1. Beyond the July 31 trade deadline...
OK, so now what happens? Glad you asked.
The beautiful thing about Detroit’s acquisition of David Price is that not only does it help the Tigers this year, but they now are in position to kiss off Max Scherzer this winter, knowing Price will be in their 2015 rotation.
You know the story: The Tigers offered Scherzer a six-year, $144 million deal this spring, which Scherzer declined. So when Scherzer files for free agency after the season, the Tigers already have taken out an insurance policy against excess anxiety and wonder regarding next year’s rotation.
And here’s a prediction: The Tigers will wind up signing Price to the extension that never was possible for him in Tampa Bay. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, 85, is doing everything he can to bring a World Series title to his beloved Detroit before it’s off to meet Ty Cobb, George Kell, Gates Brown, Mark Fidrych and the rest of the great Tigers in the sky.
And Price absolutely is going to fall in love with the Tigers organization and Motown’s beautifully passionate fans (some of the best in the country, easy). Price, by the way, makes his first start for the Tigers on Tuesday night in Yankee Stadium. Is Derek Jeter near another milestone?
Detroit and Oakland advance directly to the American League Championship Series. Apologies, Orioles, Blue Jays and Angels. Love your lineups (especially you, Baltimore). Love your possibilities (especially you, Angels; with Mike Trout, anything is within reach).
But the game is about pitching, now more than ever, and October is seriously about pitching. That is why general manager Billy Beane dealt Yoenis Cespedes, a reminder for the rest of us. Detroit and Oakland currently possess everything you need for October except extra bags of Snickers and plastic orange pumpkins.
We will spend the next two months debating which rotation is better. And here is how it will go: One week, we’ll swoon over the Tigers and say, "Ya know, Detroit has it." Then, the very next week, we’ll be all over the A's and say, "No, theirs is the best."
We will change our opinions wildly each week, like helpless high school kids battling the throes of changing crushes. Lori is the best. No, Jayne is!
Entering October, this must be the answer: The Tigers. Simply because Brad Ausmus’ rotation has far more postseason experience.
Justin Verlander, David Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, combined, have worked 233.2 postseason innings and 32.2 World Series innings. Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and Jason Hammel, combined, have worked 142.1 postseason innings and 31 World Series innings.
You can see why Beane traded for Lester: Remove him, and the other four A's starters have worked just 64.2 postseason innings. So you give the edge to the Tigers rotation. “But not by much,” cautioned one scout I talked with this weekend. And he’s got that right. Another word of caution: Just because the Tigers get the edge here doesn’t mean Oakland can’t whack ‘em.
MLB Network really should look into a reality show centering on the text messages of Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and Athletics GM Billy Beane. Get the cooperation of those two men, and ratings would blow up.
Did you see what Beane sent Dombrowski not long after the Tigers beat the deadline (and pulled Austin Jackson out of center field in the middle of an at-bat) to acquire Price? Texted Beane, according to James Jahnke of the Detroit Free Press: “And you only give me a minute to try and get Chris Sale. I’m not surprised. You know how to make the big deal. Well done.” Indeed.
Advice for the A’s in the form of a great thought from one longtime scout: “Billy should trade for [Red Sox catcher] David Ross right now. Nobody has ever handled Lester as well as Ross.”
As for who pitches for Boston next year, do you think the Red Sox haven’t already thought of that while shipping Jake Peavy (Giants), Lester (A’s) and John Lackey (Cardinals) west?
Granted, manager John Farrell may wind up having to work some innings himself this month and next. Things are that thin. But there will be plenty of options: Lester, Scherzer and James Shields are expected on the free-agent market this winter. The Phillies’ Cole Hamels and the Padres’ Ian Kennedy (among many others) are possible trade options.
Yes, you figure the Red Sox ship has sailed with Lester. Why would they sign him for what surely would be far more money as a free agent this winter than what it would have cost them to negotiate something during the spring?. But they have both dollars and prospects. That’s a pretty good start to work multiple avenues to acquire pitching.
