Is KC about to make a mistake?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As we enter the final week before the July 31 trade deadline, it's a fun diversion to try to figure out who ought to be "sellers" and who ought to be "buyers." But in the world of two wild cards per league, that's not as easy a distinction as it used to be. These days, some teams wind up not really belonging in either category.
Still, we can look at the current FanGraphs playoff odds and split baseball pretty evenly in half to get a good idea of who should be doing what.
Fifteen teams have at least a 25 percent chance of making it to the playoffs, or in the case of the New York Yankees, are within one game of a playoff spot. Everyone else is looking at odds that are less than 15 percent, and while mathematically generated odds don't automatically rule out a late run, a low probability isn't exactly a reason to dive into the trade market looking for help.
Most of those bottom-feeding clubs have no uncertainty about where they are, of course. Teams like the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers have known for a while now that 2014 won't be their year. Others, such as the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets and Minnesota Twins have begrudgingly accepted that they won't be playing in October. These teams might not outright be sellers, but they aren't going to give up the future for this year, either. That is, except for one team, a team that looks increasingly unlikely to make a run but seems hell-bent on making the wrong decision anyway: the Kansas City Royals.
After beating the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday for their second win in six games since the All-Star break -- that's as many wins as team meetings they've called -- the Royals stand at 50-50. They've scored 398 runs and have allowed 397 runs, so the run differential suggests they're exactly where they ought to be. And not surprisingly, most second-half projections see them ending the season at an even 81-81.
To draw an even clearer picture of just how middling this team is: The Royals are tied for 16th in baseball in runs per game and are scoring exactly the MLB average of 4.0 runs per game.
They've landed there in an interesting way, however. Overall, Royals hitters have been well below average, with the 24th-best team wRC+ and the fewest homers in baseball, yet with outstanding value added on the basepaths. This is a hitting group that is not elite in really anything other than baserunning. But since just one team in baseball (the Mariners) has fewer walks than the Royals, it seems the team is not even putting its solid runners in position to be effective.
Only the underrated Alex Gordon and his 122 wRC+ rates even 10 percent above a league-average hitter, while designated hitter Billy Butler and first baseman Eric Hosmer are both being outslugged by Billy Hamilton, of all people. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was so awful that he was briefly sent back to the minors, and though he has been better over the past few weeks, he still has just a .265 OBP. The Royals have been through six hitting coaches in less than two years, but it's clear that the support staff isn't the problem. It's the players.
On the pitching side, their starting rotation is 14th in ERA, 17th in WAR and 25th in FIP, with the run prevention being better than the FIP in part because Kansas City is among the best defenses in baseball. Their bullpen, despite the presence of the fantastic Greg Holland and Wade Davis, is 13th in ERA and 10th in FIP. Again, there's a lot of "middle of the road" going on here, perhaps with some decline to come: Yordano Ventura, the flame-throwing rookie sensation, struck out 56 batters in 54 2/3 innings prior to a May 26 elbow injury, but has just 29 K's in 50 1/3 innings since, bottoming out by failing to strike out any of the 26 Red Sox hitters he faced Sunday.
The point here isn't to toss out endless numbers and rankings, but rather to show just how average the Royals are. This isn't a bad team by any means; it's just not a team that's built to win a championship. The baserunning and defense are good, the pitching is acceptable and the offense is mediocre. Put that all together, and it checks in as a distinctly .500 team.
Essentially, this is what they are, and what they are is seven games out in the AL Central behind the Tigers, a team they've lost nine of 13 to and face only six more times. The Royals are also behind four other teams in the race for the second wild card.
Doubling down on 2014?
[+] Enlarge James Shields
AP Photo/Jim Mone
The Royals should at least look into the possibility of trading starting pitcher James Shields.
For most teams, that's a situation that doesn't call for large improvements to try to win right now. But the Royals are in a tough situation, because GM Dayton Moore, who stuck his neck out by trading Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and others for James Shields and Davis prior to 2013, has been in charge for eight years now, with only a single winning season and no playoff appearances on his record. Shields is set to become a free agent this winter, and is unlikely to re-sign with the Royals.
That's actually a very good argument for trading Shields now, positioning him as an elite starter who won't cost as much as David Price, or even Holland, since the shelf life of relievers is so short and the Royals were burned by hanging on to Joakim Soria for too long. Of course, the Royals have been clear they aren't going to do that. Instead, they have been linked to potential acquisitions such as Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo. Those are just rumors, to be sure, but they certainly indicate the thinking of the team right now. They want to win this year, while Shields is still around, and despite the fact it's an incredible long shot for them to reach the playoffs, they may be willing to risk letting go of some prospects to do it.
