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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 241

post #7201 of 73440
Originally Posted by GotHolesInMySocks View Post

Report, Marlins/Red Sox talking a Hanley/Bell For Crawford deal.

Saw it on Sportscenter.

I hope not...wouldn't mind getting rid of Bell but I still have faith in Hanley. Plus don't see how Crawford makes the Marlins better in this deal. Its going to take more then that to get the Marlins back into the playoff picture
post #7202 of 73440
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by 23ska909red02 View Post

Basically, if I understand it right, we have the top section in gray, right above the threads, that we can use to link people to pre-made threads. As you can see, the last link I inserted in that section today was a link to this thread.

I definitely appreciate the help from you and Meth to get it back on top smokin.gif

Yankees mean.gif first time they got swept in a four game series by losing each game by one run in their franchise history. These A's.
post #7203 of 73440
Normally I'd be delighted anytime the Yanks were swept, but somehow the A's are now in a tie for the second wild card spot. mean.gif
At least the O's are picking it up. 5 in a row, and a long awaited quality start from Britton. Good stuff.

A 20 year old is leading the majors in WAR. sick.gif
post #7204 of 73440
Juan Uribe is a professional athlete.


that's all.
post #7205 of 73440

Rays can't hit they're done.


Red Sox are just getting healthy though, and if they can get Dempster or another pitcher, watch out.

post #7206 of 73440
Rangers are throwing out Feldman and probably Martin Perez the next two days as Oswalt and Lewis are fighting off back and elbow tightness... mean.gif

Just go get Greinke or Hamels and be done with this.

Need another bat, too. Josh swung through about 8 fastballs last night, Cruz hit his first homer in a month, Napoli and Torrealba suck behind the plate. Team is frustrating as all hell and they're still up 5 games and neck-and-neck for best record in baseball.
post #7207 of 73440
Dempster could be goin to Atlanta? Come on Theo, all you got left is Soriano and Garza and all the bad contracts are gone if that's true. pimp.gif
post #7208 of 73440
Originally Posted by abovelegit1 View Post

Normally I'd be delighted anytime the Yanks were swept, but somehow the A's are now in a tie for the second wild card spot. mean.gif
At least the O's are picking it up. 5 in a row, and a long awaited quality start from Britton. Good stuff.
A 20 year old is leading the majors in WAR. sick.gif
by sweeping said yankees smokin.gif
post #7209 of 73440
I hate to even talk about it for fear of a jinx but .500 looks closer and closer...

Low expectations but gotta start somewhere happy.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 #7210 of 73440
Ichiro to the Yankees....
post #7211 of 73440
Weird to see him go, but it's probably for the best. N.Y. was the best possible place he could've ended up.
post #7212 of 73440
Finally some movement...

Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to Detroit... sick.gif

Ryan Dempster to Atlanta... tongue.gif

Hopefully a deal for Matt Garza can be completed, don't want to give up Zach Lee, but for a 28 year old pitcher under team control...that's a trade worth doing. They can throw in Soriano too, if they are willing to eat most of the money owed to him.

Hanley Ramirez on the block, has his defense declined so much that teams don't even know where to play him? So much natural talent, yet mentally he's not there, mean.gif

Josh Johnson possibly on the block nerd.gif

Our farm system is awful, mean.gif

Ichiro to the Yanks... wow!
Instagram: backyardlobo
Instagram: backyardlobo
post #7213 of 73440
eek.gif at Ichiro on the Yankees
post #7214 of 73440

lulz.. ichiro bout to hit 15 + hrs the rest of the way at yankee stadium...sick.gif

post #7215 of 73440
Originally Posted by Nowitness41Dirk View Post

Why waste their time? That's not close to what it will take to get him to sign, so it's not like you're fooling your fans.



damn really he going to get more then that in the open market?

post #7216 of 73440
Originally Posted by Bigmike23 View Post

damn really he going to get more then that in the open market?


Someone is going to mess around and break the bank on him. He'll be 29 and he profiles statistically significantly better than his ERA... 


He's an ace. Think that outweighs whatever issues teams will try to use as leverage. 

post #7217 of 73440
eek.gif @ the Ichiro trade

Didn't see that one coming
For a Dummy you make a lot of sense
"I might crash ya internet..."
Follow me: @YouBigDummy
For a Dummy you make a lot of sense
"I might crash ya internet..."
Follow me: @YouBigDummy
post #7218 of 73440
Damn, not sure how I like Ichiro (favorite player) going to the Yankees.
. At least Rick Carlisle is still here .
. Anderson, Barea, Dalembert, Evans, Felton, Harris, Jenkins, Matthews, McGee, Nowitzki, Pachulia, Parsons, Powell, Villanueva Williams .
. At least Rick Carlisle is still here .
. Anderson, Barea, Dalembert, Evans, Felton, Harris, Jenkins, Matthews, McGee, Nowitzki, Pachulia, Parsons, Powell, Villanueva Williams .
post #7219 of 73440
mean.gif @ this ichiro move

the numbers WILL improve in the bronx...
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 #7220 of 73440
Anibal really helps out the rotation... Should do well in our monster park... Omar is a HUGE upgrade at 2nd... Lets just hope Leyland plays him and doesn't screw him for Raybum...Love how the Tigs are playing and these deals should help us out quite a bit.... DD loves dealing with the Marlins... Looks like another winner for us.
post #7221 of 73440

Tigers are the ones who did the best today.


Infante isn't great but they have terrible second baseman.

post #7222 of 73440
Ichiro a Yankee. sick.gif
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
What's 1.21 gigawatts to a McFly like me. Can you please remind me?
post #7223 of 73440
post #7224 of 73440
Thread Starter 
The downside of the Ichiro trade.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Yankees' trade for Ichiro Suzuki is interesting in the same way that Joe Namath playing for the Los Angeles Rams was interesting. Ichiro is an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer and has been an amalgam of hits, stolen bases, Gold Glove Awards and All-Star votes in his career, but it's unclear how he represents an upgrade for the New York Yankees, other than for their network.

Others ahead of him in his OPS neighborhood this year are Jeff Francoeur, Rickie Weeks and Drew Stubbs. DeWayne Wise, who the Yankees designated for assignment to make room for Ichiro, had a .778 OPS in 53 plate appearances with New York -- significantly higher than Suzuki's OPS in each of his last three full seasons.

Ichiro embraced this and essentially made it happen, and he has indicated a willingness to go along with whatever Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants. Ichiro could be energized, in theory, by shifting from an exhausted situation to something better. Think Kevin Youkilis going from the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox. If Suzuki is surrounded by better players in a ballpark better-suited for hitters, this could create opportunities.

But is also has the chance to become something of an embarrassment.

If he doesn't play well -- and there is a lot of evidence that could be the case -- then Girardi will have a revered 10-time All-Star sitting on his roster.

There are other hitters who get on base more, who hit for more power, who are better-suited to take advantage of the dimensions in Yankee Stadium. Ichiro is still a good outfielder, and he can run. There are many other outfielders who have those two particular skills.

If it doesn't go well, Girardi is going to have to immediately feel comfortable with the idea of pinch-hitting for an all-time great. He will have to fight empathy in making his choices. He may feel compelled to play Ichiro purely out of a sense of deference to Ichiro's extraordinary history.

In 1973, Willie Mays was 42 years old, in the final season of his career, and he played 45 games in the outfield for the New York Mets -- all in center field. Nobody was ever going to tell Willie Mays he wasn't the center fielder -- a practice that continued through the World Series that year and went badly at the end.

Mays' OPS in that regrettable final season was .647. Ichiro Suzuki's OPS this morning is .640.

The acquisition of Ichiro made it a big day for the Yankees, Girardi said. The Yankees are hoping for the best, writes John Harper. Ichiro is a famous supplementary part for the Yankees, writes Joel Sherman.

In Seattle, there is relief that Ichiro is gone. This saves the Mariners from barreling headlong into a situation identical to the Ken Griffey Jr. debacle two years ago.

Fans are coping with Ichiro's departure.

Notes on the Ichiro trade
From ESPN Stats & Information

• The Yankees acquired Ichiro for 25-year-old right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.

• Ichiro's $17 million salary this season gives him the fourth-highest salary on the Yankees (after Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia) and makes him the team's 12th $10M man this season (including $11.5M being paid to A.J. Burnett).

Highest career BA among active players (min. 3,000 PA)
Albert Pujols: .326
Joe Mauer: .324
Ichiro Suzuki: .322
Todd Helton: .320

• The Yankees now have three players with at least 2,500 career hits (Ichiro, Rodriguez and Derek Jeter).

From Elias Sports Bureau: Only two teams in MLB history have had three players with at least 2,500 career hits at the time they were together: A's in 1927 (Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Zack Wheat) and A's again in 1928 (Cobb, Collins, Tris Speaker).

• While Ichiro's bat is not what it once was, his glove is still golden. According to, Ichiro ranks second among all corner outfielders in defensive runs saved. According to that same metric, Ichiro joins a group that ranks second-worst in the American League.

Defensive runs saved in 2012 by Yankees corner outfielders
Ichiro Suzuki: 12
Andruw Jones: 2
Nick Swisher: minus-3
Raul Ibanez: minus-4

Ichiro's last four seasons (BA/OPS)
2012: .261/.640 (both would be career worsts)
2011: .272/.645
2010: .315/.754
2009: .352/.851

Comparing Ichiro to Wise, Ibanez and Jones trio (Ichiro/trio)
OPS: .640/.728
Slug pct.: .352/.429
Homers: 4/16
RBIs: 28/45


• The Miami Marlins were baseball's biggest story coming into this season, and now they are its greatest disaster after fewer than 100 games. The trade of Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit Tigers for Jacob Turner means that Miami is veering, again, back into familiar ground. The Marlins are willing to deal Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson and anybody else not nailed to the floor, and what South Florida has again, after its investment in a new ballpark, is an unwatchable team for the final two months.

The first season-ticket holders in the history of the Marlins' new park bought their tickets expecting to see a world-championship caliber team and instead, in August and September, they will see a lot of the same type of players the Marlins have been fielding for most of the last decade -- young, talented, cheap and unaccomplished.

Now can you understand why Pujols wanted a no-trade clause when the Marlins pursued him in free agency last winter?

GM Larry Beinfest said the Marlins have given up on this season. Johnson threw great in what was essentially an audition for other teams.

The Tigers are playing well, and they got even better without giving up prospect Nick Castellanos. Infante and Sanchez give Detroit exactly what it needs in its unflinching effort to win a World Series this year: a good second baseman and a solid presence at the back end of the Tigers' rotation.

Turner is an excellent addition for the Marlins' baseball operations department. But it's the kind of white-flag trade that has been executed far too many times in this franchise's short history.

Mark Simon has more on how good Johnson was against the Atlanta Braves.

• The Braves are waiting for Ryan Dempster to say yes.

• The Texas Rangers figure to be one of the more aggressive teams in the trade market in the next eight days in the aftermath of the season-ending injury to Colby Lewis. Texas is looking for elite talent -- Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke.

• The Philadelphia Phillies are waiting to see if Hamels is going to take their offer.

• The Rays' players are trying to block out trade rumors.

• The Los Angeles Dodgers are putting together a pretty amazing road trip, at a time when it is badly needed.

• The Colorado Rockies should play Todd Helton, writes Troy Renck.

• The Red Sox are keeping Jon Lester in their rotation.

• Ken Kendrick, CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, says Arizona is better off with Justin Upton on the team.

• Nolan Ryan says Josh Hamilton gives away at-bats.

Searching for Mike Trout's flaw.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ANAHEIM -- With his headphones on and a towel at the ready in his waistband, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington did his daily 10 laps around the field early Sunday afternoon, walking briskly in his fight against Father Time. When the Rangers' manager finished, he relaxed in the dugout and saw something he had never seen before.

Mike Trout had come out to work on his bunting, and as Washington watched the Angels' phenom square around in his work with third-base coach Dino Ebel, the thought occurred to Washington that he had finally identified something Trout isn't good at.

Trout might have the highest average in the American League. He might be the fastest player in baseball; the Angels clocked him at 3.52 seconds from home to first, almost supernatural. He might be the best player in baseball, as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane predicted in early May. He might be the best player of his generation, as Albert Pujols said Sunday.

But Mike Trout is not a great bunter, Washington said with a smile.

He went on to explain that his team hasn't figured out a way to get him out, and as if to illuminate that point, Trout reached base in four of his five plate appearances Sunday night -- a triple in his first at-bat, a walk after a dozen pitches, another walk, a single.

As one member of the Angels' organization said the other day, we are all conditioned to think that eventually a 20-year-old rookie -- who went to Magic Mountain Saturday evening with his friends, like a lot of 20-year-olds -- will turn into a pumpkin, inevitably. Pitchers will figure things out. Advance scouts will discover his kryptonite.

But here's the thing: Trout's swing is incredibly simple, and his approach is so sound in how he takes the ball to right field, something he learned from watching Derek Jeter as a kid, the Angels source said.

"You see a rookie hitting .350 and you think that eventually, it'll stop," the source said. "But after awhile, you start to wonder if this is who he is -- and that he's actually getting better."

Trout's OPS for his first plate appearance against starting pitchers is about .700 this year. His second: About 1.120. His third: About 1.400. His fourth: About 1.500.

He doesn't watch video between at-bats, he said before Sunday's game. The first time he is thrown a breaking ball, he said, he captures a mental image of the pitch and then makes his adjustments thereafter. Like a hitter with a photographic memory.

The Rangers couldn't get him out; the Los Angeles Dodgers say they can't find a hole in his approach; scouts are befuddled, so far.

But Washington can still hang onto this -- Trout isn't a great bunter. Yet.

Trout's current trajectory would take him to these numbers at season's end -- a combination we've never seen before in Major League Baseball:

Runs: 132
Hits: 202
Walks: 56
Homers: 28
Extra-base hits: 73
RBIs: 89
Stolen bases: 58
Average: .357
On-base percentage: .412

Meanwhile, the weekend ended badly for the Rangers, whose hitters looked awful in their at-bats against Dan Haren -- most notably Josh Hamilton, who has seen his on-base percentage plummet by about 100 points during the past couple of months. The Rangers have a lot of peak/valley hitters manifesting this season -- Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz.

And Texas is dealing with a rash of pitching injuries, as well.

Oakland sweeps

Oakland swept the New York Yankees in four games, and at the end there was a fitting conclusion, writes Steve Kroner.

Notes from Elias Sports Bureau

• This is the first time that the A's have had eight walkoff wins in a span of 16 home games. The last MLB team to do that was the Brewers in 2000 (also eight in 16).

• The last time the Yankees were swept in a series of at least four games by the A's was 1972. They had played 19 straight series of four-plus games against the A's since without being swept. The last time the A's swept a series of at least four games against the Yankees at home was in 1913 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.

• The A's had hosted 57 straight series of at least four games against the Yankees since they last swept them at home.

• This is the first time the Yankees have been swept in a four-game series with each loss by one run. The last time the Yankees lost four straight games, each by one run, against the same opponent was against the Tigers in 1988-89.


• The Detroit Tigers closed out a sweep of the Chicago White Sox with a strong effort from Jacob Turner.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Turner won:

A) Threw strikes: 70 percent strike percentage bolstered by the White Sox swinging at 52 percent of all pitches. Four of Turner's first five starts had strike percentages in the 50 percent range.
B) White Sox swung at 15 of Turner's 41 pitches out of the zone, a chase percentage of 37 percent. As a team, the White Sox have chased more than 30 percent of "bad" pitches this season, third-most in the AL.
C) 18 of 23 batters saw first-pitch strikes. Only four plate appearances ended with the hitter ahead in the count (three were outs), and Turner went to just one three-ball count (full) the entire day.

From Elias: At 29 years and 95 days old today, Cabrera becomes the 11th-youngest player in MLB history to hit 300 home runs. He's the fifth active player to reach 300 career homers before age 30.

Active players to reach 300 HRs before age 30
Alex Rodriguez: 27 years, 249 days
Andruw Jones: 28 years, 144 days
Pujols: 28 years, 170 days
Cabrera: 29 years, 95 days
Adam Dunn: 29 years, 237 days

Cabrera is only the second Venezuelan-born player to reach 300 homers in his career. Most career homers among Venezuelan-born players:

Andres Galarraga: 399
Cabrera: 300
Magglio Ordonez: 294
Bobby Abreu: 286
Tony Armas: 251

• The pitcher formerly known as Fausto had three birthdays, with three cakes, as Paul Hoynes writes.

• Jair Jurrjens got roughed up. There is an expectation in other organizations that the Atlanta Braves will make an immediate push to add a starting pitcher, and they have been in the Ryan Dempster talks all along.

Dings and dents

1. Ian Desmond is headed to the disabled list.

2. Matt Garza is feeling better and might avoid the disabled list.

3. Jonny Venters looked good in his first outing off the disabled list.

4. Giancarlo Stanton is making progress.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Milwaukee Brewers seem ready to sell.

2. The San Francisco Giants are trying to decide what to do with Brandon Belt, writes Henry Schulman.

3. The San Diego Padres signed hitter Carlos Quentin. Huston Street is next.

4. Oakland is among those interested in Chase Headley, and perhaps the Athletics' strong play in the past month will nudge them to be a little bit more aggressive than they'd normally be.

By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats and Info

5: HRs by Kevin Youkilis in 22 games since joining White Sox (had four homers 42 games with Red Sox this season)
36: Times Ichiro has stolen two bases in a single inning in his career

NL East notes

• Ryan Zimmerman powered the Washington Nationals, who came back to win the final two games of the four-game series against the Braves. Washington is getting tough through adversity, writes Thomas Boswell.

• The Phillies' clubhouse is keeping the faith, writes David Murphy.

• Anibal Sanchez threw well, with scouts in attendance, but the Miami Marlins lost again.

NL Central notes

• The Chicago Cubs were wrecked.

• The Brewers' playoff dreams may have ended, writes Tom Haudricourt.

