Billy Beane’s style is to downplay things before, out of nowhere, there’s a rat-a-tat of activity, players flying from one team to another. This is the period when Beane really shines. He can maximize players’ value as well as anyone in the game. He’s got bullpen pieces that teams want, such as Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, and John Axford. He’s got desirable positional players such as pending free agent Josh Reddick (on the disabled list), a power lefthanded bat and quality defender in right field. Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, and Stephen Vogt can also help a contender.
He’s got veteran lefthander Rich Hill, who’s about two weeks away from coming off the DL. And he’s got Sonny Gray. Ah yes, therein lies the dilemma. Should Beane keep Gray and build around the 26-year-old righthander, or have Gray’s recent struggles made him expendable?
For sure, Gray isn’t what he used to be. But is he merely going through an adjustment period after having much success over his first three seasons? Every time Gray starts, he draws double-digit scouts from contenders. In his start last Wednesday, Gray looked like his dominating self for five innings against Texas, and then he turned into a pumpkin in the sixth by giving up five runs. What happened? Where did the old Gray go? That’s what everybody is trying to figure out. And you can bet Beane won’t be taking any discounts as a result.
We talk a lot about Atlanta’s Julio Teheran being the top starting pitcher on the trade market, but most teams would prefer Gray. The Braves have a similar dilemma to the A’s, telling teams they’re not sure they want to deal their 25-year-old ace.
With the amateur draft over and some picks already signed, many teams are turning their attention to the trade deadline.
And again Beane will likely be one of the busier general managers.
“Every team, it seems, is looking for pitching, whether it be a contender looking for a veteran for their staff, or whether it’s a reliever, and there are plenty of teams looking either for a prominent bat or a complementary one,” said an American League GM. “There should be a lot of activity coming around the corner. Teams will be trying to do things well ahead of the deadline.”
Special assistants and scouts are checking out potential trade candidates. They will soon make their recommendations, and then you’ll see some real discussions. Most teams have already assessed the farm systems of contending teams.
The Giants have been aggressive in looking for a bullpen arm and/or middle-of-the-order bat, especially with Hunter Pence out of action. The Giants recently scouted the Twins, who have two relievers, righty Kevin Jepsen and lefty Fernando Abad, who would be nice fits. The Giants are also linked to Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, and perhaps even Carl Crawford.
The Twins never expected to be this bad, so they are a bit shellshocked by their season. Nevertheless, they have a few pieces that teams would be interested in. A few contenders could use third baseman Trevor Plouffe. While shortstop/third baseman Eduardo Nunez isn’t a strong fielder, he has been hot with the bat and could interest a contender.
The Indians are interesting because they have the pitching to contend but they need offensive help in the hotly contested AL Central. The Indians hate parting with prospects, but in this case they need to go for it.
Another popular trade target is Padres center fielder Jon Jay, who entered Friday hitting .292 with an NL-leading 22 doubles. Don’t be surprised if the Red Sox, Royals, and Blue Jays take an interest in him. San Diego’s Melvin Upton Jr. (nine homers, 31 RBIs) can still cover the outfield well and is showing some power. His comeback season has made him somewhat attractive to teams seeking offense. Tougher to get but in play is Padres first baseman Wil Myers, who is finally starting to realize his potential.
Teams also think the Padres would deal lefties Drew Pomeranz (5-7, 2.88 ERA) and Christian Friedrich (3-1, 2.12) for the right return. The Padres also have righties Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner to move, but both are currently injured.
Another injured pitcher who could come into play before the trade deadline is Minnesota’s Ervin Santana (back).
The Yankees have three premier relievers in Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman, but the two lefties (Miller and Chapman) could be made available if New York falls hopelessly out of the race. And who would have thought that CC Sabathia would have value in the trade market? He’s having a very good season. Though he has a no-trade clause, Sabathia could be open to moving.
The Rays could also be a seller with righty Alex Cobb likely returning in August. Matt Moore could definitely be on the market before then, but the Rays, who are playing well, have a habit of staying in the race.