But remember what that means: With the Tigers enjoying a comfortable lead and now having just added Soria, and the A's or Angels all but certain to take the first wild-card spot, Kansas City's only hope is to be the second wild card. That allows you to say you "Made the playoffs," sure, but it also puts you in a situation where you're headed into Oakland or Anaheim to face one of the two or three best teams in baseball. Since the second wild card generally goes down to the last day, there's also a high likelihood that Shields wouldn't be available for that game.
Is it worth it to try to add on to a decent but hardly great team just for the small possibility of having, say, Jeremy Guthrie pitching in a winner-take-all against the A's or Angels? It hardly seems that way.
But for better or worse, that seems just the route the Royals are preparing to take.
Mariners hope for Morales of last year.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Seattle Mariners need the 2013 version of Kendrys Morales -- they really needed him all year, but their need now remains acute -- and it's not clear if that player is coming back.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Seattle needs the player they had in 2013, not the one we've seen this year.
Morales has looked old and slow since returning from his long layoff, itself the result of his decision to decline the Mariners' qualifying offer last December. He has been behind a lot of fastballs, swinging hard but without the same force. He's also indecisive at the plate, taking too many fastball for strikes, falling behind, then chasing sliders out of the zone. The Mariners have already said Morales will be their DH, which already makes him more valuable on defense than he was last year, when he cost the M's a win and a half with his glove at first base. But he has got to find his missing bat speed to be worth anything to Seattle for the rest of the year.
The Minnesota Twins spent $3 million on Morales and got back an up-and-down reliever coming off shoulder surgery, so there's a chance that he regains some of his lost stuff given more time, but it's not necessarily likely. Stephen Pryor is now topping out around 95 mph, rather than 98, and his slider/cutter isn't as effective as it was either. He's also throwing a fringe curveball in search of a better offspeed weapon, but any success for Pryor is going to depend on him finding his lost velocity again, and that's a longshot. It's an expensive lottery ticket for the Twins, but at least it saves them some money on Morales and potentially opens up at-bats for Josmil Pinto.
Morales has as much at stake as anyone in this deal, as he found no interest in his services as a free agent this winter when any team that signed him prior to the June draft would have lost its top draft pick as a result. He's probably playing for a better one-year deal now, a 60-game audition to be someone's full-time DH next year in the $8-10 million range. If he doesn't hit, however, he might be looking at January/February offers under half of that -- assuming anyone bites at all, given his lack of any position.
Soria deal makes sense for both teams.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The price for Joakim Soria is steep, as you'd expect for a pitcher of his pedigree and present performance, but he fills the Detroit Tigers' most critical need and is likely to help them in the postseason as well.
The Tigers needed late-game relief help, and they have always placed a high value (higher than I would) on experience in the closer role. Soria was the best Proven Closer™ available in trade this year -- perhaps a little underrated because he's toiled for non-contenders his whole career -- and he pitches like a starter, with a full assortment of pitches, rather than like a traditional reliever who throws hard and then harder. He's having a superb year, almost comically so, surrendering no homers in 33 innings despite pitching in Texas, with the best walk rate and second-best strikeout rate of his career (small sample size warnings apply). He'll probably only throw 20 to 25 innings for the Tigers, and might be worth a win above replacement, but the Tigers are likely to reach the playoffs again, and acquiring Soria is as much about October as about getting there; in other words, he'll tack on a few more innings of extremely high-leverage work.
The Texas Rangers fare pretty well here, acquiring two arms, one a pure reliever, the other with a chance to start. Right-hander Jake Thompson has the size to start and the out pitch in a low- to mid-80s slider that missed a ton of bats in the Midwest League last year and nearly as many this year in the Florida State League. His fastball is average to slightly above average and doesn't have great life. That makes him a flyball pitcher, and he doesn't have a viable third pitch yet, so left-handed hitters have fared well against him, with 110 more points of on-base percentage than right-handed hitters have posted this year. He's just 20, however, so he's young enough to develop a changeup, and has the height to get some more downhill plane on his fastball. He'd slot into the Rangers' pitching depth chart behind Chi-Chi Gonzalez and Luke Jackson at this point.
