Cleveland gets useful return for Masterson.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Cardinals needed another starter with Michael Wacha on the shelf for at least a few more weeks and possibly limited the rest of the way, but in adding Justin Masterson in a trade with the Cleveland Indians today, what they get is a low-end solution that doesn't figure to replace what they've lost. Cleveland probably lost a lot of value by choosing not to deal Masterson over the winter, but the return here is solid considering his current asset value.
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
Justin Masterson has obvious talent but has taken a step back in 2014.
Masterson has always had his problems with left-handed hitters, unsurprising for a right-handed pitcher who comes from a slot that's effectively sidearm. But in 2014, they've destroyed him, hitting him for more contact and power than ever before. He's not throwing his changeup for a strike -- though it was never much of a factor for him anyway -- and he has nothing to keep lefties from sitting on his sinker, which isn't sinking enough to keep hitters from putting it in the air. He's going to a solid defensive club, however, and the Cardinals have had success working with sinkerballers over the years, so I wouldn't rule out them helping Masterson get back to the level he showed in prior years, when he could at least keep left-handed hitters from hitting him for power. The net gain over calling up someone like Marco Gonzales or Tim Cooney is maybe a single win over the rest of the season, most likely about half of that.
James Ramsey, Cleveland's return in the deal, was the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2012, selected when the Blue Jays took their first choice for the pick, Marcus Stroman, right in front of St. Louis. Ramsey looked like a future fourth outfielder as an above-average runner who didn't have the speed for center but lacked the power for a corner, with a slap-and-go swing designed to put the ball in play and get him out of the box as quickly as possible. St. Louis' player development staff helped him get more rotational and drive the ball more to his pull side, resulting in much more power this year, especially in the home run category.
Ramsey has a good approach and a very high baseball IQ, and I think he'll develop into an average everyday player in right or left field. Even if he ends up a platoon player -- he hasn't hit lefties well but also has less than 300 pro at-bats against them -- that's a great return for two months of a free agent they weren't going to retain or even give a qualifying offer. He could even make David Murphy expendable this winter or next July, as Murphy, who hasn't produced near the team's expectations, is under contract for 2015, with an option for the year after.
The 10 worst contracts in MLB.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Money makes the world go 'round. A literalist might say it's actually a combination of angular momentum and gravitational forces, but in any trade in baseball, the discussion involves dollars, not Johannes Kepler. Trades in baseball are rarely just a player-for-player matter because significant consideration is given to the contracts that will also be swapped. Teams are usually reluctant to trade their young stars for very good reasons, so the principles in most deadline trades involve veteran players either on the verge of a new contract or with a substantial existing one.
Not every contract will work out for a team, of course. Even a contract that seemed like a good idea at the time has a risk of backfiring for the signing team. Using the ZiPS projection system, we ranked the least desirable contract burdens in baseball by the difference between the player's projected value (based on his expected current dollar value on the free-agent market) and what he actually is scheduled to be paid.
1. Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers (minus-$122 million)
The Tigers may have made some ill-advised moves this past offseason (cough Doug Fister trade cough), but one good move they did make was unloading Fielder's contract to the Rangers with cash to pick up Ian Kinsler and his smaller remaining contract. Fielder's contract looked like a significant issue going into the season; he was approaching 30 years old and was coming off a down 2013 season. After he required season-ending surgery on a herniated disk in his neck, it's looking worse.
2. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (minus-$120 million)
Albert Pujols is back! At least, that's what a lot of headlines declared at the end of April after his OPS hit 1.000. Now? Not so much. Pujols is having a solid season both offensively and defensively, but he still isn't even at the level of his debut season for the Angels in 2012. Essentially, he's an above-average first baseman at age 34 ... with $180 million remaining on his contract.
3. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (minus-$83 million)
Although Cabrera has been unarguably one of the most feared sluggers in baseball in recent years, the Tigers took a gigantic risk in signing him to an extension two years before he would have hit free agency. Cabrera's gigantic extension, the richest in baseball history for a player not named Alex Rodriguez, starts at his age-33 season. Superstars on Cabrera's level of superstardom aren't immune to aging. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers' 85-year-old team owner, has actuarial-related reasons not to be concerned about the middle or end of Cabrera's new deal, but that might not be a consolation for Detroit's general manager five years from now.
4. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies (minus-$68 million)
The Howard contract has fallen to fourth, but only because it's almost halfway paid; it's still a disaster of a contract. A terrible deal at the time of the signing, it ended up being even worse than expected and now looks to be a total loss for the organization.
5. Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers (minus-$66 million)
Choo was the ZiPS projection system's least favorite contract last winter, and while his recent injuries have no doubt contributed to his OPS hovering just above .700, players on the wrong side of 30 tend to have an increased risk of injury, which must be taken into consideration. Although ZiPS thinks Choo will still have seasons in which he contributes, the Rangers spent too much for a player with old-player skills.
6. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (minus-$65 million)
The idea was that at first base, Mauer would make up for his lack of power with his high BA/OBP skills and stay healthier than he did behind the plate. So far, neither has happened. Given that Mauer is hitting .271 with only three homers, the odds that he hits like John Olerud for the rest of his big contract are looking long.
7. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers (minus-$63 million)
We talked a lot about Kemp last week, so there's no need to rehash the tale of Kemp's decline from superstar center fielder to Josh Willingham. Kemp can still contribute to a major league team, but if the Dodgers are expecting anything in return, they will have to eat a serious chunk of his remaining deal.
8. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees (minus-$59 million)
Unlike his first big contract with the Rangers, A-Rod's second deal really will go down as one of the worst in MLB history. The good news is that he signed in 2007, so the debacle has only three more years left. He has declined for years offensively and defensively, and coming off his suspension, he'd go into his age-39 season next year having missed an entire season. ZiPS projects only 1.4 WAR remaining for A-Rod. With a $6 million bonus for hitting home run No. 660 -- he's currently at 654 -- it's unlikely to make much of a difference if the Yankees try to play A-Rod in 2015 or just eat the rest of the deal.
9. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (minus-$59 million)
Sabathia is the first (and only) pitcher in the top 10 bad-contract rankings. One could argue that teams are getting better at evaluating injury risk for pitchers, keeping relatively few recent hurler contracts from becoming gigantic boondoggles. Sabathia has lost a considerable amount of weight for health reasons, but he certainly seemed more durable as an overweight pitcher. With a rich history of durable pitchers with girth in baseball, perhaps the Yankees should encourage him to eat a few more cheeseburgers while recovering from knee surgery.
10. Carl Crawford, Los Angeles Dodgers (minus-$57 million)
There might be a team willing to pay $60 million or so for an injury-prone fourth outfielder. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Dodgers, that team is most likely the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although there's at least a chance that another team is highly optimistic on Matt Kemp's remaining upside and gives him an aggressive valuation, it's very unlikely that anyone would do the same for Crawford.
Red Sox had better have a post-Lester plan.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Memo to John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino:
I hope you have a Plan B. In fact, make sure you have a Plan B.
Because if there is no Plan B to Jon Lester for next season, you could have a whole lot of angry fans and players by Opening Day, and the narrative won't be about your team's farm system and promise or past glories. Fairly or not, the narrative in New England will be about cheap ownership. Fairly or not, the narrative will be about you.
If there is no Plan B, 2015 might make everybody pine for the warm and fuzzy days of the Bobby Valentine era.
Lester was scratched from today's scheduled start in anticipation of a possible deal, and trading Lester today or Thursday makes sense considering where you and the Boston Red Sox stand with the left-hander. He doesn't want to talk about a contract extension until the season is over, which is a polite way of saying he's going to become a free agent to solicit the highest possible offers, which is happening because it seems as if your organization has taken a semi-rigid stand against giving really long-term deals to pitchers. Trading Lester now will get the organization more value than what you would get in a compensatory draft pick. Given that you are closer to having the No. 1 pick in next year's draft than to the teams at the top of the American League East, sure, trading Lester now is the logical move.
But there cannot be any doubt: An opportunity to sign Lester was missed. There was a window in January, February and March -- back when it was so cold but when the feelings were all warm -- when you almost certainly could have gotten this done in a comfortable middle ground of $110 million or so, which is more than you wanted to spend but far less than what Max Scherzer turned down from the Tigers and far less than what Cole Hamels got from the Phillies two years ago. Instead, you fired a $70 million offer with a hint of a willingness to bend, but a $70 million offer is a lot closer to Edwin Jackson than market value for Lester, your homegrown star left-hander who had just shared in the duck boat rides.
Hey, it's your team, and your money.
But you better have a Plan B. Because if you don't, Red Sox fans will not understand. Your players will not understand. In fact, your players especially will not understand. Whether you like it or not, and whether it's right or not, the departure of Lester will serve as the framework of all discussion about failure in your clubhouse. You might have veterans batting .220, you might have pitchers failing to make adjustments, you might have position players making mistakes, but if there is no Plan B to Lester, no big-time, recognizable reinforcements brought in, and the Red Sox struggle early on in 2015, a lot of your employees are going to blame you in the way they blamed Valentine for everything bad that happened in 2012.
Tickets to Fenway Park are really expensive. Hot dogs at Fenway are really expensive. The beer, the cotton candy … everything, really expensive. To date, a lot of your fans are OK with that because your ownership has been a rousing success. The comeback against the Yankees in 2004 and, after that, the World Series title that almost seemed like a formality. The championship in 2007 and the incredibly likable and hard-working group that formed a bond with its city in 2013. All good.