• The St. Louis Cardinals put it all together in a sweep, writes Bernie Miklasz. Adam Wainwright says St. Louis is championship caliber.

• The Houston Astros are evolving into the '62 Mets, in the nature of how they're losing. There are massive changes to come for Houston, as Chip Bailey writes.

• Ron Cook writes that there is a lot to enjoy about the Pittsburgh Pirates.

NL West notes

• The Dodgers needed a lift, and they got it against the New York Mets during the weekend.

• Jason Kubel and the Arizona Diamondbacks had a really fun weekend.

• There have been first impressions with the Rockies' four-man rotation.

AL East notes

• While the Yankees were swept, the Baltimore Orioles gained gobs of ground in the standings.

• Jon Lester was crushed.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Lester allowed 11 runs:

A) Fastball was all over the map, contributing to a very poor strike percentage, especially against righties. Since the start of the season, Lester had thrown 63 percent strikes to RHB; on Sunday it was less than 52. That also meant fewer swings (42 percent versus 46 percent) out of Toronto hitters, and a better contact rate (84 percent versus 79 percent) when they did swing.
B) Career-high four home runs allowed, three on fastballs, and all three of those near the same spot (the middle/right of the plate looking in, the "6" on your phone). Blue Jays went 8-for-13 plus a sac bunt when they got a pitch in the strike zone and put it in play.
C) Curveball also ineffective: Seven of the 11 he threw were out of the zone, five of them not even close, and only one was swung at.

• The Toronto Blue Jays partied on against Lester, the headline in this story reads.

• Joe Maddon was disappointed with the Rays' 4-6 homestand. Tampa Bay's offense struggled again.

• The Yankees suffered a flashback to 1972.

AL Central notes

• The White Sox had a brutal weekend.

• Ryan Doumit saved the day.

• The Cleveland Indians are in a free fall and dropped below .500.

• Jeremy Guthrie struggled, as Tod Palmer writes. A couple of Kansas City Royals were ejected.

Cespedes has changed Oakland's plan.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In recent years, the New York Yankees have provided a barometer for the Oakland Athletics. Even when the Athletics were playing well, the Yankees tended to go into Oakland and overmatch their younger opponents; when the Athletics went into Yankee Stadium, well, forget it. They often looked intimidated and simply not ready for the stage.

So the ongoing series between the Athletics and Yankees is especially noteworthy. Oakland has won the first three games of the four-game series, limiting the Yankees to six runs. On Sunday, when Bartolo Colon pitches against CC Sabathia, Oakland could close out a sweep of the team that is running away with the AL East. As of Sunday morning, the A's are tied for one of two wild-card spots.

The Athletics have the best team ERA in the American League and not by a small margin. Their bullpen has been spectacular, holding opposing hitters to a .202 batting average. And they have their version of a Josh Hamilton, a Robinson Cano, a Mark Trumbo in Yoenis Cespedes.

The defector from Cuba is not close to being the best player in the major leagues, but the Athletics say that when he is healthy and in the lineup, he provides large dollops of hope and toughness. If he strikes out in his first few at-bats -- and he's got 51 strikeouts in 229 at-bats this season -- he will be there at the plate in the late innings utterly convinced that he's one swing from beating you. He believes he has the ability to crush a ball at any time, like he did on Saturday when he mashed a 458-foot homer off Phil Hughes.

This is something the Athletics have lacked in their everyday lineup since the departure of Miguel Tejada, whose energy level and confidence lifted his less experienced teammates.

Cespedes has seven hits in his 10 at-bats in this series against New York, including two Trumbo-like homers and zero strikeouts. Each time he comes to the plate, there is an expectation that he could alter the game. This is his expectation and of those who wear the same uniform. Injuries have limited him to 62 games, but in those, Oakland is 38-24. When Cespedes hasn't played, the Athletics are 12-20.

Cespedes' play and presence has shifted thought in the Athletics' organization. Before this season of rebuilding began, there was no way that Oakland would have entertained the notion of aggressively pursuing help at shortstop or third base before the trade deadline, but that's going on now. Marco Scutaro is available, and so is Yunel Escobar and Stephen Drew.

The Athletics' players have earned that midseason help. Ryan Cook has earned that with his spectacular season; he's allowed 16 hits in 42 1/3 innings. Jarrod Parker has earned that by limiting opponents to a little more than three runs per game; he won Saturday. Josh Reddick has earned that by making an adjustment in his approach and clubbing 21 homers so far.

Cespedes has earned that by helping make the Athletics believe that they can beat anybody from Anaheim to Arlington to the Bronx.

Brandon Inge was The Man for the Athletics Saturday.

From Kenton Wong of ESPN Stats & Info, more on Oakland's turnaround:

Heating up in Oakland
Best records in baseball since July 1.

Team Win pct. W-L
Oakland Athletics .867 13-2
Detroit Tigers .765 13-4
Pittsburgh Pirates .688 11-5
San Diego Padres .688 11-5
• The Athletics have been the hottest team in baseball since the start of July, going 13-2. That has allowed them to gain 6½ games on the AL West-leading Rangers in that span.

• Many of the A's wins this month have come in dramatic fashion, including five walk-offs:

July 3: Brandon Moss hits a game-tying single in the bottom of the ninth. Coco Crisp ends the game with a walk-off sac fly.
July 6: Chris Carter hits a pinch-hit three-run walk-off homer in the 11th inning.
July 8: Josh Reddick hits a walk-off double in the 13th.
July 18: Brandon Hicks hits his first career homer -- a walk-off shot in the ninth.
July 20: Brandon Moss hits a walk-off single in the ninth inning.

• Sunday, Oakland will have a chance to finish a sweep of the Yankees, owners of the best record in baseball at 57-37. The Yankees have not been swept in a four-game series since facing Toronto in May 2003.

• Pitching has keyed the A's recent success, as they have allowed three runs or fewer in 12 of their 13 wins this month. They have also gone 7-0 in one-run games, including each of their past four games.

• In addition to the pitching, Cespedes' return has helped. When he missed 22 games in May with a hand injury, Oakland went 7-15. After a mediocre first half, Cespedes has picked it up in the second half with six multihit games, including two 4-for-5 games.

Cespedes this season (first half/second half) Games: 54/8
BA: .263/.581
HR: 9/4
RBIs: 36/9
Slug pct.: .465/1.032

Cespedes has especially improved hitting off-speed pitches. From March-May, he hit just .190 on at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch (compared to .351 from June-July). His OPS has also risen from .617 against off-speed pitches in March-May to 1.007 in June-July.

A slow-developing trade market

The Houston Astros' purge has been responsible for most of the trade action to date, and there have been a couple of other minor deals. But there has not been much in the way of high-impact trades, and some general managers believe that's because their brethren are struggling to define the value of two-month rental players like Ryan Dempster.

In past seasons, it was commonplace for teams to surrender strong packages of prospects for a veteran like Dempster. Last season, for example, the San Francisco Giants gave up their best young pitcher, Zack Wheeler, for Carlos Beltran.

But under the new rules, the wild-card teams are guaranteed just one game, and there is no draft-pick compensation for an acquired player like Dempster. At a time when more teams tend to operate with a macro vision, executives are reassessing the value of a midseason deal. "There is a point when common sense takes over," a GM said Saturday. "You are not going to put your team in a desolate place in 2013 and beyond" to get one quick fix.

"It's a business decision," he added.

For example: The Los Angeles Dodgers, not liking the price tag for Dempster, have decided to focus on players they could control beyond this season, like Matt Garza, who was pulled from his start Saturday after experiencing some cramping.

The Cardinals' desire to add a starter has been mitigated by the progress of Jaime Garcia.

The remaking of the Astros

Meanwhile, other executives have noted that the Astros are positioning themselves to be this decade's version of the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished so poorly in the standings repeatedly early last decade that year after year they picked at or near the top of the draft -- and made a lot of right choices.

The Astros had the No. 1 pick this year, they are strongly positioned to have the No. 1 pick next year, and their rebuilding could take so long that they may be picking at or near the top of the draft for several more years to come.

What the Astros are gambling, of course, is that they won't do mortal damage to the interest and faith of their hard-core fans. Houston was fifth in the NL in attendance in 2004, 10th in 2010, 13th in 2011. Right now, the Astros rank last, with no hope yet on the horizon and plans to move into the more competitive AL West next year.

The San Diego Padres have been through fire sales, and they will attest: A strip-down strategy like this comes with risk and long-term costs. The covenant with some hard-core fans is irreparably broken. You can argue that this is the best strategy for the Astros to pursue in their effort to win ballgames, but as a business entity they are training a generation of fans to ignore them completely.

Brett Myers became the latest veteran to be dumped. Francisco will be the Astros' new temporary closer.

From ESPN Stats & Info: The Astros have now sent four of their top five salaries from Opening Day packing: Carlos Lee ($19 million), Myers ($12M), Brandon Lyon ($5.5M) and J.A. Happ ($2.35M). The only player in the top five still with the team -- Wandy Rodriguez ($10.5M) -- is rumored to be on the block.


• We've got the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," with Dan Haren pitching against Matt Harrison and with Mike Trout chasing history. He scored again in the Angels' loss Saturday.

Most consecutive games with run scored among rookies (since 1957)
2012: Trout -- 13
2001: Albert Pujols -- 13
1984: Dan Gladden -- 11
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Most consecutive games with run scored (Angels history)
2012: Trout -- 13
1995: Jim Edmonds -- 13
1997: Edmonds -- 11
1993: Chad Curtis -- 11
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

Yu Darvish shut down the Angels on Saturday. Arm tightnesscould sideline Colby Lewis again. Ervin Santana had a really bad day.

• John Lannan helped the Washington Nationals salvage a badly needed nightcap victory against the Atlanta Braves. Bryce Harper likely will be back in the lineup Sunday.

Ben Sheets was outstanding again, Carroll Rogers writes.

• Cole Hamels might have pitched his last home game for the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, a loss.

• You can't stop the Detroit Tigers, you can only hope to contain them: Detroit is on a serious roll and has moved into first place after Rick Porcello was dominant.

• It looks as if the Tigers will call up Nick Castellanos no later than September, writes Lynn Henning.

• The Rays' loss Saturday was devastating in many ways, Roger Mooney writes. Luke Scott is back on the disabled list.

By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info

5: Leadoff homers by Shin-Soo Choo this season -- most in MLB
12: Runs scored by the Cardinals in the seventh inning versus the Cubs; the only 12 runs scored in Saturday's 12-0 game
13: Consecutive games with run scored by Trout
23: Consecutive games Robinson Cano hit safely in before having the streak snapped Saturday
334: At-bats needed by Edwin Encarnacion to reach 26 homers -- tying a career-best

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Phillies may soon trade Shane Victorino, writes Bob Brookover.

2. The Yankees are intrigued by Justin Upton but should wait until the offseason to make a move, writes Joel Sherman.

3. Roberto Hernandez is on the path to return to the big leagues; the Cleveland Indians think he might need only a couple of starts in the minors after he serves his suspension.

Dings and dents

1. Jayson Werth has started his rehabilitation assignment in the minors.

2. Juan Cruz landed on the disabled list.

3. Johan Santana, who looked like he had no mound weapons Friday, was placed on the disabled list, and now the reeling New York Mets have two rotation spots to fill.

4. Denard Span was lifted from Saturday's game because of dizziness.

5. Hanley Ramirez is sidelined with an infection.

6. Tim Stauffer is making steady progress.

AL East notes

• Give the Baltimore Orioles some credit: They have hung in there despite their pitching issues. And Chris Tillman bounced back to throw well Saturday.

• The Boston Red Sox crumbled late.

• The Toronto Blue Jays mashed.

AL Central notes

• The Chicago White Sox fell out of first place.

• Lorenzo Cain had a good day.

• The Indians were taken down by a former Indian.

AL West notes

• The Seattle Mariners got some gutsy pitching.

NL East notes

• Carlos Zambrano was erratic, Andre Fernandez writes.

NL Central notes

• The Pirates got a lot done without doing much of anything at all.

• The St. Louis Cardinals erupted on Saturday.

• The Cincinnati Reds are without Joey Votto, but they're still winning.

• The Milwaukee Brewers were beaten, and if Milwaukee went into sell mode now, that would make sense.

NL West notes

• The Colorado Rockies bounced back.

• Jason Kubel had a really, really big day with three homers.

• Matt Cain and the Giants won a wacky game.

Paul Maholm among pitching trade targets.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Paul Maholm was drafted nine years ago and has pitched in more than 200 games in the big leagues, so the book on him is well-established. Left-hander with a below-average fastball who has to mix his pitches to win.

But before the trade deadline every year, teams will still send scouts to watch pitchers like Maholm because they're looking for a hot hand -- a hitter in the midst of an offensive burst; a pitcher who has made an adjustment that's fueling a hot streak or has started throwing a pitch that's working for him.

Like an NFL team looking for a kicker who is on a roll, MLB teams seek a quick fix. One great start -- or a short series of strong outings -- can make a difference to clubs this time of year.

Maholm has a career ERA well over 4.00, but he is pitching well right now. At 30 years old, he is making his mistakes down in the strike zone, an evaluator says, rather than up. For a soft thrower such as Maholm, that can make an enormous difference.

Maholm is making $4.75 million this year, has a $6.5 million option for next season and has thrown well for most of this season. Since his first two starts of the season, in which he allowed 12 earned runs in eight innings, he has an ERA of 3.32, with only eight homers surrendered in 97.2 innings. He has allowed only three earned runs in his last 30.1 innings, with four walks and 20 strikeouts.

He doesn't have the stuff of a Cole Hamels, the American League East pedigree of Matt Garza or the ceiling of a Zack Greinke, but at this time of year, teams are looking for help, and Maholm looks like he could help.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers remain in the mix for Ryan Dempster.

Sources say that as of Friday morning, the Dodgers and Cubs haven't found common ground. Los Angeles is trying to keep a high number of its top prospects off-limits, and the Cubs are having talks with other, more aggressive teams.

The Cubs might be scrambling to fill their rotation in the final two months, because Dempster might be traded today. Garza could follow in the next 11 days, with Boston being a major player in the trade talks, and Maholm could draw interest from teams that see substance in his turnaround.

"They're going to trade anyone who has value," one executive said about the Cubs.

The funny thing is that the Cubs are red hot these days, with 14 victories in their last 19 games.

• Along the same lines, you wonder if Edinson Volquez's one-hitter is going to open some eyes among rival evaluators in the days before the deadline.

He is making $2.238 million this season, will have five-plus years of service time when the season's over and won't be eligible for free agency until after next year. These are his numbers over his past five starts:

IP: 33.2
H: 20 (an impressive number)
ER: 5
BB: 19 (a scary number)
K: 33

Volquez, 29, has been a rotation leader before and has shown he has a high ceiling. He has been markedly better pitching in Petco this year than on the road.

From ESPN Stats & Info, how he shut down the Astros:

(A) Volquez threw 72 of 117 pitches (61.5 percent) down in the zone or below, his highest percentage in a start this season. Astros hitters were 0-for-13 in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.
(B) He threw 37 curveballs out of 117 pitches (31.6 percent), his most curves and highest percentage in a start this season. Astros hitters were 0-for-9 in at-bats ending with a curveball.
(C) The Astros hitters were 0-for-13 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitch overall, including 0-for-9 down in the zone or below.
(D) He recorded a season-high 13 ground ball outs.

• Yes, the Texas Rangers would be open to the idea of upgrading their pitching, but there are few available pitchers who fit that description. Maybe only one, in fact: Cole Hamels. As Jayson Stark first reported, the Phillies have increased their offer to Hamels to six years, and if he signs, the Rangers may forgo the trade market altogether, other than adding pieces for their bench.

• A six-year deal for Hamels would cost something in the range of $140 million, almost double what Philadelphia seemed willing to spend on the left-hander last year. If Hamels gets about $24 million a year, that would mean Philadelphia would have about $95 million committed to four players -- Hamels, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay -- for 2013.

There has been speculation that Lee might be dealt, but keep in mind that his contract is heavily back-loaded, with salaries of $25 million for each of the next three seasons and a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016 that contains an enormous buyout of $12.5 million. Howard is in the first year of a five-year, $125 million deal.

• The Blue Jays' lack of bullpen depth has hurt, writes Brendan Kennedy.

I don't think any organization has been stopped in its tracks this season in the same way the Blue Jays have. All of their best young pitchers have been cut down by injuries, suspending their development and affecting all parts of the team. Because of what's happened this year, the Blue Jays are destined to go into the 2013 season with almost an identical set of questions that they had this year -- adding shortstop to the list, because Toronto seeks change at that position.

• Chris Carpenter had his surgery.

• The Tigers continued to gather momentum behind a strong start by Max Scherzer. They face the Chicago White Sox in a big weekend series. Detroit could be in first place by Saturday, writes Bob Wojnowski.

• The Diamondbacks and Marlins are among the teams prepared to sell. On Thursday, Arizona blew a big lead and Miami was taken down, again, by the Cubs.

The Miami players say they're still in the playoff hunt. From Joe Capozzi's story:

The main talk about the Marlins now is whether they will look to trade players such as pitcher Anibal Sanchez or second baseman Omar Infante or reliever Randy Choate among others.

"Right now to be honest, I don't think we have anything, at least they don't mention to me any move. They might wait until Pittsburgh,'' Guillen said.

"I think we have good players. I think we can compete. It's up to them to see who stays or who goes.''

The Diamondbacks' plans remain in neutral, GM Kevin Towers says.

• By about a quarter of a run, the Athletics have the best ERA in the American League, and Oakland beat the Yankees on Thursday.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Contrary to a report, the Red Sox and Pirates have not talked to the Diamondbacks about Stephen Drew.

2. The Blue Jays recalled Yan Gomes.

3. The Rockies' top position prospect needs to have hope for a recall, writes Troy Renck.

4. The Dodgers apparently are not interested in Jimmy Rollins, writes Dylan Hernandez, because he is locked into a long-term deal.

