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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 822

post #24631 of 73404
Buster Posey is raking right now. Giants need it
post #24632 of 73404
NL central is going to be awesome to watch. Brewers finish in fourth laugh.gif

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation
post #24633 of 73404
Atleast there's runs for voglesong :/
post #24634 of 73404

LOL @ Phils stranding 24 runners in 5 innings


3 IP / 11 H / 3 ER for Vogelsong....  ???

post #24635 of 73404
Cain's inflam is just from bone chips, noting new or tj related

Big contract to a guy never on dl...been on it 3x this yr....
post #24636 of 73404
post #24637 of 73404
anyone listen to games on the radio when given the option to watch on TV? Baseball is the only sport I don't mind just listening to...

and lol @ Pedro Alvarez tagging NT in his IG posts.. he be lurking
post #24638 of 73404
Originally Posted by 011781 View Post

anyone listen to games on the radio when given the option to watch on TV? Baseball is the only sport I don't mind just listening to...

and lol @ Pedro Alvarez tagging NT in his IG posts.. he be lurking

Prefer it. I BBQ more than necessary because I love the companions of beer and listening to Rick Rizzs (and formerly Dave Niehaus) on the radio. laugh.gif
post #24639 of 73404
I get the luxury of listening to a HOFer...or Thom Brenneman on TV. Take a guess which I prefer

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation
post #24640 of 73404
Eric Nadel on the radio... pimp.gif
post #24641 of 73404
The Nats radio guys are awesome.
post #24642 of 73404
Vin Scully > your favorite announcer
post #24643 of 73404
Scully is the greatest. No disputing that.
post #24644 of 73404
I like Jon Miller on Giants Radio
post #24645 of 73404
Always liked Jon too back in the Sunday Night Baseball days.
post #24646 of 73404
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Always liked Jon too back in the Sunday Night Baseball days.

one of my best friends and i used to make fun of jon and joe on sunday night baseball. it went from picking on them for little things to completely exaggerating things they might say laugh.gif

just felt like sharing that
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
post #24647 of 73404
Jon Miller is one of the greatest baseball announcers ever. Always a joy to listen to. The Giants have the best local tv announcers in baseball and they're not even as good to listen to as Jon Miller. Joe Morgan was horrendous, just horrendous. I have awful flashbacks to 2k7 whenever I think about him.
post #24648 of 73404
-puts flame suit on-

Cannot stand Scully. I understamd why he's considered the greatest but he is unbearable. I listen to the spanish radio broadcast whenever I watch a Dodger game.

I think the Angels have the worst broadcasters in the entire league.

Cuhs on the other hand are hilarious laugh.gif It literally sounds like two guys just sitting on the couch watching the game together. Well that's if they still have the same crew as last year.
post #24649 of 73404
Originally Posted by DeadsetAce View Post

Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Always liked Jon too back in the Sunday Night Baseball days.

one of my best friends and i used to make fun of jon and joe on sunday night baseball. it went from picking on them for little things to completely exaggerating things they might say laugh.gif

just felt like sharing that


It's believable. There was a lot of monotony going on in that booth.

Originally Posted by erupt107th View Post

-puts flame suit on-

Cannot stand Scully. I understamd why he's considered the greatest but he is unbearable. I listen to the spanish radio broadcast whenever I watch a Dodger game.

I think the Angels have the worst broadcasters in the entire league.

Cuhs on the other hand are hilarious laugh.gif It literally sounds like two guys just sitting on the couch watching the game together. Well that's if they still have the same crew as last year.

To each his own, but damn boy...what's wrong with you?
post #24650 of 73404
Speaking of...Has Scully re-upped for next season or is he retiring?
post #24651 of 73404
Originally Posted by erupt107th View Post

-puts flame suit on-

Cannot stand Scully. I understamd why he's considered the greatest but he is unbearable. I listen to the spanish radio broadcast whenever I watch a Dodger game.

I think the Angels have the worst broadcasters in the entire league.

Cuhs on the other hand are hilarious laugh.gif It literally sounds like two guys just sitting on the couch watching the game together. Well that's if they still have the same crew as last year.

Honestly...I kinda agree with this. I respect Scully and all of his accomplishments, but he grows tiresome rather quickly for me. I think my main problem is it's just him announcing, I'd probably prefer it if there was someone with him, but it's whatever. My opinion isn't going to change the millions that adore Scully.
post #24652 of 73404
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

The Nats radio guys are awesome.

yep.....have no choice but to listen to them when I'm at work.....still don't get how NC is in their market lol 

post #24653 of 73404
The best sportscaster died in 2010
R.I.P. frown.gif
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
post #24654 of 73404
I heard the Yanks team on my way home from vacation. They were bad. Susan Waldmen is horrific, play by play guy was ok

John miller is great. Such a smooth voice

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation
post #24655 of 73404
Adam Jones = better version of Eric Davis.

post #24656 of 73404
JJ I don't know if ever told you but seeing a game at Camden was ridiculous. Super cool people there and obviously the stadium speaks for itself. It was that 9th inning comeback win over the White Sox about a month back. Really glad to see that and Nationals Park

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation

From Smith to Friedman, we know what's up

Official Member of the Steeler Nation
post #24657 of 73404
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dmxfury View Post

I heard the Yanks team on my way home from vacation. They were bad. Susan Waldmen is horrific, play by play guy was ok

John miller is great. Such a smooth voice

That's being way too nice about Suzy laugh.gif her voice just irks me. They're two of the worst to me. Sterling has his moments but I'm not a big fan.
post #24658 of 73404
Originally Posted by dmxfury View Post

JJ I don't know if ever told you but seeing a game at Camden was ridiculous. Super cool people there and obviously the stadium speaks for itself. It was that 9th inning comeback win over the White Sox about a month back. Really glad to see that and Nationals Park

pimp.gif Glad to hear you had a good time. Where'd you stay in b-more? Please tell me u had some boh also....
post #24659 of 73404
Originally Posted by Mr Marcus View Post

yep.....have no choice but to listen to them when I'm at work.....still don't get how NC is in their market lol 
At least they're good! Sometimes I'd rather mute the MASN broadcast and just listen to the radio guys, but then I'd miss all of the weird **** F.P. is saying laugh.gif
post #24660 of 73404
Thread Starter 
Trades the Phillies should make now.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The time has come for the Philadelphia Phillies to realize that it’s too late to retool. It’s time for them to put denial behind them and embrace the realities of a complete rebuild.

The Phillies have everything going for them in terms of a marketplace in their favor. There are very few teams that are pure “sellers” at this deadline, and many of them should be have already acted (like the Chicago Cubs) or don’t have the pieces to sell (like the Houston Astros). As a result, the Phillies are sitting in a perfect position for a rebuild.

Need a top-of-the-rotation starter with postseason success? Philadelphia has two in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Need an impact closer with an ERA closer to one than two? They have Jonathan Papelbon. Need a lefty reliever? They have Antonio Bastardo. Need a middle infielder with postseason success? They have second baseman Chase Utley and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Need an outfielder with power? They have Marlon Byrd.

Now, wheeling and dealing all of these players over the next two weeks will not be as easy as making some standard trades. Many of these players have no-trade provisions or overvalued contracts with long-term exposure, and some are longtime Phillies who simply don’t want to get traded. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. will have to get creative by being open to eating contracts or paying significant parts of contracts, convincing players to waive no-trade clauses as well as convincing other teams that some of the players are healthy. Furthermore, he'll have to get the fan base prepared for the loss of many of their favorite players. It’s not an easy task.

Amaro has had a lot of success over the years in Philadelphia since joining their front office back in 1998 as an assistant GM. He was promoted to GM in 2009 and has been there ever since. He’s overseen three first-place finishes in the NL East, followed by a third-, fourth- and, in all likelihood, fifth-place spot this year. His early success included the help of former GMs like Pat Gillick, and Ed Wade's previous work, but that shouldn’t take anything away from his accomplishments. However, the last few years have not been kind to him, and his popularity in Philadelphia and around baseball is at an all-time low.

However, he has a chance to change all of that -- and his legacy -- over the next two weeks. With some massive blockbusters and wheeling and dealing, he can make the future bright once again, but it can only happen with some serious and painful moves for everyone. The time has come to rebuild in the City of Brotherly Love, and here are seven trade suggestions that could start the process.

1. Hamels to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for center fielder Joc Pederson and left-handed pitcher Julio Urias

Joc Pederson
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports
Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson has All-Star potential.
The Dodgers have been linked to both David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays and Hamels. According to sources, the Dodgers are willing to part with one of their top-tier prospects but not two. But the reality is that with the real chance of the Dodgers winning a World Series either this year or next -- and the benefits that a pitcher of Hamels ilk would provide to that cause -- it’s hard to envision the Dodgers letting a teenager stand in the way of a deal.

In return, the Phillies will get their long-term solution in center field with Pederson. Pederson profiles out to a 25-homer, 25-steals type of player who has the potential of joining the 30/30 club, especially if he plays half of his games at Citizens Bank Park. He has a lifetime .305/.404/.515 slash line in five minor league seasons and is major league ready. Urias has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, and he should be ready for the big leagues by September 2015. This deal would be a game-changer for the Phillies' future and a possible legacy-changer for Amaro in the long term.

2. Lee to the New York Yankees in exchange for outfielder Aaron Judge and right-handed starter Luis Severino

The Yankees might be the only team willing to absorb most of Lee’s contract and take the risk of his elbow. The Phillies would get a legitimate impact bat in Judge, who would hit in the middle of their lineup by 2016 and provide an impact with both on-base percentage and power. Severino would give them a powerful arm for either the back of their rotation or in their bullpen.

3. Utley to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for third baseman Renato Nunez and second baseman Chad Pinder

Utley deserves the opportunity to play in another World Series, and it’s not going to happen in Philadelphia. He needs to keep an open mind and accept a deal to Oakland if given an opportunity. I know he'd prefer to stay in Philadelphia and finish his career there, but it really doesn't make sense for him or the Phillies.

The A’s have only one glaring area to upgrade, and that’s second base. Utley would be the final piece to give Billy Beane his first legitimate shot at a title. In return, the Phillies pick up a legitimate bat and power prospect in Nunez, who I just saw at the Futures Game in Minnesota. His bat is legit. His defense is not. But with hard work, he can become adequate. The question will be where to play him. Nunez has a chance to impact the Phillies' lineup in time.

