A few general managers have told me that the All-Star break could provide ample opportunity for a few major deals to get done ahead of the deadline. If that’s the case, then a few teams are finally realizing the urgency of their situations. But it seems that deals should already have been made.
Blame it on the gray area. The Red Sox, for instance, don’t know whether they’re buyers or sellers and may need the full time before the deadline to make that determination.
But the lack of urgency by some teams toward making improvements is, at times, mind-boggling.
The Phillies have been willing to deal since April but haven’t been able to engage anyone into taking Cole Hamels or Jonathan Papelbon, let alone Ben Revere, Aaron Harang, Carlos Ruiz, or Ryan Howard.
There has been talk that the Phillies pulled back on some deals because they were waiting for Andy MacPhail to come in as team president, but despite the short time MacPhail has been there, we’re certain he realizes the Phillies need to sell to rebuild.
We look at teams who need to beat the deadline:
1. Boston Red Sox
Don’t you have to get to .500 to be taken seriously as a contender? Regardless, especially with Clay Buchholz leaving Friday night’s game against the Yankees, wouldn’t this be a good time for the Red Sox to solve their pitching issues ahead of the flurry of trades that might take place at the end of the month, knowing they also need an ace in 2016?
The Red Sox seem to want controllable, young pitchers if they’re going to give up top prospects. Sonny Gray and Chris Sale would fall into that category, but good luck extracting either from the A’s and White Sox, respectively. Given Billy Beane’s penchant for doing things you don’t expect, Gray’s availability is more likely than Sale’s. Johnny Cueto has been linked a lot to the Red Sox, but they don’t like the idea of a rental.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays have a small window with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, both of whom have team options for 2016. Mark Buehrle is up after this season and R.A. Dickey (team option for $12 million) likely won’t be re-signed, which means $32 million coming off the books.
So, why aren’t the Jays striking? They have scouts in every park and are trying to find a starter and the right bullpen piece.
There are players in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse who are watching closely the commitment ownership and management has to going for it.
The Jays have had a willing trading partner in the Phillies, who have been willing to pick up some of the money on Papelbon’s deal for a reasonable prospect or two.
The Jays’ bullpen is getting taxed nightly because their starting pitching isn’t good enough to get deep into games.
The Jays could also land Hamels. Why not try for both he and Papelbon? Hamels has indicated he won’t play for Toronto, but what’s he going to do? Stay in Philly? A few Blue Jays players have told me that playing in Toronto is great. The problem is the competitive nature of the team. No playoffs since 1993. And if they don’t hurry and fix their problems, this season will soon be wasted, as well.
Francisco Rodriguez in Milwaukee, Aroldis Chapman in Cincinnati, maybe even Craig Kimbrel in San Diego could be had. Jason Grilli has had a fine year replacing Kimbrel in Atlanta, but the Braves will likely be that team that waits until the non-waiver deadline since they believe they’re still viable for a wild-card spot.
3. New York Mets
Mets fans have waited since 2006 for a playoff team. The Mets are competing with the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Giants, and Braves for the second wild-card spot.
With one of the best young staffs in baseball, they have pitching to trade for hitting. Jon Niese is trade bait and he could help a lot of teams.
The Mets, ranked 29th in scoring, need an impact bat such as free agent-to-be Justin Upton, who could be available as the Padres realize their season is heading south.
The Mets had a good start to their West Coast trip but shouldn’t be fooled into thinking they don’t need a bat.
The most obvious would be Troy Tulowitzki, who is hitting .318 and could solve a problem on the left side of the infield with David Wright out. Carlos Gonzalez is another bat that could help the Mets. The Athletics could also be a trade partner given they have hitters such as Josh Reddick and Steven Vogt who could help.
4. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs need a top starting pitcher, perhaps a big bullpen piece, and a hitter if they’re to legitimately battle for a wild card. They have extra young positional players. They can easily team up with a team looking to give up pitching, both a starter and closer, to make a deal.
Getting Hamels and Papelbon would be a coup for Theo Epstein. He’s got the pieces to pull off both. The Cubs match up well with the Mets, the A’s (Gray?), and the White Sox (if Epstein wants to put together an all-prospects package for Sale as he once tried to do for Felix Hernandez when he was Red Sox GM). The Reds are also a fit if Epstein seeks Cueto or Mike Leake.