5. Even Justin Morneau is available as the Twins prepare for a purge, writes John Shipley.

6. The Royals signed Jason Kendall.

7. Ryan Roberts, a major disappointment for the Diamondbacks this year, hasn't been playing much, Nick Piecoro writes.

8. The Phillies are still trying to decide whether to buy or sell, writes Bob Brookover.

9. The Nationals cut Rick Ankiel.

10. The Mets need to think about a bullpen makeover for future seasons, writes Joel Sherman.

11. Nick Markakis likes the leadoff spot.

12. The trade deadline could become a big deal for the Red Sox.

Dings and dents

1. Todd Helton is going to test his hip.

2. Jesse Crain will be back this weekend.

3. Brett Gardner is likely out for the year.

4. Ian Desmond will be in the Washington lineup today, writes James Wagner.

5. Joba Chamberlain continues to throw great, George King writes.

By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info

3: Career walk-off home runs for Cody Ross (five career walk-off hits)
12: Of David Wright's 14 home runs have come off fastballs over the middle of the plate vertically (belt-high)
13: Wins for David Price and R.A. Dickey, most in the majors
43: Straight games with three or more runs for the Yankees (longest single-season streak in team history and second-longest single-season streak in Live Ball Era)

AL Central notes

• The Indians closed out their road trip with a loss.

• The White Sox had their guts ripped out.

• The Twins let a strong start go to waste.

NL Central notes

• The Reds rallied from a 6-0 deficit, but Brandon Phillips was upset with the fans afterward.

• The Astros are positioning themselves perfectly for the No. 1 pick. They have lost 36 of their last 48 games.

AL West notes

• The Angels' offense slowed.

• The Mariners had a nice series in Kansas City, as Geoff Baker writes.

AL East notes

• The Yankees' domination in Oakland ended.

• David Price was The Man for the Rays.

From ESPN Stats & Info, how he won:

(A) Price didn't allow a run while striking out seven in seven innings pitched.
(B) Indians hitters were 0-for-12 in at-bats ending with Price's fastball, just the second time this season he has not allowed a hit against the pitch.
(C) He threw 22 curveballs out of 108 pitches (20.4 percent), well above his season average of 11.3 percent. Indians hitters were 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in at-bats ending with the curve.
(D) Indians hitters were 1-for-15 in two-strike at-bats, including 0-for-12 against the fastball and curveball.
(E) Indians hitters were 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch down in the zone or below. All the outs came against his fastball or curveball.

• Cody Ross hoisted the Red Sox onto his shoulders.

NL East notes

• R.A. Dickey ended the Mets' losing streak, writes John Harper.

• Gio Gonzalez had a bad day.

• The Braves really needed a win, and Tim Hudson delivered.

Ichiro deal a shrewd move by everyone.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Seattle Mariners have finally turned the page and done the right thing for Ichiro Suzuki and themselves by trading him to the New York Yankees in exchange for minor league right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.

The Yankees have been in need of outfield depth since the injury to left fielder Brett Gardner, who had arthroscopic elbow surgery and is now out for the year. The Yankees have been platooning Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones since he went down and they have done a decent job, but the Bronx Bombers have really been missing Gardner’s speed and range in the outfield as well as his ability to manufacture runs with his wheels and create more fastballs for the other Yankees hitters because he's a threat to steal.
[+] Enlarge

AP Photo/Bob Galbraith
The Yankees need speed, and Ichiro still has that.
Ichiro, 38, is a 10-time All-Star who has won two batting titles, not to mention the 2001 AL MVP and Rookie of the Year. However, he’s been in steady decline the last three years, and the M’s have seen his OBP go from .352 in 2009 to .315 in 2010 to .310 in 2011 to a career-low .288 this year. He has, however, maintained his ability to steal bases, as he's 15-for-17 this year.

The Yankees hope to be getting a rejuvenated Suzuki, who had to waive his 10-and-5 rights to accept the deal to New York. Playing for the non-contending Mariners that last several years has to have worn on him and a chance to get to the World Series could spark an solid second half for Suzuki. He will clearly benefit from joining the power-packed Yankee lineup and should be able to give the club the stolen-base threat they lost with Gardner’s injury.

The Mariners are going nowhere in 2012 and dealing Suzuki allows them to add some minor league depth. More importantly, because Ichiro is a free agent after this season, this deal will prevent the Mariners from having to answer questions about what they will do with him next year.

As for Seattle's haul, Mitchell is a 25-year-old who was a 10th-round pick in 2010 out of Clemson. The 6-foot righty is a sinker-slider pitcher who could be a No. 5 starter if everything breaks right. Farquhar, who's also 25, is a 5-9, 180-pound reliever who has a 3.33 ERA in 51 1/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A this year. He's an extra bullpen arm, the kind of guy you like to have in reserve in Triple-A.

Basically, this deal had more to do with opening a spot for younger players for the Mariners while paying Ichiro the ultimate respect of allowing him to finish his career in a pennant race.

For the Yankees, a small price to pay to improve the outfield and compensate a little bit for the loss of Gardner.

The other major deal of the day saw the Miami Marlins make a tremendous trade in building for the future by sending second baseman Omar Infante and right-handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers in return for righty Jacob Turner, catcher Rob Brantly and southpaw Brian Flynn (The two teams are also swapping compensatory draft picks that are part of the new collective bargaining agreement in the deal).

Turner will develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter in time and Brantly could become the Marlins' everyday catcher as early as next year. The Tigers made the deal for the present as they filled two huge needs in one deal. Infante improves their second-base situation both offensively and defensively, and Sanchez will benefit from the Tigers' potent offense and could have the same second-half impact that Doug Fister had a year ago. This deal is as simple as the Tigers winning short term and the Marlins crushing it with a huge win long term. This deal has the potential of someday bringing back memories of the John Smoltz-for-Doyle Alexander trade that Tigers fans still can’t forget.
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Marlins make out well in trade with Tigers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While much of the focus today is on the Ichiro Suzuki trade (and my thoughts on that are at the bottom of this piece), a much more significant deal was reportedly made between the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins.

The Tigers clearly make themselves better in a tight AL Central race this year with the acquisitions of Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, but the Marlins did well to obtain one top-30 prospect (Jacob Turner) and a couple of other solid prospects in exchange for an impending free agent pitcher and a 30-year-old hitter who would probably be a utility player on most teams.

Sanchez had significant shoulder problems earlier in his career, but has been healthy since the start of 2010 and has made himself into an above-average starter thanks to a plus changeup with good deception and at times some late tumble. His fastball is just average, but he locates it well enough to stay ahead in the count and avoid free passes, although it's fairly flat and might make him homer-prone in the wrong ballpark.

With Sanchez and a healthy Doug Fister back in the mix, the Tigers have five solid starters -- Drew Smyly, now injured, was coming back to earth when he got hurt anyway -- and no depth if their rotation should sustain another injury. Infante isn't anything special with the bat or glove, but given what he's replacing, Tigers fans might mistake him for Rogers Hornsby. Detroit's second basemen have hit a combined .201/.286/.276 this season, so while Infante isn't likely to improve his performance when moving to the better league, he'll be an improvement over anything the Tigers have in-house at second base. The two additions make the Tigers two to three wins better for the rest of this season, plus some value from Infante in 2013 as well.

Turner was consistently up to 97 mph with his fastball in high school, touching 99, but is more 90-94 now. He works with a two-seamer that has some tailing life and generates a few more ground balls than his four-seamer does, but not enough to overcome the fact that he doesn't miss bats like he should.

He has a full starter's repertoire, with a power curveball at 77-82 that used to be sharper, a cutter at 84-86 that probably needs to be closer to his fastball in velocity, and a changeup with pretty good action at 86-87. As much as I understand the idea of making starting pitchers more efficient, I don't get the idea of taking a power pitcher like Turner and turning him into a finesse/ground ball guy; I think he's lost a little arm speed, but that could also be a function of trying to 'pitch' too much instead of just letting it go. He alone makes the deal worthwhile for the Marlins, as he's got enough stuff as is to end up a third or fourth starter but isn't far removed from a time when he looked like a possible star. It's quite possible he was just rushed to the majors and hasn't had time to make the necessary adjustments.

The other prospects headed to Miami are catcher Rob Brantly and lefty Brian Flynn. Brantly, who has struggled a bit since a promotion to Triple-A, is a contact-oriented hitter without much patience and a hook-oriented swing; he has an above-average arm but his receiving has always been a problem, most likely because he doesn't have the hands for it. Flynn, who was just promoted to Double-A, has good stuff but has trouble repeating his delivery, right down to his arm slot, and probably ends up a reliever, although his delivery seems to get worse when he's working from the stretch. The deal largely boils down to Turner, but as I said, I think he's a great pickup in exchange for two months of Sanchez and a season-plus of Infante.

One point of interest in this trade is that, for the first time in MLB history, we have seen draft picks traded, as the two teams exchanged their "competitive balance lottery" picks, with the Tigers sending their pick after to the second round to the Marlins for their pick after the first round. (We'll ignore, for the moment, the absurdity of the Tigers receiving a pick in that process while the Rays received none.) Let's hope teams' interest in using these picks as trade commodities spurs changes in the next CBA to allow teams to trade other draft picks as well.

Thoughts on Ichiro deal

The trade of Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees for D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar sounds huge, but its impact is quite small. Ichiro, now 38, has been awful at the plate for a year and a half, as his longtime aversion to walks has finally caught up to him because his bat has slowed enough to prevent him from hitting above .300. His overall stat line includes Safeco Park's status as a pitcher's haven this year, but even outside of that park, he's best cast as a platoon outfielder against right-handed pitchers and defensive replacement. The Mariners get two non-prospects in return, with Mitchell possibly profiling as a last man on a pitching staff, but also get out from the PR nightmare this winter of choosing not to re-sign their best-known player.

Top prospects ranked by trade value.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As a follow-on list to my ranking from earlier this month of the top 50 prospects in the minors, here's a ranking of the top 10 prospects on contending clubs -- i.e., potential deadline "buyers" -- based on their immediate trade value. To draw the line between contenders and non-contenders, I used ESPN's playoff odds, and limited the list to prospects from teams with at least a 15 percent chance of making the playoffs prior to Monday's games.

This list isn't specifically my evaluation of the values of these players, but represents my understanding of (and speculation) on what the players' actual values are to current GMs. This list ignores players who can't be traded because they just signed their first professional contracts this summer, and players who are currently out with a significant injury (e.g., Travis d'Arnaud).

1. Jurickson Profar, SS
Age: 19
Level: Double-A (Frisco)

Too good to trade? Profar looks as if he could step in as a major league shortstop by Opening Day and be league-average or better, with superstar upside. That combination of immediate return and potential peak could make it impossible for Texas to get sufficient return in any deal; they would have to receive more than one established big leaguer with multiple years of control remaining to come close to the potential value of the first six years of Profar's career.

2. Gerrit Cole, RHP
Age: 21
Level: Double-A (Altoona)

Cole's raw stuff is as good as anyone's in the minors right now, with plus velocity, a plus changeup, and a slider up to 92 that you can easily project as plus, and scouts getting their first looks at him this year are going to come back with some strongly positive reports. I don't think Cole is ready for the majors, primarily because he still doesn't command the four-seamer well enough, but his repertoire wouldn't be out of place in a big league rotation, and he should be ready inside of 12 months.

3. Oscar Taveras, OF
Age: 20
Level: Double-A (Springfield)

I imagine Taveras will be the one name the Cardinals refuse to discuss in trades this summer, as the comparisons to Vlad Guerrero look a lot less outlandish this year than they did at this time in 2011. He could slot into most teams' 2013 Opening Day lineups, and the power display he put on in BP before the Futures Game -- witnessed by scouts from just about every team, with a few execs sprinkled in -- ratcheted up his value a few notches.

4. Tyler Skaggs, LHP
Age: 20
Level: Triple-A (Reno)

Left-handed, projectable, and already showing an above-average fastball, Skaggs has already reached Triple-A after having no trouble at any previous level. I could see him in a swing role or even as a fifth starter this year, but by this time next year, he should be ready for a rotation spot somewhere. As for teammate Trevor Bauer -- while I'm sure he'd still have trade value as a starter who's close to big-league ready, his diminished velocity in his four major league outings and inability (or unwillingness) to throw strikes, especially when behind in the count, will absolutely reduce what he's worth on the market until he has more success in the majors.

5. Mike Olt, 3B
Age: 23
Level: Double-A (Frisco)

Olt is the lowest-ranked prospect from my top 50 update (No. 46) to appear on this top 10, making up for his relative lack of ceiling (although his ceiling isn't low) with his proximity to the majors. Olt could probably step in right now and play third base for a number of rebuilding clubs, offering above-average defense, a .320 to .330 OBP, and 20 to 25 home run power right away.

6. Shelby Miller, RHP
Age: 21
Level: Triple-A (Memphis)

Miller's value has taken a hit this year, to the point where I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see him included in a major trade in the next seven days. His velocity was off earlier this year after he lost too much weight last winter, and while he's back in the mid-90s, he's struggling with command and has been unable to use his off-speed stuff to put hitters away. He's less ready than he seemed to be before this season, which makes him available, but at just 21, he's still promising enough to be able to bring back a significant major leaguer in return.

7. Julio Teheran, RHP
Age: 21
Level: Triple-A (Gwinnett)

Although Teheran has been very inconsistent this year in Triple-A, and quite homer-prone, he's also just 21 years old with a plus fastball and plus changeup and no history of arm trouble. It is reasonable for a bad team acquiring him to believe he could work in the majors either as a fifth starter or as a long man while he continues to work on fastball location and on finding a consistent breaking ball.

8. Billy Hamilton, SS
Age: 21
Level: Double-A (Pensacola)

Hamilton has stolen just eight bases in 11 games since his promotion to Double-A, but his speed is still game-changing and he's continued to get on base and hit for average even since the promotion (small sample-size caveats apply). There's also some small PR value to acquiring Hamilton, who is the most famous prospect currently in the minor leagues. Of course, the problem with Hamilton's trade value is that the Reds very easily could look at him as a potential bench piece for the stretch run, a pinch runner who could back up shortstop; they might try to get him some reps in center and/or at second base in August to give him more potential to play the field later in games.

9. Nick Castellanos, 3B
Age: 20
Level: Double-A (Erie)

Castellanos, like Olt, isn't going to appear in the majors this season at his ideal position (third base) barring an injury, so the Tigers have him playing at a position where he's less valuable (right field). He's reached Double-A at age 20, where he's hit and hit for some power but seen his walk rate plummet. His youth and advanced bat, as well as his ability to play third base for another organization, would allow the Tigers to make a second major move -- although after Monday's deal with Miami, it seems unlikely that they'd do so.

10. Jackie Bradley, Jr., CF
Age: 22
Level: Double-A (Portland)

Bradley has three things working in his favor for his trade value: He's a plus defender in center, he has shown an unexpectedly strong ability to get on base, and he's not that far away from the majors, probably a year or less. The Red Sox might be looking at him as Jacoby Ellsbury's long-term replacement, but if not, he's the kind of good-not-elite prospect who is traded more often than the upper-echelon prospects are.

The next five

Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays
Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees
Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks
Mason Williams, CF, Yankees

Adding Myers worth the cost for Chicago.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Chicago White Sox add a body to their bullpen at minimal cost, while the Houston Astros save a little money and add two depth arms to their farm system.

Brett Myers, probably best known among fans for his arrest for allegedly assaulting his wife in 2006 (charges were dismissed after his wife said she did not want Myers prosecuted), had value as a starter in 2010 and 2011, primarily for his ability to soak up innings, but was just a replacement-level reliever thus far in 2012, giving up 17 runs in 30.2 innings with just 20 punchouts. That last figure reflects the fact that his repertoire is deep -- five separate pitches -- but offers nothing plus, with his best attribute his ability to slightly cut his fastball without giving up velocity, helping generate some ground balls. He rarely walks guys and has plenty of options for changing speeds. The net gain to the White Sox is marginal, less than a win, although Don Cooper has worked miracles before with other pitchers who have underperformed elsewhere.

In exchange for Myers, the Astros get two depth starters who barely qualify as prospects, plus a player to be named later. Right-hander Matt Heidenreich is up to 91 mph with an above-average changeup, above-average command and control, and a good feel for pitching, but in the best-case scenario, he is probably a good fifth starter, and he more likely tops out as an up-and-down guy. Left-hander Blair Walters will show an average fastball up to 92 mph and changeup, but neither of his breaking balls is average, with the curve and slider running together and often finishing out of the zone. He also doesn't have the platoon splits to point to a future as a specialist.

Neither guy is likely to be a top-20 prospect in this system by year's end. Houston also saves $1 million and avoids the threat of Myers' $10 million vesting option for 2013 (triggered if he finishes 16 games between now and the end of the season), more valuable than either of the players returned.

Scouting Jorge Soler's debut.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler made his pro debut on Thursday night with the Chicago Cubs' club in the rookie-level Arizona League, the lowest level of organized baseball, with teams largely populated by teenaged prospects, rehabbers, and a handful of older organizational players. Already 20, he's old to be in this league, but given how long it has been since he faced live pitching, it's a reasonable place for him to start.

Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million dollar deal with the Cubs in June, only DH'd and had three at-bats before he was pulled for a pinch hitter -- you know, don't want to overtax the guy or anything -- and did at least get a chance to show how explosive his hands are at the plate. He loads his hands high and deep, but accelerates quickly enough to catch up to above-average stuff, even meeting a few balls out in front of the plate (perhaps because his timing is still off). He's balanced through the swing and should be able to generate power from his lower half. He grounded out twice but didn't run hard either time, although his strides are long and easy and he should be an above-average runner when he decides to show it. (His third at-bat was a hard lineout to the pitcher.) He's in very good shape and his body looks loose and athletic. This wasn't an ideal look since he didn't play the field and hasn't faced live pitching in ages, but at least some of the tools were on display -- and yes, I will go back in a week or so to try to see him in the field.