Pinder is a real sleeper second baseman, and although he’s a few years away, he profiles out to an above-average overall player.

4. Right-hander A.J. Burnett and Papelbon to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for right-handed pitcher Hunter Harvey, left-handed pitcher Tim Berry and right-handed hurler Parker Bridwell

Jonathan Papelbon
Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports
Closer Jonathan Papelbon would make the Orioles the favorites in the AL East.
This deal would make the Orioles the favorites to win the AL East (if they’re not already). It would allow them to move Zach Britton to the setup role, where he can pitch multiple innings, and add a veteran starter in Burnett, who would give them added stability in the rotation.

The Phillies would get a legitimate future starter in Harvey, just 19 years old, who profiles out to be a No. 2 type of starting pitcher with the potential of 15 wins, an ERA under three and a WHIP near 1.00. Berry, 23, is 4-5 this year with a 3.89 ERA and 1.298 WHIP at Bowie of the Eastern League (Double-A), while Bridwell is 4-7 with a 4.27 ERA in 18 starts at Frederick of the Carolina League (high A), with 94 strikeouts in 99 innings, yielding 88 hits.

5. Right fielder Marlon Byrd to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for outfielder Gabby Guerrero

The Mariners have to improve their offense, and Byrd would do just that. The Phillies might have to be willing to pay half of Byrd’s vesting option, but it would be worth it if they can get Guerrero back. Guerrero doesn’t come with the top-prospect hype, but he’s a real sleeper. He looks like a clone of his uncle Vladimir Guerrero in almost every aspect. He walks like him, talks like him and even swings at bad pitches like him.

The physical talent is there, the blood lines are there and this would be a solid deal for both sides. Guerrero is not expected to be the same type of player as Vladimir, but even if he ends up just north of Byrd’s talent level, then the deal is worth it just to get younger and cheaper.

6. Rollins to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for right-handed reliever Corey Knebel and middle infielder Hernan Perez

The Tigers seem happy with the play of rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez, both offensively and defensively. However, Rollins' leadership, high energy and postseason success would fit nicely down the stretch and in the postseason. Knebel has a good arm and should be a solid setup reliever in time.

The Phillies know that J.P. Crawford, their top shortstop prospect, isn’t ready yet. But stockpiling young players and reducing future payroll now is far too important in rebuilding a franchise. The Phillies would have to pay a significant amount of Rollins’ remaining contract to make any deal work.

7. Bastardo to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for right-handed pitcher David Hale and infielder/outfielder Edward Salcedo

The Braves want another impact left-handed reliever to bolster their bullpen, and with Bastardo a free agent after next season, the time for the Phillies to move him is now. Hale should develop into a solid starting pitcher in time. Salcedo needs some development with the bat, but he does have 15- to 20-homer power if the bat comes.

What would it take to get Chase Headley?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Player: Chase Headley | 3B/LF | San Diego Padres

"What would it take to get ..."
Jim's look at July trade candidates.
• Jake Peavy Insider
• Cole Hamels Insider
• Marlon Byrd Insider
• Joaquin Benoit Insider
• Jonathan Papelbon Insider
• Dayan Viciedo Insider
Possible destinations: Toronto Blue Jays, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees

The 30-year-old Headley will be a free agent after this season, and although he has a modest slash line for the season -- .229/.296/.355 -- he has batted .323 in the month of July, and his stock is soaring as the trade deadline approaches. Here's more on what it would take for these three contenders to land him:

Toronto Blue Jays

Why? The Blue Jays would like to keep Brett Lawrie at second base long-term, so third base remains their biggest positional need. The Jays also need better balance in their lineup, and with Headley being a switch-hitter, that would improve them in that area as well.

Who? Left-handed pitcher Sean Nolin and shortstop Dawel Lugo should get the deal done. Nolin finally reached the majors with the Blue Jays in May 2013 and struggled in his first start, getting knocked out in the second inning after giving up six runs in a loss to the Orioles. However, he pitched well at three different stops in the minor leagues this year, making 12 starts with a 3.52 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and a strikeout rate of 8.7 per 9 innings. While 19-year-old Lugo shows 15-20 homer power in batting practice, he has yet to show it in games because he struggles to hit pitches on the outside part of the plate -- a weakness he'll be able to overcome in time. He has soft hands and, combined with a strong arm, can make plays in the hole. He has average speed at best, but he makes up for it with good jumps and angles off the bat. Those two make for a fair package for Headley.

Will it happen? There's a good chance. The Blue Jays are going to make a move, and Headley is definitely a logical target.

Cincinnati Reds

Why? General manager Walt Jocketty told me Sunday that both Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto are at least five weeks away from returning. Combine that with the struggling Ryan Ludwick in left field and it's obvious that the Reds need to get a bat if they want to have a legitimate shot at the postseason.

Who? The Reds are not going to trade Robert Stephenson or Jesse Winker in any deal for offense, but their farm system is so loaded, thanks to scouting director Chris Buckley, that there are numerous package combinations that could bring Headley to the Queen City. For instance, a package of left-handed pitcher Ismael Guillon and outfielder Yorman Rodriguez could get it done.

Will it happen? Doubtful. Headley would either have to play left field or Todd Frazier would have to move to first base, and neither scenario makes a lot of sense. Ben Zobrist or Josh Willingham would be a better fit for the Reds.

New York Yankees

Why? It’s Derek Jeter's last year in the Bronx, and the Yanks owe it to him to go for one last postseason run. Headley is starting to swing the bat well, and the short porch in right field would work well for his swing. He'd also be a huge upgrade at third base, both offensively and defensively.

Who? A package of struggling prospects in OF Mason Williams and 3B Dante Bichette Jr. could end up being a long-term steal for the Padres, when and if either (or both) start to put it together. Another possibility would be a package of 19-year-olds, including shortstop Abiatal Avelino and third baseman Miguel Andujar, both of whom have high upside but are a long ways away from the big leagues.

Will it happen? Moderate chance. The Yankees are more focused on adding starting pitching than they are on adding a bat, although Headley is a player in whom they've had interest.

What would it take to get Jake Peavy?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Player: Jake Peavy | SP | Boston Red Sox

Possible destinations: Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals

"What would it take to get ..."
Jim's look at July trade candidates.
• Jake Peavy Insider
• Cole Hamels Insider
• Marlon Byrd Insider
• Joaquin Benoit Insider
• Jonathan Papelbon Insider
• Dayan Viciedo Insider
Peavy was traded July 30, 2013, in a three-team trade that sent Avisail Garcia from the Tigers to the White Sox, Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox to the Tigers, and Peavy to the Red Sox. Peavy's value has since dipped, and not just because he’s another year older. His ERA is a full run higher than his career mark, and his WHIP is the highest it has been since his 2002 rookie campaign. His average fastball velocity has dropped from 90 to 89 mph, and the rest of his offerings have diminished as well.

His 1-8 record in 19 starts can be partly explained by a lack of run support and a defense that has been poor at times. But the bottom line is it has been a subpar year by Peavy's standards.

However, because of his competitiveness and winning attitude, Peavy could rebound in the second half and help a contending team at the back of their rotation. To acquire Peavy, the trade cost will be significantly less than it was this time last year, but the Red Sox should still be able to land a solid, albeit not top, prospect.

Milwaukee Brewers

Why? The Brewers are pleased with the top four in their starting rotation, Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Matt Garza. However, their fifth starter has struggled mightily; Marco Estrada was demoted to the bullpen, and rookie Jimmy Nelson has not looked good after two starts. Peavy would provide an immediate upgrade there.

Who? The Red Sox will probably start by asking for one of their top outfield prospects in Mitch Haniger or Tyrone Taylor, an offer I expect GM Doug Melvin to politely decline. However, power-hitting outfielder Victor Roache, the Brewers' first-round pick in the 2012 draft, might be enough to get it done. Roache has hit 33 home runs and driven in 107 runs in his first two years of professional ball, but he has struggled to get on base consistently (.307 career OBP). He's a project, but he's worth taking a chance on, given his power potential.

Will it happen? There's a good chance this could happen, especially because the Braves seem to have lost interest and the Cardinals and Mariners appear to be chasing a higher-level starter.

Seattle Mariners

Why? The Mariners are second in the American League in team ERA and need a bat much more than starting pitching, but Mariners GM Jack Zduirencik continues to pursue both. If they fall short in their bid to get David Price, then Peavy might work at the back of their rotation. His leadership would certainly help in the development of some of their younger arms.

Who? The Red Sox will start by asking for D.J. Peterson, Gabby Guerrero or Julio Morban, and I would think the Mariners would decline on all three. However, Tyler O'Neill might be the match for both sides. O'Neill, 19, was the Mariners' third-round pick in the 2013 draft.

Will it happen? There's a moderate chance. He's down on their pitching preferences list, but he'd certainly fit well in the Mariners' clubhouse.

St. Louis Cardinals

Why? The Cardinals would prefer to trade for Price, but they're reluctant to give up all the young pitching they control for the next five years. Although their scouts weren't impressed with Peavy, his veteran presence is something the Cardinals will consider if their injured pitchers don't get healthier. The Cardinals are expected to find out the fate of Michael Wacha soon, and that could have an impact if they decide to trade for another starter.

Who? Stephen Piscotty straight-up could be the deal. The Cardinals have so much outfield depth with Allen Craig, Matt Holliday, Oscar Taveras, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos that Piscotty could be made available. He's currently hitting .298/.360/.427 with 27 doubles, 6 homers and 52 RBIs in 95 games at Triple-A Memphis.

Will it happen? It's doubtful. The Cardinals are downplaying their interest behind the scenes, but that doesn't mean they won't change their mind given their injuries.

Rays win streak affecting Price trade talk.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ST. LOUIS -- The Tampa Bay Rays keep complicating an already wrenching decision -- by winning.

Their sweep of the Minnesota Twins over the weekend cut their deficit in the American League East to 7½ games and in the wild-card race to six games, gaps they have overcome in past seasons.

