When the Marlins lost six of eight in late June/early July, Miami general manager Dan Jennings started getting calls. About you-know-who.
“I think teams thought that by losing a few games we were out of it and we were selling off,” Jennings said. “So sure, I started to get calls and teams presenting scenarios about what it would take, and I said the same thing I’ve been saying, ‘We’re not trading him.’ ”
The Giancarlo Stanton rage will not go away. Not until Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria ponies up one of those Alex Rodriguez/Robinson Cano/Albert Pujols deals for his superstar. Until then, Jennings will be faced with questions.
It’s no secret what it’s going to take. Loria knows that Stanton is his big draw. He knows what superstars make. So you’re either willing to do a deal or you’re not.
One would presume the usual suspects called Jennings, such as the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Mariners, Orioles, Blue Jays, Rangers, you name it. Jennings didn’t say how many teams made pitches, but it was more than a few.
Jennings won’t go so far as to say this offseason is crucial in getting Stanton signed long term. But it will tell whether Stanton buys into the notion that the Marlins are a team to be taken seriously.
“I think some things have changed for Giancarlo,” Jennings said. “He’s taken a leadership role here. He knows we’re serious about winning and how much we want him to be part of that. He’s seen the team come together and the young talent developing around him.”
He gets to play baseball and live in Miami. What’s so bad about that for a 24-year-old superstar?
But if Stanton has other ideas and the Marlins are forced to deal him, there aren’t too many places he can go. For one, you’d have to be willing to give up your best young players to get him. The Red Sox would have to part with Xander Bogaerts, for instance, along with two or three other prospects. Stanton won’t come cheap. If you have the chips, you also must have the resources to sign him.
That eliminates a lot of teams. It would likely come down to the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Tigers, Mariners, and Rangers. Other teams could sneak in. The Twins certainly have good young players. As do the Cubs.
But right now, Jennings is not thinking about that. He wants to build around Stanton, and you can’t blame him for that.
The Marlins caught a bad break when ace Jose Fernandez was lost for 14 months for Tommy John surgery. A team that had made great strides was devastated. But not totally.
“In the 25 years I’ve been in the game I’ve never seen a team fight until the end like this one,” Jennings said. “That’s so encouraging on so many fronts. We’ve been so resilient. Any time you lose a No. 1 starter like that it can have such a negative impact on your team. We’ve had to replace him and we’ve done the best we can on that front. But we’ve really hung in there.”
Friday when I spoke with Jennings, the Marlins were in New York to play the Mets, and were 5½ games behind the Nationals and Braves in the National League East. By Sunday, Jennings, who planned to meet with Loria this weekend, may have decided their course of action. Jennings said that if the Marlins were within five to six games of the division lead, they would seek to be buyers at the trade deadline.
The Marlins have players besides Stanton teams are attracted to. Their main need would be pitching, adding to the front of the rotation. David Price? Cole Hamels? Jake Peavy?
Jennings didn’t seem to blink about adding pitching if the determination was made that the Marlins were in the hunt.
“It’s great that so many teams see our young players as players they covet,” Jennings said. “I think that means we’ve done a good job scouting those players and developing them.”
The Pirates have put together a fine outfield with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, but the Marlins have a good one as well in Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna.
Jennings said Jarrod Saltalamacchia has added the leadership expected from him, as well as a power threat. Salty’s average has come down after he went on the seven-day concussion DL, but for the most part he has been credited with bringing along the Marlins’ young pitching staff.
Casey McGehee also has brought veteran leadership after his year in Japan, hitting over .300 all season.
Stanton is hitting near .300, adding 21 homers and 63 RBIs. He has an OPS of .943 and an OBP of .397. He’s already struck out more than 100 times, but he has power and is becoming a better pure hitter as he learns to adapt to the fact he’s not going to get many good pitches to hit.
“He’s 24 with that kind of talent and presence,” said one National League scout. “As he gets older, he’s going to figure out how pitchers get him out, and once he makes those adjustments, look out. He’s the one guy in this league that if you wheel out the money, he’ll live up to it. He could get hurt, a number of things could happen. Nothing is guaranteed. But he’s as sure a thing as you can get in this game.”