Corey Knebel is a reliever, a tough competitor with a mid-90s fastball, a grade-55 curveball that misses some bats, below-average command, and a high-effort arm swing that's hard for him to repeat. He doesn't have the pure stuff to be a closer (he can be an elite reliever, top 25 or so in the game) but if he can finish the curveball consistently enough he'll have a solid career working in the seventh or eighth inning.
The Tigers have limited their options to acquire anything else in trade, however, dealing one of their top two pitching prospects in Thompson, with no significant bats in the system to use in another deal. The Rangers are the right team for Thompson, as they value tools and physicality very highly, and are willing to take on a player who needs development work. In the long run, the Rangers probably come out ahead in this deal, but I can also understand Detroit's sense of urgency and willingness to trade lots of future value to patch a hole in the present.
Valuing Phillies' options proving difficult.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The trade deadline of July 31 won't apply to Cliff Lee, some officials believe, because he's so expensive and there are enough questions about his elbow that nobody would claim him if he were to be placed on waivers in August. "He'll get through waivers," one executive said. "Nobody's going to want to take that contract."
Lee is guaranteed to make $48 million through the end of the 2015 season -- that's $48 million for the next 14 months -- because of the $12.5 million buyout attached to a vesting option for 2016.
Beyond that, rival officials are wary of some of the red flags raised with Lee's time lost to an elbow injury this summer. He has been a horse throughout his career, all but free of arm problems, but with him having spent more than two months on the disabled list and having mentioned along the way that he didn't feel completely right, some evaluators are wary of a persistent problem.
But with or without arm trouble, Lee's value is much affected by his contract. The Philadelphia Phillies' deals, one official mused, present an example of why some teams have set policies against handing out particular contract clauses, such as no-trade clauses. "Their contracts have everything," one executive said, referring to the many vesting options and player options and significant buyouts. "It's like they're evergreen."
Take A.J. Burnett. He has a base salary of $7.5 million, which is reasonable considering the innings he absorbs and the potential for high-end work. He has an option for 2015 that can either be a player option for at least $7.5 million or a team mutual option for $15 million, and the addendums to the player options are considerable. He has made 22 starts so far this season, and once he hits 24 starts, the player option jumps to $8.5 million; once he makes his 27th start, his player option for 2015 will be at $10 million; at 30 starts, it's $11.75 million; and at 32 starts, it's $12.75 million. He also has a long list of teams to which he can block a trade.
What this means is that for any team interested in trading for him, there isn't a fast and easy number to consider in assessing his value. Instead, there is a sliding scale of incentives that escalate the potential cost, which teams would want to offset in trade. The more in dollar cost, the less that teams will want to surrender in prospects, or the more they would want the Phillies to eat.
As a reminder, here are some of the other Phillies' options:
Jonathan Papelbon, RP: Papelbon is making $13 million this year and $13 million next year, and he has a vesting option for $13 million for 2016 that is based on games finished. That means that if some team acquires Papelbon and he suddenly regresses into a role other than closer, his presence could become very complicated, because the vesting option is on the line. And on top of all that, he has no-trade protection to 17 teams. Also not helping: Papelbon melted down and took the loss Wednesday night.
Chase Utley, 2B: Utley is making $15 million this year and $10 million next year, and he has vesting options that run through the 2018 season. And of course, he has no-trade protection through his 10-and-5 rights.
Jimmy Rollins, SS: Rollins has a vesting option for 2015 at $11 million, which has been guaranteed.
Carlos Ruiz, C: Ruiz has no-trade protection involving four teams, on top of the three-year, $26 million deal he got this past offseason.
Marlon Byrd, OF: Byrd has a vesting option for $8 million for 2016 after he makes $8 million both this year and next, and he has a limited no-trade clause.
Ryan Howard, 1B: Howard has a $23 million team option for 2017, with a $10 million buyout, after he makes $25 million this year, $25 million next year and $25 million in 2016. Meanwhile, Howard is hitting just .224, with 118 strikeouts in 371 at-bats, and the Phillies are trying to decide what to do with him, Jim Salisbury writes.
(By the way: At the time the Phillies signed Howard to his five-year, $125 million extension, two seasons before he could become a free agent, the industry response was unanimous: complete and utter shock. Howard currently ranks 142nd in WAR, and as noted above, has two-plus years left on his deal.)
Philadelphia Daily News writer David Murphy feels the Phillies need a baseball president.
