July 2011

A week of moves — and non-moves

At 2 p.m. ET, as I sat in my seat just before a 2 1/2-hour flight from New York to Chicago (I’ll be covering the Yankees in the South Side this week), I shut off my phone and immediately started thinking about what would await me once I had service again. The non-waiver Trade Deadline was only two hours away. Where would Heath Bell go? What will the Yankees do? Who will land B.J. Upton? Then I touched down at O’Hare Airport, and realized all of that was a non-story.

Bell was the guy that was sure to be pitching elsewhere the rest of this season, the Yankees — as is their custom — were sure to make some sort of splash, and Upton was sure to be dealt after having his name in rumors for so many years. But none of that happened, Hiroki Kuroda didn’t waive his no-trade clause, James Shields stayed put in Tampa Bay, and the White Sox held on to Carlos Quentin.

That’s right, the biggest thing I’m taking away from the Deadline is what actually didn’t occur.

Now, on to the obligatory post-Deadline-winners-and-losers story. I know that in trades there really aren’t supposed to be any “winners” or “losers” (Neither side makes a deal if they don’t feel they’re “winning,” too, right?), but certain teams simply make out better than others.

Here are the three biggest winners and three biggest losers among the contending teams. And as always, we’ll get the bad news out of the way first …

Losers

Yankees: As MLBTradeRumors.com pointed out, this was the first time since 1999 that the Yankees went through an entire July without making a trade. And even though they’re 22 games above .500 and nurse a 6 1/2-game lead in the American League Wild Card race, they needed to add two pieces that they didn’t get: A starter and a lefty reliever.

Perhaps J.C. Romero, currently pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, will work out for them, and veteran relievers can usually be had in August. But I was in the minority in thinking they should’ve dealt their prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez, who they were reportedly in on. I would’ve given up two of either Ivan Nova, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, and one of either Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Whether or not that  would’ve been enough to get the deal done, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem the Yankees were willing to come anywhere close to doing that.

The Yankees’ hope is that just one of those three arms becomes the quality of starter Ubaldo currently is, and if you have a chance to get an arm like that now — when he’s expandable, when he’s under club control for a while and when he’s extremely affordable — you do it. Right now, the Yankees have the great CC Sabathia, and then four guys they don’t know what they’ll get out of on a nightly basis. Not good enough.

Diamondbacks: The D-backs have a real shot at winning the National League West, but they didn’t do enough to get it done. Jason Marquis and Brad Ziegler were nice and necessary additions to their rotation and bullpen, respectively, but they needed to upgrade their offense to somehow shorten the gap separating them from the Giants. Instead, San Francisco added a bat, and Arizona didn’t.

I get that the D-backs didn’t expect to compete this year and they prefer to hold on to their top prospects. But had they gone after a big bat, they would’ve had a good shot at superseding the Giants. Now? I can’t see it happening.

Tigers: I understand their hesitancy to give up a prospect like Jacob Turner, but frankly, I would’ve liked to see the Tigers do more for their rotation than just Doug Fister. Maybe one more mid-level starter like that for a team that ranks 14th in the AL in starting-pitcher ERA.

Winners

Cardinals: Fans didn’t seem too happy that they dealt an asset like Colby Rasmus and didn’t really get any long-term pieces in return. And I get that. But I give general manager John Mozeliak a lot of credit for going all in on this season — a year that could be the final one with Albert Pujols at first base and Tony La Russa as manager.

They got a necessary arm in their rotation in Edwin Jackson, who’s an impending free agent who won’t clog up their payroll and, thus, hurt their chances of resigning Pujols; they got righty Octavio Dotel and lefty Marc Rzepczynski for a needy bullpen; and they were able to pluck away from a position where they have a suitable replacement in Jon Jay.

Perhaps they could’ve waited to deal Rasmus — a guy who definitely needed a change of scenery — when his stock rose again, but then they wouldn’t look this good right now. And right now, they look like the best team in the NL Central. The Rafael Furcal acquisition is fine; I’m just not sure how much he has left.

Phillies: There was no more perfect fit for the Phillies than Hunter Pence. With him, their offense now looks on par with that vaunted rotation because they have that right-handed bat that was so critical to their production in years past. This past offseason, the Phillies added Cliff Lee to give them a ridiculous starting staff, but they lost Jayson Werth to the Nationals and missed that right-handed bat to hit behind lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Now, they have that right-handed bat again in Pence, and they have him in the books until 2013. Pence is having a fine season, and he came into Philadelphia with an .865 OPS. He’ll get plenty more chances with runners in scoring position now. And Phillies fans will love his energy. The Phils had to part ways with their two biggest prospects, but Domonic Brown and Vance Worley stayed put. That’s another positive.

