Dave Dombrowski has done his job. What will the rest of the AL East do?
When you have chips to deal you can do what Dave Dombrowski has done — meet your needs in a hurry by giving up top prospects. When you don’t have those resources, you often wind up sitting on the sidelines for a lot longer than you should. Sometimes that’s costly.
While we won’t know whether the acquisitions of Drew Pomeranz, Aaron Hill, and Brad Ziegler will make the Red Sox the favorites in the American League East, Dombrowski did his job. The rest is up to the players, and the other contenders. Baltimore’s Dan Duquette, and Toronto’s Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are trying to accomplish the same thing as Dombrowski, but their prospect list is far shorter than Boston’s. When a need arises, for the Orioles and Blue Jays to give up their best prospects for a veteran player leaves their farm systems thin.
“If I were the Red Sox, I would view Toronto as my biggest threat,” said an AL general manager. “They have decent starting pitching. They’re getting [Jose] Bautista back and once they get that offense cranking again, they’ll be like they were last year minus [David] Price.”
The Red Sox’ system is lighter today than it was last season, especially with the loss of highly touted Anderson Espinoza, projected to be an All-Star-caliber talent. Dombrowski’s thinking was to secure a 27-year-old All-Star pitcher, lefthanded to boot, who is at the height of his game.
Would it have been easier and maybe more effective to get Rich Hill, who is pitching great and has experience in Boston? Maybe, but Dombrowski, according to one major league source, wouldn’t give up Espinoza, whom the A’s insisted on, because Hill is 36 and can become a free agent at the end of the season. And Pomeranz is under contractual control until 2019.
So the Red Sox have put themselves in a nice position for the remainder of the summer. If they can hang on and perhaps take the top spot in the division, they’ll have Craig Kimbrel returning in September, adding depth to the back of the bullpen. By then, perhaps Junichi Tazawa will be ready to make a difference after he recovers from his right shoulder impingement. It’s obvious, even with the advanced role of Matt Barnes, that the Red Sox need another piece in their bullpen and that they still have the chips to get that done.
So, the Orioles and Blue Jays are on deck. They have to decide whether to leave their teams alone, hoping that’s good enough, or try to match Boston’s moves.
The Orioles could really use Hill to give them stability and enable them to dramatically improve on their 28th-ranked starting rotation. Although it’s true that their rotation hasn’t sunk them, Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have to be concerned that poor outings will eventually affect their outstanding bullpen. The Orioles have certainly done far better than any prognosticator imagined. Most of us had the Orioles pegged for last place in the AL East, but with their powerful lineup and bullpen, they’ve managed to excel.
Can that continue? Who knows, but the Orioles would feel far better with another arm. It’s just the arm would cost them one or two of their better prospects and they just don’t have many. They certainly don’t have anyone in the Espinoza category.
Teams would love to get their hands on righties Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, perhaps lefty Chris Lee, and first baseman Trey Mancini, but the Orioles wouldn’t have much left in the system if any were traded.
The Jays could use a little of everything. Reds outfielder Jay Bruce is often linked to them, but to do that the Reds would need a high-level prospect or two and such a deal would wipe out Toronto. The Jays could also use another starter and bullpen piece. Do they have enough to meet their needs?
The Jays are concerned about Aaron Sanchez’s innings and will seek to reduce them by putting him the bullpen or having him skip starts. Sanchez had tossed 118⅓ innings and his most before this season were 133⅓ (minors included) in 2014. The Jays will try to solve the problem by adding Drew Hutchison to the mix, but is that enough? Top starter Marco Estrada has back issues. Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, and R.A. Dickey have been good and the Jays lead the AL in innings by starters, which has helped the pen.
The Jays traded a lot of their prospects with their deadline moves a year ago, and may not have enough attractive pieces to acquire a significant everyday player or pitcher.
The Yankees and Rays could also become factors. The Yankees have their all-world bullpen, which could be distributed in trades if they decide they’re not going to win. The Rays have starters, at least one of which could be traded among Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly. They could help a team such as the Orioles.
The Yankees could deal Michael Pineda, who would be the second most sought-after starter behind Hill.
All of which leads us to believe, that on paper at least, the Red Sox have now given themselves a fighting chance to rule the roost of the AL East. With Price, Rick Porcello, and Steven Wright, the Red Sox now have a solid front three. If Pomeranz settles in as the No. 4 and if Eduardo Rodriguez can become what he was last season, the Red Sox may have made themselves prohibitive favorites.