• The Los Angeles Dodgers' big Cuban free agent signing, Yasiel Puig, had a brief workout for the media last week in Glendale, hitting in the cages, first off a tee and then off a BP pitcher. He's stronger than Soler and looks a little older (he's 21), lacking Soler's explosive hands but also a little behind Soler in getting into game shape, looking maybe 5-10 pounds above his ideal playing weight (but far from out of shape). It's still unclear when he'll be cleared to play in a game.

• Shifting to Triple-A for a moment, Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Tyler Skaggs threw in Tucson on Wednesday night in a game slightly marred by a line drive he took off his leg from the second batter he faced. The lefty was 90-94, mostly 92-93, and was aggressive about coming inside with it, especially to right-handed batters. He showed an above-average curveball at 74-79 with good two-plane break but trouble throwing it for strikes (and getting the calls when he did throw it for strikes). His changeup was inconsistent at 79-81, some clearly plus with a little fade, some easier to pick up as he slowed his arm a little. Skaggs was victimized by bad defense by his Reno teammates in the first, as he picked off the runner who lined the ball off his hip, only to see the first baseman throw the ball away, and then got a bases-loaded flyout to deep left that left fielder A.J. Pollock misplayed into a bases-clearing double. If the leg was an issue, I'll give Skaggs a pass on the fringy command he showed, but I think it's fair to say that finishing the summer in Triple-A will give him time to work on refining the changeup and working on getting ahead more with the fastball.

• Tucson reliever Brad Boxberger (San Diego Padres) was 91-94 in that game, sitting more at the high end of that range, with a deceptive 79-81 mph changeup on which he seemed to be dropping his arm slightly. It's a rough delivery with a lot of sling to it and little from his lower half, but the two pitches together would probably work in a big league pen right now.

• Padres infielder Jedd Gyorko played third base on Wednesday for Tucson -- he's also played a lot of second this year -- and was fine defensively, good enough to stay there, although I still find it hard to see him having the lateral agility to ever be average defensively at second. His swing is very short and compact, with no stride and minimal load, so while he should make a lot of contact, it's hard to see power here, which will make profiling at third base tough.

• D-backs centerfielder Adam Eaton (Reno) gets his hands a little deep when he loads them but his path to the ball is very direct, so he should make a lot of contact and could hit .300 or better in the big leagues. I spoke to two scouts who have Reno as part of their coverage this year, and both felt that Eaton has improved enough with the glove to be a solid-average defensive centerfielder in the majors, which would make him a potential above-average regular (perhaps worth 3 wins above replacement) because of his bat.

• Returning to the AZL, here are some quick notes on other prospects I've run into so far. The Cincinnati Reds have lefty Amir Garrett, also a forward for the St. John's basketball team, in their AZL rotation; he was 91-94 with some late life with good rotation on a hard-breaking curveball at 75-76. He didn't hold his velocity well, tiring in the second inning (a reflection of his split commitment to two sports), and while his arm is very quick he doesn't use his lower half well and looks like a future reliever if that's not cleaned up. Third baseman Tanner Rahier, a favorite of mine from the draft this spring, saw six pitches in the game I saw, swung at all of them, and didn't get any results for his troubles. I do still like how his hands work, but he's not showing any plate discipline this summer (even beyond this one look), which is going to severely hamper his development as a hitter.

• Cleveland Indians: Starter Mitch Brown made his debut that night, sitting at 91-93 and working down in the zone with good deception as the ball appears very late out of his hands. He throws both a slider and a curveball, getting more feel for the slider after a couple backed up on him in the first, with one at 84 very hard with good tilt. He told me after his outing that he hadn't thrown in a game in seven weeks, so for his first time back on a mound it was promising. Shortstop Dorssys Paulino, who received a $1.1 million bonus last year, has a really sound, line drive-oriented swing, simple with good follow-through, and is an above-average runner with enough arm strength for the left side of the infield.

• Texas Rangers: This lineup is loaded with big-bonus prospects, with third baseman Joey Gallo standing out so far for his huge raw power -- although his swing is very long and I saw him swing through a number of pitches in the strike zone, which is why I argued in a chat this week that he isn't ready for full-season ball right now. Lewis Brinson has an extremely projectable, athletic frame, with plus speed and pretty good pop because his wrists are quick, although his pitch recognition was not good. Nomar Mazara, who received a record $5 million bonus last year as a 16-year-old, has very good bat speed as well but looked a little overmatched by changing speeds. Ronald Guzman's bat was extremely slow and his swing was long.

• Los Angeles Angels: Their AZL team is very thin; shortstop Jose Rondon is the best prospect, with strong hands and a very balanced swing.

Right-hander Arjenis Fernandez is 89-91 with a slurvy curveball but a solid-average changeup that could be a plus pitch in time.

• Seattle Mariners: Second-rounder Joe Decarlo has one of the slowest bats I've seen (considering just major prospects) so far out here, and his body doesn't offer any projection. Outfielder Isaiah Yates, a 17th-round pick this year who won't turn 18 until the end of August, has the best pure swing in the lineup but also looked a little overmatched, although his at-bats were solid. Second baseman Tim Lopes also has a good swing but stands so far in the bucket I'm not sure his performance so far is going to last as he moves up unless he gets himself more on line in the box.

• Oakland Athletics: Daniel Robertson won't stay at shortstop but he can really hit, with a very direct swing and enough rotation that I could see average or better power (although the two-homer performance I saw was probably an outlier). Third baseman Renato Nunez looks better than he did in instructional league last year, with a better approach and slightly quicker bat. Addison Russell and B.J. Boyd didn't play the night I saw the A's, so I'll go back to get both guys.

• Arizona Diamondbacks: Stryker Trahan, their 2012 first-rounder, took some great at-bats, but more importantly, received very well, catching and freezing everything near the zone, blocking balls in the dirt but failing to keep them in front of him, as they'd roll to the side but didn't get past him. That's already progress, enough that I feel good about his future behind the dish. Eleventh-rounder Ben Eckels showed four pitches and worked from 88-93 with all three secondary pitches at least flashing above-average, although his fastball command was poor and by his fourth inning he completely ran out of steam. Second-rounder Jose Munoz has bat speed but expands the zone too easily; he's athletic enough for short but has a long way to go to stay there. The prospect here everyone's talking about, Andrew Velazquez, sprained his ankle running out an inside-the-park home run and hasn't played since.

• Milwaukee Brewers: This is the least talented team I've seen out here, although they were hurt by the fast (and merited) promotion of Tyrone Taylor. Clint Coulter has a very quick bat but right now isn't driving the ball, just swinging for contact. Jose Pena has some trouble picking up breaking balls, especially down and out of the zone, but he's got very quick wrists and the ball really comes off his bat well when he squares one up, with the potential to hit for both average and power.

Jays and Astros both get value in trade.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The trade between the Blue Jays and Astros today involved nine players and one more to be named later, but there's little of consequence involved here. While the quantity involved does not reflect the overall impact of the deal, there is logic in it for both sides.

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AP Photo/Julio Cortez
First-year Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has effectively improved the system.

The Astros have done an excellent job in 2012 of addressing the top of their farm system, largely through a strong draft strategy that parlayed the first overall pick into four top-50 talents in this year's class. This trade addresses the second weakness in the farm system inherited by new general manager Jeff Luhnow -- an utter lack of depth -- adding a trio of third-tier prospects who, in Houston's organization, become second-tier guys by default. It provides the depth to potentially fill some bullpen or bench roles for no cost down the road.

Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski is probably a future reliever, as his velocity has gone backward and is just solid-average. He doesn't have an out pitch, with just an average slider and a below-average changeup. Carlos Perez is an offensive catcher without any plus tools, and he hasn't developed as expected with the bat. He is having a solid year in low Class A but is repeating the level and is old for the league. He has some arm strength but is only a fair receiver, good enough to stay there but only having value if he hits. Right-hander Joseph Musgrove, 19, is already well filled-out physically with a high-effort, short-arm action and a tendency to fly open after release, all of which probably points to a reliever future, especially given some minor shoulder trouble that has held down his workload. He does have the size to start and can spin a breaking ball, although he needs to get tighter rotation on it. Lefty David Rollins, the fourth minor leaguer going to Houston, is an organizational arm and not a prospect aside from a small chance he makes it in a specialist role.

The Astros also add reliever Francisco Cordero and spare outfielder Ben Francisco. Either of them could be fodder for another trade before either this month's or next month's trade deadline, but neither is likely to return a prospect even as good as any the team received in this trade. Their inclusion is more likely a way to allow Toronto to clear a roster spot and even out the salaries involved in the deal.

For Toronto, this move adds pitching depth at a cost of fringe prospects who might have been squeezed out of 40-man spots by better players in the next few years and were one bad half-season away from losing any trade value they had.

The best player coming back is lefty J.A. Happ, a back-end starter with good deception and fringe stuff who has, by using his two-seamer more this year, improved his ground ball rates substantially, although he remains homer-prone because his velocity is short. He is probably a below-league-average starter in the American League but above replacement level, giving the team three years of control of a guy who should at least absorb some innings. His acquisition is also a reflection of the failure of Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins, both former first-round picks, to develop, creating a gap in the Jays' starting pitching pipeline exposed by a rash of elbow injuries this year.

Reliever Brandon Lyon returns to the organization that first drafted him, now as a strike-throwing reliever who relies heavily on an above-average cutter that he throws more often than he throws his pin-straight fastball. He is better than Cordero, albeit not by much. Right-hander David Carpenter is 92-95 with a short, hard slider that he leaves up in the zone a little too often, but he has good control and enough velocity to at least profile as an 11th or 12th man on a staff.


The other trade Friday, between the Rockies and Royals, is a mistake-for-mistake deal, both sides giving up a pitcher they acquired in an offseason trade that went sour. If forced to choose, I'd rather have Jeremy Guthrie, especially now that he is out of Colorado, than Jonathan Sanchez, whose performance this year was so bad I would not be surprised to hear he is hurt.
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Are the A's playoff-caliber?
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There weren't many expectations for the Oakland Athletics entering this season. They made a splash for Yoenis Cespedes, but no one really knew what to make of the Cuban outfielder entering the season. The Josh Reddick trade seemed promising, as did the acquisition of Seth Smith, but they were tempered by the loss of Josh Willingham, to say nothing of the rebuilding tenor of the Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez trades. Oakland started the season 29th in the ESPN Power Rankings, and when it came out of the gate slowly, the club seemed easy to dismiss.

But since the end of May, the A's have heated up. They posted their first winning record of the season in June, and they have been a house afire in July. They are 14-2 for the month, including a just-completed four-game sweep of the New York Yankees. As a result, they have moved up to a season-best 12th in the rankings this week.

The knock on Oakland, as we discussed two weeks ago, is always its offense. That is still the case, but will it become a crippling factor in Oakland's playoff hopes?

Where the A's stand
How American League teams have done in June-July in runs per game, runs allowed per game and run differential. (Sorted by the latter.)

Team RS/G RA/G Diff.
NYY 5.04 3.69 1.36
OAK 4.50 3.25 1.25
LAA 5.32 4.45 0.86
DET 4.82 4.22 0.60
BOS 4.69 4.13 0.56
TOR 5.16 5.09 0.07
CHW 4.52 4.48 0.05
TEX 4.23 4.21 0.02
TB 4.00 4.18 -0.18
SEA 3.77 4.11 -0.34
MIN 4.64 5.00 -0.36
CLE 4.38 4.89 -0.51
KC 4.24 4.96 -0.71
BAL 3.75 4.93 -1.18

Since the start of June, Oakland ranks just eighth in the American League in runs per game. Still, the A's have hit better than the Texas Rangers, whom they are chasing (see chart).

Texas has slipped while Oakland has gained a foothold in the standings, preventing the Rangers from running away with the division. And while they aren't the Rangers' only competition for the AL West crown, the A's are arguably playing better than the Los Angeles Angels right now as well. The Angels' rotation, and particularly Ervin Santana, has seen better days: Entering Sunday, their pitching staff was the only one in baseball that had been worth negative WAR this month.

Oakland's pitching staff, meanwhile, is running on all cylinders. We can see in the chart that the only team with a better run differential since the start of June is the Yankees, whom Oakland just finished browbeating. Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker have stepped up in Brandon McCarthy's absence. Milone has had the tendency to go boom during road starts -- he has allowed six or more runs in three different road starts this season -- but he has shown that he can hang tough on the road against some offenses.

Parker simply has been good against everyone. After allowing two runs or fewer in 11 of his first 13 starts this season, the 23-year-old righty took a left and right cross, allowing six and four runs to the Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins, respectively, in consecutive starts. But before a panic could settle in, he held the Yankees to one run in eight innings Saturday, generating the best single-game WPA of his young career in the process.

A lot of the staff's success has to do with clamping down on walks. At the end of June, their BB/9 was 3.35, but in July it is 1.65 -- easily the best in the majors. The A's strike out fewer batters than most pitching staffs and don't generate as many ground balls as most teams, either. That formula is perfect at their spacious home park, which limits home runs.

Now, to be sure, there has been a little bit of good fortune involved in this run. It's pretty rare to have six walk-off wins so closely bunched together. But Oakland's 16-12 record in one-run games doesn't scream out as a regression candidate. It is the fifth-best winning percentage for such games in the majors this year, but it is grouped more with the teams that rank in the 10 spots behind them than it is with the top four spots (for instance, the Baltimore Orioles are No. 1 with a 19-6 record in one-run games). The A's also have played a tough schedule -- 58 of their 95 games have been against teams better than .500. The A's are 33-25 in those contests.

What's more, the lineup is no longer filled with easy outs. The outfield, in particular, has done a fantastic job. As David Schoenfield noted last night, Cespedes and Reddick have stood tall, but they have been joined by Jonny Gomes and Smith to give them four above-average hitting outfielders. All together, the outfield as a unit has a 121 wRC+, good for fifth in the game.

The team still could use some help, of course. Brandon Inge and Cliff Pennington are replaceable veterans, especially because Pennington is now on the disabled list. Oakland probably isn't excited at the possibility of taking on additional salary, but if it was, acquiring old friend Marco Scutaro and/or Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez would help the offense.

The A's have played fantastic baseball the past two months, and in doing so have put themselves in the hunt for the playoffs. They are now tied for the lead in the wild-card race with the Angels and Orioles and don't appear to be a fluke. Both the starting pitching and the work from the bullpen has been tremendous, and if they get anything down the stretch from either McCarthy or Brett Anderson, they will become even more formidable.

It took the A's two months to get going, but continuing to overlook them would be unwise.

Paul Swydan covers baseball for ESPN Insider. He has been writing about baseball for various publications since 2005, and can most frequently be found writing for FanGraphs. You can find his ESPN archives here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Five best trade fits for Cole Hamels.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and the agent for Cole Hamels continue to work toward a six-year deal that could get consummated early this week, and it's a contract that could wind up in the $140 million range and make Hamels one of the highest paid pitchers in baseball history.

However, it's always possible that those negotiations could stall, and Hamels could decide he wants to test the free agent market this winter. Amaro has always done his due diligence as GM of the Phillies, and he's prepared for such a scenario. While contract talks continue, Amaro is monitoring the trade market in advance of the July 31 trade deadline, and there are several clubs that would be willing to trade significant talent for Hamels, even for a two-month rental and even with the new collective bargaining agreement which says that you can't reap draft-pick compensation for a player who didn't spend the entire season with your club.

Before Sunday night's game between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, I asked Rangers manager Ron Washington if his club would be willing to trade significant prospects for a rental. He said they would (although not top prospect Jurickson Profar) because you have to take advantage of their window to win a World Series. I also briefly spoke with Angels GM Jerry Dipoto who conveyed the trade market was extremely difficult this year with so many teams in the race, but was holding out hope they’d find a way to make a deal between now and the deadline.

If you're looking for the ideal trade fits for the Phillies and Hamels, if the two parties can't come to terms this week, you have to start with those two clubs mentioned above, but they're not the only possibilities. Here's a look at the five best trade fits for Cole Hamels.

1. Texas Rangers

Two years ago, the Rangers included Justin Smoak and Blake Beavan (two recent first-round picks) in a midseason deal for Cliff Lee, so we know GM Jon Daniels is not afraid to give up a lot to get a lot, not to mention the fact that Texas has one of the deepest systems in baseball. The Rangers will not trade Jurickson Profar -- arguably the top prospect in all of baseball -- but they would probably include third baseman Mike Olt, their second-best position prospect, or Martin Perez, their top pitching prospect, to get Hamels. They might have to include right-hander Tanner Scheppers or lefty Robbie Ross in the deal to get it done, but it’s package that is probably the most tempting of any of the clubs that would have interest in a rental. There are also some whispers that they might be willing to substitute Neftali Feliz if the Phillies wanted to take the health risk on him.

2. Los Angeles Angels

The Angels would have to include Garrett Richards or John Hellweg, who are their two top young starting pitching prospects, along with top infield prospect Jean Segura. The Phillies would like to get Peter Bourjos in the deal to solve their center field position for life after Shane Victorino, but the Angels want to hold on to him with Torii Hunter an impending free agent and questions where Mark Trumbo’s best long-term position will be.

3. Washington Nationals

Nats GM Mike Rizzo appears to be set on shutting down Stephen Strasburg at some point this season, a move that will take away the team's No. 1 starter before the postseason. The one way the Nationals could overcome that baseball decision would be to trade for Hamels. It's somewhat unlikely that the Phillies would trade Hamels within their division, but the Nationals have a good farm system, and if they dangled either third basemen Anthony Rendon (who's incredibly talented but seems to be injury prone) or right-hander Alex Meyer along with one of their mid-level bullpen prospects, the Phillies would have to listen. Rendon could solve third base for the next decade, or Meyer would give them a No. 3 starter who has potential for more. But as we've seen from the Nats with their handling of Strasburg, they are focused on the long term, so don't bet on them trading top prospects for a rental. Still, the pieces are there if they want to make a move.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers could offer an impressive package of pitching prospects including right-hander Zach Lee and either righty Garrett Gould or southpaw Chris Reed. If the Phillies aren’t able to sign Hamels, a package of Lee and either Gould or Reed would be a nice return and more valuable than the draft-pick compensation they would get if Hamels leaves this winter. However, the Dodgers have an eye toward the future, and to give up that much of package, they would want a window to try and sign Hamels to a long-term contract, not to mention the fact that the Dodgers are considered the favorite to land Hamels if the SoCal native hits the market this winter.

