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Looking ahead to the second half of the season

Jul 16, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT

The All-Star Game is over and, though nearly 100 games of the 162-game season have already been played by most teams, we refer to what happens next as baseball’s second half. And we traditionally take this day — maybe the slowest sports day of the year — to look forward to that second half and see what it holds.

Some contenders are pretenders and some teams which claim to be buyers at the trade deadline probably actually won’t be. Let’s sort it all out.

THE DIVISION RACES — A BEAUTIFUL MESS

  • American League East

The Orioles sport a four-game lead and look to be the least-poorly-put-together team in a division in which every team has a flaw. The Rays are hot right now but they dug themselves a pretty big hole. Plus, as I’ll note below, winning could actually complicate their trade deadline plans. Trades will probably loom larger here than anywhere, as either the Orioles, Jays or Yankees getting a starting pitcher could change the complexion of the race. Well, maybe the Yankees could use three starting pitchers with the way things have gone for them, but the fact is that there is no dominant team here and anything could happen.

  • American League Central

This is the Tigers’ division. Everyone else is just living in it. The Royals dropped three of four to Detroit at home leading into the break and lack the consistency on offense, it seems, to mount any kind of sustained challenge. Not that the Tigers are invincible. The rotation seems more vulnerable than it has in recent years, particularly Justin Verlander‘s slot, and as always, Detroit will use the second half to try to figure out the best way to deploy its bullpen resources.

  • American League West

The A’s are the best team in baseball and they sent more All-Stars to Minnesota than anyone. But, there they sit, only a game and a half up on the Angels, who have been fantastic this year to much quieter fanfare. And despite the fact that the Angels have a large lead as the top wild card team and a 90%+ chance of reaching the playoffs, they have a big incentive to actually win the division here. That’s because, if the season ended today, they’d play the Mariners in a one-game wild card playoff. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez, and if you have to win one game to survive you do NOT want to face Felix Hernandez to do it.

  • National League East

The Braves and Nats are in a virtual tie for the lead and no one else is particualrly close, but it sorta feels like the Braves have already lost their best chance to win this thing. The Nats were hurt and often looked confused in the first half, but Atlanta didn’t put any distance between them. Now the Nationals are getting healthy and, one feels anyway, like they’ll slowly start to build distance between themselves and Atlanta. One key to all of this, of course, is how hurt Jordan Zimmermann is. He missed the All-Star Game due to a bicep strain. Is that a cause for concern or wass it one of those “get me out of the All-Star-Game free” cards?

  • National League Central

This is gonna be crazy. The Brewers jumped out to a big lead and then slowly surrendered it, skidding into the All-Star Break. The Cardinals, Pirates and Reds started poorly and then righted their respective ships and now all four of these contenders are separated by only three and a half games. The key here is probably going to be health. The Brewers may have less overall talent than the other three teams, but they’re healthier. Yadier Molina, Michael Wacha, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman are all key parts of the two most-talented teams which will be out of commission for a while. The Pirates probably have the division’s best player in Andrew McCuthen, but they have the biggest deficit too. If you were trying to properly weigh these teams like they were Pinewood Derby cars in an effort to create a total toss-up of a race for the second half, it’d be harder to do a better job than the fates have done here. Sit back and enjoy it as this chaos unfold.

  • National League West

A one game lead looks close, but these are teams heading in different directions. The Giants’ big early lead was built on a lot of unexpected power that didn’t seem sustainable and wasn’t. The Dodgers’ rotation is frankly ridiculous and, if they want to be total jerks about it, they have the talent and financial resources from which to trade and get more pitching. Or, if you’re the suspicious type, to keep pitching from going elsewhere. They could use the bullpen help, actually. If 2010 and 2012 meant anything it meant that you can never count out the Giants, but I sorta feel like counting out the Giants at the moment.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR AT THE TRADE DEADLINE

  • Gridlock

Don’t expect a lot to happen until the 11th hour before the trade deadline, as parity and the second wild card have created a situation in which far more teams believe they can win than in years past and are thus looking to be buyers. Or at least wanting to appear like they’re buyers for as long as possible so as not to signal to their fans that they’re throwing in the towel, thus leading to a drop in ticket sales.