There are 10 days until the July 31 trade deadline. Ten days to mull over the trade options of their franchise pitcher, David Price. Ten days to decide whether to buy, sell or both. Ten days for other teams to try to make the same aggressive play that Oakland did when it swapped star prospect Addison Russell, among others, for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

The Rays will factor many things into their decision as to whether to trade Price, including their place in the standings, how well they are playing, their need for prospects and Price's trade value, which gradually slides downward as he nears free agency. But one executive involved in the conversations with Tampa Bay believes that, ultimately, it's the potential buyers that will clarify the choice for the Rays with the quality of their offers.

"It all comes down to which team decides to be aggressive, the Dodgers, Cardinals or Mariners," said the rival official. "Maybe none of them will be."

Other teams are monitoring Price's situation, but some rival officials view the Dodgers, Cardinals and Mariners as the teams best positioned to make a deal. There are lots of pros and cons for each of those teams as they assess the possibilities.

For the Dodgers, here are the pros: Adding Price would increase the club's chances of winning the World Series, which is the working order from the top down. The Dodgers look a lot like the Tigers the last two seasons, possessing a lineup with some gaps, a dysfunctional defense and a rotation that could win in October. If L.A. ran out Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Price in the first three games of a series, well, that would be ridiculous.

The cons: The Dodgers look old and desperately need to get younger. At some point, their effort to turn over the roster will force them to eat a huge portion of the $70 million or so owed to Carl Crawford, the $62 million owed to Andre Ethier or the $115 million owed to Matt Kemp. A lot of folks in the organization want Joc Pederson in the big leagues right now to improve the center-field defense and provide energy. Corey Seager is a very high-end infield prospect. These two players are poised to make up the lifeblood of the Dodgers' future, within the current composition of the organization.

To get Price, the Rays would insist on at least one and probably both. The better the Rays play, the easier it makes it for them to hold at their top-of-the-line price tag. While the prospect of adding Price must be incredibly attractive for the Dodgers, it would be excruciating for them to part with Pederson or Seager. In fact, I don't think there's any chance the Dodgers give up both. If the Rays are willing to build a deal around one or the other, there might be some middle ground to work with.

For the Cardinals, the pros: Michael Wacha is set to have an MRI today, though he said Sunday that his right shoulder is feeling much better. But even if Wacha gets clearance to begin a throwing program, he will need weeks to build up his pitch count. The addition of Price would give St. Louis a left-handed twin to Adam Wainwright and make the whole pitching staff better by removing stress on a bullpen that has had to suck up a lot of innings. The Cardinals rank 29th in runs scored, and it's still unclear how good they might be. But with Price and Wainwright, they would be strong contenders to reach the World Series again.

The cons: It's hard to imagine the Cardinals making a Price trade without including Oscar Taveras, at a time when St. Louis -- like the Dodgers -- needs to get younger and add power. Taveras is young and has power. The Rays would want more than Taveras as well, probably insisting on some of the Cardinals' great young pitching.

By the way, in at least one corner of the Cardinals' organization, the idea of pursuing a megadeal for Price and Evan Longoria has been kicked around, with the thinking that Matt Carpenter would shift back to second base. But there is zero indication that has ever been brought to the Rays' attention and may be just loose conversation at this point. Coincidentally, Price and Longoria made it to the ballpark in St. Louis on Sunday night to see the end of the Dodgers' victory, and each tweeted about their experience.

For the Mariners, the pros: They haven't made the postseason in more than a decade, and their attendance has plummeted. If Seattle moves on Price, its rotation would be incredible with Price joining Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The impact of the deal might turn out to mirror what happened in Milwaukee in 2008, after the Brewers traded for CC Sabathia and got into the postseason dance.

The cons: Seattle is way behind the Athletics and almost as far behind the Angels, arguably the two best teams in baseball. Given Oakland's incredibly soft second-half schedule -- 22 of its next 64 games are against Houston and Texas -- it's hard to imagine the Mariners winning this division. So in essence, Seattle would be trading a huge cache of prospects for possibly a one-game wild-card playoff. The Mariners must decide whether that slender hope is worth two elite prospects.

And let's remember, Price's agent has made it clear that the left-hander will not sign a long-term deal with the Mariners, meaning Seattle would have to trade big prospects for, at most, about 15 months of Price.

The Rays must factor this into the equation too. If they trade Price now, the left-hander's impending free agency would not really be a factor in talks. An interested team would understand it was getting Price for this year and next season, with nothing else guaranteed.

But if Tampa Bay carries Price into the winter, rival officials believe that would change. "You'd want a window to talk about an extension," said one executive. In other words, there would probably be some depreciation in Price's value.

A best guess as of today (and that's all it is, because no deal is close as of Monday morning): I think Price will be traded before July 31 and that the Rays have the best chance to get their whopper deal from the Mariners. But unless Seattle goes nuts to land the left-hander, I think St. Louis might actually be the best fit.

Around the league

• Speaking of Price, Twins GM Terry Ryan had great things to say about him, as La Velle Neal writes.

• The Dodgers simply had enough with the Cardinals on "Sunday Night Baseball." They had seen Hanley Ramirez get injured by Joe Kelly in the playoffs last year with a fastball to the ribs, Yasiel Puig was hit in the hand by a Kelly changeup that went awry Saturday, and Sunday night Ramirez was hit again.

So Kershaw's first pitch in the bottom of the fourth inning was sent at Matt Holliday's hip. Message sent.

The Dodgers feel that the Cardinals are careless in how they pitch inside. Kershaw simply stood up for Ramirez, writes Bill Plaschke.

Los Angeles rallied late to win, and St. Louis was unable to complete a sweep, as Rick Hummel writes.

Meanwhile, Ramirez was hit in the hand later in the game too, and X-rays came back negative.

• After the Dodgers lost June 4, manager Don Mattingly described his team's play with a profanity. Two days later, before L.A. began a series in Colorado, Mattingly held a team meeting in which he challenged the players to be less selfish and to not let other stuff get in the way of playing the game. Whether it was related or not, the Dodgers won 17 of their final 24 games in June.

• Jon Lester was great again, this time against the Royals, and the price tag for the Red Sox to sign him keeps rocketing upward. From ESPN Stats & Info on how he won:

A) The Royals were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
B) The Royals were 1-for-11 with five strikeouts (and one walk) versus Lester's fastball.
C) He got seven outs (and allowed two hits) on the 27 curveballs he threw. That actually was a step down for Lester. He had not allowed a hit with his curveball in his previous five starts, and opponents were 0-for-22 against it.

And this from Elias: Lester has seven consecutive starts in which he has allowed two earned runs or fewer. This is the second time in his career he has had a streak that long. Only two other Red Sox lefties have had at least two such streaks: Dutch Leonard and Babe Ruth.

Lester has become a model of consistency, writes Kyle Brasseur.

• Remember, the Orioles' schedule at the outset of the second half is absolutely brutal, and some of the other AL East teams have already cut into their lead. Baltimore was shut down Sunday by Sonny Gray, as Susan Slusser writes.

From ESPN Stats & Info on how Gray won:

A) He threw 35 curveballs, tied for the third most he has thrown in a start in his career, and the pitch was effective: Batters went 0-for-10 with four strikeouts against it.
B) Gray generated nine swings and misses with his curveball, the most in a start in his career.
C) 74 percent of his curveballs were down in the zone, the highest rate of any start in his career in which he has thrown at least 20 curveballs.
D) He threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of 25 batters (68 percent), which is his highest in a start in more than two months and the fourth-highest rate in a start in his career.
E) He got batters to swing at 10 pitches out of the strike zone in two-strike counts, one shy of his career high (which came in his start on July 13).

• The Yankees completed a sweep with an unusual walk-off hit.

• Odrisamer Despaigne nearly made Padres history.

• The Angels mocked the heck out of Fernando Rodney in the midst of beating him. The Angels were on the mark against Rodney, who blew the lead for the Mariners, writes Bob Dutton.

• The Giants lost Brandon Belt and Sunday's game, as Henry Schulman writes.

Trade stuff

1. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch must bolster his bullpen to win a World Series, writes Bob Wojnowski.

2. The Twins are definitely sinking, and probably selling, writes Tom Powers. All-Star catcher Kurt Suzuki, who's hitting .305 with a .364 on-base percentage, would have value in the trade market as perhaps the only every-day catcher who could become available, and Josh Willingham might be one of the few right-handed power bats, although he has just one homer and two doubles since June 24.

3. The Mets want to trade Bartolo Colon, but there's a problem: Some rival evaluators say their teams would have no interest in Colon.

4. Cliff Lee takes the mound tonight, and he will be free of restrictions, says Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

5. Pirates GM Neal Huntington is staying patient as the trade deadline approaches, writes Karen Price.

6. The Jays are pondering their trade options, writes Richard Griffin.

7. Trading Jim Johnson remains a high priority for the Athletics, writes John Hickey.

8. Reds GM Walt Jocketty is perusing the market.

9. The Indians probably won't be buyers or sellers, writes Terry Pluto.

Dings and dents

1. Ubaldo Jimenez isn't ready to start his minor league rehab.

2. Salvador Perez expects to play today.

3. Michael Wacha is optimistic.

4. Troy Tulowitzki sat out Sunday's game because of a sore thigh.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Bud Norris will pitch for the Orioles tonight.

2. Cody Ross is losing playing time in the Arizona outfield.

Sunday's games

1. The Astros banged out a lot of hits.

2. Ron Roenicke was fuming about mistakes that the Brewers made.

3. The losses continue to mount for the Cubs.

4. Nick Tepesch got knocked around.

5. Jayson Werth walked it off for the Nationals.

6. Kyle Kendrick had an ugly loss.

7. Zack Wheeler threw well in the Mets' loss.

8. The Pirates completed a sweep.

9. Brad Hand gave the Marlins a much-needed lift.

10. The Blue Jays won consecutive games and gained ground.

11. Arizona completed a sweep as well.

12. But the Indians couldn't finish a sweep.

AL West

1. From ESPN Stats & Info: Mike Trout hit his "low" point this season on May 19, as his batting average dropped to .263 ("low" in quotes because he had a .257 average through April 9). Since May 20 -- exactly two months now -- he has been absolutely unstoppable. He went 2-for-4 with a homer Sunday.

