The trade deadline usually produces more talk than action but not this year. Since July 7, some huge names have been dealt, including CC Sabathia, Rich Harden, Mark Teixeira, Ivan Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey Jr. And... just under the wire, you can add Manny Ramirez to the list, heading to the Dodgers in a three-way deal with the Pirates. Despite Ramirez's obvious disdain for his former team, Boston still managed to get Jason Bay out of the deal. The Pirates, as always, will get prospects.
Detroit has traded Ivan Rodriguez to the Yankees for Kyle Farnsworth in a deal both clubs hope will propel them to the playoffs. As of this post being published, however, it appears that the Reds have traded Ken Griffey Jr. to the White Sox for Nick Masset and Danny Richar. Richar has some value as a future second baseman, so the Reds are obviously thinking long term.
The trade of Mark Teixeira to the Angels was a necessary one for Atlanta, but one that smacks of future mediocrity for the franchise. With Liberty Media owning the Braves, budgets are now in place and the days of Ted Turner throwing money around willy-nilly for free agents has been over for a while. That means more development from within, but getting over the hump to help the Escobars and McCanns will be tough, especially when prospects have been dealt for guys like Teixeira only to see him leave for mediocrity (Kotchman) and lesser prospects.
In the end, trading Teixeira is still better than getting nothing for him months from now, but the trend Atlanta is taking (Infante? Norton? constant carousel of starting pitchers?) is not on the upswing.
Despite the fact that every year it seems one team comes from nowhere to sneak into the playoffs (Colorado, Houston, etc. in past seasons) after being buried, sometimes you just get a feel about this time of year for who could make a run and who is done. Some examples this year:
Make a run?
New York Yankees - the acquisitions of Nady and Marte seem small but could be the difference for a team just 3 games behind Tampa and playing well.
Colorado - even with an 8-2 record in the past 10 games, the Rockies are a miserable 11 games under .500 BUT just 6 games back in the division. They are playing well, are starting to get healthy, and are chasing two teams who have lacked the killer instinct of a true division winner.
Oakland - trading away Harden and Blanton was just too much for a team hovering close behind LA all year. Now they'll be lucky to stay above .500.
Atlanta - everyone kept waiting for the Braves to make a move in the East, but it never happened (too many 1-run losses) and now injuries (Chipper, Hudson, Smoltz, Glavine, McCann, etc.) will make it tough just to compete every day.
St. Louis - maybe a bit premature, but it just feels like the end is near as the Cards have had to depend on too many young players and deal with too many injuries to the pitching staff while Chicago and Milwaukee got better along the way.
If you haven't heard about The Sporting News' new daily (FREE) digital magazine, I highly suggest you give it a look. I will only dish out the free advertising if it's something I think you will use, and I can attest that I have read it thoroughly the past several days and found it to be a great resource for up to date stories, box scores from the previous night, standings, etc. Basically, it's everything that's already on the internet somewhere already but in one convenient, easy-to-read place. You can find it at www.sportingnewstoday.com.
No matter how many years The Onion is around, it still remains topical and, more importantly, downright funny. This week's sports edition pokes a little fun at the god-like powers we all bestow on Greg Maddux. Give it a read - it's worth it.
For Rich Harden, Chicago has been like a Dickens novel so far: the best of times and the worst of times. Harden has been masterful in two starts - 12.3 IP, 20K, 6 H, 5 BB, 1 ER. That 0.73 ERA has earned him a record in the NL of 0-1 so far, however. For Harden's sanity, he might want to take some hitting lessons from Carlos Zambrano. "Big Z" is quite capable of helping his own cause (.351 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI), and Harden might need to learn that if he wants to see some "W's" in his future.
Like many of you, I couldn't stop watching the All-Star Game, but I found myself rooting for another debacle as opposed to hoping the game would end. I don't like the rule that home field advantage is up for grabs (why should Nate McClouth have anything say in where Game 7 is played??), but love it or hate it, it exists, it's very important, so it should be managed as such. Instead, most of the starters are gone by the 6th inning and the drama comes down to players not named ARod, Manny, Albert, or Chipper.
Only Aaron Cook threw as many as three innings, and that was only out of necessity. If either manager would have just let the starter go five innings, they would have had plenty of options later in the game. Instead, in an effort to be "nice," every player got involved almost at the cost of home field advantage. The last thing I'll say is I'm sick of all the sympathy the announcers have for Terry Francona and other All-Star managers when they face the "tough" decision of forcing a tired pitcher out on the mound. If they didn't yank each hurler after an inning or two, there wouldn't be a situation where the last one needs to throw until his arm falls off. Hopefully, despite the normal result, future managers will learn how to manage these games better and play for the win, not for the ego stroking of the players.