He’s obviously the biggest name rumored to be on the block, but the Rays are always a bit hard to figure. They are winning an awful lot lately and, at least publicly, are talking like a team which thinks it can contend. If so, they may not be so eager to trade their best player. But that may be bluster, of course — I tend to think it is — and the Rays may very well be trying to shoot the moon in a deal. The Cubs got a tremendous prospect in Addison Russell when they traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics. Given that example the Rays will likely want one — or, more likely, two — top prospects for Price. In an age where prospects are valued insanely highly — probably too highly — it may be difficult for another team to pull the trigger on that kind of deal. This one likely goes to the wire.

  • Bullpen arms are the most likely things to move

Well, the bodies attached to them too. Everyone could use a bullpen upgrade, always. Even teams with great bullpens. There are never enough arms to go around, it seems, but bullpen arms are reasonably priced enough that they tend to get traded often. I would expect most of the moves we see happen be the shuffling around of relief pitchers, most of whom aren’t household names.

  • Teams likely to be the most aggressive buyers

Yankees, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Braves and Giants. All of them either are or, in the Yankees case, think they are, contenders with a flaw or an injury which needs to be addressed and all of them are teams which have shown in the past that they will make a big deal if they need to. The Royals and Mariners, on the other hand, are teams that could use a player but which, historically, have not been too eager to add payroll or enter into blockbusters.

  • Players besides David Price most likely to move

Cliff Lee, Chase Headley, Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn, Erik Bedard, Matt Joyce, Dexter Fowler, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jake Peavy. Bats are in short supply and Headley and Willingham are talked about as candidates to move every year it seems. Eventually they have to be moved, right? The rest of the guys are either playing for losers or are close to walking in free agency.

It’s a two and a half month sprint to the finish, folks. Check back to HardballTalk every day between now and the end of the season for help in sorting out this wonderful, beautiful and unwieldily mess of a baseball season.

 

 

  1. elvin2014 - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    Austin Karp @AustinKarp · 55 min
    MLB All-Star Game earned 8.0 overnight rating on Fox. 8.1 in both 2013 and 2012. Peaked early with Jeter in the game. Tune-in up 14%

    Austin Karp @AustinKarp · 53 min
    Fox gets another win in primetime with All Star game. Primetime-only portion of the game was actually even with 2013 game in overnights

  2. jkcalhoun - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:11 AM

    I sorta feel like counting out the Giants at the moment.blockquote>

    Don’t hold back! If 2010 is any indication, they won’t start playing well again until you do.

    • Gamera the Brave - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:21 PM

      Craig, I am slightly (and unreasonably) concerned with jinxing things for Los Gigantes, by invoking the line I used in 2010, but here goes anyway:
      “We Yellowbeards are NEVER more dangerous than when we’re DEAD!”
      Or counted out by Craig…

  3. cmoney4949 - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Go O’s!!

  4. El Bravo - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Braves aren’t out of this. Always counted out, but usually are right there in the thick of things. That’s the Braves way. Oh, and immediately losing in the playoffs, but still…

    • natstowngreg - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:01 PM

      Yup. My fellow fans who think the Nats are going to run away and hide from the Braves are kidding themselves. Not that there are many such fans, mind you. Especially, given how hard it’s been for the Nats to beat the Braves. Also, the division runner-up has an excellent chance of making the NL Death Match(TM).

      • El Bravo - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        Craig has a perpetually pessimistic perspective, which I find perturbing provided our shared partiality to the Braves.

      • lphboston - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:40 PM

        Nats really, really need Harper to heat up, and it wouldn’t hurt if LaRoche got out of whatever funk he’s in right now. You’re right, though. We can’t pull away from the Braves unless we can go 7-2 or so against them the rest of the way. Hardly likely.

      • natstowngreg - Jul 16, 2014 at 7:49 PM

        Right on Harper, and he knows it as well as anyone. As usual, it’s not for lack of effort. More than anything, he’s still rusty after recovering from the thumb injury.