Mike Trout
2014 season

Through May 19 Since
BA .263 .358
OPS .867 1.143
HR 8 15
BA with RISP .205 .475*
* 19 hits in 40 AB with RISP since May 20
2. The wit of the Astros' scouting director has been tested. The Astros reduced their offer to Brady Aiken to the minimum of about $3.1 million from $6.5 million, a major sign of concern about a condition in his elbow. But when the Astros increased the offer by about $2 million on the final day leading up to the deadline, say rival officials, that was the big tell that maybe Houston's machinations weren't all about the pitcher's elbow and perhaps weren't entirely sincere. If they had left the offer at about $3.1 million -- which Aiken was never going to accept -- it would have been a clear sign that they were prepared to walk away from the player due to his physical state.

AL Central

1. Drew Smyly has the repertoire of a starting pitcher, writes Shawn Windsor.

2. The White Sox hope to get rolling.

3. When the pressure turns on, the Royals fall apart, writes Sam Mellinger.

AL East

1. The Flyin' Hawaiian is back and helping the Red Sox, writes Steve Buckley.

NL Central

1. Ike Davis has been really struggling.

NL East

1. Alex Wood threw a gem.

2. All things considered, it's amazing the Braves are in first place, writes David O'Brien.


• The Detroit Tigers will keep their spring training home in Lakeland, Florida.

• Vanderbilt's new football coach will be at ESPN today.

• Eric Nadel will get a plaque in Cooperstown this week.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Ryan Braun's power outage.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
An experienced and smart evaluator who has seen Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun a couple of times this year noted all of the twists in his career in a conversation on Monday.

“Wins the Most Valuable Player Award [in 2011] hitting with all kinds of power,” he said. “Tests positive, [but] wins his appeal. Has another big year, with power, second in the MVP. Then, Biogenesis.”

Yes. He was suspended.

“He’s had a lot of injuries. Now he’s a completely different.”

How so?

“Takes the ball to the opposite field a lot,” said the evaluator. “I think he’s more of an opposite field hitter than almost anybody in baseball. He doesn’t really pull the ball anymore, and I don’t think he hits the ball as far as he used to.”

On home runs?

“No, in general. I don’t think the ball goes nearly as far.”

Braun is having a good season, without question, with a .354 on-base percentage. He’s on track to accumulate a respectable 63 extra-base hits -- but with 19 homers and 37 walks, very different from his 2012 totals of 41 homers and 63 walks.

The observations were interesting, and so I asked “Baseball Tonight” senior researcher Justin Havens, half of the podcast’s Fireball Express, to look more deeply into Braun’s performance, to see how close the evaluator’s eye test was to reality.

What Justin found was amazing. What follows is the note he sent back.

The numbers are clear: a far greater percentage of Braun's hits are going to opposite field than in previous seasons, and the balls he does pull are being pulled with noticeably less authority. What has caused this clear departure is for others to speculate on, but it is clear Braun is not the hitter he was in previous seasons.

Change in batted ball profile

Based on batted balls, Braun has been trending towards hitting more balls to opposite field for several seasons. His percent of batted balls to go to opposite field has increased each season since 2009, and, as you'd expect, his rate of batted balls being pulled has declined each season since 2009. But when you isolate hits -- and not batted balls -- the change from last season becomes apparent.

In terms of his hits, Braun has the fourth-highest rate of hits to opposite field, behind only Everth Cabrera (50.7 percent), DJ LeMahieu (48.2 percent) and Joe Mauer (46.3 percent) -- not exactly the profile of a dynamic power hitter. He ranks 146th out of 163 qualified batters in percent of hits pulled at 30.8 percent.

If you isolate it to pitches on the outer half, it becomes even more extreme: nearly 64 percent of his hits that come on a pitch to the outer half are being hit to opposite field, the second-highest rate in MLB behind only LeMahieu.

Hitting with less authority

Not only is Braun pulling the ball less often, but when he does pull the ball, he's doing so with noticeably less authority. His slugging percentage on balls pulled has dropped considerably -- it was between .728 and .799 each season from 2009-12. It was .617 last season and is .566 this season. The MLB average this season, for context, is .612.

Not only is he having less success when he pulls the ball, but his batted balls are simply traveling a shorter distance than they used to. In terms of hit distance, his average fly ball distance last season was 299 feet, and it was 289 in 2012 and 291 in 2011. It is 282 this season, down 17 feet on average from last season.

When you isolate it to fly balls in the pull direction, it becomes even starker -- his average distance on fly balls pulled is down 42 feet from last season.

Much more aggressive

Seemingly out of nowhere, Braun has become one of the most aggressive hitters in the game. From 2009-13, Braun swung on 45.9 percent of pitches -- this season, he's swinging at north of 51 percent of the pitches he sees. His chase rate -- percent of pitches out of the strike zone that result in a swing -- has skyrocketed from 31.8 percent from 2009-13 all the way to 39 percent this season, one of the highest marks in baseball.

It gets more extreme when you look at two-strike counts. Braun's approach in two-strike counts has seemingly deteriorated, as he's chasing almost 55 percent of pitches thrown out of the zone -- a huge increase over last season's 41.7 percent -- and he's having less success with two strikes with this approach.

Most plentiful positions if you’re looking for help, according to an official

1. Right-handed relievers.

2. Starting pitching

3. Shortstops. Including Asdrubal Cabrera, if the Indians can find value close to what they would get if they give Cabrera a qualifying offer after this season and recoup a draft pick (which is what other teams expect them to do); Yunel Escobar; Jimmy Rollins.

4. Corner outfielders, including Matt Joyce of the Rays.

5. Second base, including Ben Zobrist (if Tampa Bay sells).

There are far fewer palatable options at the other spots -- first base, third base, center field, catcher and left-handed relievers.

Other trade stuff

1. The Padres have their trade assets on the table, writes Corey Brock.

2. To date, the Phillies are telling teams that Cole Hamels is not available.

3. Trading David Price is no longer a sure thing for the Rays, writes Joel Sherman.

4. Cliff Lee made his first start off the disabled list Monday, and was OK -- not awful, not good, with his velocity generally in the range of where he’s pitched the last couple of years. Rival execs wonder if the Phillies will come to grips with the reality that they have a choice: Either dump the money owed to Lee, about $35 million, and get almost nothing in return in prospects, or eat a solid portion of the money and receive a second-tier prospect.

“That really hasn’t been their mindset so far,” said one official.

Jerry Crasnick writes about the audition here. An AL scout’s observations, from Jerry’s piece:

"I thought he showed some rust," an AL scout said of Lee. "His fastball command was off and he wasn't nearly as precise as usual. He threw too many hittable pitches, and his overall stuff was flatter than normal. Give him another start before rushing to judgment. He threw strikes, but not with the level of precision he typically does.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Lee lost (the numbers back up the scout's take):

A) Lee threw only 59.6 percent strikes with his fastball (2/4-seam), his lowest percentage since last June.

B) Only 37 percent of the fastballs Giants hitters took were called strikes, Lee's lowest percentage since last September.

C) Giants hitters were 6-for-11 in at-bats ending with a Lee fastball, including two extra-base hits.

D) Giants hitters put 11 of their 17 swings (65 percent) in play against Lee's fastball, the highest by a Lee opponent since July 2012.

5. Matt Cain’s elbow trouble seems open-ended and serious, and the Giants may need a starting pitcher.

6. The Giants signed Dan Uggla, but to be clear, there are no strings attached, no guarantees of anything. San Francisco gets a free look of about 10 days, to see what it sees in Uggla. Jeff Schultz thinks the Uggla move will bite the Braves.

7. Sources say the Dodgers would love to trade Matt Kemp; they are as unhappy with him as he is with them, apparently. But there is the not-so-small matter of the $115 million owed to him that makes him all but impossible to move. The two sides will have to make a difficult marriage work, it appears.

• Kemp played right field Monday and the Dodgers won, 5-2.

8. Buck Showalter wonders about the price tag for Joe All-Star.

9. Tommy Milone’s request to be traded away from a World Series contender is very 1990, so unusual that you wonder what kind of advice he’s getting.

For a player with two-plus years of service time in the big leagues, there’s one obvious solution: Pitch better and wait for the climb up the arbitration ladder, which should start for him this winter. And then it’ll all work out. He’s pitched effectively, but his numbers suggest that Milone is well-served by pitching for the Athletics, with their good defensive outfield and in a home park favorable to pitchers.

Oakland has stockpiled rotation depth, through the trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and it so happens that because of his service time, Milone drew the short straw and was sent back to the minors. If he keeps pitching well, there will soon be a day when the rules will favor Milone.

10. Alex Anthopoulos is having dialogue.

11. The Cardinals got what they believe is good news on Michael Wacha, but the reality is that he won’t be pitching for many weeks. Within the Rick Hummel piece, Cards GM John Mozeliak says that Wacha’s status and what the team does before the trade deadline are independent of each other.

12. Cincinnati needs a hitter, period, writes Paul Daugherty. Alex Rios would be a really, really nice fit, on the face of the situation, but Texas is working in a seller’s market and can maintain a high price tag.

13. The White Sox should follow the Cubs’ lead at the trade deadline.

Around the league

• On Monday’s podcast, Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson gave some back stories about how inductees prepare for their big day, and for their speeches; Evan Drellich discussed the fallout in Houston from the Astros’ failure to sign the No. 1 overall pick; and Crasnick ran through all of the unwritten rules that came up over the weekend, including the question of whether firing imaginary arrows across a field is acceptable.

• The Padres are in the midst of their second round of interviews. The four general manager candidates are very different in their personalities, in their baseball backgrounds; it’ll be fascinating to see what direction San Diego takes this.

• Andrelton Simmons made an incredible play last night, and the funny thing is that he probably thinks he could’ve done more.

• So far, Baltimore is 2-2 on its 10-game West Coast trip. It can work with that. But the Red Sox are surging; they’re six games out in the wild card race after their win Monday. Adam Jones is single-handedly wrecking the myth that the Home Run Derby wrecks swings.

• The Red Sox are keeping everybody guessing, writes Gordon Edes.

• Brock Holt made a good catch.

• Justin Verlander continues to adjust to a new reality without elite velocity, and on Monday, he worked with it.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Bryce Harper got a night off against a left-handed starter.

2. Gregory Polanco got a night off against a left-hander.

3. Erasmo Ramirez is starting today.

Monday’s games

1. Doug Fister and the Nationals handled Game 1 of their series in Colorado.

2. Jon Niese was rusty.

3. The Yankees’ infield defense has been horrific, and it cost them Monday. Pitcher Shane Greene has apparently joined the legions of pitchers who are uncomfortable throwing to first base.