5. Houston Astros
The Astros have had an outstanding year, but there’s some leakage. They’re still in great position to win the American League West or get a wild card, but the Angels are coming after them.
Any team possessing an available pitcher wants to deal with the Astros. The Phillies have been trying to engage them for a long time on Hamels, who in the past has indicated an unwillingness to play for the Astros. But that seems to have changed.
The Astros are in great position to land anyone if they’re willing to pay the price of prospects — and they have a ton of them — then pay the price of trying to re-sign a top free agent-to-be such as Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Leake, or Cueto.
TRADE WORKED OUT
Melancon, Holt the stars of deal
Basically, the six-player deal between the Red Sox and Pirates Dec. 26, 2012, came down to Mark Melancon for Brock Holt. The Sox sent Melancon, Ivan De Jesus, Stolmy Pimentel, and Jerry Sands to Pittsburgh for Joel Hanrahan and Holt.
Both Melancon and Holt have since been named All-Stars.
The primary guy at the time was Hanrahan, who had been a terrific closer, but his career quickly spun out of control with injuries and he is now out of baseball. But the Sox were saved by the throw-in, which was Holt.
“I think it’s great. I’m happy for Brock. Been following his exploits on ESPN,” said Melancon, who has saved 28 of 29 games for the Pirates to lead the majors and will be making his second All-Star appearance.
Melancon was heading in that direction when he was a Yankee, often talked about as Mariano Rivera’s replacement. That didn’t happen when the Yankees shipped him and Jimmy Paredes to Houston for Lance Berkman in 2010. Melancon had a couple of good years in Houston’s bullpen. He came to the Red Sox in a deal that sent Jed Lowrie and righthander Kyle Weiland to the Astros on Dec. 14, 2011.
The Red Sox proved to be the wrong team for Melancon and he could never nail down a consistent role in Bobby Valentine’s bullpen.
Melancon got sent back to Pawtucket for a while, and somehow emerged to become first one of the best setup men in baseball (to Jason Grilli) and then a very good closer.
“I often revert back to those times in Pawtucket,” said Melancon. “I guarantee I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t going through that low point in my career. I had to put up or shut up. It made me what I am right now.”
An extremely confident closer, Melancon had a great curveball in New York and Houston. But he developed a cutter while working under Rivera. It was dormant until he got to Pittsburgh, and then it blossomed. And like Rivera, it’s the pitch that now defines him.
“I’m just getting ahead on the count a lot,” Melancon said. “I don’t look too far ahead. I focus on the individual day and performance.”
But he always thought he was capable of this.
“I always envisioned this for me, but it was getting here and the adversity I had to go through,” he said. “But what I learned from that brought me to this point. So, I don’t pinch myself. I think I can do this for a long time.”
Melancon’s only blown save this season came April 21 against the Cubs when he allowed three runs. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 11, a run of 27 straight appearances.
Apropos of nothing
1. The discussion on talk radio in Boston about David Ortiz not wanting to play first base was a non-story. If you’ve spent any amount of time with Ortiz after he plays first, you see how he struggles physically. After he’s played two or three games during an interleague series, he can barely walk. John Farrell understands this. The Sox need Ortiz as their healthy DH.
|Games after starting 1B||5||.150||.260||.300|
2. Longtime Red Sox coach, minor league manager, and special assistant Dick Berardino has heard once too often how the Sox and the late Lou Gorman were fleeced on the Jeff Bagwell-Larry Andersen deal in 1990. Berardino was a coach on Joe Morgan’s staff and defends Gorman to this day. “It was the right thing at the right time,” said Berardino. “Andersen really helped us that year (15 appearances, 1.23 ERA in 22 innings) win the AL East division. I really get tired of people bashing Lou for that. Bagwell had been a good hitter but he hadn’t hit more than four home runs in our system at the time. How could anyone project what he ended up doing for Houston? And he had a good career but has been under suspicion for steroid use.” Bagwell hit 449 home runs for the Astros and last year garnered 55.7 of the needed 75 percent of the vote for Hall of Fame induction in his second year of eligibility.