        LaRoche isn’t in a funk. He continues to have a career year, which is remarkable at his age, when lefty power hitters are supposed to start declining rapidly.

  5. stex52 - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    If the Astros trade Dexter Fowler I hope Jeff Luhnow gets a lingering, painful rash.

    This losing on purpose thing is old, guys. Time to pretend you want to win. Just for us fans.

    • natstowngreg - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:10 PM

      Fowler is 28. Young enough to be part of the lineup when the Astros start winning. Besides, it’s not like you’re going to get a Grade A prospect (like an Addison Russell) for him.

      [Note I said "when." As a Nats fan, I've been there, suffered that. They look sorta like the 2010 Nats--no longer horrible, still not good, with fresh young talent coming. In coping with the losing, it helps to think of enjoying the team "when" it starts winning. As the Nats started doing in the second half of 2011.]

  6. historiophiliac - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Bullpen donations are greatly appreciated.

  7. sweepthleg - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    You forgot to mention the impending free agency of Dan Uggla! He’s sure to shake some team up when the Braves stop handicapping themselves with there 24 man roster.

  8. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    I sort of feel like the Orioles will make some move, but I’m not sure I really want them to. There are no great second baseman or catchers on the market, and starting pitching would cost too much. Oakland really boned Tampa Bay with that Cubs deal as I’m not sure if many in the league will be willing to pay more than the A’s did for Samardzija for Price since Price is MUCH better than Samardzija so it would stand to reason Tampa should get more back. (That was an incredibly poorly structured sentence, apologies.)

    • Alex K - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:12 PM

      What about a bright and shiny Darwin Barney?!

      • Eutaw's Finest - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:50 PM

        O’s wouldn’t pay that ransom.

      • Alex K - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:51 PM

        Sure Barney can’t hit, but…but…ok, you got me. I don’t expect anyone to trade for him. He’s a really good defender, but he can’t hit a lick.

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:29 PM

        We already have a slick defending no hitting second baseman…

    • Eutaw's Finest - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:01 PM

      I 100% agree with no move being the best move this year. They don’t need a mid-rotation guy, they need an ACE. They already have 5 guys who are just so-so, a 6th would be useless.

      In order to get this Ace, they’d need to sacrifice Bundy, another top prospect and a good everyday player. At the very least. And that may be for a rental (1 year or the remainder of this year and next), and knowing how willing Uncle Pete is to paying players, I’m not sure we’d resign this Ace when his contract expired.

      Other than that, I don’t see much of an improvement to make at 2B or C. I think Caleb Joseph and Hundley are starting to hit much better and have very solid D behind the dish, and I just don’t see much of an improvement out there at second. Anywhere.

      The ONE move I’d wish they’d make? Put Davis on the DL with a phantom oblique to get his head right, and put Stevie P at 1B, Cruz in LF, and DH Delmon Young. The already hot offense would improve even more.

      It’s a sad, sad day when the first baseman formerly known as Crush Davis is looking up at the Mendoza line.

      • sophiethegreatdane - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:48 PM

        He’s doing his best Mark Reynolds impression. Just needs a blond curly wig.

      • Eutaw's Finest - Jul 16, 2014 at 2:44 PM

        As long as it’s not a Jay Gibbons impression….

        Admit it- you shuttered a little bit when I summoned Gibbons.

    • nbjays - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      Also, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the Rays shooting themselves in the foot by trading Price to a division rival. So the the Orioles, Jays and Yankees can pursue starting pitching all they want, but I don’t see them getting David Price.

      • raysfan1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 5:38 PM

        Except through free agency in 2015 of course.

    • scatterbrian - Jul 16, 2014 at 3:13 PM

      The difference between Price and Samardzija is not as great as your shift key suggests.

    • burgundyandgold - Jul 17, 2014 at 7:59 AM

      I’d like to see the O’s go after Chase Utley. He could play 2nd this year and replace Cruz at DH next year.