Around the league
• On Wednesday's podcast, Tim Kurkjian discussed the Detroit Tigers' need for bullpen help, and how Joakim Soria represented a great fit; Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune discussed the Chicago White Sox's and Chicago Cubs' plans leading up to the trade deadline.
• Speaking of Soria, who was traded to the Tigers on Wednesday night, he's absolutely perfect for the Tigers, because he can close, if necessary, or he could dominate the eighth inning if Joe Nathan continues to pitch the ninth. The preliminary plans are for Nathan to remain the closer, writes John Lowe.
Statistic Soria Tigers bullpen
Save pct. 89.5% 71.4%
ERA 2.70 4.37
WHIP 0.87 1.43
Opp BA .198 .271
It would make sense for the Tigers to try to dig out one of the available left-handers, as well, such as the Cubs' James Russell or the Phillies' Antonio Bastardo, who hasn't surrendered a home run to a right-handed hitter all season.
As ESPN Stats and Information notes to the right, Soria's numbers with the Rangers this season are significantly better than the Tigers' bullpen's.
• The Tampa Bay Rays just keep winning, and are now within 4 1/2 games in the wild-card race and seven games in the AL East.
Think about how far the Rays have come. As Stats and Info notes, they had the worst record in baseball on June 24:
Rays: 31-48 record (.392 win percentage)
Diamondbacks: 33-47 (.413)
Astros: 33-45 (.423)
Cubs: 32-43 (.427)
Padres: 34-44 (.436)
And since then, they have the best record:
Rays: 18-5 (.783 win percentage)
Angels: 18-7 (.720)
Athletics: 15-8 (.652)
Braves: 16-9 (.640)
Orioles: 15-9 (.625)
Pirates: 15-9 (.625)
From ESPN Stats and Info on how Alex Cobb shut down the Cardinals on Wednesday:
A) He threw a changeup on a season-high 43.7 percent of his pitches, with seven of his 10 strikeouts coming on changeups.
B) Hitters were just 2-for-16 in at-bats ending with a changeup (3-for-6 in at-bats ending with a fastball).
C) He tied a season high with five strikeouts against right-handed hitters, who swung at 48 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone, which is also a season high for him against right-handers.
• Eric Hosmer's hand is hurt and his status is indefinite, as Andy McCullough writes. From Andy's story:
On Tuesday afternoon, the Royals manager explained that he did not intend to allow first baseman Eric Hosmer to play during this series against the Chicago White Sox due to lingering complications with his bruised right hand. [Ned] Yost hoped an extra day of rest would allow the team to nip the problem in its bud.
But on Wednesday, Hosmer insisted he could play. Yost acquiesced, only to watch the maneuver backfire. Hosmer had to leave in the eighth inning of the 2-1 Royals victory because of a lack of strength in his hand. He had irritated the injury during a check-swing in his second at-bat, and after his third he informed Yost that he could not swing the bat with confidence.
"If it's pain and tolerating pain, I've got a pretty high tolerance for that," Hosmer said. "But when I go to grip more, it's just giving out. That's the thing. It's not a matter of pain and going through it. It's just not letting me do it."
The setback leaves the organization unsure when its first baseman will be ready to return. Both Yost and Hosmer deemed his condition as "day-to-day," a euphemism for uncertainty as Hosmer deals with the injury stemming from being hit by a Jon Lester fastball Sunday.
"When you're in this job, you've got to trust your player," Yost said. "He felt good and felt like he could go. He gave it his best shot."
• The Giants have completely changed focus in their trade market search and are aggressively canvassing the list of available starting pitching options. Rival executives say the options are not great, but it's worth remembering the history shared by Jake Peavy and Giants manager Bruce Bochy from their San Diego days.
• Stephen Strasburg lost on the road again Wednesday, and according to Fangraphs, his average fastball velocity is down 3 mph since he broke into the big leagues:
2010: 97.6 mph
• The Pirates keep putting it together, and on Wednesday, Francisco Liriano fired a gem against the Dodgers.
• The Brewers got a big boost with a sweep of the Reds.
• Bartolo Colon reminded everybody how good he could be.
• Adam Kilgore weighs the pros and cons about the Nationals trading for help in the aftermath of the Ryan Zimmerman injury.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Marlins will get an extra pick at the end of the supplemental round of picks, as mentioned within this Clark Spencer notebook.