4. The Blue Jays were demolished, writes Mike Rutsey.

5. Garrett Jones came up big.

6. Miles Mikolas had a nice outing.

7. The Royals continue to come up small at a crucial time: They were shut down by Chris Sale.

8. The Indians were taken down by Josh Willingham.

9. Chris Sale was The Man for the White Sox.

10. The Brewers took advantage of the Reds’ mistakes.

11. The Mariners easily handled the Mets.

12. Mike Trout was not happy about the strike zone.

Dings and dents

1. Shin-Soo Choo regrets not going to the disabled list in April.

2. Justin Masterson will make a minor-league rehab start Friday.

3. Adam Eaton is playing with a broken finger.

4. Justin Morneau is hurt.

5. X-rays turned out well for Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig.

NL East

• Chase Utley’s loyalty defies logic, writes Sam Donnellon.

NL Central

• Jordy Mercer has been helping the Pirates.

• Francisco Liriano is key for the Pirates, writes Rob Rossi.

• The Reds can only juggle their lineup so much.

NL West

• The Rockies’ season has been especially tough on Walt Weiss.

AL East

• Evan Longoria is trying to solve his power outage, writes Marc Topkin.

• Jake Odorizzi is going home, writes Roger Mooney.

AL Central

• Yordano Ventura’s pitching stats fell off after his injury, writes Andy McCullough.

AL West

• Stephen Vogt has become a fan favorite.

• The Astros’ scouting director is looking ahead.

• The Angels are not going to shut down Garrett Richards due to innings limits.


• Yu Darvish likes the idea of a six-man rotation.

• Kirk Gibson says he has no bad blood with the Tigers.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Astros have a major perception problem.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Perception matters, which is why the chief justice of the Supreme Court has historically worked for unanimity in decisions, and why the loser in the presidential election gives a concession speech, to legitimize the process.

Perception is particularly important in business, when you are asking potential customers to buy your product, and buy into your product. Perception is why the St. Louis Cardinals will never substantively alter their timeless logo, and why the New York Yankees will always wear pinstripes.

But the power of perception is what the Houston Astros have ignored in their machinations, including those leading up to their failure to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken by Friday's deadline. The perception of their decisions -- in the eyes of some of their own players, players with other teams, agents and, most importantly, potential customers -- may take many years for them to overcome. Evan Drellich was right in what he wrote in late May: The Astros have an enormous perception problem.

The Astros have had an incredible opportunity, having picked at the top of the draft for three straight seasons, but time and again, they have been penny-wise and pound-foolish and damaged their brand along the way.

The Astros have their own self image, but they need to know that among players and agents, they are seen as a team that tried to strong-arm the best player in their organization, George Springer, into a team-friendly extension, and then punished Springer when he didn’t agree to a new deal by sending him to the minors, again. The fact that Springer has starred since being called up April 16 has only reinforced the perception among agents and some players that the Astros were more interested in manipulating Springer than they were about winning.

Mark Appel was at or near the top of a lot of draft boards in 2013, but some rival executives were surprised that the Astros chose to take him over third baseman Kris Bryant with the No. 1 overall pick. “Taking a position player means a lot less risk,” said one high-ranking executive.

Some decisions work out, and some don’t, but the timing of how this one is playing out could not be worse. Appel is struggling badly in the minors while Bryant is wrecking his way to the big leagues, averaging a home run every 10 at-bats, and the choice of Appel over Bryant has a chance to surpass Phil Nevin over Derek Jeter in Houston draft lore as the draft decision that turned into a disaster.

The Astros are widely viewed by rival executives as a team that tanked the 2013 season, seemingly designing a team for a degree of failure that only the 1962-65 New York Mets could rival. The Astros opened the year with a $20 million payroll, and then traded almost every player making more than $1 million. You’ve heard of too big to fail? Well, Houston had so little talent and so much inexperience that there was no chance the Astros could compete.

Not surprisingly, the team went 51-111, earning the Astros the first pick in the 2014 draft; and now, in spite of all that losing, and the summerlong string of wipeouts, they failed to sign Aiken.

Only Astros officials know for sure why they reduced their offer to Aiken, and they maintain they have done nothing wrong. The perception in a lot of corners -- including that of the players' association -- is that the Astros shifted their offers around in an effort to lock up three draft picks, and not just Aiken. Anybody with a paper and pencil can figure out that the scope of the attempted reduction for Aiken almost perfectly matches the money discussed with fifth-round pick Jacob Nix and 21st-round pick Mac Marshall.

[+] EnlargeBrady Aiken
Larry Goren/Four Seam Images/AP Images
Brady Aiken became only the third No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft not to sign.
The problem for the Astros -- the great miscalculation -- is built around the fact that widely respected and generally understated agent Casey Close is an adviser to both players. He knows when the proposals were altered, and by how much. He is well aware how Nix arrived with his family in Houston, prepared to sign, only to be told the agreement was null and void. The perception of that stinks. He can speak firsthand to both the Aiken and Nix families about how this played out.

It stands to reason that Aiken’s family would not take the calls of the Astros on Friday because of that perception -- about the Houston offers shifting from $6.5 million to $3.1 million to about $5 million. Or maybe the Astros couldn’t get the Aikens to take their phone calls because of how the Astros’ concern over Aiken’s ulnar collateral ligament leaked out, not long before published stories about Aiken’s college eligibility being in jeopardy. As one longtime agent said, “I stopped believing in coincidences a long time ago.”

It may be that the Astros boxed themselves in, negotiating the signing bonus with Nix while assuming that eventually Aiken would capitulate and agree to their reduced terms. It’s possible that by the last hours, they weren’t in position to give Aiken the $6.5 million initially promised because that would have ended any chance of them revitalizing the Nix deal.

But in the end, the Astros had a $5 million-ish offer on the table to Aiken, a rollback of $1.5 million over the initial agreement, which tells us that while they still had concerns about Aiken’s medicals, the UCL issue was hardly a deal-breaker. At some moment in this process, the Astros should’ve stopped obsessing over the numbers and instead taken a step back and assessed the potential for damage to the perception of the organization if the worst-case scenario happened, that Aiken and Nix failed to sign.

This is because the fallout from that outcome could linger for years, hanging over the team like a radioactive cloud. For the sake of $1.5 million.

If the Astros could have navigated their way out of the Aiken mess somewhere along the way -- before their concerns about his medicals leaked out -- the savings in how they’re perceived, the protection of their brand, would’ve been worth a whole lot more than $1.5 million.

The surcharge for their recent actions is already in place, and figures to cost them even more going into the future. Last winter, Scott Kazmir -- a Houston native -- opted to sign a two-year deal with the Oakland Athletics instead of following up on the Astros’ overtures. Houston was able to sign veteran right-hander Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million deal, an overpay of perhaps 20 to 50 percent in the eyes of many in the industry, because the Astros have been so bad, and figure to be terrible for the foreseeable future.

Fairly or not, the perception of them is shattered, and they will have to pay for its reconstruction, one way or another.

The Astros have the second-worst record in baseball after losing Saturday. Controversy seems to follow the Astros, writes Drellich.


• We’ve got Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers against Carlos Martinez and the St. Louis Cardinals on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN).

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Kershaw is the only pitcher in major league history to win eight consecutive starts within a single season with at least 80 strikeouts and an ERA under 1.00 over that span. Kershaw has allowed one run or fewer in seven straight starts, tied with Kevin Brown (2003) and Fernando Valenzuela (1981) for the longest such streak by a Dodgers pitcher since 1900.

• The Dodgers looked flat on Saturday, and after the game, Don Mattingly acknowledged that Hanley Ramirez's swing has been affected by a right shoulder injury. The Cardinals won, but Matt Holliday was injured. The Cardinals ruled out a concussion.

The Dodgers need Joc Pederson, writes Bill Plaschke. Yasiel Puig isn’t worried about his swollen hand.

Around the league

• The Indians are making a major statement coming right out of the break, with three straight wins in Detroit. Remember, the Tigers have a brutal second-half schedule, with 54 games in 55 days.

• On Friday’s podcast, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assessed the Cardinals’ situation, Adam Rubin of weighed in on the Mets’ issues and Jerry Crasnick discussed how the Athletics may have their best team of the last decade.

• A few weeks ago, Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry Dipoto talked over the phone about how his bullpen problems actually weren’t as bad as they seemed. Joe Smith had thrown effectively, he said, and so had Kevin Jepsen. They had a few trouble spots, for sure, perhaps a need for a closer and a left-hander or two, but the underbelly of the group, Dipoto felt, was better than its reputation.

So he had not gone for a complete overhaul for the bullpen in recent weeks, and the bullpen already had started to perform better. But then he added Jason Grilli, left-hander Joe Thatcher and All-Star closer Huston Street, and the Angels now appear to have a bullpen that appears capable of more than holding up its end of the work.

Street has long-term aspirations, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

• Some teams say the Rockies have never told them that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is available in trade, and there is general skepticism that Colorado could find an acceptable deal -- short of an outright dumping of the contract -- if the Rockies decided to move him.

MLB WAR Leaders, Entering Sunday
Player WAR
Troy Tulowitzki 5.6*
Mike Trout 5.6
Adam Wainwright 5.1
Josh Donaldson 4.9
Andrew McCutchen 4.7
Giancarlo Stanton 4.7
*5.3 WAR for all of 2013 (126 Games)
Not only would an interested team have to surrender the value of Tulowitzki, as a player -- the MLB leader in WAR at the moment, as seen in the chart at right -- but also the value of what Tulowitzki represents to the Rockies, as their Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn.

“They’d ask for seven prospects,” said one official dismissively.

Tulowitzki’s situation is also complicated by the money owed to him, about $124 million over the next seven-plus seasons, and his extensive injury history. From ESPN Stats & Information: Tulowitzki played 155 games in his first full season in MLB in 2007. Since then, he's played in 150 games only once (151 in 2009).

Tulowitzki got hurt again Saturday.

Some key questions about the Rockies need answers, writes Patrick Saunders.

• Felix Hernandez is on a serious roll, and the Mariners beat the Angels on Saturday night.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hernandez has now recorded 12 consecutive starts with at least seven innings pitched and two or fewer runs allowed. That's tied with Chief Bender (in 1907) for the longest single-season streak by an AL pitcher in modern MLB history and one shy of tying Tom Seaver's MLB record. Over the past 10 seasons, Hernandez has the most such starts total (96), well ahead of second-best Cliff Lee (80).