No-hitters are rare. Hitting for the cycle? Rare. Pitching a perfect game? Even more rare. How about displaying total dominance by shutting down the opposition and accounting for all of the offense as well? It hasn't been done in over a quarter century, but it's not impossible. Read the latest Hot Corner to see how Bob Welch dominated one day in 1983 and how Odalis Perez could have had his shot at immortality, if only everyone knew what they were watching. It's a Hot Corner you won't want to skip!
Derek Jeter will be manning shortstop for the American League in tonight's All-Star Game, and I have mentioned several times in the past what a disgrace it was that the best player in baseball (Alex Rodriguez) came to the Yankees and had to change positions so that Jeter could continue his mediocre fielding at shortstop.
I normally don't have too much to say about the Home Run Derby, finding it intriguing for about two minutes until you realize it's several HOURS of batting practice with commercial breaks. Last night was a different story, however. For about 20 minutes, Josh Hamilton captivated fans at home and at Yankee Stadium with a performance that dropped the jaws of his peers, launching 28 missles for home runs in the first round, none of them cheap. Effortlessly swinging at pitch after pitch, Hamilton showed why he was a #1 draft pick years ago and why he is one of the best players in the game today.
Tampa Bay has slipped a bit this past week, but baseball looks pretty healthy at the All-Star Break with plenty of stories and drama surrounding big and small market teams. Two Chicago teams are leading their divisions, the Mets are catching fire, the Yankees can never be counted out, the Angels appear as steady as anyone, and on the other side of the coin, Tampa Bay is still a contender, Florida isn't far back, Oakland as always is in the thick of things, Minnesota is breathing down Chicago's back, Philly has found its stride, and the NL West is becoming an ugly battle between Arizona and LA (and possibly others if someone gets hot). All in all, it will be an exciting second half.
Despite its many flaws, MLB.com has released some handy new features of late. My favorite this year is the Press Pass, which posts the official MLB game notes the broadcasters receive for the current day's games on the site as soon as they are received. Each team is available, and it's a great resource if you want to know everything about a matchup before it happens. For instance, after last night, Brandon Webb has now thrown 24 consecutive scoreless innings against the Nationals. You can find the link to the Press Pass here.
As expected, Rich Harden has been traded to the Cubs along with Chad Gaudin for four players including Matt Murton, Eric Patterson, and Sean Gallagher. While Harden is always an injury risk, none of the players Chicago traded figured to be involved heavily in this year's playoff push and, truth be told, there probably won't be any All-Star berths for any of them in the long run. Meanwhile, Chicago now has another pitcher (along with Zambrano) with the potential to dominate even a playoff team's lineup.
A risk? Yes, but a risk worth taking, especially since a healthy Harden could help next year's team as well for an additional $7 million (modest by today's standards). The downside is small - Harden gets hurt, Guadin is ineffective, and Murton and Patterson put up mediocre (and easily replaceable) numbers for someone else. The wild card is Gallagher, who people analyzing the trade like to say "could be good." I would always trade "could be good" for "is one of the best if healthy" any day if a title is within reach. Chicago GM Jim Hendry reacted to his team's possibilities, and the rest is out of his hands.
While every other site will be talking about All-Star snubs, it's time for TCO to take notice of the absence of pitching in the junior circuit. First, Johan Santana moved to the NL and the NY Mets (Apu's "fav-or-ite squadron" for all you Simpsons fans out there), and now C.C. Sabathia has been traded to Milwaukee for prospects. In the long run, the pitching youth in the AL (Floyd, Hernandez, Danks, Chamberlain, Smith, etc.) may reap healthy returns, but in the meantime, Santana, C.C., Haren, and possibly Harden (if he is traded before the deadline to the Cubs as rumored) give the NL the pitching advantage in the short term.
While it appears that Tampa Bay is for real, everyone is only finally starting to acknowledge the ever present Twins slowly encroaching division-leading territory. At just 2 1/2 games behind Chicago, Minnesota has once again put itself in the position of making the other guy mess up. Like a patient tennis player slowly returning volley after volley, every year Minnesota keeps playing the fundamental game until a team trips up. Like an annoying roach, the Twins just won't die.
Remember that amazing run the Tigers made in 2006? Few people aside from the hardcore baseball fans remember that it was actually the Twins that won the division that year, hanging around until Detroit slumped enough in September so that the Twins could ease into the division lead like a stranger in the night.
This year, Minnesota sports no Santana, no Hunter, Liriano is in the minors, and the replacements aren't exactly household names yet. But still, there they sit, just waiting. If the White Sox have learned anything from history, they will not take Minnesota lightly in the second half.