Aug. 31 is the last day contenders can make waiver deals and have the player be eligible for playoff rosters. But will there be much action?
“I doubt it,” said one National League general manager. “There’s a lot more blocking going on this year.”
Which means teams that didn’t pull the trigger prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline may be out of luck. Here is what American League contenders are left to contend with as they pursue division and wild-card berths:
1. Tigers — Other than the surging Victor Martinez perhaps catching a game or two before the end of the season, don’t look for the Tigers to do too much after they shored up their infield with Jose Iglesias and their bullpen with Jose Veras. If the Tigers make it to the World Series, you may see Martinez catch a game or two in the National League ballpark. Justin Verlander needs to work on his consistency, as his 3.68 ERA is now the highest among Detroit’s top four starters. Throwing 98-100 miles per hour just a few starts ago, he’s morphed back into good but not great. The Tigers finish the season with three games in Miami. They should be able to maintain their lead over the streaky Indians.
2. Red Sox — The best thing that can, and will, happen is the return of Clay Buchholz, who now appears to have enough time to come back from a neck/shoulder strain that has kept him out since June 8, with all of September to get back into form. Jon Lester also needs to keep up his good stretch. Brandon Workman and Drake Britton have certainly pitched quality innings, but they are rookies in a playoff race. Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Koji Uehara are solid. The Sox may try to obtain a veteran reliever. They also have to worry about three games to end the season at Camden Yards, the scene of their 2011 collapse. The Orioles could be playing for a playoff spot.
3. Rays — Tampa Bay added David DeJesus and Delmon Young to the offense, and will add lefthander Matt Moore to team with David Price as possibly the best 1-2 in the postseason, maybe even better than Verlander and Max Scherzer, if Verlander remains inconsistent. Veteran Jesse Crain could impact the bullpen in September. The Rays have one more West Coast swing — to Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim — a tough September stretch vs. AL East opponents, and a big series with the Rangers. They end their season with three at home against the Yankees and three in Toronto. Suffice it to say, they’ll have to earn what they get.
4. Rangers — They’ve done OK since losing Nelson Cruz to the Biogenesis suspension, adding Alex Rios. The Rangers are scoring, and Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Matt Garza have given them a formidable 1-2-3 punch. Unfortunately for Holland, he’s been a hard-luck loser, with the Rangers scoring only 118 runs for him in 26 starts, and three or fewer runs in 11 starts. They would also get Cruz back for the playoffs. With Alexi Ogando on the DL, the Rangers could use another starter, which might be tough to add at this time of the season, unless it’s an Erik Bedard, Dan Haren type. Fairly easy schedule, with the toughest part four against the Rays, six against the A’s, and three against the Pirates.
5. Athletics — With Derek Norris breaking his toe and John Jaso still on the DL, the A’s were able to get Kurt Suzuki back from the Nationals in a waiver deal. Suzuki had cleared waivers because he’s had such a poor offensive season (.225, 3 HRs, 25 RBIs), but he is familiar with the A’s pitching staff, so that should be a plus. The A’s need Bartolo Colon to return from the DL in top form if they’re to have a chance to get past the wild-card round. Colon was 14-5, but his velocity was dropping a tad. The feeling is the two-week rest will help.
7. Indians — Streakiest team in baseball, but they are in it. They could use upgrades at third base, right field, or designated hitter. They also could add to their bullpen. In a division where they have at times flirted with overtaking the Tigers, the Indians simply go into too many dips to make it happen. They have six tough games against the Royals, but also have the Astros, Mets, and White Sox in what is a fairly light schedule.
8. Orioles — They truly control their own destiny with nine meetings with the Red Sox, including the final three games of the season, not to mention three more with the Rays, and games against the Indians and A’s. They need to get their bullpen in order. Jim Johnson hasn’t been good, and so Darren O’Day and Francisco Rodriguez are options to close games. The Orioles need to win with offense, which is why they need a consistent DH (Michael Young, Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, etc.) to provide a super scary lineup.
