Buster Olney: Miguel Cabrera

Tropicana FieldAP Photo/Chris O'MearaThe Rays have drawn big crowds to Tropicana Field for certain games, but that hasn't been the norm.
On one side of the country, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., met with Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman to discuss the team’s lingering unhappiness with the current ballpark situation, as detailed by Christopher O'Donnell. On the other side of the country, the Oakland Athletics postponed a game, despite the fact there was no rain falling and no rain in the forecast: The field had been left uncovered the night before and was deemed unplayable, as John Hickey writes.

The Athletics’ situation could have happened in just about every other park in the sport. In the time I covered the New York Yankees, I remember a similar situation developing at Legends Field before a spring training game, with the groundskeepers scrambling to prepare the dampened field early in the morning before George Steinbrenner arrived. They had left the tarp off the field overnight, and a passing shower had thoroughly drenched it.

But between this and the ongoing sewage issues, and the field conditions that develop when the NFL's Raiders start playing games, Oakland’s park situation continues to be an embarrassment for all of Major League Baseball, not just the Athletics. As Bill Shaikin noted on Twitter on Friday, it’s now been five years since commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee to study Oakland’s ballpark options, and nobody -- not the other owners, not the commissioner -- have deemed it important enough to make it a priority item for the industry.

Which is their prerogative. If baseball’s owners and Selig don’t feel the need to strong-arm the Giants into making the best possible territory deal they can make and carve out a home for the Athletics in San Jose, Calif., that’s their choice. Until Major League Baseball -- the teams and the central office -- places the Athletics’ status at the top of its to-do list and prepares all the necessary horse-trading, nothing will change.

But when stuff like this happens -- when sewage is running under the feet of players, coaches and umpires -- the fault lies with the whole of MLB, not just plumbers or groundskeepers. This is a glaring case of benign neglect.

The Rays’ situation with St. Petersburg is like a marriage that is all but over besides the legal union. After their Opening Day spread of 31,042 fans, the Rays have drawn crowds of 11,113, 10,808, 9,571 and 14,304 in keeping with the recent tradition of support. Some small-market and mid-market teams have seen their attendance rise and fall according to how much the fans believe in ownership's investment in the team -- the Padres are a perfect example of this -- but the Rays have been a model of consistency in their incredible and improbable success, and yet the attendance continues to drift downward.

The franchise vies with the St. Louis Cardinals for the title of best-run baseball operations department, having won at least 90 games in all but one of the past six seasons, despite working on a shoestring budget while maintaining residence in the hyper-competitive American League East. The team has tried to reboot the fan experience at Tropicana Field, repeatedly. The Rays have tried to make the marriage with St. Petersburg work, but it’s not working.

From O’Donnell’s story:

The Rays are under contract to play at the Trop through 2027 but say they need to explore sites for a new stadium because of low attendances at the city-owned facility. The city has so far refused, saying it has to protect the investment of taxpayers who paid millions of dollars to bring Major League Baseball to St. Petersburg.

“I think we made good progress today,” Kriseman said. “We’re having very open and honest dialogue with each other.”

The hourlong unannounced meeting, the second Kriseman has had with the team since taking office in January, was at the Trop ahead of the Rays’ game against the Texas Rangers.

Kriseman said both sides have agreed to keep talks confidential. Talks in 2013 between the Rays and former Mayor Bill Foster stalled after city leaders claimed that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had instructed the Rays not to offer the city any compensation if it broke its contract.

“Both sides have agreed we are going to keep our conversations in confidence and private so we can continue to have a solid element of trust in each other, so we can make progress,” Kriseman said.

Despite a winning team in recent years, the Rays’ average attendance of just more than 18,000 was the lowest in the league in 2013.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has suggested several times in recent years that baseball’s other 29 owners were growing restless with the Rays’ lingering stadium problem. Richer teams such as the New York Yankees have to subsidize less profitable teams, including the Rays, through revenue-sharing payments.

Maybe there’s a more tenable site in the Tampa area. Maybe Montreal could be an option. Maybe Portland, or Nashville.

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videoTo understand just how terrible the industry reviews are of the Detroit Tigers' deal with Miguel Cabrera, it's appropriate to draw on the examples from the movie industry.

The Cabrera deal, in the eyes of rival executives, is "Disaster Movie" bad.

The Cabrera deal, in the eyes of officials with other teams, is "Battlefield Earth" bad.
It's is "Heaven's Gate" bad. It is "Sahara" bad.

Folks from around the sport believe that Cabrera's deal is a guaranteed loser, and they do not understand what the Tigers could be thinking to sign on for this money pit that they know will have ripple effects on the entire industry.

