Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This is what’s happening in the first days of August, executives say, as the first wave of players passes through waivers. Many teams are aggressively making claims on players for reasons attached to their respective circumstances, and if you are at the back of the waiver-claiming line in each league -- if you are the Athletics -- you are left with a choice of Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder, should you choose to make a move. Good luck with that.
It’s not only about trying to get better for this year, and the claims are being made by non-contenders as well as contenders, executives report.
Deals are possible. The Nationals placed a claim on Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton, who had pitched OK (albeit intermittently) for New York without being trusted much, and given that Thornton is owed a little more than $1 million for this season and $3.5 million for next, the Yankees decided to just dump the contract. They have Tyler Webb and Jacob Lindgren quickly climbing through the minors, and might help in the weeks ahead and/or next season.
But anybody of notable value is getting claimed, because of a laundry list of motivations:
1. A need for help.
The Yankees, for example, lost David Phelps and they are looking for rotation improvement. At the moment, they are ahead of Kansas City, Toronto and the Angels in getting the first shot at AL claims, but the order can change daily. “It’s amazing how quickly that can change, because everybody is so bunched together,” one official said. “If you lose back-to-back games, you could lose ground in the standings but you move to the front of the pack in the claims [pecking order].”
2. Blocking an opponent.
The Dodgers have developed a growing problem at the back end of their rotation, and presumably they’d like to take a shot at any palatable option that moves through the waiver wire. But as of this morning, the Giants are 2½ games behind L.A. in the NL West and can place claims on any remotely interesting starting pitcher to keep him away from the Dodgers.
3. Create an exclusive negotiation window.
Cole Hamels was placed on waivers earlier this week, and the Cubs -- who have one of the worst records in the majors -- are positioned in front of all teams but the Rockies in the claims pecking order. Chicago’s great challenge is to build a pitching staff, and it would make sense if they claimed Hamels, to buy an exclusive negotiating window with Philadelphia. Hamels will make at least $90 million over the next four years, meaning he could be the foundation piece for the Cubs’ rotation, in theory. It’s more likely than not that the Cubs and Phillies wouldn’t make a deal, and that Hamels would be pulled back from waivers -- but hey, why not take a shot?
4. Ensure a player is available for offseason discussions.
Back to Hamels and the Cubs: Chicago could place a claim on Hamels believing that a deal is all but impossible -- but they also would be blocking the Dodgers or some other team from snagging Hamels now. Why not prevent another team from having an exclusive window to negotiate for a player you might want?
5. Improve the marketability of your own player.
Again, with the Cubs and Hamels, as a hypothetical example: If the Cubs keep Hamels from being available to competing teams such as the Dodgers, Giants, etc., that increases the possible trade value and attractiveness of the starting pitchers that the Cubs might send down the line. If the Cubs wanted to market Jake Arrieta right now as a specialty item, they could pass him through waivers in the hope that he reached the Dodgers, who might be desperate enough to overpay.
• Alex Rios is among the players who might move in the days ahead. The Phillies have a bunch of guys on waivers, as Jason Klugh writes.
Around the league
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Adam Jones and the Baltimore Orioles now have a five-game lead in the AL East.
• The Orioles are in the process of burying the rest of the field in the AL East. They wrecked the Blue Jays, again, and Brett Lawrie got hurt, again.
As of this morning, Baltimore’s lead in the AL East -- five games -- is the greatest for any division front-runner.
• On Tuesday’s podcast, Mike Hill -- the Marlins’ president of baseball operations -- reviewed the Jarred Cosart trade, and Keith Law discussed Javier Baez’s promotion.
Baez made his debut Tuesday night and hit a game-winning home run. If you want to know what hope sounds like, listen to the Cubs fans in Colorado cheer as he rounds the bases.
His teammates were pleasantly surprised, writes Gordon Wittenmyer. The Javy Baez hype comes with a history lesson, writes Dan McGrath.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Baez is the first player to hit a go-ahead home run in 12th inning or later of an MLB debut since Kent Hrbek did so in 1981 for the Twins at Yankees. He's the first player whose first career hit was a go-ahead home run in the 12th inning or later since the Angels' Billy Parker on Sept. 9, 1971 (12th inning against Milwaukee). Baez became the first player in Cubs history to hit an extra-inning home run in his major league debut. The last MLB player to do that was Miguel Cabrera against the Rays on June 20, 2003 (11th inning).