But in sports, there is no such thing of a lifetime goodwill pass. Johnny Damon learned that after he signed with the Yankees; he was placed in exile for almost a decade.
You have some really good young players in the eyes of rival evaluators. They like Jackie Bradley Jr. and think he's going to be better than he has performed this season. They like Mookie Betts. They love Xander Bogaerts and remain convinced that he is capable of being a core star.
But they see a lineup that lacks power -- like a lot of lineups in 2014 -- and a minor league system that lacks power, and that will be expensive. They see a rotation that lacks an ace, and a lot of officials with other teams have been greatly surprised that Lester wasn't re-signed because he is arguably the most important player in the organization: a star pitcher -- a left-hander, no less -- with a proven AL East and World Series track record who spoke openly eight months ago about wanting to stay.
They see an organization that seems poised to take the slow-growth, draft-and-develop route of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals.
Except you guys don't own the Pirates or Royals. You own one of baseball's financial superpowers, with a ballpark that you've deftly turned into a cash machine, with TV broadcasts that probably have more commercials per second than any franchise in the game. You have almost zero financial obligations beyond 2015, other than Dustin Pedroia's nice team-friendly deal that he probably signed with the idea that you would use the savings to invest in other players who would help the Red Sox win.
So you better have a Plan B that's something other than the slow-and-steady, organic ascension of your own prospects. You better not try to sell to your players and fans a two- to three-year wait for Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley, Henry Owens and others.
The Red Sox aren't exactly like the Yankees, and the Yankees aren't exactly like the Red Sox. The fans that follow those two teams are thankful for that. But through the championships of 2004, 2007 and 2013, Red Sox fans have morphed into Yankees fans in this way: They aren't going to have a lot of patience for the word "rebuilding." Not when they're paying $50 for parking, not when they read the sport is saturated with money, not when they presume you are lining your pockets with their cash.
Trading Lester today or Thursday is OK because he's probably already gone anyway.
But Mr. Henry, Mr. Werner and Mr. Lucchino, again, here are some words of advice: You'd better have a Plan B.
So the Red Sox are talking to a lot of teams about a lot of players.
For the Brewers, Pirates and Cardinals, pursuing Lester might be almost as much about keeping him from a division rival as adding him to their rotation. He has popped up on the trade radar for Pittsburgh, writes Bill Brink. And Joe Starkey wonders: Would one big move kill the Pirates' future? Meanwhile, the Brewers might be built for a deep playoff run, writes Tom Haudricourt. Finally, the Cardinals have an open spot in the rotation Saturday and are waiting for a pitcher.
Essentially, the balance of power in the National League hangs on the fate of Lester, Joel Sherman writes.
Around the league
• Speaking of left-handed pitchers being discussed on the trade market, Cole Hamels was dominant again, firing eight scoreless innings against the Mets on Tuesday, with eight strikeouts and zero walks. From ESPN Stats & Information:
A) Hamels is 5-2 with a 1.58 ERA in 12 starts since June 1, the fifth-best ERA among qualified starters in that span.
B) He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in all 12 of those starts.
C) Tuesday was his first scoreless start against the Mets since August 2006, which was his first career start against them.
D) He has won three consecutive starts for the first time since August 2012.
Among starters, lowest ERA since June 1:
Clayton Kershaw, 0.94 ERA
Felix Hernandez, 1.33
Adam Wainwright, 1.40
Jon Lester, 1.54
Cole Hamels, 1.58
Hamels was able to tune out the trade talk, Ryan Lawrence writes.
• With little more than a day left before the trade deadline, these are the contending teams with the greatest needs:
1. Reds: A hitter (although the most oft-heard lament from officials in recent days is how few quality hitters are available).
2, 3 and 4. Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates: A dominant, front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, like Lester. Not only because they can use him for themselves, but also to keep him away from their division rivals.
5. Mariners: Any hitter who can upgrade an offense that disappears too often.
6. Yankees: A starting pitcher.
7. Giants: A right-handed hitter.
8. Dodgers: Bullpen help.
9. Tigers: Left-handed relief.
10. Nationals: An impact hitter, if one can be had, because Ryan Zimmerman is going to be out a long time.
• On Tuesday's podcast, Jayson Stark had a ton of trade info and Roch Kubatko discussed the plans of the Baltimore Orioles.
• Good times in the Sunshine State: The Rays are within one game of .500, incredibly, and the Marlins are back to .500.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, if the Rays get to .500, they would become only the fourth team in MLB history to fall as many as 18 games under .500 before fighting its way back. From ESPN Stats & Info: Should the Rays win Wednesday (12:10 p.m. ET versus the Brewers), they will reach .500 for the first time since they were 10-10 on April 22.