"I just don't get it," one high-ranking NL executive said. "They lost their minds."

Said another: "It's an awful deal for the Tigers, and it's worse for baseball."

The criticism of the contract should not be confused with criticism of Cabrera, whose skills as a hitter are universally respected.

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Red Sox have options besides Napoli 

November, 15, 2013
Mike NapoliJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesMike Napoli played a huge role for Boston in 2013. But it could be someone else in 2014.
Ben Cherington was honored as baseball’s executive of the year the other day, an award that pleased his peers, as well as his friends in the front office. Even throughout the trying 2012 season, Cherington was never caught up in privately placing blame on others. Rather, Cherington always seemed to be focused on what he felt he could do better, to help the Red Sox.

“He never looked for an excuse,” a friend of Cherington said. “He did everything he could to make it work.”

What the Red Sox were able to do quickly, under Cherington’s leadership, was to structure a pliable roster filled with value, while fostering an improving farm system. Boston won the World Series, but the payoffs for the team’s choices will continue into this offseason.

Mike Napoli is a free agent and the Red Sox would like to retain him. But Napoli, who turned 32 at the end of October, redefined the perception of him within the industry with his adept transition to first base, built on the many days and hours he worked with Red Sox coach Brian Butterfield, and through the work that he did with Dustin Pedroia on positioning.

A year ago, he was regarded as a beaten-down catcher with a chronically bad hip. Now he is seen as an above-average first baseman, coming off a season in which he had a .360 on-base percentage, generated 63 extra-base hits and helped propel to the Red Sox to a championship.

He is drawing interest from other teams, and some executives are convinced that Boston’s greatest competition for Napoli

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Data, scouting fuel Red Sox win 

October, 16, 2013
DETROIT -- Think of the postseason as a final exam, and the pitchers in the American League Championship Series as summa cum laude-caliber students: former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, presumptive Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Cy Young candidate Clay Buchholz, etc.

Now, on top of that, imagine the students had access to the best tutors in the world as they prepared for the final exam. Then, on top of that, imagine the exam was an open-book test.

This is what we have in the Boston-Detroit series. Some of the best pitchers in the world are using the extraordinary advance scouting provided to them, and are applying it to each hitter pitch by pitch. And when they see a hitter struggling with some problem, they exploit it expertly. The period from the late '80s to the earlier part of the last decade should be known as the steroid era, and what is occurring now should be called baseball's information era.

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Miguel Cabrera plots against pain 

October, 15, 2013
Miguel CabreraKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMiguel Cabrera's battle against constant pain has caused him to alter his swing.
DETROIT -- This is the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series, when none of us -- Jack Buck, first and foremost -- could believe what we just saw.

In the moments leading up to that at-bat, Gibson had taken some swings in the tunnel behind the Dodgers dugout, trying to figure out a way he could be functional at the plate. He had a knee injury and a hamstring injury and could barely move, making his usual setup and swing mechanics obsolete. Gibson had to take the working pieces of his body and make it all work.

Miguel Cabrera has been going through the same process in recent weeks. He has some sort of abdominal injury -- a best guess would be a sports hernia -- and he struggles to run, to move, to swing the bat. From Aug. 26 to Oct. 8, Cabrera had a total of two extra-base hits. But Cabrera, like Gibson, has been trying to figure out a way to make it work, and it has not gone unnoticed by the Red Sox that Cabrera has altered his swing mechanics to account for whatever he is feeling.

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My awards ballots and MVP precedent 

October, 1, 2013
Mike TroutThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMike Trout should win MVP, but an outdated precedent means it won't happen.
CLEVELAND -- The worst rationale is always, "That’s the way we’ve always done it," a phrase that could be the mud bog for man’s evolution.

Which brings us to the MVP, because it’s time for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to move forward with this honor, to shift into the 21st century, when the value of players is more precisely defined than ever.

For years, the MVP has been assessed by voters through the prism of team success. With few exceptions, such as Andre Dawson in 1987 and Cal Ripken in 1991, most serious candidates have been the best players on the best teams.

Which, unfortunately, means that the best players are often overlooked, because of murky bonus points bestowed upon others because they happen to be surrounded by better teammates.

Recently, a general manager noted the case of Mike Trout, who is generally regarded as the best player in the sport -- not only by those who wear suits and can define WAR, but increasingly by players and coaches and managers. The Angels look as though they may struggle for a few more years, the GM mused, and it’s possible that Trout could be baseball’s best player, generally, for the first five years of his career and not win an MVP "because his teammates aren’t very good."

That doesn’t make a lot of sense. In what sane world -- in what 21st century world -- is the question of "most valuable" among players defined by the ineptitude, or the aptitude, of teammates?