• Andrew McCutchen has a rib injury, but isn’t on the disabled list, for now. From Jenn Menendez’s story:
“Of course, I want to be back there on the field as quick as possible, but at the same time, I want to be healed, to be able to know when I go out there and make a play or take that same swing it’s not going to bother me,” said McCutchen. “However long that takes? Hopefully sooner than later.”
He said there is some solace in the fact that he has been assured he did not strain his oblique, an injury that historically carries at least a one-month recovery.
“It’s better than an oblique injury. It’s not my oblique. It’s cartilage off the rib, so those are two different things and that heals quicker than muscle,” said McCutchen. “I’ll be back on my feet hopefully in no time … Ultimately, it’s going to be how I feel at the end.”
McCutchen said he could not rule out a connection to being drilled by a pitch in the spine Saturday night.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to count that out because I take a million swings a day,” said McCutchen. “One swing, all of a sudden that happens. Not too certain, as far as maybe could that have had something to do with it? At the same time, I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
• Joe Starkey spoke to a team doctor who explained how the Randall Delgado retaliation could be related to McCutchen’s injury. From the story:
Dr. Bryson Lesniak is a UPMC orthopedic surgeon who used to work for the Miami Marlins. He ruled out the possibility that Randall Delgado's pitch -- the one that hit McCutchen squarely in the spine -- caused the avulsion fracture in McCutchen's 11th rib. But nobody thought that, anyway.
Here's the important point: Lesniak did not rule out the idea that McCutchen's mechanics were compromised the next day because of the after-shock of getting drilled.
That possibility just makes sense. You hurt one thing, you might favor something else, even if subconsciously.
At best, this was an awful coincidence.
“A guy swings hard his whole career, no problem. Then this happens on one swing,” said Lesniak, who has no affiliation with the Pirates and did not examine McCutchen. “It might be entirely coincidence, but when something happens so close anatomically and time-wise, you wonder.”
• Now that Tony Bosch has worked out a plea agreement, there are presumably athletes in all sports wondering if and when their names will come out. From the story by Mike Fish and T.J. Quinn:
Multiple law enforcement officials told "Outside the Lines" that the names of several professional baseball players not previously identified came up in the investigation. The names have not been released, but the sources said the names likely will be in discovery filings.
Sources told "Outside the Lines" that MLB players and other pro athletes are not the focus of the federal investigation; rather, authorities focused solely on potential illegal activities involving Bosch and other associates.
That last part is critical. In order for a team to be able to void the contract of a suspected player, a criminal charge is absolutely crucial.
At this point, a lot of folks in the game would not be surprised by a high volume of players linked to PED use; there has been a growing suspicion among some in the sport that a lot of players are currently using, particularly human growth hormone.
“How many positive HGH tests have we had?” one player asked rhetorically.
The answer, as far as we know: zero.
Even with the MLB penalties for use increased during the offseason, the question of whether there’s value in taking performance-enhancing drugs is not even close. The risk-reward tilts fully for anyone who doesn’t really care about the shame of being labeled a user.
For a repeat offender: Why not?
If a player who has been caught before -- Bartolo Colon, for example -- what in the world would be the downside in using again? If you signed a multiyear deal, you could test positive, serve a suspension and still get the majority of the money in your contract. It's up to the union to change that.
• Mike Lupica doesn’t think Alex Rodriguez’s legal troubles are over.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
David Price had an impressive debut with the Tigers, throwing 10 strikeouts in a 4-3 win against the Yankees.
• On the day that David Price made an impressive debut for the Tigers, Alex Avila rocked the game-winning hit.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: It's the first game in which both teams pitched at least 12 innings without a walk since July 25, 1917, when the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in 13 innings with no walks in the game.
• Adam Dunn pitched the ninth inning.