Teams that reached .500 after being 18-plus games below .500 (MLB history):
2006 Florida Marlins: 78-84 (final record)
2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays: 70-91
1899 Louisville Colonels: 75-77
• Manny Machado walked it off against the Angels and set off a mob scene.
• Marcus Stroman dominated a distracted Red Sox team Tuesday.
• Jose Abreu now has 31 homers.
• The Yankees pulled out a 12-11 win in a wild game against the Rangers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it's the first game this season in which both teams scored at least 11 runs.
• This refrain continues: Managers and club officials do not understand how there can be such a disparity of perception on instant replay challenges. Ron Gardenhire is the latest to lend his voice to this. Here's the play.
1. Marlon Byrd, who reportedly is on the trade block, simply got a day off Tuesday.
2. The Cubs expect more trade activity.
3. The Rockies and Red Sox are shaping up as go-to places for pitching, writes Tony Paul.
4. The Royals are exploring all trade options, writes Andy McCullough.
5. The Indians are viewed by rival officials as fully ready to move Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson in the next two days.
6. The Astros might regret it if they hesitate on a trade, writes Evan Drellich.
7. The Diamondbacks are unusually quiet on the trade front. As Jerry Crasnick reported, Gerardo Parra is being shopped.
8. John Shea has some trade thoughts.
9. For David Price, the waiting game is almost over.
Dings and dents
1. More needs to be done with Starling Marte's recovery.
2. Matt Lindstrom threw a simulated game.
3. Eugenio Suarez is nicked up.
4. Shae Simmons, who has been so great in the Braves' bullpen, has been placed on the disabled list.
5. Jason Heyward was out of the lineup Tuesday.
6. Matt Cain is meeting with Dr. James Andrews.
1. Stephen Strasburg got no run support, as James Wagner writes.
2. Oakland put together a huge rally.
3. Francisco Liriano worked his magic for the Pirates.
4. Kyle Gibson was really good again.
5. The Brewers continue to struggle to score runs.
6. The Cubs played forever and won.
7. The Reds' offense showed a pulse.
8. Joakim Soria made his first home appearance for the Tigers, and it didn't go well.
9. The Cardinals suffered an ugly loss.
10. The Braves blew some leads.
11. The Astros lost a heartbreaker.
12. The Giants' offense is incredibly awful these days.
13. The Dodgers padded their NL West lead.
14. The Mariners got a little offense going.
15. The Angels lost a battle of the bullpens.
16. A newcomer sparked the Padres.
• Danny Valencia is excited to join the Blue Jays.
• Jose Abreu extended his hitting streak to 18 games, tying his career high. He has a hit in 36 of his past 37 games (an 18-game hit streak, then an 0-for-4 game, followed by another 18-game streak). He is hitting .356 in those 37 games, with 12 homers and 32 RBIs.
Multiple hit streaks of 18-plus games by a rookie in a season (past 100 years)
2014: Jose Abreu, White Sox
2001: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
1948: Alvin Dark, Braves
1943: **** Wakefield, Tigers
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Most home runs by a rookie (past 20 seasons)
2001, Albert Pujols: 37 homers
2007, Ryan Braun: 34
2007, Chris Young: 32
2014, Jose Abreu: 31 (through July 29)
• Billy Butler continues to hold the key for the Royals.
• J.P. Arencibia regained some confidence with his big game Tuesday.
• Fernando Rodney is aiming for the moon, writes Todd Dybas.
• An early trade put the Athletics in the driver's seat, writes Tim Kawakami.
• The Mets can still be a factor down the stretch, writes Ken Davidoff.
• The Marlins' rally Monday was reminiscent of the 2003 team, writes Manny Navarro.
• Todd Frazier has been racking up stolen bases.
Matt Kemp, by position (2014)
Stat LF CF RF
AB 162 139 26
HR 3 5 2
BA .278 .273 .462
OPS .742 .808 1.356
• From ESPN Stats & Info on Matt Kemp: He snapped a 25-game homerless streak with two homers in a win over the Braves on Tuesday. He had just two home runs in his previous 36 games combined. He is hitting .452 with two homers and nine RBIs in his past eight games, raising his batting average 17 points and his OPS 48 points in barely more than a week.
The Dodgers are 6-2 in those eight games, and he seems to have found a home defensively, starting in right field in seven straight games.
• Some ways in which the Rockies might get better.
• The Dodgers' TV deal is under scrutiny.
• The Twins have signed a pitcher with an unusual background.
• All is well in the world: Vin Scully will be back in 2015.
And today will be better than yesterday.