Fond memories of Yoenis Cespedes will continue for the rest of the season in Oakland...but maybe not the way you might think. As San Francisco Chronicle crack beat writer Susan Slusser reported, the A’s internally had decided they were going to deal Cespedes this winter anyway, a year ahead of his free agency, because he will be unaffordable to them.
From there, looking at the chance to get Lester, the A’s decided that as long as they were going to deal him anyway, they may as well deal him two months early. Now, as for the memories...apparently they’re going to come from a committee led by Sam Fuld. Did you see this no-hop throw Saturday:
2. The Phillies are on the "Talking Heads" plan
You know, Stop Making Sense.
Exactly how a team in desperate need of rebuilding/retooling made it through July 31 without making one single deal will go down in Philadelphia lore as one of the great moments of irresponsibility that furthered their downward spiral.
Cliff Lee (whose elbow may have blown for good the night of July 31), Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd...so many broken-down, aging parts, and yet the Phillies are satisfied with the status quo.
Of those, Utley absolutely has value (and, granted, a full no-trade clause that would need to be negotiated). Byrd should have been dealt. Howard? Maybe in August when he clears waivers.
“Not disappointed,” Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. inexplicably told reporters. “More surprised that there wasn’t more aggressive action from the other end. We have some pretty good baseball players here.”
As a scout so eloquently asked the other day while ripping the words right out of my mouth: “If they have so many good players, then why are they in last place?”
Amaro should have moved more aggressively to deal ace Cole Hamels as well, by the way. Hamels, on a six-year, $144 million deal, is the one Phillie who might bring back the multiple pieces needed to give their retooling a quick jolt.
Maybe they can still deal him this winter. But with Scherzer, Lester and Shields on the market, clubs have the option to simply pick from the free-agent shelves and keep their prospects.
3. The trade deadline and the joys of the digital age
Pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig were in the Cardinals clubhouse in San Diego, preparing for an afternoon game, when they learned they had been traded to Boston on the clubhouse television. Yep, MLB Network.
Kelly told Bleacher Report: “I didn’t know what to think when I saw it on TV. I was like, ‘Is this real?’ Then I got called into the office.”
Said St. Louis GM John Mozeliak: “It’s almost impossible for them to hear it from me first. You wish you could control the information, but I’ve learned we can’t.”
4. The Cardinals and the lineup card
Part of the public perception when the Cards dealt Craig to Boston in the Lackey deal was that it was a case of Mozeliak essentially taking part of the lineup card away from manager Mike Matheny, who had been reluctant to shelve the slumping Craig (.237 batting average, .346 slugging percentage) in favor of phenom Oscar Taveras.
Mozeliak has been fighting the perception for a while now that he favored Taveras, so much so that he’s frequently reminded folks this season: “I don’t write the lineup cards.”
Whatever, bottom line is that Craig’s decline in 2014 has been steep and stunning, and the Cardinals have not scored nearly enough. Plus, the team is well-stocked for outfielders.
“As you can imagine, if you’re Mike Matheny, that’s a difficult spot to be in,” Mozeliak says. “You have Allen Craig, who has been a proven performer who is struggling this year. We add Oscar to the roster, and certainly I'll have to take responsibility for that. I didn't feel like he had much left to prove at Triple-A.
“You're trying to play both players. You're trying to get both guys going. Neither had performed at a very high rate at that time, and it just became a very difficult balance for everybody involved.
“But that was not what pushed this deal. It was more what we felt we had in the pipeline. We felt like this kind of positioning might be the same a year from now, or even two years from now. This was a good solution all the way around.”
5. No fish story in Boston
Forget Cespedes playing handball with the Green Monster for the rest of this season and next. What might make him the talk of Boston is what worries Trout.
“When he plays left field in Fenway, he’s going to be throwing people out on singles,” he quipped to Mike DiGiovanna of the The Los Angeles Times.
6. Cubs find pitching on Baker Street
Maybe Mary Tyler Moore could light the world up with her smile in her time, but John Baker earning the victory in his cameo on the Wrigley Field mound last week sure did light up the baseball world with some grins.