2. Like everybody else, Theo Epstein seems bemused by how the competitive balance lottery played out.
3. Matt Guerrier was designated for assignment.
4. The Cardinals have flip-flopped Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, with Miller moving back into the rotation and Martinez moving to the bullpen.
5. Neftali Feliz will be the Rangers' closer.
6. Alberto Callaspo will return soon.
Dings and dents
1. Starling Marte has landed on the disabled list.
2. The Blue Jays are about to get a bunch of guys back from the disabled list.
3. Gerrit Cole exceeded expectations in his simulated game.
4. Ruben Tejada was beaned.
5. Bud Selig is waiting on the Tommy John report.
6. Ubaldo Jimenez did some agility drills.
7. George Springer has been placed on the disabled list.
8. The Giants got bad news on Brandon Belt.
9. Brad Ziegler had a scary moment.
10. Grant Green was placed on the disabled list.
1. The Marlins got hit early.
2. The Yankees won a rain-shortened game, but the grounds crew lost, and Rangers manager Ron Washington wasn't happy.
3. Clay Buchholz was taken down.
4. The Orioles missed a chance at a sweep.
5. For Tyler Flowers, it was a peak-and-valley kind of day.
6. The Reds are still winless since the All-Star break.
7. The Royals won again. Just when you thought they were out, they pull you back in.
8. The Braves won with a big hit from Freddie Freeman.
9. Aaron Sanchez was dazzling Wednesday.
10. Madison Bumgarner gave the Giants plenty of innings.
11. Oakland won, but Jim Johnson was hit hard again.
12. Trevor Cahill was hit hard.
13. Dan Haren's troubles continued Wednesday.
14. The Angels took advantage of a bases-loaded walk.
15. Some new acquisitions helped the Padres.
• Jorge De La Rosa was dominant.
• Carlos Gonzalez took a day off.
• The Dodgers experimented with Yasiel Puig.
• Aramis Ramirez wants to keep playing.
• It's tough to be a Reds fan right now, writes Hal McCoy.
• Evan Gattis is feeling good.
• The Mariners are continuing to struggle offensively.
• Anthony Swarzak made a strong case Wednesday.
• Roberto Perez is making an impression on the Indians.
• Max Scherzer will face off against Garrett Richards tonight.
• Dustin Pedroia's decline this season is an indication of the possible pitfalls of long-term deals, Peter Abraham writes. I talked about Pedroia on WEEI.
• Jeremy Hellickson is ready to roll.
• The Hall of Fame caps will have a blank look, as Richard Sandomir writes.
• Cameron Maybin was suspended for 25 games.
• A judge returns an Astros-related lawsuit to state court.
And today will be better than yesterday.
New Atlantic League rules could help MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Pat Gillick reminisced the other day about an amateur baseball tournament in Kansas, in which games were started from morning until midnight, the schedule pushed along by the clock. If the hitter wasn't in the box 90 seconds from the last pitch of an inning to the first pitch of the next half-inning, well, everybody understood a strike would be called.
There was a lot of baseball to be played in a confined time frame, and the coaches and players understood that the pace needed to be pushed for the sake of the event. "Unless they got inclement weather," Gillick recalled, "they'd get off eight, 10 games in a day," with the games averaging two hours to perhaps two hours and 15 minutes.
Game times like that almost never occur anymore in professional baseball, but in the independent Atlantic League, rule changes will go into effect Aug. 1 that will push the pace and move the game along faster. Gillick, who was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2011, is part of a committee that agreed on these measures. Among them:
• The defensive team will be limited to three "timeouts" per game, in which mound visits or on-field conferences take place with the current pitcher. Pitching changes will not be counted as timeouts, and in the case of extra innings, one additional timeout will be permitted at the start of the 10th inning and every three innings thereafter. Umpires will enforce a strict 45-second time limit on said timeouts. If the umpire's warning is disregarded by the defensive team and play continues to be delayed, the umpire shall declare a "ball" for the batter at the plate. This will limit the number of times play is interrupted by on-field conferences.
• Pinch runners will be used for catchers as soon as the catchers reach base. This ensures that catchers are suited up quickly to start the next half-inning.
• The number of warm-up pitches for each pitcher will be reduced from eight to six.
• When a manager or catcher on the defensive team indicates to the home plate umpire they wish to issue an intentional base on balls, the batter is to be automatically awarded first base without the need for the pitcher to deliver four balls.