• The Braves have lost seven straight, and on Tuesday, they lost Andrelton Simmons. Emilio Bonifacio replaced B.J. Upton in center field, and it may be only the first time.
• The Padres will name A.J. Preller as their general manager.
• John Lackey was uncomfortable when pressed on his contract issue. There are folks within the Red Sox organization fully convinced Lackey would’ve seriously considered retiring rather than honoring the last year of his contract if the team had kept him.
The right thing to do is to honor the contract, no matter where he is. Short of that, he would be in the wrong.
• The Royals are within a half-game of Toronto for the second wild-card spot, after their most recent win.
• Tom Werner is among the finalists for commissioner. One source says he’s got no more than five votes, and that it’s almost inevitable now that Rob Manfred will be named the next commissioner. We’ll see if Jerry Reinsdorf’s mini-insurrection -- essentially aimed against Manfred’s candidacy -- gains any traction.
• The race for the top draft pick in 2015 looks like this, as of this morning:
1. Texas Rangers
2. Colorado Rockies
3. Houston Astros
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
• Oakland increased its lead in the AL West to two games but lost shortstop Jed Lowrie to a finger injury.
• Angel Pagan is set to rejoin the Giants Wednesday. They have missed him.
Dings and dents
1. George Springer will be activated in the next couple of days.
2. Allen Craig was placed on the disabled list.
3. Shane Victorino had surgery.
4. Ryan Zimmerman has started down the road of his long recovery.
5. Matt Harvey is still hopeful he will return sometime this season.
6. Matt Garza hit the disabled list.
7. The Cardinals still hope to have Michael Wacha back in September.
8. Some rival evaluators shied away from pursuing Brett Anderson before the trade deadline because he has been hurt, constantly, and on Tuesday, he was injured again.
9. Michael Cuddyer is headed back to the minors on a rehab start.
10. Paco Rodriguez landed on the disabled list.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Pedro Alvarez was placed on the bereavement list.
2. The Orioles might use Ubaldo Jimenez in the bullpen.
3. The Tigers signed Jim Johnson, and why not? Just give him a look, and if it doesn’t work out, they move on. Johnson has a WHIP of 2.06, easily the worst in the majors for any pitcher with at least 40 innings.
4. The Marlins moved to cut ties with Jacob Turner.
5. The Mariners revised their rotation.
1. Colby Lewis pitched a shutout.
2. On a night when Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins added to their legacy, Howard got a big hit.
3. The Pittsburgh bullpen crumbled.
4. Gerardo Parra shined, and the Brewers added to their lead.
5. The Reds avenged a loss.
6. The Dodgers beat the Angels with a walk-off. From ESPN Stats & Information, on Clayton Kershaw: A season-low 44.2 percent of his pitches were in the strike zone Tuesday. His average fastball velocity was 92.5 mph, tied for his second lowest this season. Kershaw and Mike Trout shared the same field, writes Bill Plaschke.
7. The Marlins played small ball.
• Tony La Russa thinks the criticism of the Diamondbacks is unfair. Thug life doesn’t suit the Diamondbacks, writes Paola Boivin.
• Bryan Price was really upset the other day, as Hal McCoy writes.
• Old friends will face off Wednesday night in St. Louis: Joe Kelly vs. Shelby Miller.
• Some ex-Phillies prospects are growing.
• Zack Wheeler might be making himself close to untouchable, writes John Harper.
• Felix Hernandez allowed one run in eight innings Tuesday, and continues to be the front-runner to win the AL Cy Young Award. This was his 15th straight start of more than seven innings pitched and two or fewer earned runs (longest streak in modern era). In doing so, his ERA fell to 1.97.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Hernandez won:
A. 18 outs with off-speed pitches, including 13 via his changeup.
B. 75 percent first-pitch strikes (Braves were 0-for-4 against him in at-bats ending with first pitch).
C. 87 of his 97 pitches came with him ahead in the count, even in the count, or with a 3-2 count on the hitter.
• A young Twin hit his first career homer.
• The Indians looked flat and sloppy, writes Paul Hoynes.
• An extra baseball created a problem for David Murphy.
• Drew Smyly pitched effectively, but the Rays lost again and are 1-4 since the David Price trade. Key hits were missing, writes Marc Topkin.