Unquestionably, this is the precedent in the MVP voting, established very early in the BBWAA’s history, never more than in the AL in 1934.

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Mike Trout is ending the debate 

September, 10, 2013
Mike Trout AP Photo/Alex GallardoMike Trout was loved by front-office types last year. But this year, the players also see it.
Before the season, Mike Trout talked about wanting to be more patient at the plate, about drawing more walks, because in his first full season in the big leagues he had shown some impatience and, naturally, he wanted to get better.

Well, a year later, Trout has increased his walk total -- by about 50 percent. He is on pace to draw 102 walks this season, as well as 203 hits, 78 extra-base hits, 110 runs, 95 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.

A longtime player was asked last week about the MVP vote in the American League. “Trout’s going to win it, isn’t he?” he responded. “There isn’t really any question about it -- he’s the best player in baseball.”

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Injuries that could change October 

September, 6, 2013
Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez Adam Davis/Icon SMIIt's been a great stretch for the Dodgers, but Matt Kemp has largely been an observer.
We’ve reached the stage of the season when a lot of injuries are probably not going to be healed by the time the playoffs start, a time when the team athletic trainers and the doctors are running out of time to fully treat their patients. In a lot of cases for contenders, open questions will linger about whether star players can actually be productive when they come back.

Here's a look at the top injury situations hanging over contenders with three weeks and three days remaining in the regular season -- in a race against time:

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

The team’s description of his injury -- that the best hitter in baseball has an abdominal issue -- has been obtuse, and imprecise, which is well within the rights of the Tigers. They’re kind of going the route of an NHL team that describes an ailment, officially, as a "lower body injury" during the playoffs.

Which leaves us to speculate, and Cabrera’s injury does seem to have all signs of a sports hernia.

If that’s the case, it means Cabrera is going to have to deal with this until he has corrective surgery -- and he has demonstrated over the last month or so that he can hit with his injury. But you do wonder if, in his effort to protect Cabrera during the postseason, Jim Leyland may consider playing Jhonny Peralta at third base when Peralta becomes eligible to rejoin the team.

Cabrera, one of the game’s great grinders, has missed four of the last five games.

2. Allen Craig, Cardinals

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Early leaders for MVP, Cy Young

June, 25, 2013
Yadier MolinaAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillYadier Molina now has a potent offensive game to go with his elite defensive skills.

I recently bumped into a longtime evaluator who offered an interesting handicap on the National League Most Valuable Player race. "Right now," he said, "Yadier Molina is the league MVP, hands down."

Over the next week to 10 days, every team will play its 81st game and reach the midpoint of the season, and the races for the major awards are starting to take form.

It’s possible to win the MVP or the Cy Young Award with a mad finish, like Vladimir Guerrero did in 2004, but as the use of statistical analysis deepens, the more the broad, season-long view of performance will be weighted -- not only by teams, but also by the writers who vote, who have demonstrated they will pick and choose. We saw this in 2010, when voters ignored Felix Hernandez's 13-12 record and gave him the AL Cy Young Award. Of course, the same electorate ignored WAR and leaned on traditional numbers to select Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout last year.

NL MVP: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

He leads the NL batting race, with a .353 average, and among catchers he has the highest OPS. Remember, his offensive production is regarded as a complementary part of what he provides. He is renowned for his ability to handle a pitching staff -- and the Cardinals’ work has been excellent this season -- and for positioning the defense, and for shutting down the running games of opposing teams.

Think about this number, which isn’t necessarily related to Molina’s MVP candidacy in 2013 but demonstrates the impact of his presence in a game. Since the start of 2006, these are the fewest stolen-base attempts against major league teams:

1. Cardinals: 645
2. Twins: 860
3. Reds: 863
4. Mets: 877
5. Diamondbacks: 889
6. Astros: 901
7. Mariners: 951
8. Brewers: 955
9. Nationals: 960
10. Orioles: 960

It’s hard to measure exactly what a great catcher provides, but there’s more than enough to support the scout’s view that as of now, Molina’s the front-runner.

The others in the conversation:

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
4. David Wright, Mets
5. Joey Votto, Reds

Troy Tulowitzki would be among the top three here if he weren’t on the disabled list, with an extended absence ahead of him. Carlos Gomez, by the way, ranks first in WAR.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

The guy is hitting .370, without the benefit of infield hits or being able to swing from the left side of the plate. And, by the way, he currently leads the AL in WAR.

2. Chris Davis, Orioles
3. Evan Longoria, Rays
4. Manny Machado, Orioles (second in AL in WAR)
5. Mike Trout, Angels

NL Cy Young Award: Matt Harvey, Mets

He’s got a 2.05 ERA, which is second best in the NL behind Jeff Locke, and he leads in WHIP and in strikeouts.