5. St. Louis Cardinals

Like the Rangers, the Cardinals have one of the deeper systems in baseball and could easily build a package around top outfield prospect Oscar Taveras if they so choose. However, with Jaime Garcia progressing nicely in his rehab, it's hard to see the Cards paying such a premium for Hamels since they almost certainly would not re-sign him this winter. The New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox would all love to have Hamels, but they just don’t match up as well as these other five teams in terms of need and prospect depth.

When it’s all said and done, I truly believe that Hamels will re-sign with the Phillies before July 31. But if negotiations quickly turn sour, I see the Rangers as the most likely destination, as they not only have the top prospects to deal, but also have the willingness to roll the dice even if it’s just for a rental.

Second Look: Fernandez, Taillon.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Jose Fernandez
Position: RHP
Level: High Class A Jupiter
Age: 20
Law's midseason ranking: 42

Fernandez was a first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2011 draft as a power arm from a Tampa high school with a powerful personal story as a Cuban defector. This has been a breakout season for him, and he has announced himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the game by carving up Sally League (low Class A) hitters. He earned a promotion to the Florida State League (high Class A) and had a dazzling showing at the Futures Game. I recently scouted Fernandez in his third FSL start in front of a boisterous cheering section in Tampa versus the Yankees affiliate (a team we'll cover later this week).

Fernandez came as advertised, with power stuff and big upside but clear areas for improvement. He isn't a typical lanky pitching prospect; instead, he has a thick lower half on an already mature 6-foot-2 frame. Fernandez was 96-98 mph in the first inning and worked 93-97, touching 98 mph for the duration of the start with a four-seam fastball that had only a little life on it, but plenty of velocity and solid command to both sides of the plate. He would only temporarily lose his release point, and he elevated with purpose for strikeouts. Fernandez didn't really miss up but also didn't live in the bottom of the zone; I counted five fly balls to one ground ball in this outing and his numbers show a persistent fly ball tendency. He also has a tendency to overthrow when he gets in a jam and to rely on his power arm.

Second Look
Here's a glimpse at the players we have covered -- and will be covering -- in our Second Look series in order of their spot on Keith Law's midseason top 50.


6. Taijuan Walker, Mariners
11. Jameson Taillon, Pirates
12. Christian Yelich, Marlins
18. Byron Buxton, Twins
19. Julio Teheran, Braves
20. Carlos Correa, Astros
21. Mason Williams, Yankees
24. Danny Hultzen, Mariners
27. Billy Hamilton, Reds
28. Gary Sanchez, Yankees
33. Hak Ju Lee, Rays
34. Matt Davidson, Diamondbacks
42. Jose Fernandez, Marlins
45. Tyler Austin, Yankees
49. Zach Lee, Dodgers
Fernandez uses his curveball liberally as an out pitch, and it's a true hammer. It has inconsistent shape and a wide 79-85 mph velocity range with depth, sweep, late bite and three-quarter tilt. Normally this inconsistency would mean he didn't have great feel for the pitch, but Fernandez had an uncanny ability to spot this pitch to both sides of the plate in order to freeze hitters; he also used it as a chase pitch and in the dirt. During warm-ups, he threw a changeup at 85-87 that flashed above-average potential, but in the game he was getting under it and couldn't throw it for a strike.

The reason Fernandez's curveball has shape and speed inconsistencies -- and that he can't spot his changeup -- is his delivery. His arm action is short and clean, and he hides the ball behind his body well, but he sets up on the first-base side of the rubber and strides past the midline of the mound. This crossfire angle causes him to throw across his body and makes it very difficult to stay on top of the ball and to finish his arm stroke consistently and completely.

Fernandez shows feel for his delivery, and this extreme angle may keep his front hip from flying open but it kills his chances to throw an effective changeup. Right now, Fernandez is a power arm that explodes at the plate, showing little finesse but flashing some feel. To reach his potential as a No. 2 starter, he'll need to learn to downshift at times but already has a floor of late-inning reliever.

Jameson Taillon
Position: RHP
Level: High Class A Bradenton
Age: 20
Law's midseason ranking: 10 | Preaseason ranking: 16

Taillon is another heralded prep arm. He was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, from a Texas high school, and there are big expectations in his second pro season. Because of the Pirates' relatively strict approach to pitcher development, this is Taillon's first year with a chance to use his full arsenal in games; pitchers are told to throw an overwhelming amount of heaters in their first year to develop command of their fastball.

I've seen Taillon four times this year -- as recently as last Friday -- and he's shown the advertised power stuff. He'll sit at 94-96 and touch 98 mph with occasional hard, two-seam life and solid-average command at times. Taillon complements it with a true plus-plus hammer curve at 83-86 that he can spot in the zone or use as a chase pitch with 11-to-5 tilt and devastating late bite and depth. His curve was inconsistent early in the season, but Taillon has had more consistent feel recently as the shape, consistency and command of his hook have improved. Although he is a true power arm, Taillon has shown some aptitude for a changeup that flashes above-average potential -- but he'll throw it as hard as 90 mph, which is too hard relative to his fastball. There's still some work to do with this offering, and it will always be a clear third pitch for him.

Taillon's performance has been below expectations this year (4.27 ERA, 78 K's in 97 IP) and I'm a little concerned he may have trouble reaching his potential as a No. 1 starter. He has a slightly awkward arm action that goes far behind his body. This makes it easy for hitters to follow the ball and creates length that makes his arm late to catch up with his body. When he is even slightly out of sync, it's clear, because his arm gets even later and he starts spinning hard off the mound. Bottom-of-the-order hitters in A-ball still square him up more than you'd expect, a knock that came up in high school as he was too hittable for a pitcher with his stuff.

I still think Taillon has a chance to be a No. 1 starter, but his odds of reaching that upside have lowered this year. It's hard to give up on a pitcher who will regularly show two 70 pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale, and flash solid-average command and an above-average changeup out of a strong 6-6, 225-pound frame.

Kiley McDaniel has worked in the scouting departments of the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates, and has previously written for Baseball Prospectus.

How Mark Trumbo has improved.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After making arguably the biggest splash in free agency this past winter -- signing both the premier positional (Albert Pujols) and pitching (C.J. Wilson) free agents -- the Los Angeles Angels suffered through a dismal first month, posting a 9-15 record and a run differential of minus-10. It was thought that by adding Wilson to an already dominant pitching staff (and above-average defense), the Angels would benefit from arguably the best run prevention in the majors.

But while the Angels have the 11th-best ERA in the league (ninth-best park-adjusted ERA), their run prevention to this point has actually been worse than last year (sixth-best ERA, fourth-best park-adjusted ERA in 2011).

Still, fast-forward 2½ months, and the Angels currently find themselves seven games above .500 with a run differential of plus-43, sitting atop the American League wild-card standings. The biggest improvement for the Angels has been the offense, which is the fourth-best park-adjusted offense in baseball (106 wRC+) behind the division rival Texas Rangers (108 wRC+). That's a 10 percent improvement from last year's Angels team.

Pujols has been good, but he hasn't been otherworldly. That descriptor has generally been reserved for super rookie Mike Trout, who accounts for roughly 16 percent of the team's run creation. And while Trout has indeed shown that he is a once-in-a-generation player, he's not the only Angel having a breakout year. Mark Trumbo has quietly elevated his game significantly and has been a driving force in pulling the Angels out of their early-season struggles and back into postseason contention.

In his rookie campaign in 2011, Trumbo displayed the power that many observers and scouts had dreamed of, belting 29 home runs and 31 doubles. But despite posting the 24th-highest isolated power in history for a rookie with at least 550 plate appearances (.223), Trumbo was only 5 percent better offensively than league average. The reason? His inability to avoid outs.

Only 11 players posted an on-base percentage lower than Trumbo's .291 in 2011. For all of his power, Trumbo headed back to the dugout more than 70 percent of the time. Sluggers can typically make up for their lack of batting average with superior plate discipline, but Trumbo simply didn't walk enough to balance out his .254 batting average. In his 573 plate appearances last year, Trumbo posted a walk rate of only 4.4 percent. That was easily one of the worst rates in history for a rookie with more than 550 plate appearances (ranking 391st out of 433 such seasons).

But this season, Trumbo has improved his OBP nearly 70 points. His walk rate has increased to 7 percent. Although that's still not a high number, it represents almost a 60 percent improvement from last year. Trumbo has significantly reduced the number of balls he swings at outside the strike zone (36.6 percent in 2012 versus 41 percent in '11). He isn't seeing more pitches per plate appearance this year, but he is not helping pitchers out as much by chasing balls outside the strike zone.

Trumbo's increased discipline is also reflected in his ability to avoid outs when putting the ball in play. Trumbo has seen his batting average jump to .303 through Saturday's games, an improvement of nearly 50 points. Given that his strikeout rate is unchanged (roughly 21 percent this season and last), this boost is entirely the result of a better batting average on balls in play. This, of course, raises a question as to whether Trumbo has seen his average jump thanks to randomness or good fortune, or whether it's the result of an actual change.

By decreasing his number of swings outside the strike zone, Trumbo is increasing the odds that he'll square pitches up better when he puts the ball in play. This is reflected in the 10 percent decrease in Trumbo's infield fly-ball rate (17.3 percent last year versus 7 percent this year). Trumbo is simply swinging at more pitches located in zones that align with his natural power. As a result, Trumbo's isolated power has jumped to .317.

Trumbo's altered approach also can be seen in terms of where he's hitting the ball. According to Baseball Heat Maps, Trumbo is pulling fly balls and home runs significantly more in 2012. For right-handed hitters with at least 50 fly balls and home runs in 2012 and 2011, Trumbo has the third-highest increase in pull angle. This increase in pull angle has been accompanied by an increase in the average distance of these batted balls (11 feet).

Another hitter in the American League has seen a similar change in approach translate into increased power and production. Toronto Blue Jays infielder Edwin Encarnacion's 100 point jump in isolated power is partially the result of the seventh-highest increase in pull angle and hitting the ball 12.5 feet farther on average.

When the season ends, Trumbo is unlikely to finish with a batting average higher than .300. However, the young slugger has clearly made adjustments to his hitting approach that are fueling his remarkable season. These changes suggest that an above-average OBP and elite ISO are both outcomes that Trumbo can replicate over time and not simply the result of randomness.

If so, the Angels will have an unexpected offensive cornerstone under their control through at least 2016.

Bill Petti writes for

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Market impact of Dempster trade
AM ETMarket for starting pitchers Recommend7Comments2EmailIt's being reported Monday that the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves are close to completing a trade that will send right-hander Ryan Dempster to the National League East contenders, likely in exchange for prospects or young big league pitching.'s Jayson Stark tweets that the deal is far enough along that it could be completed sometime Monday afternoon. reports that Randall Delgado may be the return package for Dempster.

If the deal gets done it will leave the Los Angeles Dodgers, among others, without one of their main targets and sets the market for rental pitchers. The Dodgers are said to be in on Matt Garza.

Whatever the Cubs get for Dempster will likely be significantly less than the trade hauls for right-hander Zack Greinke, in whom the Braves have expressed interest, and left-hander Cole Hamels, if the Phillies cannot get him signed to a long-term extension.

The Dempster trade could serve as the first domino in a flurry of deals involving starting pitchers over the next 7-8 days. Greinke's teammate Shaun Marcum could also be moved, as could Houston's Wandy Rodriguez, Seattle's Jason Vargas and Kevin Millwood and Tampa's James Shields.

The Angels, Rangers, Red Sox, Reds, Tigers and Nationals are among the clubs being linked to starters this month.

- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Ryan Dempster, Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers
Giants seek relief help
AM ETSan Francisco Giants Recommend1Comments0EmailThe San Francisco Giants, who are not entirely comfortable with Santiago Casilla as the replacement for Brian Wilson, are keeping their eye on Indians closer Chris Perez, reports

The report says the Indians could consider moving Perez since they are deep in relievers and because Perez likely will earn about $7 million next season in his second year of arbitration.

Another closer who could be on the market is Heath Bell now that the Marlins are in sell-off mode, says Ken Rosenthal. The Giants couldn't be blamed for trying to acquire Bell at a very deep discount and hope that a change of scenery does wonders for a pitcher who had three 40-save seasons before a disastrous 2012.

- Doug Mittler
Tags:Josh Bell, Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants
Rangers step up pitching search
AM ETTexas Rangers Recommend2Comments0EmailPerhaps lost in the shuffle of Mondays trades around baseball is the pitching issues bereft the Texas Rangers. Not only are there questions surrounding the reliability of Derek Holland and the role of Neftali Feliz when he returns from the disabled list, but Roy Oswalt is struggling and has an ailing back that required treatment, and now the club has learned that Colby Lewis is out of the rest of the season.

The Rangers have been linked, mostly by common sense, to every potentially-available arm in baseball, including Matt Garza, James Shields and Wandy Rodriguez. The club's top pitching prospect, Martin Perez, may be among the best options for the time being and Feliz's timetable could impact the team's pursuit of pitching.

Ryan Dempster is mulling over a trade to the Atlanta Braves, but if he turns it down could be an option for the Rangers. Dempster had full no-trade rights and is slated for free agency following the season. The Rangers may be most keen on impact starters such as Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels, but may have to part with third base prospect Mike Olt in a package to get either one. ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney writes in Tuesday's blog that the Rangers are looking for "elite talent" such as Hamels or Greinke.

There was speculation last week that the Rangers also could be looking to bring back lefthander Cliff Lee.

As for possible trade bait, Rangers manager Ron Washington tells ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden that any deal will not include top shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar.

- Doug Mittler and Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Garza, James Shields
Nats interested in Greinke
AM ETZack Greinke | Brewers Recommend2Comments2EmailThe Washington Nationals are among the teams interested in Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke, but they might not have the resources to pull off a deal, reports Ken Rosenthal.

The Nationals traded four prospects to the Athletics to land Gio Gonzalez and they may not be willing or able to provide the young talent the Brewers would demand in any Greinke deal. The Brewers should be more willing to shop Greinke after their losing streak reached four games Monday.

Washington is believed to be looking for a veteran arm given the expected shutdown of Stephen Strasburg later this summer.

- Doug Mittler
Tags:Milwaukee Brewers, Zack Greinke, Washington Nationals
Suitors for Headley
AM ETChase Headley | Padres Recommend4Comments2EmailLast Monday, ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden tweeted that six teams had expressed interest in San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley, and added that the switch hitter would be traded before the deadline "in all likelihood."

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been linked to Headley in recent weeks and other clubs needing third base help include the Philadelphia Phillies, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Sunday, ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney tweeted that the A's are among those interested in Headley.

Olney reported Monday via Twitter that the Padres have asked the Pirates significant package of prospects in return for Headley, which flies with previous reports that the Friars would ask for the moon.

Headley, 28, will be arbitration eligible for the second time after this season and will not be free-agent eligible until after the 2014 season, making him a long-term fix for whichever club lands him.

Dan Connolly writes in Tuesday's Baltimore Sun that Headley is among the players on the Orioles' radar.


Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Ichiro's role in the Bronx
AM ETIchiro Suzuki | Yankees Recommend3Comments1EmailThe Seattle Mariners have done the unthinkable -- something I have been calling the Fight Club on the Emerald City. Ichiro Suzuki has been traded to the New York Yankees for two minor league pitchers. The Mariners will cover all but $2.25 million of the right fielder's remaining salary for 2012.

Ichiro, who has experience in center field, is likely to help fill the gaps in the Yankees' outfield left by the injuries to Brett Gardner, who may be out for the year, and Nick Swisher, who is nursing a minor injury and will be back. Joe Girardi said during the press conference Monday afternoon that Ichiro will mainly play left field for the Yankees.

After nearly 12 seasons with the Mariners, Ichiro is set to hit free agency after the season and a big question in Seattle of late has been centered on whether or not he would be brought back next year. Ichiro will suit up against his former team this week as the Yankees visit Seattle starting Monday night.

The Mariners will continue to use Casper Wells and Michael Saunders in center, but one of them could now begin playing right field -- most likely Wells -- with Ichiro now out of the mix. Carlos Peguero could gain more playing time.

- Jason A. Churchill

Buster Olney
Will the Ichiro experiment work?

"There are other hitters who get on base more, who hit for more power, who are better suited to take advantage of the dimensions in Yankee Stadium. Ichiro is still a good outfielder, and he can run. There are many other outfielders who have those two particular skills. If it doesn't go well, manager Joe Girardi is going to have to immediately feel comfortable with the idea of pinch-hitting for an all-time great. He will have to fight empathy, in making his choices. He may feel compelled to play him purely out of a sense of deference to Ichiro's extraordinary history."
Tags:New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki
O's interested in Polanco
AM ETPlacido Polanco | Phillies Recommend2Comments1EmailThe Baltimore Orioles are in the market to add a corner infield bat and one of the targets is Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.

The Orioles' interest, may be tempered after Phils manager Charlie Manuel revealed Polanco has been battling a sore back for at least a week. Polanco was not in the lineup Monday against Milwaukee and was scheduled to be examined by a team doctor.

Any deal, of course, will depend on Polanco getting a clean bill of health. Polanco, who is making $6.25 million this year and has a $5.5 million option next season, would be an upgrade at third base over Wilson Betemit.

Connolly adds the Orioles also are interested in San Diego's Chase Headley and the Cubs' Bryan LaHair.