3. Things can only get better for Larry Lucchino and Dr. Charles Steinberg in their quest to change public opinion about financing of a downtown Providence stadium to move the PawSox. The early returns haven’t been great. In a town hall-type meeting in Smithfield, R.I., last week, the Providence Journal reported an awkward exchange between Steinberg and the audience. Steinberg said Lucchino told him, “You don’t destroy the Mona Lisa [Fenway Park].” Steinberg then asked, “Is McCoy [Stadium] the Mona Lisa?” About a half-dozen people piped up, “Yes!” Suffice to say, there’s resistance to using taxpayer money for a new stadium and leaving McCoy.
Updates on nine
1. Ben Revere, OF, Phillies — The Mariners have been a disaster this season, one of the more disappointing teams to date, along with the Red Sox and Padres. They added some power in the form of Mark Trumbo in a deal with the Diamondbacks, but are now in need of a leadoff hitter. Revere, who had been eyed by the Angels a couple of weeks ago, is one of the players they’re considering, according to a major league source. Revere is hitting .295, and while his OBP isn’t the greatest (.336), he has 21 steals. He is dealing with hamstring issues, so that could delay matters.
2. Bronson Arroyo, RHP, Braves — While nobody quite understood the Braves taking on the remainder of Arroyo’s money, the former Red Sox will likely be back by early August. The Braves wanted another pitcher to be ready for the final couple of months of the season and felt that Arroyo could be worth waiting for. Arroyo could show his worth during that time, which would help land a new deal.
3. Dan Haren, RHP, Marlins — Haren (6-5, 3.34 ERA, 1.057 WHIP) is starting to appear on a lot of lists for a deadline pickup. While he made demands in the offseason, he’s now settled into the fact that he might get moved. One team that watched him at Fenway was the Pirates, who could still add a veteran pitcher. But there are a lot of teams who could benefit from Haren’s experience and toughness. He’s a six-inning guy, but a contender would take that.
4. Steve Cishek, RHP, Marlins — The Falmouth native had been sent to Double A to work out a mechanical issue, which he did, according to manager Dan Jennings, even though he didn’t have a good outing against Boston last week. Yet Cishek, who has been a successful closer, is drawing interest. The Twins, Tigers, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and others have been watching Cishek of late.
5. Eric O’Flaherty, LHP, Athletics — O’Flaherty has not given up a home run to a lefthanded batter since Aug. 14, 2011 (to Carlos Pena, then playing for the Cubs). He’s allowed only five homers to lefties in 614 plate appearances in his career. The former Mariner and Brave has held lefties to a .176 average this season, but righthanded batters are killing him (.444). But if teams are looking for strictly a lefty-on-lefty, O’Flaherty could be had.
6. Ben Zobrist, OF-INF, Athletics — Despite not having the best of years, Zobrist remains sought-after, including by the Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Nationals. Zobrist, 34, has played three positions this season — 25 games in left field, 25 at second base, and three in right field. Zobrist has played only four career games at third base but could play there if needed.
7. David Price, LHP, Tigers — The consensus among baseball people is that Price would be the biggest prize if he became available. That doesn’t appear to be happening with Detroit still in the thick of the wild-card race. “It bears watching,” said one AL executive. “I don’t think he’s going back there. The Tigers need to revamp their farm system, so it’s not cut and dried that they won’t entertain a package for him.” Can’t see this, however. See the Tigers adding a possible starter.
8. Michael Morse, 1B/OF, Marlins — We saw his contributions in the postseason for the Giants last season, so Morse, now that he’s healthy and contributing again in Miami, could be a player for teams in need of a hitter, such as the Mets, Pirates, Nationals, and Royals. A team would have to pay the remainder of Morse’s $7.5 million salary this year and $8.5 million next season, but he is being scouted.
9. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies — Good news for the Phillies, and sad news for Utley fans, is that he likely won’t make his $15 million vesting option for 2016 and thus will be a free agent. Utley, who is hitting .179 and is currently on the disabled list, has likely lost his starting job to Cesar Hernandez, whom GM Ruben Amaro called his best second baseman this past week.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Through Jonathan Papelbon’s first 32 appearances, he had 25 that were scoreless and 10 in which he did not allow a base runner.” . . . Happy birthday on Monday, Pat Rapp (48).