2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (leads NL pitchers in WAR)
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (career 2.42 ERA in the second half)

Others in the conversation: Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals.

AL Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer, Tigers

He’s second in the league in WHIP, and in strikeouts. And he seems to be getting better as the season rolls along.

2. Yu Darvish, Rangers
3. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox (although he is drifting back because of his time on the disabled list)

Others in the conversation: Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners; Anibal Sanchez, Tigers.

Around the league

Jose Reyes is rejoining the Blue Jays. Reyes could be back in the lineup Wednesday.

Wil Myers made himself at home in his first game in the Trop. Jeremy Hellickson is on a roll.

From ESPN Stats & Info, how Hellickson ended Toronto's winning streak:

A) Hellickson induced a career-high 14 outs on his changeup without allowing a hit. The 14 changeup outs are tied for the second most by any pitcher on changeups this season (John Danks, 16).
B) Hellickson started 19 of 24 hitters with a first-pitch strike (79 percent), his highest percentage in more than two years. He didn’t go to a single 2-0 count for the first time this season.
C) Hellickson threw 66 percent of his fastballs down in the zone, his highest percentage since his rookie season in 2010. He induced 10 groundouts, tied for his second most in the past two seasons.

• There is really bad news for Angel Pagan, Henry Schulman writes.

• As Vin Scully says of Yasiel Puig here: "The kid has done it again." He led the Dodgers to victory.

There are more adjustments to come from opposing pitchers, given Puig’s hyper-aggression at the plate. His rate of swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone is over 40 percent, which is very high, but not at the rate of hitters like Pablo Sandoval and A.J. Pierzynski.

When the pitch is inside the strike zone, his rate of swinging is the highest in the majors.

And as the pitchers try to adjust, so, too, will Puig.

From ESPN Stats & Info: Two of Puig’s three hits Monday, including his go-ahead HR in the first and his go-ahead single in the eighth, came early in the at-bat, something Puig has made a habit out of this season. All of his extra-base hits and homers have come within the first three pitches of a plate appearance. He’s hitting "only" .286 after the plate appearance reaches four pitches, including .214 with two strikes.

Other assorted Puig notes:
1) He’s hitting .688 (11-for-16) in the first inning this season.
2) Five of his seven homers have been to right field; no other righty has more than three such homers since Puig’s MLB debut.
3) Puig leads all of baseball in batting average (.442) and hits (34) and ranks second in slugging (.753) since his debut on June 3.
4) The Dodgers are now 5-1 in games in which Puig has homered this season.

• We are re-learning this summer that even with the advances of modern medicine and the remarkable understanding doctors have of how the body works, what they present remains an educated guess, because of all the variables involved.

The belief was that Mark Teixeira would be able to play sometime in early May, and instead he took longer than that. Now, after coming back, he’s still apparently not right and could be headed for season-ending wrist surgery.

On the other hand: Alex Rodriguez appears to be making more progress than expected, quickly.

The Nationals’ medical staff is under scrutiny. Bryce Harper is set to begin his injury rehabilitation assignment today.

Ask Corey Hart about how precise medicine is.

• There’s nothing new happening in the contract talks of Robinson Cano, he said, after first saying he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season.

• On Monday’s podcast, Joe Nathan talked about his unusual path to the big leagues, and about his conservations with Mariano Rivera.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Pirates aren’t saying whether they will limit the innings of Gerrit Cole, writes Travis Sawchik. From his piece:

The baseball industry has managed young arms carefully in recent years, the most notable case being the Nationals' controversial decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg after their ace reached a predetermined innings limit last season despite the Nationals being in the midst of a postseason chase.

Does Cole face a similar innings cap if he remains with the Pirates?

Neal Huntington declined to answer Monday when asked if a specific innings cap for Cole exists, but the Pirates' GM indicated Cole is a considerable distance from reaching his workload limit.

"Part of our development plan is to build guys accordingly so that when they get to the big leagues, they are hopefully in a position to be able to log the innings without the media attention that some have gotten," Huntington said. "If he ever gets to his workload limit, we'll let you know."

One lesson that the rest of the industry gleaned from the Strasburg debate last year: Don’t talk about innings limitations.

2. The Indians called up a reliever.

3. The Reds’ next stretch of games could impact the deadline talks.

4. Dan Straily was optioned to the minors.

5. Mike Kickham was called up to be part of the Giants’ rotation.

Monday’s games

1. Jonathan Papelbon blew another save chance. It’s worth repeating: The Phillies are crazy if they don’t at least field offers and consider trading him right now, when there’s a lack of available closers in the market and they have a chance to step away from the back end of his contract.
From Ryan Lawrence’s story:

Papelbon, who had converted 13 straight save chances to begin the season, has blown 4 of his last 5 save opportunities. "He’s in a little funk," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Things aren’t going his way right now."