- Doug Mittler
Tags:Placido Polanco, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies
Rays eye Ryan Roberts
AM ETRyan Roberts | Diamondbacks Recommend2Comments0EmailThe Tampa Bay Rays, looking for some depth at third base, are interested in Diamondbacks infielder Ryan Roberts, tweets Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports.

Roberts could provide another bat at third base while Evan Longoria continues to recovers from a hamstring injury. The Rays, however, may not be willing to overpay since Jeff Keppinger has filled in admirably at third base with seven hits in his last 14 at-bats.

- Doug Mittler
Tags:Ryan Roberts, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays
Duda could be demoted
AM ETLucas Duda | Mets Recommend1Comments0EmailLucas Duda, who has had the lion's share of starts in right field for the New York Mets this season, is in danger of being demoted to the minor leagues on Tuesday, reports Adam Rubin of

Duda appeared to be out of danger when the Mets demoted Pedro Beato after Monday's game, apparently to clear a roster spot for Matt Harvey, who will start Thursday in Arizona. But the Mets announced Manny Acosta would return from Triple-A Buffalo, again leaving Duda in trouble.

Duda is hitting .140 with one homer in July, dropping his average to .241.

- Doug Mittler
Tags:Lucas Duda, New York Mets
The market for Josh Johnson
AM ETJosh Johnson | Marlins Recommend1Comments0EmailThe Miami Marlins traded Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers on Monday as part of a multi-player deal, fueling speculation the Fish is inclined to deal a more prominent pitcher.

Josh Johnson's start against Atlanta on Monday night was heavily scouted, although Scott Miller hears the Marlins are inclined to keep the righthander since he is under club control through 2013. In addition, Johnson left Monday's 2-1 win after six innings with a blister on his right middle finger, which could be an issue for acquiring clubs.'s Alden Gonzalez says Johnson is an arm the Angels would consider, adding that any deal would probably have to include center fielder Peter Bourjos, who the Marlins have coveted.

Prior to Monday's deal with Detroit, a report by Chris Cwik of said the Red Sox were interested in Sanchez and Johnson.

- Doug Mittler
Tags:Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins
Marlins could keep selling
AM ETMiami Marlins Recommend2Comments1EmailThe Miami Marlins appear to be in full sell mode after making a deal with the Detroit Tigers Monday that sent right-hander Anibal Sanchez to Motown Omar Infante and perhaps other pieces for package including right-hander Jacob Turner.

If the Fish continue to shop veterans, right-hander Ricky Nolasco could be next, and it may not be out of the question that they consider moving Hanley Ramirez.

Ramirez was rumored to be the subject of talks between the Marlins and the Red Sox earlier this month, but that was shot down as a concept only, at least for now. Scott Miller of hears the Marlins "have never been more open" to the idea of dealing Ramirez.

Josh Johnson's name has always been mentioned as a possibility but the club might be selling low if they traded their ace this season, as the right-hander hasn't performed as he up to his own standards.

- Jason A. Churchill
Tags:Jacob Turner, Anibal Sanchez, Miami Marlins, Detroit Tigers
Chapman could start in 2013
AM ETAroldis Chapman | Reds Recommend0Comments1EmailAroldis Chapman has settled in nicely as the Cincinnati Reds' closer, a role he will have for the rest of the year. But Reds manager Dusty Baker hinted that Chapman could return to the rotation in 2013, reports John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Chapman has a 1.58 ERA and 17 saves.

Baker's comments are not a complete surprise since Chapman prepared in spring training to start and only moved to the bullpen due to injuries to Ryan Madson, Nick Masset and Bill Bray.

- Doug Mittler
Tags:Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Phils optimistic on Hamels deal?
AM ETCole Hamels | Phillies Recommend6Comments14EmailWe are exactly one week from the trade deadline, and the Philadelphia Phillies have one eye on the calendar as they try to hammer out a long-term extension with Cole Hamels.'s Jerry Crasnick says the contract talks are expected to heat up in the next few days and are approaching a "sensitive" stage. The Phillies need to save themselves a window to renew talks with potential trade partners if they can't reach a deal with Hamels.

Jim Salisbury of reports there is "a feeling of optimism" around the Phillies camp that Hamels will eventually agree to an extension.

Ken Rosenthal reports Monday that the extension talks will accelerate this week and hears that Hamel is "conflicted" as to how to proceed.

The discussion between the Phillies and Boggs likely started with the five-year, $112.5 million extension signed by San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain in April, a deal that actually guarantees him six years and $127.5 million when his salary for 2012 is considered.

In Friday's New York Post, Joel Sherman cites two executives they believed the Phillies would go at least six years at $130 million to keep Hamels. One of those executives says the only reason Hamels would turn that down would be a desire to return home (Hamels is a Southern California native) and pitch for the Dodgers.

- Doug Mittler

Jim Bowden
Best fit for Hamels

"When it's all said and done, I truly believe that Hamels will re-sign with the Phillies before July 31. But if negotiations quickly turn sour, I see the Rangers as the most likely destination, as they not only have the top prospects to deal, but also have the willingness to roll the dice even if it's just for a rental."
Tags:Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers
Pirates pursue Maholm
AM ETPaul Maholm | Cubs Recommend6Comments0EmailRyan Dempster and Matt Garza are not be the only Chicago Cubs' starters drawing interest. Don't forget veteran lefthander Paul Maholm, whose trade value has risen thanks to a 4-0 record and a 0.89 ERA in his last five starts.

Maholm has emerged as a lower-priced alternative for teams such as the Pirates who are unlikely to add a Zack Greinke or a Cole Hamels. Maholm would be owed about $1.75 million on the remainder of a one-year, $4.75 million deal he signed in the offseason.

Maholm will make his next two starts against the Pirates, including Tuesday night at PNC Park. The southpaw has heard all the rumors, telling the Tribune Review it would be ?ironic? to re-join the team that let him walk as a free agent.

- Doug Mittler
post #7227 of 73440
Originally Posted by Nowitness41Dirk View Post

Napoli sucks behind the plate..

you're welcome laugh.gif

Thanks for CJ Wilson btw pimp.gif

You guys are still going to win the division though. Too good of a team to give up at 5 gm lead.
post #7228 of 73440
Colby Lewis done for the year with forearm issues...

Rangers trade countdown for Hamels or Greinke in 3... 2... 1... mean.gif
post #7229 of 73440
Thread Starter 
Finding Fits For Hanley Ramirez.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Yesterday, the Marlins officially declared themselves sellers, as they shipped Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante off to Detroit for a group of prospects headlined by pitcher Jacob Turner. Within hours of completing that deal, rumors began to swirl that teams were also scouting Josh Johnson and that the Marlins were definitely open to moving Hanley Ramirez. Johnson makes sense for contenders shopping for a non-rental starting pitcher, and I expect he’ll be in heavy demand over the next week, with the Marlins able to command a strong return for their ace if they do decide to move him. However, when it comes to their mercurial third baseman, finding the right fit for a deal isn’t going to be quite as easy.

The primary issue with trading Ramirez is that he simply hasn’t been very good for a couple of years now. Since the start of last season, he’s hit just .245/.328/.405 in 776 plate appearances, good for a .323 wOBA that puts him in the same class of hitter as guys like Jeff Francoeur, Bobby Abreu, and Johnny Damon. That’s a far cry from the .393 wOBA he posted from 2006 to 2010, when he was on the same level as Mark Teixeira, Jim Thome, and Ryan Braun.

Ramirez’s regression at the plate last year was mostly written off as a function of injuries, as he spent time on the DL with back and shoulder problems, and ended up playing in just 92 games last season. However, he’s been healthy enough to play regularly this year, and his performance is nearly identical to what he posted a year ago. While he’s gotten a bit of his power back, it’s come at the expense of fewer walks and more strikeouts, so the overall package has still just added up to an average hitter.

Some players can be extremely valuable while producing league average offense — Elvis Andrus and Matt Wieters, for instance — but Hanley Ramirez is not a good defensive player, and the move to third base hasn’t seemed to help him much. In addition, his previous exploits running the bases have slowed way down, and he’s only been successful on 34 of 48 stolen base attempts the last two years. A 70% base stealer isn’t adding much in the way of value, so right now, Ramirez’s entire value is tied up in how well he hits. And for that kind of player, a league average wOBA just won’t cut it.

So, any team acquiring Ramirez has to be willing to accept that present day Ramirez is not the Ramirez of several years ago. He’s just 28, so there’s reason to believe that he could rebound, but that’s more hope than substance at this point. Today’s version of Hanley Ramirez is an average player without a defined position, and one that is due $31.5 million over the next two years. At that kind of price, you can’t just hope that there’s some rebound potential — you need it to be likely in order to justify the salary, especially if the Marlins are going to ask for legitimate talent in return.

Given what’s left on his contract, there are probably two kinds of deals that make sense for Ramirez — a large revenue team just taking his contract off Miami’s hands for little or no talent in return, or a smaller revenue club surrendering a real prospect in exchange for the Marlins paying some of the freight to ship him out of town. Given that the Marlins just opened their new stadium and don’t want to bring back memories of previous cost-cutting fire sales, the latter probably makes more sense, as it’s easier to convince your fan base that you aren’t going cheap if you’re kicking in cash in order to give the fans a shiny new young player with which to identify.

So, that’s the criteria – small-to-mid revenue team in need of an upside play on offense that is willing to sacrifice future talent in an effort to upgrade in the short term. Ken Rosenthal suggested the Oakland A’s, but they might be too small in terms of revenues to make it fit. They opened the year with a $53 million payroll, and so even if the Marlins picked up $5 million each of the next two years, Ramirez would represent 20% of their total Major League budget. You can make that kind of bet on a superstar, but probably not a guy with the risks associated with Ramirez. The Marlins would probably have to eat something closer to $8-$10 million per year to make it work for the A’s financially, and at that kind of cost, the Marlins asking price in terms of talent might be too high to have it make sense for a team that might just be in the wild card trap.

The Orioles also have been mentioned as a possibility, but Wilson Betemit offers a very similar average-offense-and-bad-defense combination at the hot corner, and the Orioles have more pressing issues elsewhere (read: pitching) if they’re looking to upgrade. They have the payroll necessary to take on most of Hanley’s contract, but they’re probably better served focusing on other parts of their roster and continuing with the youth movement, given that sustainable success in the AL East requires a commitment to developing from within. I wouldn’t count them out, but I think there’s a better fit for Hanley within their same division, just across the northern border.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been perpetually stuck in the middle of the AL East, and while Alex Anthopolous has done a remarkable job of undoing some of the damage done to the organization before he took over, the team has yet to make the leap from solid team to legitimate contender. Their firm stance on long term contract avoidance means that their upcoming payroll flexibility might be better used to acquire a player already under contract rather than trying to negotiate for a coveted player in free agency. And, as we’ve seen with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto is a terrific place for a talented right-handed power hitter to get his career back on track.

Whatever They’re Calling The Skydome Now inflates home runs by right-handers by 5%, triples by 21%, and doubles by 2%, so the Jays would offer a nice landing spot for Ramirez to start tapping into his previous power once again. And, as we’ve seen from their willingness to take Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar, the Jays aren’t afraid of taking players that have worn out their welcome with their previous organization. In terms of environment, Toronto is probably one of the best possible places for Ramirez to get his career back on track.

The question would be positional fit. With Brett Lawrie catching everything hit towards third base, Ramirez would probably have to change positions again in order to fit in Toronto. That would leave the team with two options: give him his old job at shortstop back or convert him into the outfielder he was meant to be from the start.

Yunel Escobar hasn’t hit much this year and it’s rumored that the Jays wouldn’t mind getting rid of him, so the team could make a pair of moves that swaps out defense for offense at short and hope that Lawrie has enough range to compensate for the fact that Ramirez isn’t much of a shortstop. The defensive downgrade might outweigh most of the offensive gains, though, and they’d be selling low on Escobar, so instead, the Jays should push for Ramirez to accept a new role as an outfielder.

As a strong armed athletic guy with speed who struggles making basic plays on ground balls hit right at him, the outfield is almost certainly where Ramirez would have his most defensive value. In fact, with a bit of work, it’s not hard to see Ramirez becoming a quality defensive outfielder, as he has the physical tools to run down balls in the gap that most corner outfielders can’t get to. While the Jays are currently experimenting with Anthony Gose and Travis Snider in the corners while Jose Bautista is on the shelf, neither have Ramirez’s present offensive abilities and they probably don’t have his upside either.

Gose, in particular, might be an intriguing trade chip for the Marlins, where he could take over as their center fielder of the future, a position that is currently blocked in Toronto by the presence of Colby Rasmus. He’s the kind of talent that they’d likely eat a substantial portion of Ramirez’s contract in order to acquire, and a Gose-for-Ramirez-and-lots-of-cash swap could end up being beneficial to both franchises.

With Bautista, Encarnacion, and Ramirez, the Jays would have three right-handed bats who can take advantage of the ballpark, and a career resurgence from Hanley could propel the team into legitimate contender status. They probably won’t run down the Yankees this year, but a move like this could make their September games a bit more interesting and set them up to make a run at the division title for the next several years.

Ramirez has his warts, but that’s the main reasons he’s available to begin with. The Blue Jays have overlooked downside in a chase for talent before, and if they’re willing to do it again, they could end up buying low on a talented player who could push them into relevance once again.

Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and BABIP Aging.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Two players I have always rather enjoyed — Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui — are in the twilights of their careers. And not only that, they are both having relatively miserable seasons at the plate.

At present, Suzuki is at a career-low 77 wRC+ and .281 wOBA. Matsui — playing in a reserve/pinch-hitting role for the first time in his career — has a disastrous 18 wRC+ and .195 wOBA. But both of these players have unusually low BABIPs and it is hard to know for certain if there has been a change in true talent levels or if this is random variation coupled with only mild aging.

In his reaction piece to the Ichiro trade, Eric Seidman rightly observed that Ichiro’s numbers should improve as he transitions from what has become an offensive deadzone in Safeco Park to the lefty-friendly grounds of Yankee Stadium, but how much can we expect his BABIP to improve? And what can the Rays expect from a 38-year-old Matsui, who may be needed more than ever with Luke Scott back on the DL?

Recent history suggests that both players are having abnormally bad BABIP, and they should improve if given consistent playing time through the rest of the season. But whether teams want to — or should — take that risk is another matter.

Biases Confessed
It is important to that readers understand my bias: I am a fan of both Ichiro and Matsui. I have a soft spot for aging veterans as well. It is important these biases are made plain because I hope to convince the reader of the legitimacy of my findings without the suspicion of self-serving motives.

When I began this study, I did so under the honest desire to find truth, not to trick myself, not to trick readers, and not to manipulate data in any way. My findings have flaws, my buckets have holes, and my data has problems, but none of these are extraordinary, none of these problems — in my understanding (which is apt to change) — is beyond what any other normal study has. Moreover, I think the findings are simple and loose and intuitive, so I hope few people will bristle at my suggestions.

Data Selection and Survivor/Confirmation Bias
First of all, let’s look at aging. From 2000 through 2011, there were 59 players aged 36 or older who put together a full season at the plate (a “qualified” amount of PA, which in this case has a minimum of 507 PA). This will be our Old Guys Bucket.

One of the great difficulties of any aging study is picking the right group. Especially in the MLB, there is the rampant problem of survivor bias and confirmation bias. The survivor bias comes via the players available — only good players make it to old age, and only players who are good in their old age get to keep playing. Very few players get to Chipper Jones their way to retirement — most of them Vladimir Guerrero their way into oblivion. And so my buckets will invariably include players who have done well — but hopefully it will also include a share of bad last seasons. For instance, Edgar Martinez had a -0.2 WAR season in 2004, and at age 41, he’s thankfully in the bucket. This helps balance things out because we don’t want to look at just the tails of the data, the extraordinary players that no one could have predicted — but for the purposes of this research, survivor should hopefully not be an issue. We are looking within careers, not really comparing across careers.

Confirmation bias makes an appearance in the playing time issue. Let’s say Ichiro has just been crazy unlucky and his skills haven’t eroded at all. Well, too bad. The Yankees have enough depth to play Ichiro according to his strengths, which likely means reduced playing time. And because we know all players eventually decline in their ability, we fully expect at least part of Ichiro’s drop off to be aging related — if not all of it. So, when he struggles, it confirms our expectations.

When Giambi struggled in 2009, and his BABIP dropped to .228, it was easy to believe that the veteran slugger has simply lost his hitting skill. He was 38 and had a 97 wRC+. Since then, however, he has not posted a BABIP below .284 (he has a career .297 BABIP) and he has been a useful hitter from the bench for the Rockies. Similar glowing things could have said about 34-year-old Jim Thome in 2005, who’s BABIP dropped to .256 with a, 89 wRC+. (Thome has not had a BABIP, by the way, under .300 for the last four seasons. Wow.)

So both of these issues — survivor bias and confirmation bias — are swirling around and playing with the available data. In the ideal aging study, every single MLB player gets 1500 PA per year until their 50th birthday, but alas, we do not have such luxuries.

What we do have are these 59 players — guys who have played with modern medical science, who have played in roughly the same run environments (these players are 2000 to 2008 heavy) and who did not suffer the penalties due pinch-hitters and bench players.

Of theses 59 hitters, they had a combined 112 split seasons aged 36 or older. We have 45 seasons of 36-year-olds, 31 seasons of 37-year-olds and the final four ages have groups of 15, 12, 6 and 3, respectively.

This, as if it needs emphasis, is not a big group. Remember that fact (I say this to myself as much as to the reader) when looking at the findings.

In the Old Guys Bucket, the average and median drop in BABIP (season BABIP minus career BABIP) was only 11 points. At the same time, it appears that most players, when looking at the distribution of those bad BABIP seasons, had their BABIP fall at least a little:

NOTE: Not all 112 season names can fit on the horizontal axis, but rest assured, they are all there. Click to enlarge the image.