Indians: Yeah, they did give up a big chunk of their farm system to get Ubaldo. But I just love the spirit of this trade, especially from a team that has so far only been known for parting with aces — from Lee to CC. This has been a magical season in Cleveland, and somehow they’re still in it despite a shaky rotation. It doesn’t look so shaky anymore.

The others

Braves: Michael Bourn is the perfect fit for that team; gives them their first leadoff hitter since Furcal.

Brewers: Francisco Rodriguez was a big pickup, and they got some insurance at second base. But they’re crossing their fingers that Rickie Weeks returns to full health soon.

Pirates: They got a couple of bats in Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee — two guys who know the NL Central well — and didn’t give up much.

Reds: Was surprised they were in on some of the big guys, but they have a rather large deficit, and that may have played a part in them standing pat.

Giants: Zack Wheeler is a good prospect, but Carlos Beltran is a good middle-of-the-order bat that should fit in perfectly in due time.

Red Sox: They got a nice rotation arm in Erik Bedard and a utility man in Mike Aviles; not flashy, but effective.

White Sox: I’m just glad they didn’t sell off all their pieces; they still have a shot.

Angels: Did nothing, which was pretty surprising.

Rangers: Got two big pieces for the back end of their bullpen in Koji Uehara and Mike Adams.

– Alden 

** Filed this week: Pence trade fills Phils’ need for a righty slugger; Cards, Giants take on win-now modes with deals. 

Jack Wilson: “I’ll play every day soon”

NEW YORK — Mariners infielder Jack Wilson is currently a man with little purpose.

The good thing is that since he hardly plays and hardly has a role, Wilson (pictured above by The Associated Press) isn’t really affected much by the Mariners’ current 16-game losing streak. The bad thing is Wilson has been exiled from the starting lineup, and with Brendan Ryan entrenched at shortstop and Dustin Ackley being the future at second base, Wilson has no role on this team.

Speaking to me prior to Monday’s Yankees-Mariners game, Wilson sounded like a man who’s ready to move on.

” It’s been really tough,” he said. “I’ll play every day soon. I think just what happened here, the bottom line is that what I can do, what I’ve done my whole career, they already have one. They have Brendan Ryan. I’m a shortstop. Being a second baseman, it’s more of an offensive position. So I think being a defensive shortstop and the fact that they went in another direction, I just kind of got caught in between, and really there’s no place for me to play. Being a free agent at the end of the year, I can hopefully get a chance to show a team that I can still do that on an everyday basis. So I’m looking forward to it.”

It’s no secret Wilson — the Pirates’ everyday shortstop from 2001-07, who was beset by injuries from 2008-10 — was none too thrilled when first-year manager Eric Wedge gave Ryan his position, then put Wilson at second base.

At one point, Wilson asked out of a game after making two errors. The old-school Wedge wasn’t happy about that. And now, the 33-year-old Wilson is essentially stuck in purgatory.

He says he hasn’t demanded a trade, but he would like a change of scenery sooner or later.

“I signed here for two years,” Wilson said, “but at the same time, I intended on playing, especially this year. After last year being injured, I just wanted to come in and be healthy so I can be out there every day. With this team, with the direction they went to, I’m just kind of the odd man out. So, I’m just looking forward to an opportunity for when it shows up again.”

Wilson is still one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball and sports a career .266 batting average and .307 on-base percentage. This year, he’s hitting .229 with a .259 on-base percentage and zero homers in 142 plate appearances.

At this point, the Mariners are probably holding on to him because they simply won’t get much, if anything, in return. Wilson may slip through waivers unclaimed if he were designated for assignment, but I’m thinking a contending team in need of a security blanket at shortstop — Brewers? Tigers? Giants? Diamondbacks? — could maybe take a shot for a PTBNL or cash considerations.

Wilson is making $5 million in the final season of a two-year deal he signed in 2009.

And he doesn’t believe being typecast into a backup role with the Mariners means he won’t be an everyday shortstop again.

“You’ve seen it with other players before,” Wilson said. “I mean, Jose Bautista was not an everyday player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Same thing happened here last year with Casey Kotchman, and now you see what he’s doing. It’s one of those things where you remember the feeling that you have, because it’s not a fun feeling, coming in, watching every day. So you remember that, you take it in the offseason, you work hard, and hopefully a team sees you as an everyday player.”