Which is why Jennings’s phone will never rest until Loria does what he needs to — pay up.
Disappointing teams will rebuild differently
Three big markets, three different rebuilds for the 2015 season.
It’s an interesting study because the three teams have had bad seasons for different reasons, and getting back to their normal status in the game will have to be approached differently.
“Boston is in the best shape because of their young talent,” said one American League executive. “They can keep them or parlay them into good veterans. It’s a matter of sorting it out.”
The Phillies’ situation seems the most dire, as one National League executive said they “have a lot of balls in the air.” They have veterans who either can’t be moved or don’t want to be moved and have contractual protection.
They can’t expect a miracle like the Red Sox, where the Dodgers came along in 2012 and took three of their highest-priced veterans away, allowing the Sox to rebuild quickly, doing it so well that they won a World Series.
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee (still on DL), and Jonathan Papelbon are Phillies pitchers who could help contenders. Hamels has four years and $90 million remaining. Lee has two years at $50 million and has to show he’s healthy. Papelbon, who last declared he would like to move to a contender, is earning $13 million this year and next, with a vesting option for $13 million in 2016.
The Phillies, who are operating under the organizational mantra of “we’ve got to get younger,” would rather build around Hamels than deal him, but if they do they can’t reap the rewards of the likely three good young players they’d get in return.
Their longtime shortstop/second base combination of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley aren’t willing to move anywhere. Both could probably net some minor league depth, particularly Utley, who is coveted.
The Phillies have 21-year-old third base prospect Maikel Franco at Triple A, hitting .230 with six homers. They also have a few decent arms in the minors that are far away.
The Rangers, meanwhile, will get Prince Fielder back next season, but he’ll be coming off tricky neck surgery, similar to the one had by Nolan Reimold, who hasn’t been the same since. But the Rangers will likely spend on starting pitching in free agency or use some of their depth in the minors to acquire dependable veteran starters.
I asked Rangers GM Jon Daniels if he would seek to solve the pitching riddle of this season at the deadline, and he said he would. That could mean anything from David Price to Justin Masterson (currently on DL) to Hamels.
Matt Harrison may never pitch again after back surgery. Martin Perez had Tommy John surgery and is looking at a post-All-Star break comeback. Derek Holland had microfracture surgery on his left knee and was expected back by now, but he hasn’t been responding well.
Daniels thinks the problem has been more than injuries, and he plans to address it.
The Red Sox’ problem is defining which of their young players they can depend on, while trying to figure out positions for Mookie Betts, Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, and Brock Holt, and whether they can carry a great outfielder in Jackie Bradley Jr. if he hits sub-.250.
Or should they package some of their youngsters for veteran hitting and pitching?
Ben Cherington has said you can’t do a full rebuild in Boston. So if the Sox get to sell off veterans they don’t want for next season, such as Jake Peavy and Jonny Gomes, they can use those chips in trades. They will likely have to pick off a major outfielder through trade or free agency. If it’s not Giancarlo Stanton, then they have to find that Wil Myers type they can deal for.
Apropos of nothing
1. One of the things that struck me as funny about the WEEI.com story about a player or players trashing A.J. Pierzynski on his way out the door last week was the part about someone admonishing him for looking at his cellphone at his locker after he’d come out of a game. Three of the pitchers Pierzynski caught on that team used to eat fried chicken and drink beer during games. Looking at your cellphone isn’t so bad.
2. Yes, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez didn’t drop one ball in his major league debut last Wednesday against the White Sox. A National League scout watching him that night said, “From a technical point of view, that was as solid a catching performance in an individual game that I’ve seen all season.”
3. Max Scherzer is 38-7 since August 2012. So yes, his gamble in turning down six years at $144 million from the Tigers was probably a good one. Scherzer will head into the offseason with plenty of suitors.
4. It’s startling to look at the minor leagues and see such paltry power numbers. If you have a power hitter (such as the Orioles with Nelson Cruz), you’d better hold on to him.