There’s a feeling out there that teams will act swiftly in making moves. There should be a few trades made early, and then a flurry will occur close to the deadline after some currently injured players — such as Reddick — have had a chance to show they’re healthy.
HITTING A SNAG
Vazquez’s offense is lagging behind
Remember the question about Christian Vazquez — how much does he have to hit to keep his defense in the lineup? The Red Sox catcher entered Friday with a .209 average and .547 OPS.
Some people argue that it doesn’t matter what Vazquez hits — particularly if the rest of the lineup is hot — because he’s so good defensively. Others believe that it does matter what Vazquez hits, because every spot in an AL lineup is important.
When teams tried to pry prospects from the Red Sox over the past couple of years, there’s a reason they targeted Blake Swihart and not Vazquez. That’s because Swihart can hit.
It might be that Vazquez is simply in a bad place at the plate right now. Even manager John Farrell has said that he expected Vazquez to be a better hitter. He’s become an easy out. And in this powerhouse offense, Vazquez tends to stand out.
“He’s a good catcher, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the Red Sox overvalue their young players, and this might be one of those cases,” said an AL scout. “I think he can hit better than this because I’ve seen it, but the kid has a lot going on with trying to get that pitching staff straightened out and coming back from [Tommy John] surgery. I don’t think his arm is the same yet. He probably needs some time.”
Vazquez has thrown out six of 17 base stealers this season, which puts him in the middle of the pack in the majors. His catcher’s ERA is 4.36 (near the league average, but about one run better than Swihart’s) and his defensive WAR is 0.5, which is sixth at the position.
But hitting will determine how good of an all-around catcher Vazquez will be.
“I wouldn’t say it’s what we expected, but there’s the ability for him to hit for a higher average and the ability to hit for a little bit more hard contact, whatever the average may be,” Farrell said. “There are times he’s getting out front a little bit. The contact being made is not hard contact. It ebbs and flows with each guy, and because he’s getting three out of five [starts] at least, some of that may take hold a little bit more.”
Many media members and Red Sox officials elevated Vazquez to heights that he hasn’t been able to reach. A mini Yadier Molina? Not quite. Molina is a .282 career hitter with a career OPS of .733. He’s a seven-time All-Star with eight Gold Gloves. We jumped the gun on that comparison.
Apropos of nothing
1. Twenty MLB teams have seen a drop in attendance in 2016. The Blue Jays have had the biggest increase, up about 12,000 per game from last year. The A’s have had the sharpest decrease in the AL, down about 4,300 per game. In the NL, the Cubs and Mets are averaging about 5,300 more per game, while the Reds have taken the biggest hit in the majors with nearly 7,800 fewer per game.
2. Red Sox scout Gary Hughes is in his 50th year in baseball. He graduated from Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., which also gave us Gregg Jefferies, Barry Bonds, and Tom Brady. Hughes was a darn good player there and one of the greatest scouts baseball has ever had.
3. Jen Pawol is scheduled to make her umpiring debut in the short-season Gulf Coast League next weekend. She would join Bernice Gera (1972), Christine Wren (1975-77), Pam Postema (1977-89), Theresa Cox Fairlady (1989-91), Ria Cortesio (1999-2007), and Shanna Kook (2003-04) as the only women to umpire in non-independent minor league games.
4. Chris Marrero and Deven Marrero, who are cousins and teammates with Triple A Pawtucket, were both first-round draft picks. Chris, a first baseman, was taken 15th overall by the Nationals in 2006, and Deven, a shortstop, was taken 24th overall by the Red Sox in 2012. Neither has been able to crack the major league club this season.
5. The Rangers last week became the first visiting team to have three consecutive games with three-plus homers in the history of O.co Coliseum. They hit 10 homers over a three-game span and 11 in the four-game series.
6. The Rangers entered Friday with a 13-4 record in one-run games and a 26-13 record against division foes. One issue they need to address — the bullpen. Manager Jeff Banister has three dependable relievers in closer Sam Dyson, Matt Bush, and Jake Diekman. But burnout could be right around the corner if the Rangers don’t acquire some help. “We’ve got to do a better job,’’ Banister said. “We need some guys to step up and keep the big boys out of the game. We’ve got to get outs when we have an opportunity to keep those guys out of the game.”