– Alden

Check out Tuesday’s column on the Mariners and their 16-game losing streak.

Too many All-Star no-shows? …

PHOENIX – All-Star Game managers Ron Washington and Bruce Bochy took on a tall order leading up to the Midsummer Classic, and it didn’t end when they submitted their roster selections more than a week ago.

The need for a wide array of substitutions has provided quite the juggling act.

In the week since Major League Baseball announced the players who would make up the National League and American League squads for Tuesday’s 82nd All-Star Game at Chase Field, 17 replacements have been named – 10 in the AL and seven in the NL – including five for the starting lineups.

A lot of those who bowed out of the All-Star Game did so because they pitched on Sunday and were thus ineligible (like Justin Verlander, James Shields, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain and Cole Hamels); and others are either on the disabled list or sporting serious injuries that have kept them out (like Jose Reyes, Ryan BraunShane Victorino, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez and Placido Polanco).

Then there are others like David Price, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter – nursing current or past ailments, but not the type that have necessarily put them on the shelf in recent days.

“It’s kind of sad, especially since over the last couple of years it’s been known that this game is going to dictate home-field advantage in the World Series,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, who was selected by Washington to be one of the AL’s coaches. “I can’t speak for people, only they know their own situations, but the fan voting and the player voting, I think it’s very important, and it’s kind of, in a way, disappointing not to see some of those guys. But, again, I can’t speak for those guys that are hurt.”

One of Acta’s players benefited from an absence, as Asdrubal Cabrera was able to get the start at shortstop with Jeter out. With the left side of both teams’ infield dropping out, Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen and Troy Tulowitzki also got starting nods in place of players the fans voted in.

For the most part, players feel fans just need to accept the fact that last-minute things happen.

“The biggest responsibility for the player is to the teammate he’s playing for,” Rangers DH Michael Young said. “Obviously they have a great responsibility to the fans, but I’m sure they’re taking their fans and their cities under consideration when they make decisions.”

“There are factors right at the end that force them to not come,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko added. “People just have to understand that.”

Few players seem to soak in the spotlight of the All-Star Game more than David Ortiz, who will captain the AL squad in the State Farm Home Run Derby and is usually in a playful mood at this time of year. No matter how many times he takes part in this event, the All-Star Game never seems to get old for “Big Papi.”

With black sunglasses, a sharp-looking suit and what seemed like a permanent smile, Ortiz said he believes all his peers share those sentiments.

“Everybody likes to come to the All-Star Game,” he proclaimed. “There’s not one player who wouldn’t like to be here. This is something that every player is looking forward to do. So I’m pretty sure that those guys who have dropped out, they have a reason. It could be injuries, or personal problems. This is like a family thing right now. Everybody wants to bring their family around here, their kids to hang around the players, to put a good show for the fans because the fans spend tons of time voting for you.”

– Alden 

* Filed this week: A look at who could be next to 3,000 hits; Thornburg aims to make impact on Brewers; Astros prospect Altuve not short on talent

1st half is almost over; time for invisible hardware

Pretty unreal that the first half of this 2011 baseball season will ceremoniously end in three days.

It has been yet another busy one.

The Pirates, Indians and Diamondbacks are well-positioned in their respective divisions. The Phillies and Red Sox are on top as expected. The White Sox and Twins have struggled. Matt Kemp, Lance Berkman, J.J. Putz, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes have experienced their own respective revivals. Manny Ramirez has retired. Bartolo Colon has turned back the clock. Derek Jeter hasn’t. Jose Bautista has gotten even better. Bob Geren, Edwin Rodriguez and Jim Riggleman have departed. Davey Johnson and Jack McKeon are back. The Mets’ and Dodgers’ stability have come into question. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have taken the stand. Eric Hosmer, Jemile Weeks, Lonnie Chisenhall, Dustin AckleyMike Trout and a host of others have come up. Buster Posey has been lost for the year. Joe Mauer has become somewhat of a first baseman. Bryce Harper has dominated. Dan Uggla, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn have all struggled with new teams. Justin Verlander and Francisco Liriano have thrown no-hitters. And pitching in general has continued to dominate.

One more weekend series remains before the All-Star break, and soon after that, we’ll reveal our cumulative first-half awards. But before I depart to Phoenix on Saturday morning, I figured I’d give you my own.

Here goes …

AL MVP

Jose Bautista (.333 BA, 1.158 OPS, 29 HR, 61 RBI)

* Simply the best player in baseball right now. He’s getting very little to hit and taking advantage of every mistake. 

