Playing Fact or Fiction with All of MLB's Hottest Week 20 Buzz and Rumors
The next time someone tells you that baseball is boring, kindly point their attention to the stretch run, which promises to be far more exciting and entertaining than any meaningless NFL preseason game could ever hope to be.
Three divisional races are tight, with less than five games separating first and second place (and in some cases, third place). Things are even more hectic in the wild-card race, with 11 teams within six games of a playoff berth.
With the waiver trade window open for only another two weeks, contenders are looking to bolster their rosters, trying to gain an advantage over the competition. Of course, contenders aren't the only teams making noise in the rumor mill.
Are two former All-Star closers capable of helping their former teams embark on deep playoff runs? Is defense the only thing teams care about when the chance to add a veteran catcher presents itself? Is a top prospect ready to take the baseball world by storm?
We'll hit on all that and more in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.
Fact: Joe Nathan Will Be a Late-Inning Factor in San Francisco
It's been more than a decade since Joe Nathan donned a San Francisco Giants uniform, and the minor league deal he signed with the team on Tuesday, per Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball, doesn't guarantee that he'll do so again.
Nathan, 41, will report to Triple-A Richmond and get some work in, according to Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who sung the veteran's praises to Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee.
“You have to like what his resume has on it,” said Bochy. “This guy is an experienced closer and those guys, they’re invaluable. It doesn’t matter where they pitch—sixth, seventh, eighth inning—because they’re accustomed to pitching with the game on the line.”
San Francisco's bullpen has been shaky for much of the season, pitching to a combined 3.76 ERA and 1.28 WHIP while blowing 21 save opportunities (33-for-54). Six of those blown saves belong to incumbent closer Santiago Casilla, who has pitched to a less-than-stellar 4.15 ERA since the All-Star break.
As long as Nathan stays healthy, expect to see him warming up in San Francisco's bullpen before rosters expand in September, which would make him eligible to pitch in the playoffs.
Fiction: Dansby Swanson Will Be an Instant Success
Dansby Swanson, the top overall pick in last year's MLB draft, will be Atlanta's starting shortstop Wednesday night when the Braves host the Minnesota Twins, per David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
While the 22-year-old is a big-time talent, Braves fans, who are rightfully excited to see their favorite team's top prospect take the field, should temper their expectations for Swanson in his first taste of the big leagues.
Is he going to be an upgrade over Erick Aybar, who was traded to Detroit—per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press—in order to clear a roster spot for Swanson? Sure. But we shouldn't expect him to have a Carlos Correa-like impact on the Braves down the stretch.
After all, it's not as if he was dominating Double-A pitching, hitting .261 with a .745 OPS over 84 games with the Mississippi Braves in the Southern League. For comparison's sake, Correa hit .385 with a 1.185 OPS during his short stay (29 games) at Double-A.
None of this is to say that Swanson isn't a terrific ballplayer or a future star. But there's going to be an adjustment period as he gets acclimated to facing big league pitching and the speed of the game. He'll get those growing pains out of the way now so that he's better prepared to succeed come 2017.
Fact: Jonathan Papelbon Will Wind Up in Boston
Jonathan Papelbon's foray into the late-season free-agent market is expected to end quickly, according to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. In fact, it may even be over by the time you read this.
While the Chicago Cubs have been floated as a potential landing spot—and Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't dismiss the idea when asked by CBS Chicago's Bruce Levine—a return to the Boston Red Sox seems like the most likely outcome.
"We've talked about it," Red Sox manager John Farrell admitted about a potential reunion with Papelbon while a guest on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio on Tuesday. "There's some real strong points to Pap that could be an addition here."
Those strong points weren't lost on one of his former Boston teammates, Clay Buchholz.
"Knowing how this place is run, he could definitely push our bullpen over the edge and make us a lot better," Buchholz told Bradford.
Papelbon would be joining an already-crowded Boston bullpen, one that features All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel along with veteran relievers Junichi Tazawa, Brad Ziegler and the currently injured Koji Uehara. His closing opportunities would be few and far between.
But the chance to play for a contender in a familiar setting likely outweighs Papelbon's desire to remain a closer. He'll spend the rest of the season in Boston, be on his best behavior and head back into free agency after October.
Fiction: Kurt Suzuki's Defensive Limitations Will Prevent a Trade
As 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson recently tweeted, teams in need of a catcher shied away from Kurt Suzuki at the non-waiver trade deadline due to his issues behind the plate.
Those issues are legitimate concerns. He struggles to control the opposition's running game, throwing out only 19 percent of would-be base stealers this season, while StatCorner pegs the veteran backstop as a below-average pitch-framer.
Yet Suzuki would represent a significant offensive upgrade behind the plate for a handful of contenders, including the Cleveland Indians, as we looked at on Tuesday. The 32-year-old has already cleared waivers and is due only $1.54 million the rest of the season, per Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press.
He's not a top-tier catcher, but Suzuki can help a contender. He'll be behind the plate somewhere other than Minnesota when the calendar flips to September.
Fact: Alex Rodriguez Won't Play Again...in 2016
Alex Rodriguez is taking his bat and going home...for now.
"I want to put all this talk to rest about Alex playing for any team this season," his publicist Ron Berkowitz told members of the media via email, per Newsday's Steven Marcus. "It’s not happening. Like he said Friday night, he is happy and he is going to take some time to relax and hang with his family and friends."
And just like Friday night, his last game as a member of the New York Yankees, the word "retire" is nowhere to be found in that statement—just like it was noticeably absent from the press conference announcing his departure from the Yankees, as we noted last week.
That leaves the door wide open for A-Rod to resume his playing career in 2017, something that wasn't lost on his former teammate, Mark Teixeira.
"Maybe next year," he told NJ Advance Media's Randy Miller on Monday when asked about Rodriguez potentially joining his hometown Miami Marlins for the stretch run. "We talked in generalities. I think Alex thinks he can [still] play."
A-Rod thinks he can still play. He's four home runs shy of 700 for his career, a total reached by only three other players—Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. He might be happy now, but it's hard to believe that he's content with his career ending like this.
He'll be in camp with a team next spring, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if he makes an Opening Day roster.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs and are current through games of Aug. 16. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus).
Hit me up on Twitter to talk the waiver trade window and all things baseball:@RickWeinerBR