TORONTO - As Major League Baseball heads toward the non-waiver trade deadline, the pace and intensity of negotiations will be tempered by a couple of issues that have changed the overall dynamic.
First, there no longer is a great incentive for a seller to give up a potential free agent because draft- pick compensation has been muted.
Second, how many teams are going to admit that they are no longer in position to compete for a wild-card spot, since now there are two available in each league?
In years past, the attraction of a player such as Milwaukee’s Zack Greinke would include not only his ability to impact a contender’s bid for postseason success, but also would get them two draft picks as compensation if he chose to walk after the season is over.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, players obtained mid-season are not eligible for compensation for the team that trades for them. Likewise, there is less incentive for a non-contender to hold on to a player with an expiring contract because, instead of two picks, they will now get only one.
The wild-card issue creates a problem of optics for teams with their fan base. An objective review of the situation could convince team executives that the odds of grabbing one of the two extra playoff spots in each league (always mindful that the only thing they win is a chance to participate in a one-game play-in) are too remote to give up valuable assets in a trade that is unlikely to pay a postseason dividend.
As of Friday afternoon, there still were 20 teams (including division leaders) with a reasonable chance to get to the post-season. But do teams such the Mets, Cardinals or Blue Jays, all of whom were 3 1/2 games out of the wild-card hunt going into Friday’s games, risk future assets for the outside chance of success this season?
Objectivity would dictate caution is necessary but they could be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Fans want to see their teams pull out all the stops to win now.
Friday’s 10-player trade — a transaction that has more to do with depth and short-term survival than anything else — with Houston aside, the Blue Jays, in particular are in a difficult spot as they gauge their chances. They are 31/2 games back but also have seven other teams ahead of them in the wild-card standings. They also have a daunting schedule facing them in which they play 51 of their final 70 games against contenders, as opposed to, say, the Angels or Tigers, who play a lot of September games against also-rans. The Tigers, for example, play their final 13 games of the season against Minnesota and Kansas City, the two worst teams in the league. How do you compete with that?
The way things are shaping up, if you’re not a division winner, then teams in the Central and West divisions have a decided advantage to get the wild cards in the American League.
The best approach for Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos is to continue to do what he’s done in the past: Neither buy nor sell but instead, seek value that doesn’t diminish their already-slim chances but also provides future strength.
THE STRASBURG DILEMMA
With a 31/2-game lead and a pitching rotation most GMs would kill for, Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is probably looking for pitching because he’s faced with the decision of shutting down phenom Stephen Strasburg after 160 innings.
Strasburg is in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and Dr. Lewis Yocum set out a plan based upon thousands of historical cases. On his current pace, Strasburg will reach 160 innings sometime early in September.
Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, is onside with the plan, though he knows his client isn’t happy about it.
“All of this, including this year’s plan, is the product of expert medical opinion, of which Mike Rizzo has taken that information and applied it appropriately,” Boras told Yahoo Sport’s Tim Brown. “To not follow the expert medical opinion would be something certainly a doctor would put out to his patient, a lawyer would put out to his client, and an employer would put out to his employee. But that doesn’t change the will of the player to want to perform.”
Boras told Yahoo that Strasburg is worth
$30 million a season on a future free-agent contract, yet he’s under Washington’s control at a small fraction of that figure through 2016 and agreed it would be folly to disregard Yocum’s recommendations “for an additional 30-40 innings, no matter the standings.”
“I’m supportive,” Boras said, “of any team that follows expert medical opinion.”
The Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies exchanged embarrassing mistakes Friday when LHP Jonathan Sanchez and RHP Jeremy Guthrie changed uniforms. Sanchez (7.76 ERA) was dealt to K.C. by the Giants in exchange for all-star Melky Cabrera. Guthrie (9.50 ERA, 14 HR in 41.2 IP at Coors Field) had come to Colorado as part of the Jason Hammel-Matt Lindstrom deal that has worked so well for Baltimore ... The Yankees won’t get LF Brett Gardner back this year after he underwent elbow surgery. In his absence, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez (with late-inning help from Dewayne Wise) have combined to hit 23 HRs and drive in 62 runs.
TIME TO GO FOR ICHIRO?
Ichiro Suzuki is hinting that the marriage between himself and the Seattle Mariners may be nearing a conclusion. Until recently, it seemed written in stone that the greatest Japanese-born player to perform in the majors would end his career where it started 12 years ago - in Seattle.
Now there are signs Suzuki might be willing to move on after this season.