9. Yankees — Their biggest boost will be getting a healthy Derek Jeter back. The Yankees are pretty tough again on offense, with Alex Rodriguez a force since his return, while Curtis Granderson has also started to look like his old self. Mark Reynolds has already helped with the long ball. The Yankees have received consistent pitching lately, though Phil Hughes remains an enigma. The bullpen is still solid, and if anything, they could be major spoilers down the stretch.
Correct message from Rays’ Maddon
This is why the Rays’ Joe Maddon is the best manager in baseball. As soon as the Ryan Dempster nonsense occurred (taking it upon himself to hit Alex Rodriguez in last Sunday’s Red Sox game against the Yankees), he made it clear how little he thought of Dempster’s actions.
“Vigilante justice and unilateral decisions, I’m not into that stuff,’’ Maddon said. “There’s rules in place. There’s a board that’s assigned to make those kind of decisions. I believe in players controlling the game itself in regards to what’s happening in that game, and we always talk about policing that. But [what Dempster did] is totally separate from the unwritten rules of baseball. So, I do not agree with that at all. And again, I don’t believe in rogue, unilateral decisions or players meting out discipline, whereas this is something entirely different.’’
Maddon said publicly, which I’m sure his pitchers saw in the newspapers, that whether you like or dislike A-Rod, you’re not going to make a personal statement on the team’s watch.
“There’s no reason to,’’ Maddon said. “There’s absolutely zero reason to do that, for me. That’s what I believe. I believe let the mechanism in place work and everybody do their jobs . . . Don’t attempt to be judge and jury and just let everybody do their jobs.’’
Which is why it’s also ridiculous that David Ortiz is taking any heat for his public disapproval of Dempster’s actions. Ortiz is the elder statesman, the respected veteran on the team. He can say what he wants. You won’t see too many Red Sox protesting what Ortiz said. Hitters don’t want pitchers retaliating against them, and there’s a long way to go, with more games against the Yankees.
Dempster’s actions were shortsighted. If you don’t want Rodriguez impacting the race, then stop putting him in the position to do so.
Apropos of nothing
1. Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Tyler Chatwood, and Juan Nicasio were a combined 38-23, and the Rockies were 50-39 when they started, entering Friday. They also had a combined 3.60 ERA (206 earned runs, 515⅔ innings). Meanwhile, Jeff Manship, Chad Bettis, Jeff Francis, Jon Garland, Collin McHugh, Roy Oswalt, and Drew Pomeranz were a combined 6-25, and the Rockies were 9-31 when they started. They had a 6.50 ERA (143 earned runs, 198⅔ innings).
2. Do you feel any better about Ryan Braun now that he’s come clean? I do. OK, he should have done it in person, and been specific about what he took. But he confessed, saw the error of his ways, and seemed remorseful. Your turn, Alex Rodriguez.
3. We thought Ryan Dempster’s 10 no-decisions were a lot, but how about Jose Quintana with 15, a White Sox record? He’s also got no-decisions in 25 of 48 career starts.
4. Speaking of the White Sox, why didn’t anyone make a serious attempt at closer Addison Reed? He had saved six straight entering the weekend.
5. The Royals haven’t had a winning record in a decade. They could do it this year, but have a stretch in September that includes six vs. Detroit, six vs. Cleveland, and three vs. Texas.
6. I know how good Andrew McCutchen has been, but if the Diamondbacks hang in the race, Paul Goldschmidt would get my endorsement for NL MVP. There’s sentiment for Yasiel Puig because, let’s face it, his emergence energized the Dodgers, but there’s meaning to being there all year.
7. Daisuke Matsuzaka lives. The Mets have saved him after a so-so Triple A stint with the Indians, for whom he was 5-8 with a 3.92 ERA. Matsuzaka received his release, and the Mets had a need for a starter. Remember, they were the runner-up for Dice-K in the posting process. There has been some talk in the Matsuzaka camp that he may return to Japan next season if he doesn’t get a reasonable chance to be in a major league rotation.
8. What happened to Josh Hamilton? His lethargy in the field has been noticeable to anyone who has watched him a lot. Hamilton seemed to lose the love of the game after all he went through to fight to get it back.
Updates on nine
1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF, Reds — It doesn’t appear that the Reds will have the finances to sign Choo for the long run. The Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Cubs, and Red Sox appear to be teams that will have interest.