We can see the majority of 36-or-older players cannot replicate their youthful BABIPs. It is worth noting here that the end of the aughties and beginning of the 2010s was the beginning of a reduced-BABIP era, and all these players are moving towards that world. Still, as I said before, this group is pre-2009 heavy. I think most of what we are seeing here is a decrease in true talent levels — guys making weaker contact and legging out fewer infield singles.

But if we break these differences down by age, we see the heaviest BABIP drops coming in the latter ages:

Click to enlarge.

From age 36 through 39, the group averaged BABIPs 8 to 16 points worse than their career numbers, with 8 and 9 points making the most appearances. This surprised me the most, considering we have 2003 Rafael Palmeiro, 2001 Cal Ripken, 2008 Kevin Millar and 2006 Frank Thomas included in this set.

These are old dudes — at the ends of their careers — with BABIPs barely shifted from their normal career numbers. Here we must interject the final confirmation bias warning. These hitters would not reach 500 PA if they looked lost in Spring Training, if scouts were seeing red flags in batting practice, if they were truly and undeniably kaput. I think few hitters really reach that level outside of catastrophic injury, but if and when they do reach it, they are unlikely to cobble together 250 PA, much less 500.

So these are hitters who, presumably, passed a modicum of the eye-test (at least among team officials) and who had success (to a degree) the preceding year. But nonetheless, we are seeing hitters aged 36 to 39 with BABIPs quite close to their career numbers, and that is worth remembering.

Ichiro and Matsui
This brings us full circle to Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. Ichiro’s BABIP is 69 points below his career BABIP, and Matsui’s is 128 points down. Neither player is likely to get full playing time (or even 500 PA, for Matsui) through the end of the season — but, if they hypothetically did, and if their BABIPs remained constant, they would rank No. 2 and No. 1 among the worst BABIP drops in the whole Old Guys Bucket.

Maybe Matsui is really finished? It’s hard to say from a statistical standpoint as his 103 PA have come largely as a pinch hitter and in sporadic stints as the DH. Both roles come with considerable offensive penalties. Add in the fact his season started in late May, and we have to wonder if his extended off-season hasn’t resulted in a possibly temporary loss of bat speed.

Scouts might be able to offer insight into whether or not he has lost bat speed, but his contact rate (78.1%) is easily at a career low. Let us say he is not finished, that his skills have depreciated, but that he’s not an 18 wRC+ true-talent hitter.

Let us then presume he can at least match the worst possible BABIP difference of -57 points. That would mean that Matsui, with a .240 BABIP, would have approximately a .260 wOBA (according to FI wOBA) — which is great for the best defensive shortstop in the history of the universe, but not so great for a DH.

If his BABIP managed to hit the average decline — minus 11 points — then he would still only muster a .289 wOBA. If he matched his career BABIP (not going to happen, in all likelihood), he’d be at .296 wOBA.

The core of this issue becomes clear, then: His plate discipline numbers are askew. Let’s say — with some regular playing time, as with before — he sorts out his approach and at least matched his 9.6% walk rate and 14.4% strikeout rate from 2011 (not great numbers, but not terrible either). Suddenly, his wOBA (with just a .286 BABIP) jumps to .316 — which would rank him the fourth-best hitter in an offense-starved Rays lineup.

So is Matsui’s usefulness expired? Perhaps — but if he can find his old plate discipline, even with a career-low home run rate, he could realistically provide the Rays with solid production. But there are a lot of if’s there.

Ichiro, on the other hand, needs to change little. One of the curiosities of his hitting profile over the last few years has been the rapid decline in infield singles. Though he continues to steal bases at a considerable pace and though his defense and range continue to rate well, he seems to be losing the skill for infield singles. Here is a look at his hit types per plate appearance:

However, from 2002 through 2009, Ichiro averaged only 5.8% infield hits. From 2010 through 2012, that number has decreased to 5.1% — that’s a pretty small change overall. Meanwhile, his non-infield hits have gone from 19.1% of his PAs to 17.1%. That’s a more troubling decline.

Still, his doubles and homers are in line with his career rates, and his triples have ticked up in recent years. And he has been successful (in 2009 — 113 wRC+) with a lower non-infield singles rate. Moreover, his stolen base rate over the past few years is almost unchanged from his career numbers.

Let us again play with the hypothetical and say Ichiro’s rest-of-season BABIP climbs to the -11 point difference we found prevalent in the Old Guys Bucket. Ichiro’s wOBA jumps from .281 to .329 as his BABIP goes from .279 to .337 — that’s a huge BABIP jump, but it’s also a testament to how far it has fallen this season.

One other difficulty with the preceding findings is that all those career BABIPs we were looking at already have incurred the low-BABIP final seasons — so they were downward biased, which means the player’s difference between career and seasonal BABIP looks less dramatic.

Since these guys have played into at least their late-30s, most of them have thousands of PA, so it shouldn’t make much of a difference, but, hey, let’s say the penalty should actually be 25 points of BABIP. That puts Ichiro at a .320 wOBA — and with his defense, which continues to be Gold Glovish — he makes a considerable outfield asset.

The biggest information we can draw from this is that players given ~500 PA from 2000-2011 did not see their BABIP drop more than 60 points (57 points to be precise) from the career numbers and averaged a drop of only 11 points. Whether this applies to any modern player probably depends on the situation, but it should make intuitive sense — players’ skills decline with age, but with steady playing time, they should be able to at least best pitchers, who sport BABIPs in the .220s. Give these veterans less than consistent playing time, and they may not best the pitcher BABIP.

For the specific players of Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki, the results are a little more divergent. Ichiro’s decline appears all too sudden, especially given his speed-rich skillset, and if the Yankees choose to give him steady playing time in New York — which would unfortunately come at the expense of some of their other talented outfielder hitters — it could be a worthwhile gamble (especially considering Ichiro’s change in home stadiums).

Matsui, meanwhile, has plate discipline numbers that suggest greater problems — including a low contact rate. If he continues to receive only partial playing time and cannot improve his plate discipline numbers while in that capacity (or any capacity, really), then the Rays will have little else to do but release him. If he gets steady playing time, we can expect his BABIP to increase, but it will do his output little good if he cannot also improve his walk rate, strikeout rate and/or home run rate.

Miami Reloads… Again with Decent Haul from Detroit.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Miami Marlins organization was one of the big boys during this past off-season when the front office tossed money at shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitcher Mark Buehrle. But the ‘new Marlins’ did not even last a full season before management pulled the plug once again and started flipping expensive veterans for cheap, young talent.

Monday’s deal saw the Marlins send starter Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to the Detroit Tigers for pitchers Jacob Turner and Brian Flynn, as well as catcher Rob Brantly. Both Turner (1st overall) and Brantly (6th) appeared on the Tigers pre-season Top 15 prospects list.

Much like former Tigers No. 1 draft pick Cameron Maybin, who also went from Detroit to Miami in a trade, Turner was hurt by the organization’s over-aggressive development plan in an effort to compensate for a weak minor league system. Drafted ninth overall out of a St. Louis high school in 2009, the right-hander made his pro debut in 2010 and was in the majors in ’11. He entered 2012 as the club’s best prospect but he dealt with injuries and his stuff was not as crisp as in the past. A lack of fastball command doomed him at the big league level.

Turner, 21, still has youth on his side and has the potential to be a No. 2 pitcher if he can find his fastball command and sharpen his secondary pitches. He’ll likely see more time at the big league level with Miami but he could probably use about 100 more innings of minor league seasoning.

Brantly has the potential to be the steal of the trade. Former No. 1 draft pick and catcher Kyle Skipworth is following up his dismal 2011 (55 wRC+) with another limp performance in double-A (76 wRC+). The Detroit-turned-Miami prospect recently turned 23 and was a third round draft selection out of the University of California-Riverside in 2010. He reached triple-A in his third pro season in 2012 after posting a wRC+ of 122 in 46 double-A games. He’s been over-matched, though, during his 36 games in triple-A and his development needs to be slowed down.

The left-handed hitting catcher has the potential to be a first-string catcher if he can become more consistent but he’s probably more valuable as a platoon player. He lacks power and has an overly-aggressive approach at the plate that gets him into trouble. Defensively, he needs a lot of polish but shows potential with the throwing game. He’s probably about a year away from being a true contributor at the major league level.

Flynn is a C-level prospect and a former seventh round selection out of Wichita State University (2011). He stands 6’8” and is left-handed. He spent the majority of 2012 in high-A ball showing good control but giving up a ton of hits because he lacks command in the zone. He can hit the mid-90s with his heat but works down in the 89-91 mph range at other times. His secondary pitches are equally inconsistent and he has dabbled with both a curveball and a slider. At best, he could maintain the level of a No. 4 starter for a few years but is more of a long reliever and spot starter – unless he takes a big step forward with his fastball in terms of both command and consistency.

Miami gave up a very talented starter in Sanchez who has struggled with his health in the past but struck out more than 200 batters in 2011. In return, the Marlins received a decent – but unspectacular – return. Detroit was able to hold onto No. 1 prospect 3B/RF Nick Castellanos, who had leap-frogged over Turner this year to claim top spot in the Tigers system.

Yankees Hope They Acquired “Road” Ichiro.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Yankees have acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for pitching prospects D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. The Mariners are also paying approximately $4.5 million of the $6.7 million remaining on Ichiro’s contract, leaving the Yankees responsible for a fairly modest $2.25 million.

According to Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, Ichiro had approached the club requesting a trade, reasoning that the Mariners are building for the future and it was best for the team if younger players were given more playing time.

Ichiro has also become a shell of his former self, posting a .289 wOBA last season and a .281 wOBA this year, both of which rank near the league’s bottom. Since the start of last season, only Cliff Pennington, Casey McGehee and Gordon Beckham have produced lower wOBAs. Trading him must have been very difficult, but it was much easier to justify, and downright responsible, from a production standpoint.

While Safeco Field clearly has a hand in his decline, he is simply nowhere near the same player fans are accustomed to seeing. He isn’t an everyday player anymore, but it would have been tough for the Mariners to play him sporadically given his importance to the team and the community. The Yankees don’t need him to be anything more than a part-time platoon player to make this deal work out, and for Ichiro, the realization that his days as a full-time starter are done is likely easier to stomach on a playoff contender.

While it’s somewhat shocking that the Mariners dealt their franchise player — especially since most signs pointed towards his retention next season — what he could potentially provide his new club is rather intriguing. In the appropriate role and under the right circumstances, he could really benefit the Yankees down the stretch.

Simply by not playing the majority of his games at Safeco Field, which has absolutely crushed BABIP and offense in general this season, Ichiro figures to improve his seasonal line. If his numbers at the plate with the Yankees resemble his current road numbers, and his terrific fielding persists, the Yankees won’t think twice about the money they’ll spend or the prospects they dealt. If they just acquired “Road” Ichiro, this is a darned good deal that bolsters depth in an important area.

Context is key in any analysis, and with Ichiro what’s important is how the Yankees will use him. If he splits time in a platoon — he has a .309 wOBA vs. righties compared to a .222 wOBA against lefties, he will provide more overall utility. If, on top of that, he produces close to his current road marks — a .311 road wOBA compared to a .243 home wOBA — the Yankees could end up with the version of Ichiro that hits close to the league average and fields very well. We obviously cannot take his road numbers and assume that he will match them now that he has left the unfriendly confines, but it’s more likely he produces near that level than it is that he completely falters.

But how Ichiro factors into the Yankees outfield is still a question mark. Curtis Granderson starts in center field. Nick Swisher mans right field. Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones platoon in left field. Ichiro represents added depth given the injuries to Brett Gardner, but it’s unclear if he’s a better option than anyone, anywhere. Both Swisher and Jones sport .346 wOBAs, and Ibanez has an average-ish .318 wOBA.

The left field platoon of Jones and Ibanez has been productive to the tune of 2.1 WAR this season, and though Ichiro is a defensive upgrade over both, his role is likely limited to the third wheel of that platoon.

The Yankees could also use Ichiro in a catch-all outfield role, spelling any of their starters if injuries arise, or filling in when rest is required. That’s the key with a depth move like this — Ichiro isn’t counted on to be the tremendous hitter of yesteryear. The Yankees realistically don’t need him to do all that much, which means they are far more likely to use him in the proper roles. As a result, they stand to extract far more value out of him.

It feels very strange that Ichiro is no longer a member of the Seattle Mariners, but it’s ultimately for the best. The Mariners get to play younger players in a rebuilding phase while he gets to play in meaningful games without all the pressures of a fanbase on his shoulders. The Yankees part ways with two mediocre prospects and chump change to get a popular player who will get put in the perfect situation given his skill-set. The Yankees are betting on him producing closer to his more respectable road numbers from here on out. Given the cost of acquiring him, this was a bet well worth making.

Tigers Retool With Infante, Sanchez.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Tigers are built to win now. From the owner to the position players to the pitchers, this team is built for short-term glory and some long-term pain. in that context, their latest trade — a package featuring top prospect Jacob Turner for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante — fills their greatest short-term needs and readies the team for postseason play.

Their 83-year-old pizza magnate owner, Mike Ilitch, bought the team from another pizza magnate, Tom Monaghan, in 1992, or eight years after the Tigers won their last world series championship. After some early success, the owner looked to put a long-term plan in place and hired Dave Dombrowski to captain the ship. 2003 saw the Tigers lose more than any other American League team in history, but then the pieces Dombrowski put together started to come to fruition. It’s still the stars from that accumulation of talent that power the team — Justin Verlander, Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera — but recent acquisitions have cemented the win-now feeling.

Spending $214 million on an iffy-bodied first baseman when the team had two or three first basemen already in the fold was probably the biggest sign that the team is focused on the short-term. That says “this team is a bat away,” and says it loudly. But this train might have been moving to a win-now mentality ever since the Cabrera trade sent their best prospects away for two players.

Of course, the early 2012 season didn’t turn out exactly as the Tigers had hoped. After roaring out to a 9-3 start, the team lost seven in a row and ended April at .500. They were still looking up at the Indians after May, too. The idea was maybe that the team’s fielding was hurting them, and that the pitching wasn’t as sure of a thing as it might at first have seemed. Well, the team is second-to-last in fielding runs in the league (-29.5), so that part might actually be a problem. But the Tigers rotation has the most WAR in the American League and even their ERA (4.13) is better than average.

Still, the Braves might be a one-team example for the “you can never have too much pitching” maxim, and past Justin Verlander, even the most ardent Tigers fan would have to admit to excreting a few beads of sweat when Max Scherzer, Doug Fister or Rick Porcello step on to the mound. That threesome has been great for stretches, but they’ve also had some terrible times.

So Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante do fit their needs well.

With positive defensive numbers (and experience) at every position except pitcher and catcher, Infante can provide a better glove at any infield position than the Tigers currently boast, save for (perhaps) Jhonny Peralta. Even if his power regresses (.155 ISO this year, .121 career) and his BABIP (.307) stays below his career levels (.310), Infante’s recent .330 wOBA type of work would be a great improvement over the .243 wOBA (and league-worst -2.0 WAR) that the Tigers’ Ryan Raburn, Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago and put together at the position. It probably won’t be a four-win gain for the Tigers — Infante’s career high in WAR is 2.7 and it would be surprising for the 30-year-old to almost double that this year — but at least the team won’t have a below-replacement position on the field any more.

Sussing out Sanchez is harder. Well, it is if you get too caught up in his recent work. The 28-year-old starter spent June with an ERA over seven, and given the fact that he once had shoulder surgery, it might have made sense to worry about his durability some. On the other hand, Sanchez has been playing with the same (slightly lower) velocity all season, and even recently saw an uptick in fastball gas. And if you look at the season as a whole, he’s put up his third-stright season with an FIP under 3.5 by consistently improving his control while still seeing average ground-ball rates and above-average swinging strike stuff. He looks healthy and is a good pitcher. He could be worth a two-win swing himself.

A four-win addition is actually pretty important for a first-place team: with the new rules in place, getting into the second round of the playoffs by winning your division outright is invaluable, as Jesse Wolfersberger pointed out last week and Dave Cameron and Vince Gennaro expounded upon as well. This also gives the Tigers help at the front of their rotation, defensive help around the infield, and offensive help at second base.

At the cost of their top pitching prospect, yes, but that’s not a prospect without questions or a prospect who’s value was on the way up — Marc Hulet had him down at 25 in his mid-season update. The rest of the reported package — Triple-A (and probably depth) catcher Rob Brantly, iffy lefty Brian Flynn & 2013 Comp B pick — is about as lottery-ticket-esque as it comes. It is the first trade of a draft pick in modern baseball, though. [Update: Now it seems like the Tigers may be getting a pick back, so it was a pick upgrade for the Tigers. This part deserves its' own post.]

It’s a little surprising to see the Marlins selling so soon after making a push for their new stadium, but Sanchez will be a free agent at year’s end (Infante is signed for another year at $4 mill), and Turner can help them going forward. On the other hand, it’s not surprising to see the contending Tigers retool and fill in their only significant gaps. A quick, surgical strike while much of the baseball world was waiting on Ryan Dempster‘s decision, and the Tigers are ready for the postseason.

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What’s Wrong With Jon Lester?
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From 2008 to 2010, there were only six pitchers in baseball better than Jon Lester, and you can probably identify them all by first name — Roy, Cliff, Tim, Zack, CC and Justin. Last year however, was a different story. Lester was still one of the top 30 pitchers in the game, but he was ensconced safely outside of the top 10. While many expected a rebound, or at least for Lester to plateau in 2012, he has continued his descent, with the exclamation point coming yesterday, when he allowed 11 runs in four innings to the Blue Jays.

As we noted last week with Jonathan Sanchez, part of Lester’s trouble may stem from the fact that while his fastball velocity is declining, his changeup velocity is increasing. The changeup hasn’t been a problem for Lester this season, but his fastball certainly has. Lester has not even lost a mile and a half on his four-seamer, and it is still the ninth-fastest four-seamer among left-handed starters. But that sentence is a bit of a tip off, isn’t it? Two seasons ago, that sentence would have read “tied for 11th-fastest in the game.” Now, it needs qualifiers. Also, it is getting hit hard — he is allowing a .397 wOBA on his fastball this season.