He is 39 and performing well below his career averages. The team is struggling to move into the future. His $18 million a year contract is about to come off the books and it’s somewhat absurd to invest another big contract in a player nearing the end. Suzuki would like to stay on but he’s aware it takes two to tango.
“It’s going to go both ways,” Ichiro said through his translator, Antony Suzuki. “It can’t just come from the player. It’s got to come from the team, too. If the team is saying they need you, you’re necessary, then it becomes a piece. But if it’s just coming from the player, it’s not going to happen.”
Despite Suzuki’s Hall of Fame credentials, the potential for a split came to a head this week when former Mariner Jay Buhner, who Ichiro succeeded in left field, said “I’d vomit” if the Mariners signed the aging star to a big-money, multi-year deal.
Despite his relatively short career, Suzuki is still within sight of 3,000 hits, needing 475 to get there.
OZZIE GOES BATTY
Last weekend, Ozzie Guillen had one of his usual meltdowns, this one regarding the pine tar on Washington Nationals’ rookie Bryce Harper’s bat, calling Harper, among other things, “unprofessional.”
Seems Guillen thought Harper was taunting him when he held out his bat for inspection after Guillen had brought the issue to the attention of umpires.
Later, unknown to Harper, Nationals’ teammate Adam Laroche got Harper to sign a bat, then LaRoche added the message “to my hero, Ozzie,” smothered it in pine tar and sent it to Guillen.
Instead of going berzerk, Guillen took the ruse with good humour.
“It was funny,” Guillen said, according to MLB.com. “I’ve got a few friends on their side. All those guys were making fun of me. I found out later they made the kid sign the bat. They did the rest.
“To make this thing clear, I don’t have anything against the kid. I don’t. Whatever happened, happened. Whatever I say, I say. Whatever my reaction was, it was. But I think this kid is going to be good for the game. No doubt. This kid is very good. We need players like that to come out and play the game right. That’s good. I think what he did, maybe he did because he’s a kid. I hope he learned from that.”
Maybe, so has Guillen.
DODGERS HOT FOR DEMPSTER
Theo Epstein has a five-year mandate to turn the Chicago Cubs around. As good as Ryan Dempster, at 35, is pitching this season ( a league-leading 1.86 ERA), he won’t be a part of the rebuild, at least not beyond the value the Cubs can extract at the trade deadline, or even before.
There is a big, hungry market out there for Dempster, a B.C. native. The LA Dodgers seem to have the biggest appetite but there are others who might have more enticing bits and pieces to offer the Cubs.
The over-achieving Dodgers were cruising along with the best record in baseball a month ago but now find hemselves looking up at the Giants in the NL West. They need help if they are going to convert their early-season surge into a playoff run or even a run down the stretch. They have a massive bankroll and are apparently willing to spend it.
While Dempster’s heart is in Chicago, there is likely no going back once he is traded. The Cubs need young talent to build for the future. Dempster is very much a “now” talent and the Dodgers are apparently all about “now.”
This deal could happen any minute. In fact, the Cubs had a Triple A pitcher on hand in St. Louis Friday night with Dempster scheduled to pitch, just in case the deal came together.
ANGELS-RANGERS RIVALRY GROWS
The American League East may still be, overall, the best division in baseball but there is no questioning the power that rests at the top of the AL West these days. And with the power of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels comes a more rivalry that just keeps getting more and more intense.
The Rangers invaded Angels Stadium for a three-game set this weekend, with LA trailing Texas by six games, so there’s no immediate threat to the Rangers supremacy but there is still plenty of heat generated when these two teams meet.
“It’s not quite the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, but it’s getting there,” Angels right fielder Torii Hunter told the LA Times. “It’s not heated like we hate each other, but it’s a lot more competitive. You can’t replace the history of Red Sox-Yankees, but we’re boiling. We’re the new generation. We’re like YouTube or Instagram.
“Whenever we play the Rangers, it’s a lot of fun. The fans and media really get into it. There’s a little extra oomph from both sides. They’re the champs, and we’re trying to take that crown away.”
The Angels have the second-best record in baseball since the end of April, playing 15 games over .500 in that span, but they’ve only gained three games on the Rangers in the last 69 games.
“It’s frustrating,” Hunter said. “We’re doing great things and we’re still six games back. That shows you how well the Rangers are playing.”
The Angels are in position to win a wild-card berth, but that would leave them in a one-game showdown to reach the playoffs.
“You want to win the division,” Hunter said. “We’re not talking about the wild card. If we’re five games back on the last day of the season, then yeah, the wild card is very important. Other than that, I want that banner.”