Updates on nine
1. Jose Reyes, SS, Rockies — He was designated for assignment by the Rockies last week. Who could emerge as a possible suitor for the embattled shortstop, who served a domestic violence suspension? When he clears waivers and becomes a free agent, the Rockies will eat the prorated part of his $22 million salary this year, his $22 million salary next year, and the $4 million buyout on his 2018 option. The Yankees and Mets already have dismissed rumors of having interest. But one team to keep an eye on is the White Sox, who have young Tim Anderson at shortstop and have been active in the trade market.
2. David Wright, 3B, Mets — It’s sad to see a career so devastated by injuries. Wright is again dealing with surgery for a herniated disk in his neck. How do the Mets replace him? They’ll try to get by with Wilmer Flores, but ideally the Mets need another bat in the infield. The Twins’ Trevor Plouffe makes some sense here, but the cost may be too high.
3. Yulieski Gurriel, 3B, free agent — Third base is always a position of need and Gurriel, 32, could step in and play after getting a few minor league at-bats. Age will be an issue as agent Adam Katz negotiates a deal. Yoenis Cespedes told the New York Post that when he left Cuba, Gurriel “was the best player in Cuba.”
4. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Phillies — Hellickson has had a decent year, but can he step up and be a dependable guy for a contending team when it really counts? As one scout put it, “Right now, he’s pitching for a team with no expectations. Put him in a pennant race and what happens?” After good seasons in 2011 (AL Rookie of the Year) and 2012 with Tampa Bay, Hellickson, 29, has gone downhill. He had a poor season in Arizona last year and his ERA this season has crept up to 4.46 after his last three starts.
5. Nick Williams, OF, Phillies — He was benched two games last week for not hustling. Williams was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels deal. The lefthanded hitter has had a decent year with Triple A Lehigh Valley with a .791 OPS, but he’s not busting it the way he’s supposed to.
6. J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers — Tough break for Martinez and the Tigers, losing him for 4-6 weeks with a fractured elbow. It’s a great opportunity for outfield prospect Steven Moya, a 6-foot-7-inch lefthanded hitter. Moya, 24, was hitting .298 with 13 home runs, 38 RBIs, and an .896 OPS for Triple A Toledo. The Tigers may also seek outfield help if Moya struggles.
7. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers — When David Ortiz retires after the season, Martinez will become the next veteran we marvel at. The former Red Sox catcher/first baseman is hitting .338 with 12 homers, 38 RBIs, and a .945 OPS. Martinez, 37, is showing no signs of old age and is still effective as a switch-hitting DH. “He doesn’t get enough attention for the impact hitter he is and still can be,” said one AL executive.
8. Rusney Castillo, OF, Red Sox — The lesson learned from the Red Sox signing Castillo for $72.5 million? “If you’re going to give someone that kind of money, you have to actually watch them play in a game,” said one NL executive who also bid on Castillo. “He had a great workout, but it was just a workout. We made a good offer but around half of what Boston offered. We thought he was a good gamble at that price. What the Red Sox did was over the top.”
9. Brian Butterfield, third base coach, Red Sox — Butterfield never gets his just due as a managerial candidate, but Buck Showalter is one baseball person who thinks the world of him and makes the case for him as a manager. When people with the cachet of Showalter start saying those things, it makes people with the power to make those decisions listen closely.
From Bill Arnold’s goodie bag: “Through Wednesday, DHs for the Astros had 19 RBIs while Giants pitchers had 20.” Also, “The Nationals, through Wednesday, led the majors with 27 sacrifice flies while the Mets had the fewest with nine.” . . . Happy birthday, Dusty Brown (34) and Doug Mientkiewicz (42).
It’s been 100 years since the Red Sox had their first — and only — repeat World Series winner. In 1915, the Sox won 101 games and beat the Philadelphia Phillies in five games. The 1916 team won 91 and beat the Brooklyn Robins in five as well. The Sox won again in 1918, and then had somewhat of a dry spell — 86 years.