Over the past five seasons, Hernandez leads MLB in starts of seven or more innings pitched in which he relented one earned run or fewer and did not get a win.

• Joel Sherman writes about an unappreciated Derek Jeter trait. Jeter makes the routine look extraordinary, writes Harvey Araton.

Trade deadline stuff

1. There continues to be an expectation among rival evaluators that the Tampa Bay Rays will essentially make their decision sometime in the next week about whether to trade David Price, who was great again on Saturday, this time against the Minnesota Twins.

From ESPN Stats & Info, here's how he won:

A. Price threw 25 changeups, which netted him eight outs and yielded only one baserunner (on an error).

B. He went to two strikes on 21 hitters, allowing only two of them to get hits. This is the second time this season he's gone to two strikes on that many hitters in a game (there have been only three other games in which a pitcher has gone to two strikes on that many hitters this season).

C. He threw 119 pitches, but only 12 of those came in hitters' counts (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1).

2. Trading Cliff Lee hardly guarantees a big return, writes Matt Gelb.

Gelb is right; the option year cuts into Lee’s value significantly.

3. The Brewers are unlikely to make a big move before the trade deadline, writes Tom Haudricourt.

4. The Cubs await more word of trade activity. I speculated here the other day that if the Rays and Mariners discuss a David Price deal, the Cubs are the perfect third team to help deliver the position prospect(s) Tampa Bay wants and needs. The Rays could send Price to Seattle, the Mariners could deliver pitching to the Cubs (hello, Taijuan Walker), and the Cubs could send a young infielder to the Rays.

5. The Tigers shouldn’t give up too much to add a reliever, writes Drew Sharp. Joakim Soria and Joaquin Benoit are perfect trade targets, because they could help in the eighth inning, and if more is needed (should Joe Nathan falter), Soria and Benoit are capable of shifting to the ninth inning.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jordan Zimmermann is still scheduled to start Tuesday for the Nationals.

2. Cody Asche may be shifted to left field.

Dings and dents

1. CC Sabathia is confident he’ll be ready for the start of spring training.

2. Joe Mauer has taken some small steps toward returning to the Twins.

3. Jason Vargas is working his way back from an appendectomy.

4. Shane Victorino made his return to the Boston lineup.

5. Henderson Alvarez left his start Saturday with a bruised shoulder.

6. Evan Gattis is getting better.

7. Alex Rios sprained his ankle.

Saturday’s games

1. Jordy Mercer hoisted the Pirates.

2. The Orioles got a really important win Saturday, after a heartbreaking loss on Friday.

3. The Yankees just keep getting great pitching.

4. Matt Garza had the shortest outing of his career.

5. The White Sox won again.

6. Danny Duffy was good, but the Royals’ offense was not.

7. The Giants looked rejuvenated.

NL East

• The Mets aren’t concerned about Travis d'Arnaud's passed balls.

• The Braves did the right thing with Dan Uggla.

NL Central

• Pedro Alvarez has been making a lot of throwing errors, Bill Brink writes.

• The Reds’ starting pitchers have been used a lot.

NL West

• Oliver Perez has had a good season.

AL East

• Rubby De La Rosa is finding his groove.

• The Jays’ top picks aren’t working out.

AL West

• For Shin-Soo Choo, nothing is getting better.

Other stuff

• Dave Stewart talked about the 1989 World Series.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Inactivity at an all-time high in baseball.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Brady Anderson swung as hard as he possibly could throughout the 1996 season and blasted 50 homers. He swung hard on the first pitch, he swung aggressively when the count was 0-2, he swung aggressively always.

He scored 117 runs and compiled 92 extra-base hits, 76 walks and 106 strikeouts, and late that season, Orioles hitting coach Rick Down mentioned that before Anderson, he had never seen anyone succeed with that approach. Most hitters made adjustments according to the count, Down noted at the time, cutting down on their swing when they reached two strikes, protecting against a strikeout.

But more and more, that sort of thinking has become outdated, and a whole lot of hitters are thinking like Anderson did. Swing hard throughout the entire count. Look to damage throughout the entire count.

The problem for them -- and for baseball, really -- is that this approach is not really working. Run production is down, and the rate of strikeouts is rocketing upward; the rate of inaction has never been higher.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 20 percent of all plate appearances during the 1990 season ended with a strikeout or a walk. By 2010, that had climbed to 26 percent. This year, the inaction rate of strikeouts or walks is at all-time peak of 28 percent, a staggering 40 percent higher than it was 24 years ago. That means that if you see 75 plate appearances, roughly 20 of those will result in a walk or strikeout.

The Yankees' last dynasty of 1996-2001 might have had something to do with this. They had a notoriously patient lineup of hitters who worked the count, drove up the opposing starter's pitch count and got into the opposing bullpen in the middle innings, an approach that became a model in how to hit and how to build lineups. The Red Sox won with this last fall, when they took pitches and worked the count and forced the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals to turn to relievers. Oakland is collectively having success with this in 2014.

But one of the legs has been kicked out from under that theory: Starters are throwing fewer pitches anyway, and more and more relievers are being used -- specialists who mostly seem to have good fastballs. Hitters tend to see starting pitchers two and maybe three times at the most, so getting the starting pitcher out of the game might not have the payoff it did 15 years ago.

The tradeoff for working the count, of course, is that hitters are taking strikes and eschewing the opportunity to do damage.

"I always hear about hitters wanting to go deep," former Nationals manager Davey Johnson said last summer. "Getting deep in the count; letting the ball get deep on them in the strike zone. What happened to looking for an opportunity to do damage? I've never seen so many hitters take strikes right down the middle. What are they waiting for?"

It's a great question, because a strong case can be made that that prevailing approach of hitters has not been effective. With run production in regression, there are approximately 100 hitters on a pace to compile 100 strikeouts this season, from B.J. Upton -- who has taken a called third strike 42 times this season -- to Ian Desmond, who had more strikeouts in June (40) than Joe DiMaggio did in any season in his career.

It's not up to each of these individual hitters to address the big-picture question that's attached to the trend: Is this bad for baseball? Is this making baseball more difficult to watch, with close to three out of 10 plate appearances resulting in the baseball not being put in play?

Anthony Rendon, the 24-year-old infielder for the Washington Nationals, provided a focus group of one in an interview with the Washington Post this week:

Staying home for the All-Star break wasn't a big deal for Rendon, who said he never watched the game growing up. In fact, Rendon said he rarely watches the sport, preferring programs on networks such as the History channel instead.

"I don't watch baseball -- it's too long and boring," he said.

The Milwaukee Brewers have been an interesting outlier this year, as a group that doesn’t necessarily work the count. They rank 24th in walks, and 17th in strikeouts, so they're putting the ball in play -- and they are second in the National League in runs scored and sixth overall. The Angels are 18th in strikeouts, 11th in walks, and rank first in runs.

Pitchers have seemingly been ahead of hitters in making adjustments in recent years, with the increased use of cut fastballs, with more and more of them focused on building velocity, and on being as unpredictable as possible. As Tim Kurkjian said on "Baseball Tonight" Thursday, the idea of a hitters' count -- when they could fully expect a fastball and attack it -- is growing extinct, because more pitchers seem to have the ability and the desire to throw off-speed pitches in any part of the count.

Maybe Davey Johnson was right. Maybe some hitters need to change their approach and look to do damage earlier in the count before cutting down on their swing and their expectations later in the count. ("Dropping the parachute" is how Joey Votto once referred to it.) Maybe hitters shouldn't be swinging as hard as they possibly can with two strikes.

Because the numbers say it's not working for them, and maybe it's not working for the sport, either. Somebody or something needs to change.

From the Elias Sports Bureau: The MLB averages for runs scored this season and most other important batting categories are the lowest in decades.

2014 Offensive Production

Runs per game: 8.28, lowest since 1992 (8.23)
Batting average: .252, lowest since 1972 (.244)
On-base average: .316, lowest since 1972 (.311)
Slugging average: .391, lowest since 1992 (.377)
Home runs per game: 1.77, lowest since 1992 (1.44)
Walks per game: 5.95, highest since 1968 (5.63)
Strikeouts per game: 15.4, highest in MLB history

Around the league

• On Thursday’s podcast, T.R. Sullivan ran through a laundry list of the Rangers' trade intentions; Evan Drellich gave an update on the Astros' looming deadline with first overall pick Brady Aiken, who is unsigned; and Tim picked his five greatest baseball records.

Trade stuff

1. John Farrell must keep the Red Sox focused, with the trade deadline looming.

2. The Mariners are looking to add a right-handed bat.

• Baltimore is set to play Oakland again, and Manny Machado says he has moved on from the bat-throwing incident.

• Mike Yastrzemski knocked out four hits in his Double-A debut.

• Ryan Hanigan was placed on the disabled list, and Curt Casali -- Vanderbilt guy -- was promoted.

• The Tigers need a spot starter and Drew VerHagen -- Vanderbilt guy -- will pitch that game.

• The Braves' landlord wants an answer.

• Rockies owner **** Monfort seemed to start assigning blame.

Moves, deals and decisions

Daniel Murphy
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy said this week that he would be open to a contract extension.
1. The Rangers made changes with their catching.

2. The promotion of Aaron Sanchez could be one solution to the Jays' pitching problem, writes Richard Griffin.

3. Adam Wainwright will rest this weekend.

4. Daniel Murphy would be open to a contract extension, writes Marc Carig. Again: If the Mets don’t increase their payroll for 2015, then giving Murphy an extension would eliminate any kind of flexibility the team has.

5. The Padres' search for backup help continues.

Dings and dents

• Justin Masterson will make a rehab start Sunday.

AL East

• For the Red Sox, the report card shows an epic fail, writes John Tomase.

• The Yankees open the second half in need of a surge, writes Mark Feinsand.

• There are a lot of factors in play for the Blue Jays in the second half, writes Ken Fidlin.

AL Central

• The Detroit Tigers are still Oakland’s greatest concern, writes Drew Sharp.

• Justin Verlander is losing his ability to power his way out of trouble.

• Alex Gordon's preparation has made him a star, writes Andy McCullough.

