1. David Price, the Telephone and July
As the Rays lost 11 of 15 earlier this month, you could almost hear the applause from the game’s contenders short on pitching and long on hopes.
As the Rays won four of their past five, you could hear the sighing (not Cy-ing) from those same contenders.
For more than a year now, David Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young winner, has been lurking as a top trade-market draw should the Rays decide to pull the trigger. And now, in a season with a rash of Tommy John surgeries further thinning the pitching pool and with another potential trade target, Philadelphia ace Cliff Lee, on the disabled list with a tender elbow, Price’s value might never soar higher.
Price, who signed a one-year deal for 2014 to avoid arbitration, will be a free agent after the 2015 season.
Question is, do the Rays deal him midsummer?
“I would think the chances of David Price getting moved are good,” says one longtime American League scout. “Really good, actually.”
“Tampa still thinks they’re in this,” says one veteran National League scout. “I think they’re going to run it right up to when they have to make a decision. With their history, they’re not going to quit.”
The Rays, according to multiple sources, were prepared to deal Price last winter. That’s when, internally, they determined his value would be at its highest. But no front office is sharper than that of the Rays, and they were not going to settle, and when nobody offered the right package for Price, Tampa Bay determined to take him into the season.
So while the Rays entered 2014 armed with extraordinary pitching and realistic World Series hopes, suddenly, the prospect of Tampa Bay keeping Price became very realistic.
But losing Matt Moore for the season (yes, Tommy John surgery) was a major blow to the Rays’ chances of winning, and then that 11-of-15 May free fall moved many industry insiders to predict Tampa will move.
Now, with the Rays’ Memorial Day resurgence and the AL East turning upside-down—meet the first-place Blue Jays—one of the game’s most intriguing plots inches forward with more drama than a season of Mad Men.
Lee, at $25 million per season through 2015 with a $27.5 million club option for 2016 and a limited no-trade clause (not too limited, though; he can block a deal to 21 clubs), is the only pitcher this side of the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija who could approach the Price blockbuster status should the Phillies decide to shop him. But his mild elbow strain might change things.
“This whole Prince Fielder thing, the neck issue, [Rangers general manager] Jon Daniels didn’t do his due diligence,” one AL scout says, referring to the Rangers not subjecting Fielder through a physical examination before acquiring him from Detroit last November. “Every single owner is going to be on their GM’s back about this: ‘We’ve got to make sure we don’t do what Texas did.’
“This Fielder thing is going to increase scrutiny on players with injuries. Cliff Lee is going to have to go pitch and pitch well, and not just once, before July 31.”
Whatever the Phillies decide to do with Lee, the urgency is on the Rays with Price simply because of his impending free-agent status.
“Philosophically, you’ve got to make a decision: Are we in this or are we out of it?” the AL scout says. “That’s the toughest decision a GM has to make. When you make a deal to trade a player off of your major league club approaching July 31, everybody perceives it as giving up. This year is over. And the media goes downstairs and stirs it up by asking players what they think about that.
“It takes guts [for a GM]. It takes a certain amount of baseball intelligence to make a decision on July 25 and say, 'You know what, we’re not going to win this. We’re not going to make it to the postseason.' Your job as a GM is to protect the long-term interests of the organization even if it doesn’t help you. Tampa Bay has done a real good job of being realistic with themselves.
“They’ve done a great job over the years. They’re smart enough to realize, even though they won four games this weekend, that they’re not in the hunt if they’re seven games out, even if they’re six games out in the Wild Card with seven teams ahead of them [at midseason]. I think they as much as anybody would be realistic with themselves and pull the trigger and try to get another Wil Myers. And it’s not going to affect their attendance.”
Sizing things up now, a full two months before the July 31 deadline, the Rockies, Brewers, Orioles, Mariners, Yankees, Rangers and Blue Jays are among those contenders in need of starting pitching.
When the Rays lost Matt Moore for the year in April, many industry insiders thought it increased the odds the Rays, who viewed themselves as contenders entering the season, would keep Price for the year.
Now? Stay tuned.
2. Another Cubbie Goes Down in History
We know, thanks to our favorite neighborhood sabermetricians, that in this age of the bullpen, wins for a starting pitcher don’t mean nearly what they once did. But in the case of Jeff Samardzija, who eked out his first win of the season Monday in San Francisco, this has gotten ridiculous.
Through his first 10 starts this season into Monday’s Memorial Day victory, Samardzija was 0-4 with a 1.46 ERA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no pitcher in baseball history had ever compiled an ERA lower than 1.50 and failed to earn a victory through his first 10 starts in a season. No. Body.
“You know, it’s a real tale of two sides, I guess,” Samardzija told Bleacher Report the other day. “Obviously, there’s a part of you that knows you’re working hard and getting good results. That’s the majority of it, you know? The majority percentage of it is that. Understand the hard work and feel good about yourself.
“Like they always say in baseball, when it’s going good it’s easy to keep working; you do your work, it’s not hard, you enjoy doing it because you’re having success.
“Then, the practical side of me understands what a record is and what I do have, and it’s tough.
“You go keep playing. The last thing you want to do is let your record affect your next start and your start after that.”
It’s crazy. Samardzija should be right there with the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke, the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright and the Reds' Johnny Cueto in the conversation over who should be the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game this season. At one win.
He almost certainly will get a breath of relief come late July, when the Cubs are expected to deal him a year-and-a-half ahead of free agency. Samardzija says he is not totally resigned to being traded, but it will be an upset if he is not.
And there will be much interest. Samardzija, 29, is talented, athletic, competitive, smart...all the ingredients it takes to be an ace. One scout puts the right-hander’s upside as somewhere near that of the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
“I still don’t feel like I’m there,” Samardzija says. “There’s still room for me to grow. I have a lot of walks for the season [21 in 75 innings pitched, against 64 strikeouts]. Maybe that’s just me being envious of other guys I watch. I see guys like Wainwright with [16 walks in 81 innings], and that’s impressive.”