AL Cy Young

Justin Verlander (11-4, 2.26 ERA, 138 SO, 143 1/3 IP)

* A no-hitter in progress every time he takes the mound. 

AL Rookie of the Year

Michael Pineda (8-5, 2.58 ERA, 106 SO, 108 IP)

* A physical specimen with great stuff who stays within the strike zone. 

AL Manager of the Year 

Manny Acta (Indians 47-39, 1 1/2 games up in the AL Central)

* Easy choice with the way the Indians have performed. Everyone expected them to eventually fall off, but they’re still in first place.

NL MVP 

Jose Reyes (.354 BA, .398 OBP, 32 RBI, 30 SB, 15 3B)

* The most electrifying player in baseball right now. Let’s hope he doesn’t miss too much time on the DL. 

NL Cy Young

Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 110 2/3 IP)

* In a league with names like Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Johnson and Greinke, Jurrjens has put up the best numbers. 

NL Rookie of the Year 

Danny Espinosa (.249 BA, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB)

* Not a great crop right now. Espinosa has put up the power numbers and provided Gold Glove-caliber defense. 

NL Manager of the Year 

Tony La Russa (Cardinals 47-42, tied for first place in the NL Central)

* No Adam Wainwright, a mediocre Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols (by their standards), plus bullpen issues, and still TLR has them on top.

– Alden

** Filed this week: The NL has the pitching to win the All-Star Game; Werth, Uggla, Dunn and Crawford have all struggled with new contracts and new teams; MLB, New Orleans agree on new Urban Youth Academy; MLB, MiLB deal perhaps a sign of labor peace throughout industry. 

*** I haven’t watched the replay of the Rangers fan who died while trying to retrieve a baseball on Thursday night. I can’t. It would sadden me too much, and would make me think of how devastated I would be to lose my father. My heart goes out to that little boy and his family. 

My AL & NL lineups differ from yours …

… But only slightly.

See, I never expect perfection when so many fans from so many different places and with so many different biases vote so many times. But, I gotta say, the 32.5 million of you who voted this year didn’t do half-bad. Of course, I would’ve made a few changes.

Here’s my lineup …

American League 

Catcher- Alex Avila, Tigers: Easy choice. Joe Mauer has barely played, Carlos Santana has struggled, and Russell Martin‘s production at the plate went south after a hot start.

First base- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: Another no-brainer. He’s fitting in perfectly at Fenway, and if not for a man named Bautista, he’s the best hitter going.

Second base- Robinson Cano, Yankees: Something tells me he’ll be dominating this position for years to come.

Third base- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Solid, healthy year — and you can’t say the same about Evan Longoria.

Shortstop- Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: I’m sorry, but you can’t pick Derek Jeter (pictured above by The Associated Press). I could understand if this was his final year and you want to send him out a la Cal Ripken Jr. But Cabrera has been an offensive and defensive key for the thriving Indians.

Outfield- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Um, yeah, he’s good.

Outfield- Curtis Granderson, Yankees: Off to one of his best starts while looking very good in that 2 hole.

Outfield- Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: He’s providing what Boston needs from him — getting on base, stealing bases and serving as a steady presence at the top of the order — while putting up power numbers to boot.

Designated hitter- David Ortiz, Red Sox: “Big Papi” needed a good start in his walk year, and he has it.

National League 

Catcher- Brian McCann, Braves: Unreal that he’s made it to six straight All-Star Games and hadn’t started one until this year. Glad that will change.

First base- Joey Votto, Reds: He’s the reigning NL MVP and is off to another great start even if the power numbers aren’t where they were at this point last year. (I know what you’re thinking, but keep reading.)

Second base- Rickie Weeks, Brewers: All-around solid year, and Chase Utley is still working his way back.

Third base- Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: Having a solid year, and for some reason very few realize it.

Shortstop- Jose Reyes, Mets: No doubt about this one. Not sure why it took him so long to pass Troy Tulowitzki.

Outfield- Ryan Braun, Brewers: One of baseball’s best keeps getting better.

Outfield- Matt Kemp, Dodgers: He’s the first half’s NL MVP if not for a guy named Reyes. Looks like a change in managers has done him well, for whatever reason.

Outfield- Lance Berkman, Cardinals: Didn’t expect him to have the first half he’s had, but glad to see I was wrong.

Designated hitter- Prince Fielder, Brewers: Not fair? Hey, it’s my lineup!

– Alden 

** What I wrote this week: Fielder at ease in his walk year; Yankees haven’t stopped winning since being swept by the Red Sox. 

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