• Zack Meisel addresses the question of whether the Indians have a chance. (They do.)

• Here are five things to watch about the White Sox.

• Jose Quintana is becoming an elite level pitcher.

• The Twins need drastic change.

• The Twins are trying to douse thoughts of a fire sale, writes Mike Berardino.

AL West

• The Rangers' development phase is a magic act, writes Jeff Wilson.

• The Rangers' owners get the blame for this mess, writes Mac Engel.

• The Mariners are headed in the right direction, says their manager.

• As the second half opens, the Athletics have the Angels breathing down their necks, writes John Hickey.

• Oakland's second-half schedule gets a whole lot easier.

• Anything could happen in the second half for the Angels.

NL East

• There are dark days ahead for Phillies fans, writes Mike Sielski.

• What if Pat Gillick was still the GM of the Phillies?

• It’s time to make a push, says Giancarlo Stanton.

NL Central

• The Cardinals are in a tight pennant race, writes Rick Hummel.

• The Pirates have a fresh start in the second half.

• Josh Bell is eager to impress in Double-A.

• Javier Baez thrived in his debut at second base.

• There have been changes to Chris Bosio's staff.

• The Brewers say they're up to the challenge.

NL West

• Tim Hudson provides leadership for the Giants, writes Alex Pavlovic.

• The Padres are looking at Kevin Towers as a senior adviser.

• Trevor Cahill is tweaking his delivery.

• The Rockies say they're optimistic about a late-season charge.

• The Dodgers have a lot of work ahead of them, writes Dylan Hernandez.


• Fifteen years later, David Cone talks about his perfect game.

• In the midst of the gem, he played catch with a bat boy.

• John Erardi wishes a piece of Crosley Field had been saved.

• Jean Segura is returning to the Brewers following the death of his son.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Rays still determining market for Price.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Executives with some teams have not gotten a sense of urgency from the Tampa Bay Rays yet. They say David Price has not been pushed yet. Some other clubs haven't received a final call for a last, best offer.

"But they're preparing," one AL official said recently. "I don't think there's any question about that."

What that entails is identifying the young players who would become targets in other organizations if the Rays decide to move the All-Star left-hander, as they did before sending Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs -- and getting a young pitcher named Chris Archer as part of the package -- and James Shields to the Kansas City Royals as the centerpiece of a deal for Wil Myers.

Rival officials continue to believe that the Rays won't have a lot of palatable choices when they do decide to trade Price, whether it's in the next 14 days or after the season. "It's a specialized market," one executive said. "I don't think a lot of teams have the kind of prospects they would require, and on top of that, how many teams can absorb a $20 million-plus salary for next year?"

Price is making $14 million this year and will be eligible for arbitration over the winter, before becoming eligible for free agency in the fall of 2015. He'll be in line for a record-setting award if he doesn't negotiate a deal before then.

It does not help the Rays that it appears a lot of the big-market teams don't appear to be in play. The Yankees don't have a centerpiece prospect to offer for Price; rather, they would need the market to push the Rays in their direction to make a trade built around multiple second-tier prospects rather than one great prospect. The Red Sox already have a looming contractual situation -- Jon Lester's -- on their front burner. The Phillies are more likely to sell than buy.

This is why a number of interested parties continue to believe that if the Rays make a deal, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the best possible fit. Tampa Bay's asking price has been two high-end prospects, and the Dodgers have that in shortstop Corey Seager and center fielder Joc Pederson, arguably two of the best prospects in the game. But the Dodgers aren't willing to part with both, and while Price definitely would represent an upgrade in their rotation and the Dodgers are among the handful of teams that could afford him, Price is not a must-have item at this stage. The Dodgers could win the division without him.

But the Dodgers are scanning the pitching market for possible starting help and relief, and if the Rays veer over the next week to 10 days, decide to sell and begin pushing Price, the sides could find a middle ground. Remember that if Tampa Bay decides to trade Price, it likely will move Ben Zobrist as well, and Zobrist's positional flexibility would be an ideal fit for the Dodgers' current needs.

The wide-open AL East is keeping the Rays in play, writes Marc Topkin.

Around the league

• Forecasting the trade market is like predicting the weather: Conditions are constantly changing. At the outset of this month, some GMs believed there would be relatively few trades before the July 31 deadline because of the general parity in the standings. But gaps have opened up recently, and some MLB officials now believe there could actually be a fair number of trades before the end of the month. "A lot of pitching is going to change hands," one talent evaluator said.

• If the Red Sox fully alter their focus from this season to developing for 2015, then shortstop Stephen Drew could be a nice fit for the aforementioned Dodgers as a safety net for the oft-injured Hanley Ramirez. The Red Sox would probably need to pay down at least some of the salary owed to Drew -- he signed for $10 million in May, in prorated salary -- and the Dodgers (or any other team) wouldn't have to give up much, if anything, in terms of a prospect.

Whether the Dodgers would be a good fit for Drew is another question entirely. His season was supposed to be about rebuilding his value, but rival evaluators say he hasn't been able to regain his timing since joining the team midseason with no spring training. Drew is hitting just .151 with 30 strikeouts in 101 plate appearances. He needs to improve to better-position himself for free agency, and he only has about 65 games to make it happen.

• On Wednesday's podcast, Keith Law went deep into the Brady Aiken situation, and we agree on this point: The players' association sold the rights of young players down the river. And as Evan Drellich writes, Aiken's NCAA eligibility could be at risk.

• Denny McLain is surprised that Adam Wainwright talked about what he did.

• The grandson of a legend has been promoted to Double-A by the Orioles. In fact, check out Mike Yastrzemski's 2014 numbers: 21 doubles, 12 triples, 11 homers, 17 steals and 27 walks in just 86 games.

Dings and dents

1. Andy Dirks' rehab stint was cut short because of irritation in his surgically repaired back.

2. Evan Gattis will start his injury rehab assignment today.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Ryan Howard is a problem for Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, Matt Gelb writes.

2. The Red Sox are nearing decision time, as Nick Cafardo writes.

3. The Royals added a veteran pitcher to an already-deep bullpen.

4. A.J. Pierzynski was released.

5. The Angels are nearing a deal with their first-round pick.

NL East

• Travis d'Arnaud has rediscovered his swing, writes Marc Carig.

• Giancarlo Stanton loved his All-Star experience, Manny Navarro writes.

NL Central

• Hayes Gardner writes about the journey of Mark Melancon.

• Expectations surround Gregory Polanco, writes Joe Starkey.

• It's World Series or bust for the Cardinals.

• Reds manager Bryan Price has been discovering new medical terms, Hal McCoy writes.

• The Brewers showed both promise and flaws during the first half.

NL West

• The Diamondbacks are optimistic that they can salvage the second half, writes Nick Piecoro.

• Hunter Pence has Minnesota roots, writes Henry Schulman.

Speaking of Pence, here's one of the most interesting things I saw this week: About half an hour before the start of the Home Run Derby, Pence walked out of the NL clubhouse and planted himself in the best seat possible, right behind the NL team's bench. And with his hands shoved into his hoodie, he did not move from that spot for the next 3 1/2 hours, like someone showing up to a concert early, intent on having a view of everything possible. Other players watched the beginning of the Derby and departed, some left and came back; Pence was omnipresent.

• Todd Frazier would be a natural candidate to be the NL captain in the Derby next year in Cincinnati, and if healthy, Pence would be a nice choice.

AL East

• Daniel Barbarisi polled the Yankees' players about their clubhouse.

• Kevin Gausman is ready to play a key role in the second half.

• The Blue Jays' fate will be determined in the days ahead, writes Steve Simmons.

• Brendan Kennedy lays out what the Blue Jays need to do to make the playoffs.

AL Central

• Brad Ausmus displays the temperament of a veteran manager, writes Tom Gage.

• Sam Mellinger lays out what to expect in the second half from the Royals.

• Chris Sale could be headed to Cooperstown if he can stay healthy, writes Daryl Van Schouwen.

• Max Scherzer says he would have tried to get Derek Jeter out.

AL West

• When the Rangers needed Yu Darvish at his best, he did not respond, writes Gerry Fraley, and Jeff Wilson details how the Rangers went from first to worst.

• Oakland and the Giants must keep an eye on the L.A.-area teams, John Shea writes.

• The Angels are chasing the Athletics, writes JP Hoornstra.

• The AL West is becoming the best division in baseball, writes John McGrath.


• A former major league outfielder is on trial.

• The World Series odds have changed.

• The Reds should have the final say on Pete Rose, writes Paul Daugherty.

• High schools in Japan are trying to save pitchers' arms, writes Jim Armstrong.

• The failure to mention Tony Gwynn during the All-Star Game is a topic in San Diego and elsewhere. MLB issued a statement about the lack of an All-Star tribute for Tony Gwynn.

• In the future, the All-Star Game would be a perfect place to roll an Oscars-style video tribute to notables with baseball connections who died in the past year.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Braves can hang in NL East race.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Washington Nationals are supposed to be running away with the NL East. At least, that was the story at the beginning of the season. Twenty-eight of 31 FanGraphs authors picked the Nationals to win the division, as did 40 of 44 experts. Yet here we are, nearly 100 games into the season, and it's a dead heat. Is there reason to change course and think that the Atlanta Braves are now the favorites?

Well, not according to the Playoff Odds. FanGraphs still gives the Nats 81 percent odds to take home the division crown. That's one way of looking at it. Another way would be to note that only 13 teams still have at least 10 percent odds of winning their division, and the Braves are one of them.

So let's not slam the door on Atlanta just yet.

One reason is the Braves' position players have been more valuable than the Nationals' troupe this summer. The Nationals have hit slightly better (102 wRC+ to 100), but the Braves have been far better on defense. In Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons, the Braves have the best fielding duo in the majors, and it's not particularly close. Tommy La Stella has been another big help, as his slightly above-average defense has been a nice antidote to Dan Uggla's decidedly below-average defense. Throw in B.J. Upton, and the Braves are very strong defensively up the middle, where defense counts most. The Nationals aren't exactly weak there, but they haven't been as good as Atlanta.