  9. natstowngreg - Jul 16, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    No way Jordan Zimmermann leaves a game early, unless he’s hurting. Much less look for an excuse to get out of the All-Star game. It’s supposed to be minor. After he throws tomorrow, Matt will decide whether he can start early next week.

    The Braves host the Fightins’, Fish and Padres. The Nats host the Brewers, then travel to Denver and Concinnati. So the Braves have an opportunity to put a little space between them, if they can take advantage.

    IMHO, the feeling in Nats Town right now is that the team is on the verge of a run, similar to the one last August and September. Where the team is relatively healthy and the bats produce more consistenly. Could well be a delusion. Or not.

    As far as buying and selling go, the Nats might pick up a bench piece (probably, a LH pinch-hitter). Hard to see other needs at this time. Injuries, of course, can change that in a hurry.

    • stex52 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:21 PM

      Zimmerman was pitching poorly and clearly had some pain. To say otherwise suggests that Craig did not see the game.

      • natstowngreg - Jul 16, 2014 at 7:53 PM

        In fairness, that sort of well-timed ouchie happens to a few players this time every year.

        In this case, Zimmermann called for the trainer. A pitcher doesn’t do that unless he’s really hurting.

  10. hotdogfinger - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    ….and Aroldis Chapman are all key parts of the two most-talented teams which will be out of commission for a while.

    Am I missing something on Chapman? Last I read, he expects to be fine for the start of the second half.

    • stex52 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      Tweaked a hamstring last night. More to come.

  11. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    I thought the Yankees still had a shot right up until Tanaka went down. I can’t really imagine a situation where he avoids TJ surgery long term. It is tough to win with 4/5 of the rotation likely out for the season. Cliff Lee would seemingly be their best chance at reclaiming some relevance in the race, but I can’t help but think that he is one breaking ball away from TJ surgery himself. With the emergence of Betances they could maybe trade Robertson for a young starter (has Pomeranz become irrelevant in OAK?) who could help now and in the future.

    • Eutaw's Finest - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:06 PM

      To give you some hope, we had a sports injury expert (I wish I had paid attention to his qualifications) on local sports talk last week mention that the tear is so minor that TJS is unlikely for Tanaka. In comparison, Matt Wieters tears was much larger, and he was questionable for TJS (tried rehab to no avail). The only way (per this expert) that Tanaka ends up with TJS is if the rehab program doesn’t go well.

      So there’s a silver lining. I guess.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:36 PM

        I just can’t recall any instance where even a tiny tear was cured via rest and rehab. Perhaps I am misremembering. It just seems like these small tears get bigger until the prognosis changes. Hopefully your optimism is warranted.

  12. icanspeel - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    It’s sad that as a Padres fan I only have who will get traded and what we will get for them to look forward to.. It’s only July too.. leaves a gap between baseball and football season.

  13. sc101071 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    Another Key on Braves v. Nats:

    Head to head.

  14. psunick - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Yeah, we love nothing more than having scribes count out the Giants.

    Will they ever learn?

    • kingscourt25 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      Oh please, you guys blew a 10 game lead in 2 1/2 weeks.

      • Francisco (FC) - Jul 17, 2014 at 8:40 AM

        Note that if this had happened in September we would be talking about the Collapse to end all collapses.

  15. scatterbrian - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    You can’t assume a team gets to use its #1 starter in a Wild Card game. The Mariners might need Felix the night before just to get to the Wild Card game. He may have started two nights prior in a game the Mariners likely needed to win in order to think about the Wild Card game.

    • bigguy54 - Jul 16, 2014 at 10:44 PM

      If Felix is used there is a pretty good chance Kuma will be available. Walker will be back and at full strength, he is still in pre-season form right now. Paxton could be pitching as well. I think they could adjust the line up to get Felix or Kuma in that game. That is unless Z is dumb enough to do what some M’s are wanting. They want to trade Walker, Franklin and DJ Peterson for Price. Which would be a horrible move IMHO. If it comes to a one game playoff I am not worried about pitching, it is the O facing a #1 pitcher. Not sure which team will show, the one that just lost 3 of 4 to the Twins, or the one that beat the A’s 2 out of 3 games. We need 2 RH bats, and 1 hopefully can play a decent LF. For the teams that need someone at 2nd they should trade us an OF’er for Ackley. He is not an MLB OF’er. Maybe someone new can get him to hit the ball like he did. If so, he would be an above avg 2nd bm.