• Umpires will be directed to enforce Rule 6.02 and Rule 8.04, related to hitters stepping out of the box and pitchers delivering the ball within 12 seconds when the bases are unoccupied.
• Umpires will be directed to control the pace of play. The umpires shall adhere to the entire strike zone as defined in Rule 2.00 and observe that definition when calling pitches balls or strikes.
Rick White, president of the Atlantic League, said, "We are excited to put these new efforts in place and see how they impact the pace of play. We hope that these measures, along with others still being considered, not only improve the game for the Atlantic League but serve as a model for other leagues."
Tal Smith, the former president of the Houston Astros, serves as the chair of the Atlantic League's "pace of play" committee, which includes former executives Roland Hemond and Joe Klein and former players Cecil Cooper, Bud Harrelson and Sparky Lyle.
The changes in the Atlantic League can serve as something of a petri dish for Major League Baseball, which has seen scoring go down and the length of games increase. "I think the game can drag on," Gillick said. "It's a different era. I don't think fans are as patient as we were, and they don't want to be there for three hours."
I told Gillick that I think it is inevitable that we will see a pitch clock in baseball to push the pace of play along. "I would think that's a distinct possibility," he said, adding that an appropriate time between pitches might be 12 seconds without runners on base and 15 second when there are runners on.
Around the league
• David Robertson hasn't had any talks with the Yankees about a long-term deal even though he's months from becoming a free agent, but it may be that the team's strategy with him is fairly cut-and-dried.
Robertson is a dominant reliever, with 63 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings and just 10 walks in his first season as the Yankees' closer. He's 29 years old. The Yankees could simply give him a qualifying offer of $15 million, which is easier for large-budget teams to do. If Robertson declines, as every other player given a qualifying offer has done, it's possible that he could slide into that dead zone of free agency that swallowed up Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew last winter.
No closer makes more than Jonathan Papelbon's $13 million salary, and in an era when teams have a lower assessment of the value of short relievers, many teams would never consider giving up a first-round pick to sign a closer to a multiyear deal. If some team did so, well, the Yankees would happily accept the compensation draft pick and move on, perhaps with Dellin Betances moving into the closer role.
If Robertson accepted a qualifying offer, he would become the highest-paid closer in baseball for a year and the Yankees would have a really great reliever on a short-term obligation, and the length of the contract would have value to them because it wouldn't be overextended.
Speaking of the Yankees' pitching staff, the team acquired lefty Chris Capuano in a deal Thursday evening.
• Morales, like Stephen Drew, is having a miserable summer after turning down the qualifying offer and waiting 'til midseason to sign. After spending a total of 45 days with the Twins, Morales was traded to the Mariners on Thursday. During the last offseason, Morales rejected at least two offers from the Mariners: a qualifying offer of $14.1 million and, based on what Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said at a Mariners "FanFest" event, another for $30 million over three years. Now he is playing for Seattle for the rest of this summer making a total of $7.4 million. He is hitting .234 with one homer in 152 at-bats, and unless he surges down the stretch, he probably will get only a fraction of what a qualifying offer would have netted him in 2015. It's a mistake that may just keep on hitting him in the wallet.
With their offense struggling, the Mariners made the deal, Bob Dutton writes. Seattle also has an offer out to the Rockies for Drew Stubbs, which seems like a no-brainer.
Speaking of the Mariners, sources say the Phillies thought they had some traction on a Marlon Byrd deal with them, but if that doesn't happen, Philadelphia could turn to one of the other interested teams, such as the Reds or Royals.
• In late July of 1996, Gillick was general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, and with the team floundering in the AL East standings, Gillick arranged trades involving Bobby Bonilla and David Wells for prospects. But Orioles owner Peter Angelos killed those trades largely because he believed that surrendering on that season violated the team-fan covenant. Those were the days when sellouts were common at Camden Yards, and as Angelos stated at the time, he just thought it was wrong for the team to start focusing on 1997 when the 1996 season wasn't over yet. Tickets have been sold, he said, and he thought fans should rightly expect a major league product in August and September.
As it turned out, the Orioles went on a streak, Gillick added multiple players through August trades and Baltimore made the playoffs. That might not necessarily be the destiny of the 2014 Boston Red Sox, who will face similar philosophical questions in the next seven days.
The Red Sox formally acknowledged what Jon Lester knew many weeks ago, that the talks about a contract extension with the left-hander have been tabled until the offseason. Boston's last formal offer to him was $70 million over four years, and it probably will cost the Red Sox at least twice that to grab him off the free-agent market in the fall.