Baker had a difficult time keeping the huge smile off his face as he worked the 16th inning against the Rockies. He wound up earning the win, the first Cubs position player ever to do that, and he scored the winning run after walking in the bottom of the 16th.
“I was trying to work the cutter in, but it wasn’t really cutting, it was sinking,” Baker told reporters, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. “I was trying to throw the sinker, and that one was cutting.”
Mozeliak quipped a day later: “Maybe he just had them misnamed.”
One of Baker’s former managers, Bud Black, was with his coaching staff in San Diego’s Petco Park following the Padres game, riveted to the Cubs-Rockies. And when Baker retired Charlie Culberson on a foul pop behind first base to start the inning, Black fired a text to Baker:
“Hey, a bunch of us are in my office watching you dominate Culberson,” read the text.
Baker, aided by an inning-ending double play, needed only 11 pitches to work his way through the 16th.
Then he drew a walk to start the bottom of the inning and wound up scoring the winning run.
In Black’s office, the manager and coaches were having a ball by this time, asking each other, “How come they walked the pitcher?”
Then, when Baker reached first, they hollered at the television, “Bake, ask for a jacket!”
The game lasted six hours and 27 minutes, a franchise record for both the Cubs and Rockies.
Baker texted Black back: “Best. Day. Ever.”
7. The long, slow descent of Dan Uggla
Dan Uggla didn’t even have time to travel to North Beach and back, so short was his stay in San Francisco. The Giants looked at him for four games, during which he went 0-for-11 with six strikeouts, and then they looked elsewhere.
And so the long, steady descent of a three-time All-Star continued, to the extent that you wonder if we’ll ever see him again.
“At the end of the spring, he was really hot,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker says. “And at the start of the season, he was barreling everything up, hitting better.
“Uggla respects the game so much, runs every ball out, he’s a great teammate, he’s done some great things in the game. I wish we could have gotten him going.
“All of that adversity, he handled it all so professionally. He didn’t try to drag anybody down with him. I don’t think it’s physical. It might do him some good to get some at-bats in Triple-A. A lot of hitters learn about themselves when they’re scuffling.
“When he lost it [earlier this year], he reverted back to being late and falling off of balls. Earlier in the year, we were extremely encouraged.”
8. Hard game, man
The injury bug this year has extended all the way to the Twins coaching staff: Third base coach Joe Vavra has a torn labrum in his left hip, a condition learned after a series of MRIs over the All-Star break, and that’s caused major commotion.
Vavra has been moved to the dugout next to manager Ron Gardenhire, Scott Ullger has moved from first base coach to third, and bench coach Paul Molitor is subbing at first.
Gardenhire told Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that putting Vavra in the field “is a little too dangerous. I don’t want to see one of my coaches go down.”
Gardenhire speaks from firsthand experience: Coaching third base under Tom Kelly in the spring of 1995, Gardenhire blew out an Achilles tendon one afternoon in Bradenton, Florida, while coaching third base.
9. Things to turn funny in Boston?
Absolutely thrilled that the Red Sox summoned right-hander Steven Wright from Triple-A Pawtucket. I don’t care about his pitching. I can’t wait for the jokes.
A Steven Wright sampler:
- If a word in the dictionary was misspelled, how would we know?
- How do you tell when you’re out of invisible ink?
- Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.
- I torture my plants. I water them with ice cubes.
- I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.
- What happens if you’re scared half to death twice?
Wait. You mean the Steven Wright the Red Sox recalled isn’t this guy in the Red Sox cap? Darn.
Rock 'n' roll lyric of the day
Here’s to Steven Wright, the adrenalin of last Thursday and everything else that makes us eager to see what’s going to happen tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that...
“I rounded first never thought of the worst
“As I studied the shortstop's position
“Crack went my leg like the shell of an egg
“Someone call a decent physician
“I'm no Pete Rose, I can't pretend
“While my mind is quite flexible,
“These brittle bones don't bend
“I'm growing older but not up
“My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck
“So let the winds of change blow over my head
“I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead”
— Jimmy Buffett, "Growing Older (But Not Up)"
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball here.