"It's not any tougher than any other situation I've been in," Papelbon said of his sudden cold spell. "I've been in this situation a million times before. I don't really carry previous ballgames into the next day. It's just not what I do. If you're a closer or relief pitcher or starter, if you take stuff into the next day, it gets out of hand."

2. The Indians are gathering momentum: they won again.

Dings and dents

1. Meanwhile, Mike Adams got bad news, but Roy Halladay got good news.

2. Dylan Bundy continues to experience discomfort in his forearm.

3. Jedd Gyorko continues to make progress.

4. Alex Cobb is hopeful he can return this season.

5. Carlos Gomez avoided major injury the other day.

6. Peter Bourjos has managed to avoid the disabled list.

NL East

Zack Wheeler takes the mound for the Mets on Tuesday night, looking to do better.

• For Justin Ruggiano, opportunity has paid off.

• Atlanta GM Frank Wren believes his offense will eventually click.

NL Central

• Jeff Locke’s parents don’t watch him pitch, because they don’t have the baseball package, while living in their little New England town. Nice piece by Michael Sanserino.

Matt Adams will be getting some added playing time in the days ahead, writes Derrick Goold.

Bernie Miklasz wonders if Matt Holliday is declining.

• It’s the Cubs’ time in the spotlight.

NL West

Jason Kubel and Cody Ross are heating up, writes Scott Bordow.

• Arizona starts a stretch in which it’ll play 20 games in 20 days, writes Steve Gilbert.

• The Padres continue to push toward the top of the NL West.

• Colorado’s bullpen could soon get a boost.

AL East

Will Middlebrooks met with a mentor, writes Scott Lauber. Middlebrooks has been frustrated, he acknowledged over the weekend.

Andrew Bailey is facing a challenge.

Zoilo Almonte is off to a hot start.

Andy Pettitte remains driven, writes Jeff Roberts.

AL Central

• Jim Leyland has plans to rest everybody but Prince Fielder.

Anthony Swarzak is finally home again.

AL West

• Nolan Ryan says he’s not worried about losing Nelson Cruz to a suspension.

• The Astros are set to face a whole lot of contenders.

Nick Franklin is catching on quickly with Seattle.

Other stuff

• Last fall, executives spoke of how the shift of the Astros to the AL West would affect pennant races, and Benjamin Hoffman details how that is playing out.

Mike Redmond promises to be more animated the next time he gets ejected, writes the great Joe Capozzi.

And today will be better than yesterday.
Miguel Cabrera, Mike TroutChris Buck for ESPNIs there a science to how you pitch to these guys? Depends on your belief in science.

It was a slow Friday night for Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, relatively speaking. Cabrera had a single and two RBIs, and Trout had two hits and a walk and scored twice. Cabrera’s batting average stands at .388, and Trout has an OPS of .963, and in pitchers’ meetings, in mound conferences, in conversations in the dugout, in the scouting section, the same question is being asked:
How do you get these guys out, especially when they’re rolling, when they’re swinging the bat well?

About Cabrera, one scout said, “You’ve got to be willing to pitch in off the plate. You’ve got to be willing to show him that you’ll hit him. You’re not throwing at him, but you’ve got to pitch far enough in that you can miss off the plate. It’s a lot like pitching to Manny Ramirez.

About Trout, another scout said: “If you get him to two strikes, he’ll expand the strike zone. He’ll chase pitches up.”

As the scouts talk, however, they sound as if they’re making plans to break into a Las Vegas vault because they qualify their words with warnings: If you make mistakes, you’ll pay for them.

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Scanning the bullpen market 

May, 24, 2013
Jonny VentersNick Laham/Getty ImagesWith Jonny Venters down, Atlanta has taken a big hit to the bullpen. But where's the market?
Some general managers would prefer that the non-waiver trade deadline be moved back until the end of August, especially now, when the addition of two more wild-card teams to the playoff format provides lingering hope for more teams. To those GMs, the playoffs limit the number of teams that declare themselves as sellers by the end of July.

Consider the situation the Atlanta Braves face with their bullpen. They have lost two-thirds of the back end of what was expected to be the best relief corps in baseball, with lefties Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty out for the season, and it’d be great for the Braves if they could sort through a large sample size of available relievers -- left-handed and right-handed -- in the trade market.

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Miguel Cabrera is the planet’s best hitter, and he explained the other day why he doesn’t really draw much information from the written scouting reports available to all players: All of that is based on what has happened in the past and isn’t necessarily related to what’s happening today.