TRY, TRY AGAIN
Guillen seeking managerial job
Ozzie Guillen would love to manage again after being dismissed by the Marlins in October 2012 for comments he made about his admiration for Fidel Castro. Guillen, who now spends his time broadcasting and commentating for Latin American media outlets, was asked about the fact there are no Latino managers in baseball at present.
“Well, I’ll say this, there were times when we had five or six and nobody said we had too many then. Now we don’t have any and it’s a big issue,” he said. “I’ve always felt that the owner or the management should be able to hire the manager they feel best fits their ball club, no matter whether you’re white, black, Latino, whatever. Would I like to be a manager again? Absolutely. Not because I’m Latino but because I’d be the best choice.”
The subject came up again at the break during separate BBWAA media sessions with commissioner Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, the executive director of the players association.
“You’re going to have an ebb and flow among the 30 teams and there is no central authority sitting above the 30 clubs saying that, look, we want to have this makeup among our employees,” said Manfred. “Each individual club is trying to make the best decision as to how they’re going to win on the field.”
Manfred said MLB doesn’t control hiring decisions made by teams, but he said it does have three hiring tools available, including the Selig Rule, which makes teams interview minority candidates, though it’s waived in-season when teams have to make quick decisions on replacements.
Manfred also made mention of a support program, which prepares minority candidates for interviews.
“The reason for that support program is that this game has changed a lot. It is crucial that when a minority candidate gets an interview that he or she is as fully prepared as possible for that interview,” Manfred said.
The commissioner also mentioned a pipeline program in which the league has been able to formulate a list of qualified minorities for baseball operations positions.
Clark, who is African-American, said it’s “disappointing” that there’s so few minority managers in the game.
The Braves’ Fredi Gonzalez was the last Latino manager until he was fired earlier this season. Dusty Baker, with the Nationals, and Dave Roberts with the Dodgers, are the only African-American managers in baseball.
Apropos of nothing
1. Tony Clark on how players embrace the mounds of analytics teams provide: “There is value in having information. There is a danger in having too much of it. I know at the plate I have to create a game plan largely against my experiences with that particular pitcher and being able to take some of the most recent information so I can mount a game plan on that particular night. Unfortunately, knowing what pitch he throws on Tuesday day games, on turf, the second week of each month, has no value to me. So you can put yourself in a position where I have so much information I can’t move, I can’t function, I can’t game plan in a way that allows me to perform the way I need to perform.”
2. Short of adjusting the schedule, which likely won’t happen because of economic issues, another way to prevent the rash of injuries in baseball is to expand rosters. Clark agreed this is a top suggestion by the players. I’ve often proposed going to 28, activating 25 per game, and making some of the starting pitchers inactive on a given night when they’re not scheduled to pitch. Baseball has one of the most inefficient rosters in that only one starting pitcher really needs to be active. This would give a manager more relievers so he wouldn’t have to burn out his bullpen and also more positional players so he can give more of his starters a day off.
3. Ben Zobrist, who was signed to be the Cubs’ second baseman, acknowledges that being a super utility player all those years became exhausting. Because of injuries, Zobrist played 35 games at second and 35 in the outfield before the break. “To be honest, I don’t miss it,” Zobrist said of the role. “As you get older it’s definitely tougher having your body adjusting to different positions. I think it does create some wear and tear. I think most players would like to stick to one position, but it’s also challenging and it shows your athleticism to be able to do it.”
4. For a guy who’s at the top of the heap in terms of reliever talent, Andrew Miller has moved around a lot and is again at the forefront of trade rumors. “The goal is for us to play well so this stuff goes away,” said Miller. “If we win and we can shut down those rumors, that’s the goal. I think I signed here to play and win for the Yankees. That’s what I wanted to do.”
5. Cubs lefthander J on Lester believes the reason there are more home runs being hit in baseball is because “hitters are being taught more and more to hit the ball in the air. I know our hitters have that emphasized here. I know there are a lot more strikeouts too, so hitters are willing to strike out in exchange for a fly ball that has a chance to get out of the park.”
6. Rob Manfred reiterated that until stadium issues are resolved in Oakland and Tampa Bay, expansion discussions will be put on hold. Both teams still seem far away from getting those issues resolved. Montreal, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Vancouver, and Portland, Ore., are all waiting in the wings.