Another reason to keep the faith if you're the Braves: Alex Wood is back in the rotation, and he's pitching well. Since he's returned to the starting rotation, he has allowed 10 earned runs in 31 1/3 innings for a tidy 2.87 ERA, and he's posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 3-to-1. Every starting rotation needs that, and were it not for probably unnecessary hand-wringing over Wood's innings count, he would have remained in the rotation all season. He has joined the clearly dominant Julio Teheran, the cleverly dominant Aaron Harang and the solid Ervin Santana to give the team a pretty nice starting mix. It still doesn't quite measure up to Washington's, but Wood back in the rotation combined with the Braves' bullpen edge make things closer than they appear.

One player who remains an potent question mark in this race is Bryce Harper. On the one hand, getting him back in the lineup allows the Nationals to move Ryan Zimmerman back to third base, which is good, because he was a disaster waiting to happen in the outfield. On the other hand, Harper clearly still isn't 100 percent. He has just four extra-base hits in his first 58 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list on June 30. He has also not reversed his issues with making contact on pitches out of the strike zone, leading to a sharp increase in his strikeouts thus far. It's still early in his season given the two months he missed, but the Nationals need him to put that problem behind in a hurry.

[+] EnlargeMike Minor
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY Sports
Mike Minor allowed a worrisome six runs to the offensively challenged Chicago Cubs.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Nationals, of course. For starters, the Braves have plenty of hard-to-figure players of their own. Mike Minor is a prominent example. On seven occasions so far this season, Minor has allowed two or fewer runs in a start. But he's also had four starts where he's allowed five or more, including his most recent start, in which he allowed six runs to the offensively challenged Chicago Cubs. The team also doesn't know what it can expect out of Evan Gattis, who should return from the disabled list this week. He should be better offensively than what the Braves have received in his absence -- Gattis has 16 homers in 229 plate appearances this season, compared to none by Gerald Laird and Christian Bethancourt in 164 PAs -- but if his back injury saps some of his power, it will spell trouble for Atlanta's offense.

The Braves also have their out-and-out problem children. They dumped Uggla, sure, but B.J. Upton is still hitting just .214/.278/.339 -- numbers that would have gotten him dropped a long time ago, solid defense or not, if he didn't have a big contract. The Nationals have some similarly poor hitters, but at this point in the season they have all been relegated to their bench. Upton has started 89 of Atlanta's 98 games.

That lack of black holes among starting personnel is the best argument for the Nationals to win the division. Tanner Roark has filled the fifth rotation spot, which was last year's big problem, and when firing on all cylinders, the Nationals clearly have the most talent. The Nationals still remain the favorite to win the division, but it's far from a sure thing now that they've let the Braves hang around this long, who continue to show that they're not to be trifled with. The Nationals are fun to root for because they're the Maverick to the Braves' Ice Man, but if they're not careful, they could crash and burn.

Astros' failure to sign Aiken a total fiasco.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In the story of the Houston Astros' failure to sign two of their top draft picks on Friday, there are neither villains nor victors, only victims left holding empty bags. The first overall pick in the draft, Brady Aiken, declined to sign with the Astros, marking just the third time in the June draft's history that the top player did not sign and the first since 1984.

The greatest victim of all in this fiasco is Jacob Nix, the Astros' fifth-round pick, a high school pitcher from Southern California who agreed to a $1.5 million bonus and passed his physical but was not allowed to sign his contract because of a medical issue involving Aiken. While, practically speaking, everyone involved knew that Nix's deal was contingent on Aiken's, that's not permissible under MLB rules and couldn't be made explicit or put in writing, which will likely be the basis of any grievance filed by Nix against the Astros -- or potential litigation seeking to enforce the verbal contract between the parties.

Aiken himself was also a victim, as much of ill fortune as anything else. Aiken had agreed to a $6.5 million bonus from the Astros, but his physical revealed an irregularity in his elbow that spooked the team and caused a rift between the two sides that no one was able to bridge. Aiken isn't hurt; he is ready and cleared to pitch right away and was up to 97 mph in his last outing of the spring. He doesn't have a torn ligament or require Tommy John surgery. The ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow is, apparently, less than normal -- thinner or shorter, not absent like R.A. Dickey's but not full strength like those of most pitchers. The compressive force between a pitcher's forearm (ulna) and upper-arm bones is at its maximum when his arm is fully cocked, and without the UCL there to prevent further rotation in the elbow, the force on those bones would become excessive. That might be a long-term concern, but we have no examples of pitchers who've had this issue, and Aiken's response to any such questions would have been to point out that he's healthy and throwing 97 miles per hour. When one side says the pitcher is broken and the other says he's not, there's no middle ground, and the current draft system is ill equipped to handle a situation like this, regardless of where the player was drafted.

While the Astros could likely have handled several phases of this process differently, they became victims of the current draft setup (and its unintended consequences, a recurring feature -- not a bug -- in MLB's collective bargaining agreement negotiations) the moment they found something irregular in Aiken's medical. They decided the issue was serious enough that they didn't feel immediately comfortable offering him more than the 40 percent mandated by the CBA to ensure they'd receive a compensatory pick in 2015 if Aiken didn't sign. That discovery, however, changed the calculus on the deal they had in place with Nix: If Aiken didn't agree to sign for a reduced figure, they couldn't sign Nix without surrendering their top two draft picks in 2015 as a penalty for exceeding their bonus pool figure for this year. No player in this entire draft class was worth surrendering a first-round pick and a second-round pick next year. At that point, the Astros were boxed in by rules they likely never imagined would affect them in this draft.

All three parties are now supplicants at the feet of Major League Baseball, the only authority with the power to offer immediate remediation. Aiken and Nix are both likely to file grievances, Aiken claiming the team didn't negotiate in good faith -- although the Astros have said publicly they increased their offer to more than $5 million, which I assume is more than they wanted to pay given what they believe is amiss with his elbow -- and Nix claiming the team breached a verbal contract. I believe the Astros would have upheld their deal with Nix if the penalty wasn't two picks, but the current system doesn't permit them to go over their bonus pool even though their failure to sign their top pick was medically motivated, not financially. MLB could choose to step in here, on one or both cases, permitting the Astros to sign Nix without penalty (if he'll still have them, so to speak), or granting Aiken some form of free agency, as they did with Barrett Loux in a similar situation in 2010. The league's incentive to do so would be to avoid a grievance or, worse, a lawsuit that would make Jarndyce v. Jarndyce look like the "People's Court," inviting unwanted inquiry into the labor restraints placed on players by the draft.

Aiken and Nix are both left with uncertain academic futures, as the NCAA has likely been slavering over reports that cited an agent working with both players and could choose to investigate whether the players are violating the body's (likely unconstitutional, certainly unethical) proscription on players using the services of agents. Whether or not the Astros intended to out the players in this fashion, it's now on record that the team contacted a specific agent during this process. Either player could, and perhaps should, investigate attending junior college for one year and entering the 2015 draft, a step that would also avoid an investigation and possible suspensions if they matriculate at UCLA and Senator Draco of Indianapolis decides to drop the hammer on them.

The hope within the industry is that this debacle renews the push for some sort of pre-draft medical "combine" or any analogous process that puts critical medical information in teams' hands so they don't draft a player with an irregularity in his elbow if they don't want to. Such an endeavor would require pushing the draft back into the beginning of July -- I know one scouting director has suggested doing it at the All-Star break -- so that all amateur players would be done playing their spring schedules and the league would have time to get the results of any blood work done on players. The ripple effect would change the schedules of short-season leagues, summer collegiate leagues, the USA national team and many high school events, but the benefit to getting teams (and advisers) this information before the draft would seem to dwarf the costs in structural changes. No one wants the Brady Aiken situation to repeat itself. With a pre-draft combine, if the Astros didn't like something about Aiken's elbow, they would have passed, and the Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox or Chicago Cubs would have happily taken him, and we wouldn't be having this conversation today.

Padres come out ahead in Street deal.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Los Angeles Angels were desperate for a closer in the best year they've had since acquiring Albert Pujols and the San Diego Padres had a spare closer lying around whom they didn't need, but the amount of talent heading to San Diego in exchange for Huston Street is baffling.

The Angels seem to have paid for name value or the Proven Closer™ tag rather than for production; Street hasn't been worth more than 1.0 fWAR -- a metric that derives a pitcher's WAR using FIP -- in any season since 2009, coincidentally the last time he reached 60 innings in one year.

Street is a good fit for the Angels' park -- a fly-ball pitcher who throws a ton of strikes -- and wasn't just a Petco Park fabrication, but he's also not going to strand every runner he lets reach base indefinitely. There are only a few right-handed relievers in the American League working with a below-average fastball, like Street has, and only one of them, Koji Uehara, is a successful closer. Street is probably worth half a win on paper to the Angels, more than that in the standings because of the high-leverage work he'll get and who he's replacing, but I don't foresee him adding enough W's in the standings to justify all they gave up to get him.

I said on Twitter that I wouldn't have dealt shortstop prospect Jose Rondon straight-up for two-plus months of Street's services, so I certainly don't like the total price for the Angels in this trade -- and love it for San Diego.

Rondon is the best of the four prospects heading to the Padres, a legitimate shortstop with very good actions at the position, great hand-eye coordination and plenty of bat speed. He is never going to hit for home runs but should develop the strength to post a .100 ISO at his peak. With his speed that's going to be sufficient. Major league pitchers would probably eat him alive right now by running velocity in on his hands. He's the eighth-youngest regular in the California League this year and skipped low Class A entirely, so for him to hit .327/.360/.410 with a high contact rate there is promising.

The Padres also acquired Taylor Lindsey, whose best position is in the left-handed batter's box. He has a great swing, one of my favorites in the minors, but during 2013 he narrowed his stance and stopped using his lower half to drive the ball, something San Diego should try to undo and unlock the doubles power that's in the bat. He will stay at second base but isn't likely to ever be average there defensively.

Right-hander Elliot Morris had emerged as the Angels' top pitching prospect outside of rookie ball, reaching 92 to 96 mph with plus sink and an average or better low-80s slider, although it's a high effort delivery with some head violence and he doesn't have an effective pitch for left-handed hitters. He's a future reliever, alongside current reliever R.J. Alvarez, who has given up just two runs this year in 27 innings around a DL trip. He's also a fastball-slider combo pitcher, destroying right-handed batters this season -- facing 56 with only nine reaching base, walking five and giving up four singles -- but it's control rather than command. Both guys could probably pitch in San Diego's pen next year. It will be easy for the Padres to get back far more value in on-field production than they just gave up.
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