• The Yankees deserve credit for hanging in the race, writes Bob Klapisch.
• Pawtucket has a great pitching staff, writes Jim Donaldson.
• A.J. Pierzynski took the high road.
• The Blue Jays cleared the air with their players after the trade deadline.
• Joe Mauer was a hit in his first game in Cedar Rapids.
And today will be better than yesterday.
New metric measures power.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Smashing percentage (SMASH) is a hitter's slugging percentage divided by his batting average, which is another way of expressing his total bases per hit. SMASH doesn't measure the value of a player's power. (For that, you're better off looking at isolated power, which is SLG minus BA.) It doesn't care how often a batter reaches base, or whether he makes contact at all. It just basically looks at how hard he crushes each ball he hits safely. And in an offense-starved MLB, that may be just what GMs need to know.
I was inspired to look into smashing percentage when researching Dave Kingman's 1982 season. As a young Mets fan, I had never seen anything like Kong's stat line before, and I haven't since: Kingman cracked 37 homers to lead the NL that year and did almost nothing else. He hit just .204, by far the lowest batting average for a home run champ, with only nine doubles and one triple. That gave him an impressive smashing percentage of 2.119. (Since World War II, the MLB average has hovered around 1.5.)
In 1919, Babe Ruth became the first to break 2.0 in a single season, and his 1920 mark of 2.256 stood until Roger Maris launched 61 dingers in 1961 while batting just .269 (2.302). That mark, like so many relating to homers, was buried in the '90s by Mark McGwire. Then Barry Bonds set a new standard in his 2001 73-homer season, with an unreal 2.635 SMASH.
The career smashing percentage leaders (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) make up a fun list. It includes expected names like Bonds (No. 4), Ruth (No. 6) and Jim Thome (No. mingling with future footnotes Russell Branyan (No. 2), Rob Deer (No. 7) and Carlos Pena (No. 9). The all-around great Mike Schmidt stands at 15th, squeezed between all-or-nothing Ron Kittle and Steve "Bye Bye" Balboni; Darryl Strawberry at No. 18 edged out his longtime broadcaster Ralph Kiner.
McGwire now holds the career record with a whopping 2.238 SMASH. I know what you're thinking, but I'll tell you, McGwire's career cleaves neatly into two parts: 943 games before his foot injuries in 1993, and 931 afterward. And in that first half, before McGwire was a frequent user of anabolics, he had a smashing percentage of 2.039, higher than anyone in the pre-steroid era. The numbers support the argument that even a clean(ish) McGwire hit the ball as hard as anyone in MLB history.
The 1927 Yankees were the first team to have two regulars with smashing percentages over 2 (Ruth and Lou Gehrig). The 2004 Reds were the only team with three: Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Wily Mo Pena. Dunn, currently third at 2.072, has a shot at finishing second in career SMASH.
I could go on making connections, but here's what's interesting right now: A power outage is clearly driving MLB's offensive slide. Over the past five years, as scoring in the NL has declined from 4.43 runs per game to a shade under 4, home runs per game have dropped 11.5 percent, while other hits are off by just 2.6 percent. Still, some players clobber away without regard for what happens to balls in play. Mark Reynolds, Mark Teixeira, Chris Carter, Chris Davis and other guys who don't share a name, from Pedro Alvarez (who smashed 2.031 last year) to Mike Zunino (2.017 SMASH through July 23): The game is awash in brawny, low-average sluggers.
Normally, GMs would snicker at these guys. But I suspect that smart front offices now appreciate how power holds its value in a parched landscape. If you're struggling to score, it's tempting to think you need to scratch out runs by playing small ball. But hitting a home run remains the single most efficient act in baseball.
So I say: The world needs more Adam Dunns! With that in mind, keep an eye on 20-year-old Rangers prospect Joey Gallo, who has a 2.376 SMASH in the minors, who crushed a 419-foot homer at the Futures Game and who, during batting practice, broke the windshield of a truck sitting beyond the right-field fence at Target Field. Windows smashed per plate appearance -- now there's a metric to work up for next summer.