Cabrera watches some video of opposing pitchers before each game, but what he really wants to see is the pitcher throwing at the outset of a game -- in his warm-ups, in working to the first hitters of the game. Cabrera feels as if he’ll glean from that small sample so much usable information: how hard the pitcher is throwing that day, what pitches are working for him that day, how the pitcher might try to beat Cabrera that day.

"Small sample size" has become a common performance observation in dismissing particular results. It can be applied to players in September and October, but generally speaking, it’s probably heard more this time of year, as we try to wrap our brains around Josh Hamilton hitting .200 and Carlos Gomez hitting .360. "Small sample size" is employed as a cautionary phrase, as in: Be careful, don’t believe everything you see because it’s not really representative.

But here’s the funny thing about that. Small sample sizes are used in decision-making dozens and dozens of times during each game, before each game, after each game.

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- If there’s an opportunity before the postgame on-the-field interview on "Sunday Night Baseball," I’ll give the player a quick heads-up about what questions I will be asking, especially if it’s anything out of the ordinary. It’s not standard operating procedure to ask the guy who got the decisive hit for the winning team about a player on the losing team.

So before the green light came on, I mentioned to David Murphy that I intended to ask him about Miguel Cabrera’s remarkable "Sunday Night Baseball" performance, when the Tigers third baseman clubbed three home runs.

Murphy smiled. “Good,” he said, “because I was going to talk about him anyway.” He went on to discuss how easily everything seems to come for Cabrera at the plate.

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Mike TroutMark L. BaerFor MLB executives, there is Mike Trout ... and everyone else.
The American League Most Valuable Player debate last summer illuminated the significant difference between the way folks in front offices evaluate players and how uniformed personnel view them. For managers, coaches and players, Miguel Cabrera was a no-brainer selection as he became the first hitter in 45 years to win the Triple Crown.

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David PriceGail Oskin/Getty ImagesHe knows it, the Rays know it, and the market knows it: David Price is about to get really expensive.
The field of contending teams narrows by the day, with more and more executives focusing on the offseason to come, on the free agents and trade targets they might pursue.

Some talent evaluators believe that a very prominent player could be on the move, and if he does, it would be landscape-altering, in the way it was when the Brewers traded for Zack Greinke, in the way it was when the Athletics traded Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in the same winter.

The trade value of David Price will never be higher than it will be this winter, and given the Rays' need to constantly manage payroll, there will financial incentive for Tampa Bay to flip Price for prospects now. Unlike Evan Longoria, James Shields and Matt Moore, Price did not sign a long-term team-friendly deal, and he is about to become a very expensive player.

Price's salary for this year is $4.35 million, and he'll finish this season with three years and 164 days of service time. If he wins the Cy Young Award -- and he's got a legitimate shot -- he could get bumped, through arbitration, into the $10 million range. If not, Price's best comparable could be Jered Weaver, who, in a similar stage in his career, jumped from $4.265 million to $7.37 million, after a defeat in arbitration.

An $8 million salary for Price may not sound like much, but keep in mind that the Rays' payroll this year was about $62 million; Price would account for almost 15 percent of that.

And in 2014 and beyond, Price will get really expensive, far beyond what the team that drafted and developed him can practically afford.

There will be a day when the Rays trade him.

Tampa Bay will do with Price this winter what they have done with Matt Garza and James Shields and others before him: Because they have enough starting pitching to contend, they must weigh the costs and benefits of keeping him against the possible packages of young players they would get in return for a dominant left-hander who just turned 27.

They would get extraordinary offers, because Price is a game-changer.

Some of the teams that could be a fit for a Price deal with Tampa Bay, which needs middle-of-the-diamond help -- catcher, shortstop, center field, second base:

Texas Rangers: Texas has a surplus of shortstops, and the wide expectation is that Elvis Andrus is going to be traded this winter. Andrus wouldn't really fit the Rays, because he's about to get very expensive, but Jurickson Profar would, and presumably, he would be the first player Tampa Bay would ask for. If Texas said no on Profar, it remains to be seen whether the Rays would find a suitable package.

San Diego Padres: They have a lot of depth in their farm system, they have a new and committed ownership, and they are one dominant starter away from being serious players in the NL West. Price could be that guy.

Cincinnati Reds: GM Walt Jocketty demonstrated last winter that he will be aggressive for a frontline starting pitcher, in his acquisition of Mat Latos, and Price would be a staggering addition. The Rays have had interest in catcher Ryan Hanigan in the past, if he was involved in a Price deal, he would be window-dressing; there would have to be a major prospect centerpiece to the trade.

