Jul 16, 2014, 11:03 AM EST
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
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.
- The David Price Drama
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.
Feb 27, 2015, 8:20 PM EST
Two more suitors enter the Dayan Viciedo sweepstakes.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
Michael Saunders will return to the Blue Jays a lot sooner than anticipated.
Feb 27, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
For the second time this offseason, the Athletics have claimed Alex Hassan off waivers.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:36 PM EST
Chris Davis will get some work in the outfield this spring. He hasn’t played there since 2012.
Feb 27, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
MLBPA executive director Tony Clark will be keeping a close eye on how the Cubs handle the eventual promotion of prospect Kris Bryant.
Feb 27, 2015, 5:10 PM EST
It’s been a long week.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:51 PM EST
Note: they’re not fans of this particular bit of product placement.
Feb 27, 2015, 4:35 PM EST
Lowe pitched for the Red Sox from 1997-2004.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EST
New name, same luck.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:27 PM EST
Except, of course, when he does.
Feb 27, 2015, 1:06 PM EST
Pierre was a singles-hitting, base-stealing machine.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:19 AM EST
If he’s called up to the majors Santana will get $2.5 million in guaranteed money.
Feb 27, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
When he’s done he’ll have played 18 years in the bigs and will be pushing 400 homers.
Feb 27, 2015, 10:47 AM EST
“The only way he is really going to help us is in the bullpen.”
Feb 27, 2015, 10:35 AM EST
Yes, this is mostly just an excuse to post a picture of Bartolo Colon
Feb 27, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Cedeno had a brief stint in the majors last season with the Phillies.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:53 AM EST
Everyone worried that A-Rod would be a “distraction.” Well, he has been. And that’s a good thing.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:24 AM EST
Cashman and Girardi were poked constantly yesterday. They eventually responded. And the media seems to believe this is A-Rod’s fault.
Feb 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Because he wasn’t dominant enough as it was.
Feb 27, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
But Major League Baseball is also trying to be “compassionate,” and is thus still not close to a decision.
- Aramis Ramirez says 2015 will be his last year 28
- Francisco Rodriguez re-signs with the Brewers 9
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended 283
- Pirates open to massive extension for Andrew McCutchen 18
- Report: Josh Hamilton had a relapse this offseason that “involved at least cocaine” 86
- Yankees don’t plan on having to pay A-Rod’s $30 million in home run milestone bonuses 50
- San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks 131
- Rob Manfred says a return to a 154-game season could happen one day 66
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended (283)
- San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks (131)
- Report: The Yankees were “fuming” at how A-Rod handled his early arrival to spring training (114)
- Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada reportedly signs with the Red Sox for $31.5 million, plus $31.5 million in penalties (106)
- Brian Sabean says that California taxes are a hindrance to the Giants signing free agents (102)