2. A.J. Burnett, RHP, Pirates — Burnett could be a candidate to stay in Pittsburgh. The veteran has even hinted about retirement, but it’s hard to imagine a big, long-term deal for him out there in free agency. The Blue Jays, who are in need of a revamped starting rotation, could try to lure him back for the short term, since Toronto is where Burnett had some success and felt comfortable, but he may stay in Pittsburgh for the remainder of his career.
3. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Yankees — The Yankees have increased Kuroda’s salary in $5 million increments each of the past two years. Is that what it will take to keep Kuroda in New York — a one-year, $20 million deal? One Yankees official told me they need to do whatever they can to make that happen, as Kuroda, even at 39, would still be the best starting pitcher on the free agent market. While he has considered retirement, another big payday for one year could keep him in place.
4. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, Reds — Arroyo probably won’t be re-signing with Cincinnati, but what better middle-to-end-of-rotation, dependable starter will be available? Arroyo is likely best served in the National League with a team like the Cardinals, Braves, or even the Mets. Cubs president Theo Epstein has a lot of affection for Arroyo, even though he once traded him for Wily Mo Pena, one of the Epstein’s biggest regrets when he was GM of the Red Sox. Arroyo is 12-9 with a 3.40 ERA. He also has never been hurt.
5. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins — Morneau is a weekly fixture in this space. Each week we think he’s getting closer to being moved, but the teams that would have interest, such as the Orioles, Pirates, Indians, and Yankees, keep waiting for the price to come down, or move away entirely. “The biggest issue with the teams who have some interest is, is he better than what they already have?,” said an AL assistant GM. “Do you give up something of value for someone who could make a minimal splash?” Morneau still makes the most sense for the Orioles, who could plug him into the DH spot or play him at first for Chris Davis for a day or two a week.
6. Jack Zduriencik, GM, Mariners — Baseball people would be surprised if ownership cuts ties with Zduriencik with one year remaining on his contract. The feeling is the Mariners have some good young players coming up, and if Zduriencik can keep his core veterans in place — which would mean re-signing Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Mike Morse — he has a chance to really push the franchise forward. Zduriencik raised some eyebrows when he didn’t deal his three potential free agents after receiving many inquiries. But Zduriencik feels he can re-sign a couple or all three.
7. John Gibbons, manager, Blue Jays — Who knows whether Gibbons will survive the lost expectations of a team that was supposed to be in the World Series? Like most managers in this predicament, Gibbons probably doesn’t deserve it, but his second tenure has been a disaster. While the Blue Jays seem to be leaning toward giving the team a second chance next season, minus a couple of players (they’ve already dealt Emilio Bonifacio, and Josh Johnson will depart as a free agent), we’ll see if Gibbons gets one.
8. Jerry Dipoto, GM, Angels — DiPoto, Zduriencik, and Toronto’s Alex Anthopoulos are GMs on the hot seat. In a market where the Dodgers are white-hot, it’s understandable that owner Artie Moreno would have a few questions to ask Dipoto. Moreno usually is conservative with his actions, so you always feel he’ll give the employee the benefit of the doubt, but someone’s head will likely roll. It doesn’t appear it will be manager Mike Scioscia, with four years remaining on his deal. What’s worse for Dipoto is that it’s tough to repair a team with bad contracts, and Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are a drag on the team.
9. Stephen Drew, SS, Red Sox — Scott Boras would like to see both Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury re-sign with the Red Sox long term. Boras’s other clients include Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., but he feels Bogaerts, as he fills out, will be better suited for third base, and Bradley, while extremely athletic, doesn’t have the on-base and scoring potential (because of stolen bases) Ellsbury does. Boras expects a big market for both Drew and Ellsbury.
From the Bill Chuck files – “Joey Votto is the only batter to homer off Mark Melancon in 58⅓ innings this season.” Also, “The Mariners have allowed double-figure runs in 18 games this season, the most in the majors.” And, “Ichiro Suzuki has 312 hits against Texas and 311 against Oakland, the most of any teams.” . . . Happy birthday, Andy Abad (41).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.