Meanwhile, Boston has drifted even further back in the standings this week while losing games in Toronto; they're now 9 1/2 games back in the AL East and 6 1/2 games behind in the wild-card race. Given that, Boston GM Ben Cherington would not be doing his due diligence if he didn't at least talk with the Dodgers and Cardinals and other teams and get a sense of Lester's trade value before the July 31 deadline.
Perhaps the Dodgers would agree to give up one of their top position prospects, shortstop Corey Seager or outfielder Joc Pederson, for Lester? The onus would then fall on the Boston ownership to make a call: With the Red Sox on the outer fringe of the pennant race and many, many tickets already sold for the final two months of the regular season, would the team have an obligation to keep Lester and ride out the race? Because trading him -- stripping the team of its ace -- would be like giving up on the season.
I remember having a conversation with Angelos after he killed the trades, and he said he didn't think it would be right to run a two-month tryout camp.
So I pose this question to the readers: What would you do if you were in Red Sox principal owner John Henry's shoes?
Henry did say he doesn't think the halt in talks will affect the Red Sox's ability to sign Lester. Sure, as long as the team is willing to pay top dollar for the left-hander.
• More on the Jays: Marcus Stroman was absolutely dominant against the Red Sox on Thursday, and the Jays will be getting a number of key guys back in the next few weeks. Once they have their full lineup back, they'll be very dangerous. An upcoming road trip will determine if Toronto is a contender or a pretender.
• On Thursday's podcast, Keith Law and Matt Gelb delved into the Phillies' trade possibilities, which aren't as plentiful as we might think.
1. The Yankees should consider trading for Marlon Byrd, John Harper writes.
2. The Mets are among the teams that would be interested in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
3. A tough call on whether to trade David Price looms for the Rays.
4. The Reds may deal, but the possibilities are limited, writes John Fay.
5. The Twins started their sell-off with the Morales trade, writes Mike Berardino.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Ryan Howard was benched, and he isn't happy about it. The Phillies have to find a way for him to improve, writes Bob Brookover.
2. With Jim Johnson out of Oakland, it's unclear whether the Orioles will pursue him. The Athletics must overcome his stunning descent, writes Bruce Jenkins.
3. As expected, a grievance was filed against the Astros. Meanwhile, MLB is deciding whether to enforce the Jacob Nix agreement, and if it goes against the Astros, the penalties could be devastating to the team.
Dings and dents
1. Mark Teixeira might have to be placed on the disabled list.
2. David Ortiz had some back spasms Thursday.
3. Eric Hosmer is still unsure when he'll be back.
1. The Rangers are really bad right now, and the Yankees took advantage of it this week.
2. The Mets had a bad day, as Tim Rohan writes.
3. Cole Hamels dominated the Giants on Thursday.
4. Joe Nathan got it done in the ninth inning.
5. And here come the Royals again: They won in walk-off style against the Indians.
6. The Marlins rallied and won.
7. Some wildness cost the Braves.
8. The Brewers pounded the Mets, and Ryan Braun hit a long home run to left field.
9. Corey Kluber was almost perfect, but the Indians lost.
• Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has a balancing act on his hands, writes Adam Kilgore.
• Mark Melancon has been consistent since moving into the closer role.
• Lance Lynn gave up smokeless tobacco.
• Jeff Francoeur is back in Atlanta.
• The Giants are in decent shape as they prepare to play the Dodgers.
• For the Dodgers, it's a big series, but not that big, writes Dylan Hernandez.
• Vidal Nuno has taken the long road to the big leagues, writes Sarah McLellan.
• Kevin Gausman is looking to rebound.
• Joakim Soria says he's not picky about his new role.
• Jose Abreu has not hit the rookie wall.
• The Rangers want to see more urgency out of Neftali Feliz.
• As my ESPN colleague Jayson Stark pointed out, Oakland's run differential is approaching plus-200. Meanwhile, they blew out Houston on Thursday.
• Garrett Richards is still an ace-in-waiting.
• In Cooperstown, New York, the mayor writes baseball books.
• Tom Seaver says Derek Jeter should be a unanimous selection for the Hall of Fame.
• Lance Berkman will join the Rice staff, writes Joseph Duarte.
• Former Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was arrested. The Twins canceled his Hall of Fame induction.
And today will be better than yesterday.