5. The Orioles were 16-2 in extra-inning games 2012, and have been successful so far in 2014, with a 9-3 mark entering Saturday. By the way, Dan Duquette’s Orioles may be in first place, but the former Sox GM has no illusions about taking the division easily. “Everyone is in it,” Duquette said. “We’ve been playing better lately.” One of the biggest pluses for Duquette is the way the catchers have picked up where the injured Matt Wieters left off. “It’s always difficult to bring catchers in midstream,” Duquette said. “They have to get to know the pitching staff, but Nick Hundley has done a great job stepping in and doing that. Caleb Joseph has done a nice job handling our staff.” Duquette is looking for starting pitching or bullpen help.
6. Has anyone heard a peep from Alex Rodriguez?
Updates on nine
1. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres — Two years ago, he drove in 115 runs and hit 31 homers. He hasn’t done much since. Headley would normally be involved in trade talks, and maybe he still will be. Recently, Headley changed his batting grip and he’s seen good results. He’s had a couple of four-hit games and he owes it to what resembles a golf grip. That’s what he used in 2012, but then he broke his hand, making such a grip uncomfortable. Now he’s back to it. If his herniated disk holds up, Headley might be able to help a contending team.
2. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Yankees — The future Hall of Famer got his 2,800th hit last week. A lot of people didn’t think the 40-year-old would respond to coming off the bench, but he has. The unfortunate thing for Suzuki is that he could probably be starting for many teams. Scouts who watch him still believe he has a plus arm, runs above average, and covers ground in right field. He’s not the hitter he once was, but .306 with a .357 on-base percentage isn’t so bad.
3. Mike Napoli, 1B, Red Sox — There have been trade inquiries made on Napoli, according to a major league source. He hasn’t had the year he did last year. There’s also Will Middlebrooks, who could transition to first base. Napoli would have more value if he could catch 20-30 games, according to one American League GM, but his degenerative hip condition doesn’t allow it.
4. Alex Rios, OF, Rangers — Rios, 33, is one righthanded hitter who could move before the deadline, even if he doesn’t provide the power he should. Rios picked the wrong time to lose power. He’s been a 15-25-homer guy. He’s still hitting well (.303) but with no thump. The Rangers don’t get it either and chalk it up to a fluke.
5. Marlon Byrd, OF, Phillies — The Mariners, Royals, and others are interested in Byrd, who could provide outfield depth and righthanded hitting. Byrd is going to be one of a few righthanded hitters who will likely get some play, including Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham.
6. Carlos Gonzalez, CF, Rockies — While there’s been speculation that the Rockies could do something dramatic and deal Gonzalez or Troy Tulowitzki, one major league source indicated that “[owner Charlie] Monfort centers everything around Tulo and Cargo.” The feeling is Monfort would be hesitant to let his two stars go because of ramifications concerning ticket sales and TV ratings. “Those are legitimate concerns in that market,” said the source. “Cargo isn’t having a Cargo year. The Rockies have some other outfield pieces, but when Cargo is right there aren’t too many more exciting players in the game.”
7. Bartolo Colon, RHP, Mets — The Mets are getting sniffs on Colon. Like Jason Hammel and Brandon McCarthy, there will be teams trying to add value, experience, and middle-of-the-rotation depth if they can’t compete for the elite pitchers, such as David Price and Jon Lester.
8. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles — GM Dan Duquette said the organization is being very cautious with Bundy, a prospect coming off Tommy John surgery. “We have him down below right now. He’s going through his progression,” said Duquette. “There’s a chance he might be able to help us, but not until later this year. That would be an added bonus for us, but it’s not something we’re trying to accelerate. When he’s ready he’ll let us know by how he’s pitching and competing.”
9. Brian Cashman, GM, Yankees — There can’t be a more frustrated executive in baseball. Cashman’s Yankees were only four games out of first place entering Friday, despite losing ace Masahiro Tanaka to a slight tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, and that was after losing CC Sabathia for the season, and Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda for a lot of it.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Wily Mo Pena has 20 homers and a .906 OPS for the Orix Buffaloes.” . . . Also, “The Cardinals have already been involved in 26 shutouts (17-9) this season.” . . . Happy birthday, Don Pavletich (76), Greg Litton (50), and Pat Rapp (47).
More coverage: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.