St. Louis Cardinals: They've got some prospects to deal, and Kyle Lohse is set to walk. A rotation core of a recovered Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Price would be extraordinary.

Kansas City Royals: They'll be aggressively seeking a rotation leader this winter, an anchor, and the addition of Price would change their 2013 outlook dramatically. But in order to get the left-hander, the cost in prospects would make the Royals' front office wince. It's hard to imagine the Rays even considering a deal unless one of K.C.'s best talents -- outfielder Wil Myers, catcher Salvador Perez (who just signed a team-friendly contract), third baseman Mike Moustakas or first baseman Eric Hosmer -- was in the trade.

Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays need catching, and the Blue Jays have catching, and a glaring need for a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Chicago Cubs: They wouldn't seem to be a good fit for a deal, because they're a couple of years away from contending and trading a boatload of prospects for Price now would almost seem like a waste in 2013 and 2014. On the other hand, access to a talent like Price is rare, and if they traded for him and signed him to a long-term deal, he could be a staff leader for years to come.

The Red Sox and Yankees could theoretically be in play, but it would be extraordinarily difficult for the Rays to hand a Cy Young-caliber pitcher to a division rival, and Tampa Bay would probably require Boston and New York to overpay, which neither team is typically willing to do.

Again, it's really not a question of whether Tampa Bay will trade the left-hander; it's only a question of timing among the three most likely windows -- this winter, next summer or in the winter of 2013-14.


The Rays have collapsed over the last 10 days, but they pulled out a great win Thursday. They are nearing a strikeout record, as well.

From ESPN Stats & Information, how Price threw well against the Red Sox on Thursday, lowering his ERA to 2.58:

A) Price got four outs using his curveball, giving him 11 curveball outs in his last two starts; he had 20 curveball outs in his 10 prior starts. In his last two starts, half of the curveballs Price has thrown have been pitches outside the strike zone that batters have swung at. Batters don't have a hit or a walk against his curve in that time.

B) The anemic Red Sox lineup was unable to elevate the ball against Price, who hit 15 of 24 balls put in play on the ground (65.2 percent). It's the sixth time this season groundballs have made up 60 percent of balls put in play against Price; the Rays are 5-1 in those six games, and the loss was a 1-0 game.

C) Price got ahead 0-1 to 19 of the 31 batters he faced. After he got to an 0-1 count, he gave up just two singles on 64 pitches. Price continues to be one of the best pitchers in the AL after he gets to 0-1. He has allowed an average of just .182 when he does.


• The Angels' playoff hopes are almost completely wrecked after another ninth-inning defeat; Ernesto Frieri allowed a decisive two-run homer, as Bill Plunkett writes.

Mike Scioscia may be just one in a large group of managers with long résumés who could be in play, if the Angels decide to make a change. Consider some others ...

- Bobby Valentine: 16 years as a manager, 1,185 victories-1,154 losses

-- Ozzie Guillen: nine years as a manager, 744-701

-- Dusty Baker, whose contract is set to expire: 19 years, 1,574-1,426

-- Jim Leyland: 21 years, 1,667-1,654

(-- Scioscia: 13 years, 1,147-946)

Scioscia had another closed-door meeting with C.J. Wilson, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

• The 2012 Red Sox disaster is largely the responsibility of Valentine, writes John Tomase.

• The Tigers' problem this year has been with the defense, writes Lynn Henning. I totally agree with this. The Tigers put together a team they believed would hit enough to overcome its defensive flaws, and it just hasn't happened -- and it really doesn't matter who the manager is.

I will say this: I find it remarkable -- and a tribute to the players and to Leyland -- that there has not been one instance that I can recall of a pitcher griping about the Detroit defense.

• Jeffrey Loria has a lot of problems to fix, writes Dave Hyde.

• The Nationals clinched a playoff spot.

From Adam Kilgore's story:

    The Nationals' 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched Washington's first baseball postseason in 79 years, an achievement that sent fans into delirious celebration and caused a knock on manager Davey Johnson's office door not long after 10:02 p.m., when the last pitch crossed the plate.

    He was in his office, saying good night to his wife, Susan. Players dragged him into the clubhouse, where a long table had been set up. Bottles of Korbel and empty flutes had been placed on top. Every player got a glass. "Of course," right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann said in reference to the team's underage outfielder, "Bryce had water."

    His team encouraged Johnson to speak, and the 69-year-old manager, back in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, responded not with a valedictory, but a rallying cry.

    "We ain't done yet," Johnson said.

The Nationals are hungry for more, writes Thomas Boswell. Steady progress has been part of the Nationals' master plan.

ELIAS: Davey Johnson will be the second manager to manage four different teams in the postseason, joining Billy Martin.

