of first place after smashing the Cardinals Monday, and if you are waiting for a 2012-type collapse from the Pirates, well, forget it. They would have to go 19-39 or worse in order to fail to finish over .500. So they will have a winning season.
But now they're in position to accomplish some really great stuff -- a division title, a playoff berth, maybe an October surprise -- and they have a big lineup hole in right field. Pittsburgh is ranked dead last in OPS at that position, and they improve that by either adding a left-handed hitting first baseman, to free up Garrett Jones to move to right field, or by picking up a right fielder, like Nate Schierholtz.
The Pirates don't have to do this, but they are 23rd in the majors in runs, and a deal may well pay off in the end.
Latest on A-Rod
Some lawyers around the game fret that Bud Selig will overreach in his discipline of Alex Rodriguez -- and open himself up to backlash from the union or defeat in front of the arbitrator.
The union made it clear that it won't necessarily work to protect cheaters, but as many players say, they have made it clear that they believe all players deserve access to due process. If Selig injected the best-interests power to suspend Rodriguez and denied him immediate access to an appeal, while he continued to play, this would be an extraordinary act. There's no telling how the union would respond or how the arbitrator would react, either.
"If you look at Alex's history," said one of his associates, "the one thing you know is that we don't know what he will do. If we think he'll go one way, Alex will go the opposite way."
It may be better for Selig to make sure that he gets a clean win with Rodriguez, as opposed to betting on an extraordinary victory while risking the outcome.
Rodriguez's lawyer says he will shred Tony Bosch's credibility.
1. The White Sox informed teams involved in the Jake Peavy conversations that they have decided to keep the right-hander and build around him, and now the question is whether this is a negotiating ploy to egg Oakland and other teams into giving up more with their offers. The X factor in the decision for the White Sox is that, according to friends, Peavy wants to leave because he wants a chance to win at a time when Chicago appears to be stripping payroll.
Peavy will reportedly not make his scheduled start on Tuesday night, which suggests the Sox are still marketing him.
GM Rick Hahn says it's not essential to move payroll.
2. The Orioles have the means for a trade, if they choose to do it. Orioles officials say that they aren't interested in trading Dylan Bundy now because they understand they'd be selling at a time when his perceived value will be at its lowest, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Dan Duquette said that rumor came from somebody who wants to trade for Bundy.
3. The Tigers need some shortstop insurance and may not be done dealing, writes John Lowe.
I liked the Jose Veras deal for them, because it didn't cost them a lot, and they get an experienced pitcher who can fill a variety of roles, as needed.
It could make some sense for the Tigers to invest in Erick Aybar, who is being dangled by the Angels. He's under contract at $8.5 million for each of the next three years -- or about what the Tigers are paying Jhonny Peralta -- and Detroit will be looking for a shortstop solution in the offseason, when Peralta reaches free agency. Presumably, any team that asks the Angels about Aybar would want at least some salary relief.
4. The Phillies continue to have conversations with select teams about Cliff Lee, as first reported by Jerry Crasnick last week, and could move him, so long as they work within the confines of his no-trade clause.
But as they did before trading Lee to the Mariners a few years ago, the Phillies have not opened up the conversation to include a wide range of teams, which confuses some rival executives. Even if a player has clubs listed on his no-trade list, it doesn't prevent his team from at least talking with those clubs -- and perhaps convincing the player to accept a deal.
The Phillies are ready to sell, writes Jim Salisbury.
5. Ervin Santana continues to have fun with trade rumors.
6. The Reds are banking on help after the deadline from their own injured players.
7. Terry Francona is not thinking about the trade deadline.
8. The Red Sox may not be fazed by trade deadline stuff.
9. I thought the Jesse Crain deal was an excellent gamble by the Rays. Presumably, there's some kind of graduating scale on the return, depending on what they get out of him as he tries to recover from his shoulder surgery.
He's known as a pit-stop pitcher: Someone who fares better with a bit of a break in the midst of the season. And if he gets back to what he was in the first half of the season, when he was arguably the best reliever in the American League, the Rays could have a dangerous piece for September and maybe October.
10. Loved the Braves' deal for Scott Downs, and it paid off right away. The Braves continue to watch the market, writes Carroll Rogers.
11. Here are the best and worst trades in Houston history.
12. The Astros got an outfield prospect.
13. The Diamondbacks are weighing whether to deal or not to deal.
14. Mark Purdy thinks Oakland should stand pat.
15. As Jayson Stark has learned, the Dodgers and Angels had some cursory discussions about second baseman Howie Kendrick. Remember, these two teams almost never make trades -- but, yes, they have talked.
16. Josh Outman is attracting interest.
17. The Mariners are facing some tough decisions, writes Greg Johns.
Dings and dents
1. Jason Grilli vows to be back quickly.
2. Curtis Granderson is improving, as Roger Rubin writes.
3. A Mets pitcher hopes to be back in mid-August.
4. Mike Morse was activated, and Jason Bay was designated for assignment.
1. The Red Sox were really unhappy after a blown call. These Red Sox are worth getting all worked up about, writes John Tomase.
2. The Rays are back in first place.
3. The Padres got a huge home run from Chris Denorfia.
4. Jason Giambi was The Man for the Indians.
5. Oakland just keeps reeling off wins.
6. The Rockies blew a huge lead, as Troy Renck writes.
• Jose Iglesias was benched.
• The Jays don't think anything is going to happen to Melky Cabrera.
• A big home run may or may not help Alex Gordon, as Bob Dutton writes.
• Joe Mauer is set to rejoin the Twins.
• Tino Martinez's altercation with a rookie was a result of the player declining to pick up baseballs. Martinez simply crossed the line, writes Clark Spencer.
• Jake Westbrook had a bad day.
• Mike Matheny talked to Carlos Beltran about arranging some days off.
• There was something Yasiel Puig did that Dusty Baker isn't happy with.
• From ESPN Stats and Info: How Francisco Liriano shut down the Cardinals
A) For second straight start, he did not allow a hit when the count got to two strikes (0-for-12 on Monday, 0-26 in last two starts).
B) Continued success with the slider: Cardinals were 2-for-13, with six strikeouts vs. Liriano's slider, chasing 52 percent of sliders out of the zone (second-highest rate for Liriano this season).
C) Opponents have hit .118 against Liriano's slider, which is fourth in the majors (min. 15 starts).
D) Stayed down-and-away to Cardinals righties -- as a result, Cardinals righties were 3-for-21, with seven strikeouts on Monday.
• The Giants were honored at the White House.
• Ryan Braun played everyone for fools, writes Michael Hunt.
• For Hawk Harrelson, numbers aren't the story.
• There is sad news about former pitcher Frank Castillo, who died at the age of 44.
• There is sad news about George "Boomer" Scott. I was at Fenway in 1977 when he put the capper on a crazy game against the Brewers that featured 11 homers. And if you want an idea of how much his strength was respected, check out this video, when Dennis Martinez appeared to throw at him.
George Scott loved his Red Sox, writes Steve Buckley.
And today will be better than yesterday.