Minnesota’s Phil Hughes has gone five consecutive starts without walking a batter.
“There’s definitely still ways I can get better, which is exciting for me,” Samardzija says. “I’m still coming into my own with my mechanics and feeling comfortable with them, and that’s come over the last couple years of starting.
“There are finer things you need to learn now. How to watch film. How to get out of innings with less damage. It’s the little things that separate a certain kind of pitcher from other guys.”
3. Josh Beckett and the No-No
How does Josh Beckett, a one-time flamethrower whose better days seemed to be behind him, rise up to no-hit the Phillies?
By being smart enough to realize he needs to pitch now, and not just reach back continually looking for the fastball of his youth.
Following a conversation last month with Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, according to an excellent report from the Orange County Register’s Pedro Moura, Beckett realized he needed to throw his curve far more than he has. So he adjusted.
This month, Beckett has thrown his curveball a whopping 33.52 percent of the time, according to brooksbaseball.net, his highest curveball usage of any month of his career. He is utilizing it more than any other pitch, including his four-seam fastball (25.64 percent).
In no-hitting the Phillies, Beckett used the curve 31.25 percent of the time, and his four-seamer 39.06 percent of the time while throwing in some sinkers (7.81 percent), cutters (6.25) and changeups (15.63).
4. Streaking with Big Prince
When Texas placed big Prince Fielder on the disabled list last week with a herniated disk in his neck, he became the 13th player currently on the Texas DL. No other club had more than seven.
And talk about unexpected: Fielder had played in 547 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the majors. Now? Where have you gone, Cal Ripken Jr.? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
With Fielder out, I checked with the Elias Sports Bureau, and here are the top five players with the longest consecutive-games-played streaks (into Monday’s games):
- Billy Butler, Royals, 311.
- Hunter Pence, Giants, 272
- Nick Markakis, Orioles, 150
- Ian Kinsler, Tigers, 142
- Starlin Castro, Cubs, 135
5. Red Sox Historically Bad
At Fenway Park, that is.
As they prepare to open a five-game homestand Wednesday night against the Braves and Rays, they do so after going 0-6 against the Tigers and Blue Jays in their last homestand, May 16-22.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is only the second time in franchise history the Sox went winless in a Fenway Park stand of six or more games. The other time was June 10-15, 1994.
6. No-Doz? Yes-Doz(ier) in Minnesota
He’s 27 and was the club’s eighth-round pick in the 2009 draft, and right now chalk up another gem from the Twins’ player-development system. Second baseman Brian Dozier, at this point, should wind up in the All-Star discussion as the July game looms at, of all places, Minnesota’s Target Field.
Dozier was hitting .251/.357/.455 entering the week, and he led the American League with 42 runs. He also had 11 homers and 26 RBI. He showed some pop last season with 18 homers in 147 games, and his development is continuing.
The Twins, understandably, love him.
“He’s such a good guy,” says Rob Antony, the Twins’ assistant general manager. “He’s a team leader. Everybody in the clubhouse respects him.
“He goes up there looking for a strike, hits the ball hard and takes his chances.”
He came up as a shortstop, so his range at second base is exceptional. And he is not one of these infielders who makes the highlight, diving play but then has nowhere to go with the ball. He finishes plays.
7. Cano Watch
Seattle’s $240 million man, Robinson Cano, finally hit his second homer of the season Wednesday in the same place he hit his first: Texas’ Globe Life Park.
It was his first homer since April 17.
The power outage is a combined function of no longer playing in Yankee Stadium (Safeco Field, of course, is harder to solve) and no longer playing for the Yankees (the Mariners lineup does not offer nearly the protection Cano is accustomed to, so he doesn’t see the same pitches to hit).
Cano, though, continues to hit. He is tied for third in the AL with 65 hits, fifth with a .332 batting average and has 21 multi-hit games. He’s also hit in 41 of 50 games in Seattle.
His streak of reaching base was snapped Sunday at 31 consecutive games. It was the longest on-base streak by a Mariners player since Ichiro Suzuki’s 43-game streak in 2009.
8. Ear Candy
You will not find a more bizarre incident than two Albuquerque Isotopes getting into it in the dugout last week, a fight breaking out and the catcher chomping off a hunk of the shortstop’s ear.
Alex Guerrero lost a piece of his ear.
Miguel Olivo lost his job as a catcher in the Dodgers organization.
Wonder if it tasted like chicken?
9. Of Traffic Flow and the Next Mets GM
Everybody from Joe at the corner bar to the governor of New Jersey is a baseball expert who thinks he can do a better job than his favorite team’s general manager or manager.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Ha. Here is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on his beloved Mets last week on WFAN's Boomer & Carton (h/t The Star-Ledger's Brent Johnson): “I would love to be general manager of the Mets. And if Sandy [Alderson] would put his crap in boxes and get out of there now, I’d be happy to go there right now if they needed me.”
That’s what politicians do: Step forward and serve where needed.
9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week
Memorial Day. Happy unofficial start to summer...
“It was 1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long
“Caught somewhere between a boy and man
“She was 17 and she was far from in-between
“It was summertime in Northern Michigan
“Splashing through the sand bar
“Talking by the campfire
“It's the simple things in life, like when and where
“We didn't have no Internet
“But man I never will forget
“The way the moonlight shined upon her hair
“Catching Walleye from the dock
“Watching the waves roll off the rocks
“She'll forever hold a spot inside my soul
“We'd blister in the sun
“We couldn't wait for night to come
“To hit that sand and play some rock and roll”
- Kid Rock, "All Summer Long"