• The Reds clinched a playoff spot, but without Dusty Baker, who is in good spirits.

Miguel Cabrera is having a season for the ages, writes Jeff Seidel. Mike Trout has the numbers and the sparks to be the MVP.

The Tigers lost Thursday.

• I don't have a vote for NL MVP, and I'm not yet sure who I will pick. But I think Buster Posey is going to win it.

From Stats & Info: Posey is hitting .392 with 52 RBI since the All-Star break. He could join an elite group that you can see in the chart at right.

• Chris Carpenter returns to action today, and as Bernie Miklasz writes, it feels like Christmas. From Nate Jones and Kenton Wong of ESPN Stats & Info:

Carpenter has not pitched since winning Game 7 of the 2011 World Series (October 28, 2011). Once he steps on the mound Friday that will mark a span of 328 days between starts.

ELIAS: Only three pitchers have ever started and won a deciding World Series game and then not made his next start for at least 300 days (not including pitchers who never started again). Johnny Podres after the 1955 series went a year and 198 days, Whitey Ford went over two years after the 1950 series, and Johnny Beazley went three years and 193 days after the 1942 World Series, service in a World War a part of the picture.

When Carpenter has been healthy he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball since making his Cardinals debut in 2004. He's first in MLB in win percentage at .693, third in ERA at 3.06, and fourth in shutouts (tie) with 10.

The Cardinals are in the midst of a nine-game Astros-Cubs-Astros sandwich, and they swallowed Houston in a sweep. Allen Craig is on the verge of qualifying for the league's batting title.

By The Numbers

From ESPN Stats & Info

11,310: Days since Nationals franchise clinched postseason berth on Oct. 3, 1981.

70: No-hitters in MLB since then ... just one by the Expos/Nationals franchise (Dennis Martinez on July 7, 1991).

29: Different teams to have reached the postseason (that's every other team except the Nationals franchise).

26: Quarterbacks who have started a game in the 2012 NFL season who were born following Nationals' last postseason appearance.

5: U.S. presidents who have held office (Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama).

0: Expos/Nationals pitchers who have won at least 20 games in a season (Gio Gonzalez can end drought on Saturday).

Dings and dents

1. Jed Lowrie is making gradual progress.

2. Josh Hamilton is having sinus issues.

Moves, deals and decisions

• Kenny Williams might be promoted to team president, writes Mark Gonzales, with Rick Hahn moving into the GM role.

AL West

Adrian Beltre got a huge hit for the Rangers, who got another strong outing from Yu Darvish. Beltre had talked his way into the lineup.

Seth Smith was The Man for the Athletics.

AL Central

Jarrod Dyson is right: The way the Royals are playing now, no contending team would want to play them. They beat the White Sox on Thursday, and they have two series left with Detroit. Salvador Perez set a record for pickoffs.

• The White Sox made some mistakes on the bases.

• Because of Casey Kotchman, it was a good day for the Indians.

• Baltimore's turnaround provides hope for the Twins, writes Joe Christensen.

AL East

• Ichiro Suzuki's on-base percentage has increased by about 50 points since he joined the Yankees.

• The Red Sox had their guts ripped out.

• Miguel Gonzalez's long journey has taken him into a pennant race.

NL West

Pablo Sandoval showed off some power. Barry Zito looks ready for October, writes Ann Killion.

• The Dodgers have fallen to three games behind in the wild-card race, and their playoff hopes are slipping away.

Tyler Skaggs learned a lesson. Adam Eaton hit his first homer.

• The Padres continue to play well in the second half.

• The Rockies played some bad defense.

NL Central

• The Pirates' freefall continues: They're now below .500. Clint Hurdle needs to adjust.

• The Brewers rallied for a sweep, but they remain 2.5 games behind the Cardinals.

NL East

• The Phillies embarrassed the heck out of the Mets, as Ryan Lawrence writes.

• The Mets hit rock bottom, writes Andrew Keh.

• A couple of young starters are making bids for next year's Miami rotation.

• The Braves need more from Michael Bourn, writes David O'Brien. He's the linchpin guy for Atlanta if the Braves are going to make a dent into October.

Other stuff

Darwin Barney could be on track to win a Gold Glove, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

• Larry Stone thinks run support will cost Felix Hernandez in the Cy Young voting.

• Questions surround two Yankees pillars, writes Tyler Kepner.

• Dejan Kovacevic wonders: Is 82 wins enough to salvage the Pirates' season?

• A couple of new Phillies are still trying to prove themselves.

Justin Smoak hopes he's part of the Mariners' future.

• Robinson Cano's denial of information that was never true was published all over the place. In a better world, the bad information would never be published, nor the denials.

And today will be better than yesterday.

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