      • scatterbrian - Jul 17, 2014 at 5:26 PM

        If Felix is used, there’s a 25% chance Iwakuma is available. If both are used to secure a Wild Card, neither is available.

        It’s very difficult for the Wild Card team to line up starting pitching in their favor. And that’s kind of the point, or at least a positive byproduct. It’s supposed to be hard.

  16. twinfan24 - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:24 PM

    Willingham and Kendrys Morales should be available soon if they aren’t already. Neither may be great, but either can plug a hole in your lineup.

  17. phillysports1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    Don’t be sad man . Your not the only one thats anxious for Football season to start lol

  18. raysfan1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    Matt Joyce among those most likely to move? Why? He isn’t expensive and doesn’t hit free agency until 2016. At that point he will be 32 and may still be in the Rays’ price range.

    • hittfamily - Jul 16, 2014 at 9:07 PM

      Where does he play when Myers and Dejesus come back? Jennings, Kiermaier, Myers, Joyce, Dejesus, Guyer, Joyce. The Rays sure have a lot of outfielders.

      Matt will definitely be traded.

  19. indaburg - Jul 16, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    “The Rays are hot right now but they dug themselves a pretty big hole. Plus, as I’ll note below, winning could actually complicate their trade deadline plans.”

    Isn’t winning the point?

    • raysfan1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 5:49 PM

      He’s saying that if they were still playing the way they did throughout April and May, they’d be obvious sellers and possibly more flexible on what they’d accept in trade. The more they win/the closer they creep towards .500, the less inclined they will be to move key pieces. I don’t think they’d budge much off whatever they want in return for Price regardless.

      Crag including Matt Joyce as a likely mover really surprises me. I don’t see why he’d be trade bait at all. He’s getting $3M this year, not likely to have his salary sky rocket in arbitration the next 2 years. I can see why other teams would want him, but why would the Rays even consider trading him unless given a fool’s offer? Haver you heard anything?

      • scatterbrian - Jul 16, 2014 at 7:02 PM

        There is also the possibility that winning now makes April/May look like more of an aberration and leads them to believe they can keep Price and contend next season.

      • raysfan1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 7:14 PM

        That too although I tend to think they will look to move him in the offseason. He doesn’t seem inclined to sign a discounted deal, and they Rays are not going to pony up the kind of cash he will command on the open market. Keeping him for 2015 then would mean losing him to free agency.

      • scatterbrian - Jul 16, 2014 at 8:17 PM

        At that point they can offer him a QO (which he’ll decline) and get a draft pick.

        Either way it’s a gamble. It kind of depends on whether or not they want to punt 2015.

      • raysfan1 - Jul 16, 2014 at 8:31 PM

        True again about the qualifying offer. However, trading Price would not mean scuttling the Rays’ chances at 2015. That depends on what they accept in return. You are right though that whatever they choose to do carries risk.

      • indaburg - Jul 17, 2014 at 6:13 AM

        Ah, I knew what Craig meant. I was being purposely obtuse because winning complicating things sounded funny to me, like the plot of Major League, or home runs being rally killers. I agree with you though in that I don’t think the Rays are budging from what they want in exchange for Price, winning or losing.

        I haven’t heard anything concrete about Joyce but on the idiot sports talk shows I’ve heard his name volleyed about as a potential trade piece. Then again, I’ve also heard Jennings, Loney, Escobar… Joyce is a good right handed bat, but he’s limited.

  20. patrickbr8374 - Jul 17, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    Speaking of David Price, did you hear he is taking $500,000 of his own money to help his best friend since 2nd grade make a rap album. I don’t know the guy but he can actually freestyle pretty well. I can see why Price is trying to help him make it big. Check out his buddy’s seahawks freestyle. Not too bad…

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