7. Would love to see the return of the offseason Home Run Derby, in which superstars go against one another like the original TV series in 1960 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. The series made for great TV, with Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays among the legendary contestants. Granted, it’s harder to get players together in the modern-day offseason, but money always talks. Back then $2,000 for the winner was pretty attractive. Players now wouldn’t offer the excuse that it would mess up their swing during the season. You could hold it in a warm-weather stadium.
Updates on nine
1. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Blue Jays — David Ortiz keeps mentioning Encarnacion as a suitable replacement for him in Boston when Encarnacion becomes a free agent after this season. He’s also a favorite of manager John Farrell, bench coach Torey Lovullo, and third base coach Brian Butterfield, all of whom were in Toronto. Told of Ortiz’s comments about replacing him, Encarnacion said, “That’s what he says. We’ll see what’s going to happen. For now I’m with the Blue Jays and I’m just trying to contribute to us winning.”
2. Carlos Beltran, RF/DH, Yankees — At 39, Beltran continues to garner respect from teammates and players around the league. There are now big debates about Beltran’s Hall of Fame credentials, since he was mostly a center fielder with 400 homers as a switch-hitter. It was also Beltran’s influence that got MLB to hire Spanish-speaking interpreters for Latin players. Beltran could become one of the most sought-after bats this month.
3. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — It is surprising he hasn’t been traded, and even he is wondering why. “There haven’t been that many catchers who have been injured this year so that’s one reason,” said Lucroy. “Some teams think it’s tough to bring a catcher in at midseason because they have to get to know a whole new set of pitchers. That’s not a huge factor for me. And then whatever it is you have to give up.” Lucroy said trade talk is a distraction but added, “I know I have value. I’ve always tried to be a well-rounded player. I’ve always been able to separate offense from defense. I know I can play at a competitive high level.”
4. Ervin Santana, RHP, Twins — He may be a more realistic option for the Orioles or Royals. Now with the precedent the Red Sox have set with the D rew Pomeranz deal, the prospect price will be high even on Santana, though the Twins are also trying to shed salary and would take less if the team takes on the remainder of Santana’s $28 million after this season.
5. Sonny Gray, RHP, Athletics — Billy Beane has made a lot of multiple-player deals, so don’t be surprised if he sells off Gray and Josh Reddick, or Rich Hill and Reddick or Danny Valencia. There would certainly be a few teams in need of either package, including the Royals, Dodgers, possibly the Red Sox, and Blue Jays.
6. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — He won’t be surprised if he’s moved and is ready for it, but he said, “Cincinnati will always be where my heart is. I love playing there, but I understand the business all too well. I will miss it, but will love heading into a pennant race. Winning is what he play for.”
7. Matt Moore, LHP, Rays — Team executives think he’s the one pitcher the Rays will trade, and the pitcher who could net them the most in terms of offensive prospects. The Rays have always needed more bats and that would be the reason for dealing Moore considering they have Alex Cobb on the way back by early August and have a developing Blake Snell. Moore, 27, has team options of $7 million, $9 million, and $10 million coming up the next three years, certainly a team-friendly deal. The Royals, Dodgers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers, and Marlins have interest.
8. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Yankees — The player acquisition cost is going to be high, but teams such as Washington, Texas, Houston, and the Cubs may pay it. The Yankees are looking to get a good haul if they trade him and looking to perhaps re-sign him in the offseason. He’s already a must-see event for Yankees fans. The price tag in free agency? Anywhere between $11 million and $15 million per year.
9. Matt Shoemaker, RHP, Angels — Team executives are torn about whether he would be available if the price were right. The Angels are in such tough shape organizationally that trading away their top starter right now may be detrimental to their future. Their ownership is saying they’re not rebuilding, which means they’ll spend some money in free agency to replenish their pitching staff.
Phillies television ratings (Comcast and NBC10) have grown 22 percent from last season, a sign the fans are buying into the Phillies’ rebuild . . . Happy birthday Allen Craig (32 on Monday) and Mike Greenwell (53 on Monday).
Now that the second half of the baseball season has kicked off, it’s a good time to assess the big offseason (and one in-season) moves. Here’s a sampling of the pleasant surprises, the notable disappointments, and the too-early-to-call moves. (With 2016 statistics prior to All-Star break and career averages).