Still, that’s not what is most troubling. In 2010, when Lester posted a 3.13 FIP, he allowed a .396 wOBA on his fastball, so clearly he can be effective without a dominating fastball. But what Lester does need to be effective are the pitches that break — his cutter, curveball and sinker — and right now, they are not. His cutter, in particular, has been a mystery. For starters, he is either throwing it less frequently or he has been throwing it in a way that makes it harder to identify as a cutter. That can sometimes be attributable to a computer or user error or change in how pitches are identified, but if it isn’t, it’s a big issue for Lester moving forward. Over the last three seasons, the cutter had been Lester’s bread and butter, and had been one of the most effective cutters in the game. From ’09-’11, he threw it 20.5 percent of the time. This year, that has dipped to 11.5%. Hitters are still having trouble squaring up the pitch, but they’re not missing it with the frequency they have in the past — his SwStr% on his cutter is four percent lower than it has been the past three seasons.

His curveball and sinker have not been much better. First, let’s look at his curveball:

Year PA wOBA
2007 26 0.103
2008 123 0.238
2009 105 0.189
2010 135 0.18
2011 95 0.254
2012 53 0.371
Total 537 0.223

Now, what we’re looking at here needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Because only 53 of the batters he has faced this year have seen a curveball as the final pitch in said plate appearance, there is room for noise in these numbers. But it bears watching, since Lester’s wOBA allowed on curveballs is currently is almost 150 points above his career norm. In addition, perhaps it should tell us something that he is featuring it that much less frequently at the end of plate appearances the past two years.

His sinker has stabilized a bit better, but the results there aren’t promising either:

Year PA wOBA
2010 109 0.325
2011 126 0.353
2012 150 0.373
Total 385 0.353

Lester is throwing his sinker more than ever before even though it is getting harder than ever before. And unlike in 2010, when he had a respectable 8.7 SwStr% on the pitch, he is only getting swings and misses on 4.0% of his sinkers this season. Which would be fine if he was generating weak contact, as sinkers are not necessarily designed to be a swing and miss pitch, but he’s not. He’s getting hit hard, and what’s worse, he’s getting his sinker hit into the air — a career-worst 22.8% of the time.

Add it all up, and Lester is throwing four of his five pitches below the standards to which he is accustomed. When things like that happen, you end up with a second straight season of pronounced platoon splits. When things like that happen, you end up with a career-worst 23.3 LD%. When things like that happen, you post the worst HR/FB of your career. And yet, is Lester really doing that poorly? He’s still been worth close to two wins, and if you look at his minus numbers, he’s still been a better-than-league-average pitcher. His K% is down, but so is his BB%, and his K/BB numbers are in line with his last two seasons. His BABIP is up a lot this season, and that could be because his pitches have lost some of their mojo. It could also be just bad luck. Certainly, starts like yesterday’s don’t come around too often, and when they do, the opposing team doesn’t always cash in to the degree the Blue Jays did. On Wednesday, Justin Masterson had a very similar start in terms of baserunners allowed and innings pitched — 14 in 4 1/3 innings against Tampa — but the Rays only cashed in four of them.

It is clear that Jon Lester has slipped from ace status, but how far is still up for debate. His pitches have been far less effective, and his platoon split is troubling, especially since the overwhelming majority of the batters he faces are right-handed. Yet, as recently as last month, he had posted a season-best monthly FIP of 2.92. His E-F number is third-worst in the game at the moment and his 3.80 xFIP places 39th out of 100 qualified pitchers. Interest certainly hasn’t dampened on him either, as the Braves have recently inquired about his availability.

Lester’s struggles will continue to be magnified in Boston because, number one it’s Boston, and number two the Red Sox — thanks to the fluctuation of both health and effectiveness of every other member of its starting rotation — need him now more than ever. If he is able to turn things around, then his last three starts — in which he has allowed 22 runs in 12 1/3 innings — will become a blip on the radar screen, much like when he allowed 15 runs in 16 innings in his first three starts of 2010. If he isn’t, we will remember this past weekend as the time when we stopped referring to him in the same discussions with guys like CC, Justin, Cliff and Roy.

Braves Go Dempster Diving to Improve Rotation.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The starting rotation was supposed to be a strength for the Braves, but they instead opened today with just one qualified starter with a sub-4.40 ERA. Ben Sheets has provided a lift two starts into his comeback and Tim Hudson has been his typically reliable self, but Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, and Jair Jurrjens have struggled to varying degrees while Brandon Beachy blew out his elbow. Atlanta remains right in the thick of the playoff hunt despite ranking middle of the pack in rotation ERA and FIP (both 4.04).

In an effort to shore up the staff, the Braves acquired Ryan Dempster from the Cubs this afternoon. It’s unclear what they gave up as of this writing, though Delgado has been rumored. Dave O’Brien, Jon Heyman, and Mark Bowman all deserve some credit in breaking the news. The veteran right-hander has ten-and-five no-trade protected but waived it to join Atlanta. He reportedly did not demand any kind of extension or other compensation to approve the trade, so he gets brownie points for that.

Dempster, 35, recently missed some time with a lat strain but otherwise is in the middle of his best season as a full-time starter. His 2.11 ERA is backed by an sky-high 83.9% strand rate, something that may be more sustainable than you think. Dempster’s become more of a fly ball pitcher at this point of his career (42.2% grounders this year) and Atlanta has a big home ballpark with a dynamite defensive outfield led by Michael Bourn in center. Maybe 83.9% won’t last forever, but a regression to the 72.6% league average is not a foregone conclusion.

Those fly balls and outfield defense should also go a long way towards keeping Dempster’s BABIP down. He’s working on a career-low .245 mark right now (.301 career) and while that probably won’t last all season, regressing all the way back to the .293 league average is again no sure thing. It’s tough to overstate how favorable the switch is for Dempster — he’s going from a hitter friendly park where Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair roam the corners to a pitcher’s park with three good-to-great defensive outfielders.

There are still some concerns of course. Dempster’s career-low strikeout rate (7.07 K/9 and 19.5 K%) has been trending in the wrong direction basically since April…

His swinging strike rate (9.3%) is identical to last year and in line with 2010, so he’s still missing bats. It’s worth noting that based on the PITCHf/x data, Dempster is throwing considerably more sliders and splitters this year than the last few seasons. Matt Garza showed a similar adjustment following the trade to Chicago last year, so maybe it’s a pitching coach thing. Either way, the drastic decline in strikeouts — he was over 8.5 K/9 and 21.5 K% in each of the last two seasons — is a red flag.

We don’t know what the Braves are sending the Cubs just yet, but acquiring Dempster drastically improves Atlanta’s chances of winning this season assuming prospects and not big league pieces went the other way. They got a reliable innings eater who, even if his performance down the stretch isn’t as impressive as the first half, will be an upgrade over three current starters. It could be as much as a three-win improvement, though two seems more likely. Dempster gets to join a contender and stay in the National League, the best case scenario for a veteran who (probably) wants to win and land a nice multi-year deal this winter.

Are the Wild Cards Now a Trap?
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Over the weekend, Vince Gennaro — president of SABR, author of Diamond Dollars, and friend of FanGraphs — launched his own blog. For his first post, he talked about the second wild card and it’s effect on the upcoming trade deadline. In that post, he said some of the things that I’ve been thinking lately, so instead of just repeating those ideas, I’ll quote him instead:

What are the implications for trade deadline deals? Since we know the real financial payoff for a team’s performance results from a run through the postseason—the deeper the run, the richer the pot of gold—teams will need to shift their mindset to not treat all postseason qualifying positions as “equal”. In the new system, it may make more sense to fortify your ballclub when your playoff status is assured, but being anointed a division winner is still in question—think Texas or even the Angels. However, a team fighting for a wild card berth should think twice before they go all-in for the privilege of potentially extending their season for one more day. This is the exact opposite of the old mindset—do everything you can to qualify for the playoffs, but don’t worry too much about winning the division.

Vince is right about the incentives of the old system, as there was no real incentive to try and secure a different seed within the playoff structure. If you were in, you were in, and your goal should have been to just get in. But, now, the addition of the second wild card changes everything. In reality, it’s the play-in game that is really the differentiator here, as the new structure created a vast separation between winning your division and finishing as a strong runner up. As Jesse noted last week, the playoff probability curves have shifted, and the incentives on when to be a trade deadline buyer have to shift as well.

There are now twice as many wild cards, but they are less than half as valuable as they used to be, as they only guarantee a ~50-50 shot at a real playoff spot, and, in order to secure that playoff spot, the team will likely have to burn through their pitching staff in order to win the one game playoff. Rather than entering the division series on even footing, the wild card may now very well be without their best starting pitcher until Game 3 or Game 4. Not only does a wild card entry no longer get you any guaranteed home playoff dates, it increases the likelihood that the wild card will be losing in the first round.

These are good changes that I’m in favor of, but the devaluation of the wild card may have some unintended consequences at the trade deadline, as Vince noted in his post.

For instance, the recent surge by the Oakland Athletics has left them just a half game behind the Angels and tied with the Orioles in the wild card standings. Under the old system, the A’s and O’s should probably have both acted as buyers. While they’re not as good as the Angels in terms of true talent, they’re close enough to that first wild card spot that there’s a realistic chance that they could outplay Anaheim over the final two months of the season and steal a lucrative playoff spot that could re-energize their fan base and create significant revenue gains. However, under the new system, both teams should probably resist the urge to give up prospects for rentals, as the reward for running down the Angels (or even just maintaining their current spot in the standings) is likely a one game, winner-take-all affair against Jered Weaver in Anaheim.

Yeah, they could beat him, but how much of your farm system do you want to bet on coming out victorious against Weaver on the road, especially when you’re pretty sure that the Angels roster is still stronger than yours even without factoring in the pitching match-up? The outcome of any one game is unpredictable enough that they shouldn’t just fold up their tents and give up, but trading good prospects for the right to try and win one game as an underdog on the road against one of the best pitchers in baseball just seems like a poor use of value.

It was one thing to trade a prospect for a guy who gave you a 10% chance at getting to the World Series, where the potential return could dramatically alter the trajectory of a franchise. But, now, with the required play-in game, teams that are hanging out in the wild card race but probably aren’t contenders for the division title should probably hold instead of buy. The play-in game is enough of a carrot to keep teams from repeating the White Flag Trade, but it shouldn’t be enough of a carrot to get teams to give up real long term value to chase a wild card spot.

Of course, there’s a flip side to this coin as well. Since the division title is so much more valuable than a wild card berth, teams like Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis should be far more incentivized to win the central divisions than they were in prior years, when a second place finish could still get them into the playoffs as a wild card. Likewise, the Washington Nationals should probably be more aggressive buyers this year than they would have been last year, as they can’t afford to let the Braves pass them in the NL East race.

The changing marginal values of wins 87-97 have made it so that first place teams should be more active this week, while second place teams should probably be a bit less active unless they’re close to the top of their division.

It will be interesting to see which teams are aggressive in adding talent. It probably won’t be the same ones that would have been active in prior years.

Phillies Find Gem in Mitch Walding.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The scouting highlight of my time in upstate, New York was not 2011 first rounders Taylor Guerrieri (Rays) or Larry Greene (Phillies). Nor was it Red Sox 2012 first round pick Deven Merrero. How about 2011 second round picks Roman Quinn (Phillies) and Williams Jerez (Red Sox)? No. Without a doubt, the most impressive few minutes of my five games scouted in New York was the batting practice display put on by Phillies third base prospect Mitch Walding. So frequent were the balls leaving Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays, that I was compelled to find the distance down the right field line as I kept having flashbacks of Asheville and its sub-300 foot porch.

And while the power displayed in batting practice by Walding did not carry over into game action, his advanced approach allowed him to pepper line drives to all fields resulting in a multi-hit performance. Having seen the young third baseman at a time when his batting average sat in the .350′s, his current line of .280/.353/.374 is perplexing. However, Walding’s recent struggles are not enough to sway me from believing he is one of the best pure hitters I’ve scouted this season.

At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Walding has room to add an additional 20-30 pounds to his frame at full physical maturity. However, adding weight may not come easily considering his lack of natural size through the shoulders and hips.

In terms of athleticism, Walding’s long limbs cause him to look a bit awkward at times – especially when running and playing the infield. However, his swing is surprisingly short and quick considering his arm length leaving his bat more advanced than his glove at this point. Having already moved down the defensive spectrum from shortstop to third base, he is in no danger of having to move to a less valuable defensive position such as first base or a corner outfield spot.

In batting practice, Walding is able to stay inside the baseball better than just about every left-handed hitting prospect I’ve seen previously. Behind strong hands and a slight uppercut in his swing plane, Walding was able to let the ball travel deep into his hitting zone before tattooing baseball after baseball. And while his home runs were not tape measure shots, the natural backspin and loft he was able to generate was uncanny for a player his age.

However, that backspin did not carry over into game action although Walding consistently barreled the baseball with success. Instead of allowing the ball to travel and trusting his hands to do much of the work, Walding attacked pitches in front of the plate nullifying much of his impressive natural power. The contact skills are there for his strikeout rate to plummet, but Walding will likely struggle with identifying off-speed pitches until he makes an adjustment. Additionally, he was almost patient to a fault. It would benefit him to be a bit more aggressive – especially with two strikes – as about the only thing worse than short season pitching are short season umpires.

On defense, Walding’s throwing motion caused natural tail into the base runner. This led to an error early in the contest, as well another near mishap later on. His arm strength is at least average for the position, but he’ll need to develop a cleaner arm action to consistently make long throws across the diamond. With the glove, Walding picked everything in front of him and showed range to his left. As with many young prospects, his backhand side was a bit rough, but repetition and better technique should help. In time, there’s really no reason for Walding to become at least an average defender based on the skills he does have.

When totaling Mitch Walding’s signing bonus and future cost of a college education, the Phillies organization invested close to seven figures to sign the young third baseman. Based on other seven figure signings I’ve seen, Philadelphia made a wise investment as the potential is there for Walding to develop into a player with both an above average hit tool and power. In person, Walding presented far better than first round pick Larry Greene and is likely to be ranked as one of the better prospects in the organization this winter.

While much different in terms of build and being left-handed, my first impression of Mitch Walding is similar to that of Colorado Rockies third base prospect Nolan Arenado in terms of hitting ability. When I first saw Arenado in 2010, I was blown away by his feel for contact and focus on generating lift – down to the his bat flick when taking practice swings. Arenado hails from Newport Beach, a full six-plus hours from Walding’s stomping grounds in Lodi, California. But oddly enough, Walding had the same bat flick. The Phillies would surely be pleased if it yielded the same results.

Myers Traded To Windy City.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As the trade deadline approached this month, the Chicago White Sox desperately needed to upgrade their bullpen. Their cumulative 4.17 FIP ranks second worst in the American League, and their 3.99 ERA ranks only marginally better.

GM Kenny Williams looked to perhaps the only self-identified “seller” on the current market, the Houston Astros, for help. The White Sox acquired right-hander Brett Myers for minor-league pitchers Matthew Heidenreich and Blair Walters, as well as a player to be named later.

Despite saving 19 games for the Astros to this point, Myers will not immediately step in as the White Sox’s closer. That role will continue to belong to rookie Addison Reed, which only makes sense, as Reed has a better FIP, better stuff, and misses far more bats.

Reports suggest Myers will transition into the set-up role behind Reed and provide veteran stability in a bullpen that features rookies such as Reed, Nate Jones, and Hector Santiago. In terms of a talent upgrade, though, the White Sox may not have acquired as much as they previously thought.

Here are the main cogs in Chicago’s bullpen, sorted by FIP:

Player FIP
Jesse Crain 2.93
Matt Thornton 3.02
Addison Reed 3.07
Nate Jones 3.44
Brett Myers 4.24
Hector Santiago 5.40

This is not to suggest that Myers is unequivocally the fifth-best reliever for the White Sox. After all, Myers has only six meltdowns this season, while Matt Thornton has eleven. Instead, the above chart is meant to illustrate that the White Sox did not acquire a shutdown reliever who will transform the entire bullpen. His inability to miss bats has limited his success all season, and that trend could become even more pronounced in the less pitcher-friendly American League.

Overall, the White Sox received marginal value. It’s difficult to see them even gaining a full win from this move.

For a non-elite bullpen arm with only a half-season of control remaining, it’s only natural that the Astros did not acquire anything earth-shattering. Neither right-hander Matt Heidenreich nor left-hander Blair Walters cracked Marc Hulet’s Top 15 White Sox Prospects list prior to the season, while ESPN’s Keith Law wrote over the weekend that both “barely qualify as prospects.”

The biggest win for the Astros in this transaction was avoiding the $10 million vesting option that was poised to enact had Myers finished 16 more games prior to the end of the season. The White Sox should also avoid the vesting option, as Myers is not slated to close games in Chicago.

This type of trade has precedent, as well.

Last season, the New York Mets traded right-hander Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers in order to avoid his bulky $17.5 million vesting option that would have triggered if he had finished 55 games. That vesting option negated the Mets negotiating leverage and were forced to settle for two non-prospects, right-hander Adrian Rosario and left-hander Daniel Herrera.

Within that context, the Houston Astros crafted a quality deal. Not only did they trade away an inferior pitcher to Francisco Rodriguez, they also acquired far more in prospects. Heidenreich and Walters may not profile as more than back-end starters at the big league level, but Adrian Rosario has walked more batters than he has struck out in Double-A and Daniel Herrera is a journeyman, who underwent Tommy John surgery this year. The Astros certainly acquired more talent than the Mets last year for a less-attractive asset, especially when considering the fact that the Astros will also net a player to be named later in the deal, though that piece is not expected to be significant.

Ultimately, this is a win-win trade. The White Sox improved their below-average bullpen without sacrificing anything significant, while the Astros acquired pitching depth for their improving farm system and avoided a $10 million vesting option. Add in the K-Rod trade for context, and the Astros come out looking even better.

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