The home stretch is always the most difficult.
In this instance, that refers to the complex machine that is the MLB trade rumor mill as the deadline looms at the end of July. It can also refer to the fact that the Midsummer Classic is upon us, meaning franchises are more willing to wheel and deal for the postseason push after the break.
And in a few rare instances, it refers to what will be a frantic few weeks for franchises that just suffered a major loss and will need to compensate for maneuvers.
For fans, though? It's party time, as the endless possibilities can breathe new life into any team, both in the short and long term. With rumors flying every which way, here is a look at some of the most notable recent updates.
Cardinals on the Hunt for Molina Replacement?
At 50-43 and in second place in an intense race in the NL Central Division, the St. Louis Cardinals had little wiggle room for an injury to take away one of their elite players.
Alas, catcher Yadier Molina will miss perhaps the rest of the season after suffering a thumb injury, as explained by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Molina surgery Friday. Torn ligaments. Could miss 8-12 weeks.— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) July 10, 2014
A major loss at home plate, Molina was also finally turning things around in the batter's box, going 11-for-31 in his last 10 games. Tony Cruz, who has appeared in 22 games this season and is batting .241 with eight RBI, will take over as the starter.
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick provided some insight as to what the loss means:
As the Elias Sports Bureau notes, the Cardinals have a staff ERA of 3.53 with Molina and 3.81 without him over the past five seasons. They've erased 40.9 percent of opposing base stealers during that time frame, compared to 31.9 percent with all their non-Molina catchers.
"It's the equivalent of losing Adam Wainwright," said an American League scout. "Yadi is one guy in the lineup, but this affects 12 guys on the pitching staff. Tony Cruz is a great backup and I guarantee you he's learned a ton from Yadi just by osmosis. But there's no way he can replace Yadi offensively, and Yadi is by far the best defensive catcher in all of baseball. It's going to be a challenge."
Goold notes that, in an effort to better guarantee the position is secure going into a postseason push, general manager John Mozeliak and the front office will have "their eyes toward the market for available catchers."
Keep a close eye on the Cardinals, as Cruz's success will likely have a major impact on whether or not the franchise elects to make a move. The team was in a similar spot a season ago, and the demons of that situation—teams trying to steal great prospects knowing the deadline was very close—will certainly play a factor in a potential move.
A 30-year-old arm with 16 saves and a 2.76 ERA is, of course, a hot item on the market any year with the deadline on approach.
Oh, and don't forget that said arm has fanned 40 batters and issued just four free passes.
This is where the Texas Rangers are with Joakim Soria at this point. He has managed to rise above what is a rather deep staff, and not only that, he touts a very favorable contract that pays him $5 million this year, with a team option next year for $7 million, per Spotrac.
Other teams obviously covet a contract like Soria's, especially those looking for a rental. Fox Sports' Jon Morosi says there are at least three teams on the prowl for his services:
From Soria's perspective, the best place to go if he is moved would be Los Angeles, as that gives him the best chance to remain a closer. But it's hard to imagine the Rangers, hanging out in fifth place in the AL West, would want to help out a division rival currently fighting with the Oakland A's for first place.
For his part, Soria is just focused on continuing to do his job well, as captured by Evan Grant of the Dallas News:
I can’t control it. And if I can’t control it, I shouldn’t worry about it. If I don’t worry about it, it won’t be a distraction. It’s part of baseball. Rumors start and that’s it. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to have a second chance to be a Major Leaguer. How can I be frustrated over anything when I’ve been given a second chance.
Soria is but one rung on the free-agency ladder that includes names such as Jonathan Papelbon, so a deal will have to blow the Rangers away to come to fruition. That certainly does not mean it won't happen, though.
At 36 years old and in possession of a rejuvenated bat and a two-year contract worth $8 million per year through 2016, per Spotrac, Marlon Byrd is living the good life with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Of course, that won't stop teams from coming after Byrd, whose numbers continue to rise and show no signs of stopping at this juncture:
According to Crasnick, the Seattle Mariners, stuck in third place in the AL West, have shown a serious interest:
One problem: Byrd has a no-trade clause that covers four teams.
The Mariners are one of them.
Should the Phillies trade Byrd?
Per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly, the teams are the Mariners, Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, although he does not view the clause as "ironclad."
“I don’t want to get traded,” he said Thursday in Milwaukee. “I signed a two-year deal here for a reason. The thought process was to retire as a Phillie. At the same time, this is a business and I know how it works. If trading me makes the organization better, I have to go with it.”
If a team like Seattle tries hard enough, there is an outside chance some traction can be gained. But Byrd is in rare form for his age and is quite content, so expect this saga to drag out right up to the deadline.