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
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.
Aug 1, 2014, 9:27 PM EDT
John Lackey will pitch at the major league minimum next season due to a clause in his contract.
Aug 1, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
Matt Cain hasn’t made a decision on elbow surgery, but Giants manager Bruce Bochy doesn’t expect him to pitch again this year.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
The Brewers have scratched rookie right-hander Jimmy Nelson from Saturday’s start, but it mostly looks like a convenient excuse to manipulate their rotation this weekend.
Aug 1, 2014, 7:05 PM EDT
Brett Lawrie has been sidelined since June 22 due to a broken right index finger.
Aug 1, 2014, 6:29 PM EDT
Mets right-hander Matt Harvey threw off a mound today for this first time since he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his right elbow last October.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT
Henderson Alvarez has followed up last year’s no-hitter by being one of the best pitchers in the National League this season, but the Marlins have placed the 24-year-old right-hander on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:19 PM EDT
Earlier this week the Royals became the fourth team to release Joe Saunders this season and the 33-year-old left-hander has already found a fifth organization, signing a minor-league deal with the Orioles.
Aug 1, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
But the determining factor was likely the Rays’ belief that they can contend in 2015.
Aug 1, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
James Jones has been the Mariners’ starting center fielder since making his MLB debut in mid-April, logging more than 300 plate appearances, but now the 25-year-old is headed back to Triple-A following yesterday’s trade for Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson.
Aug 1, 2014, 4:32 PM EDT
Apologies if the team you root for got a prequel logo. Braves got Boba Fett, though, so I’m happy.
Aug 1, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Carlos Martinez is no longer needed in St. Louis’ rotation following trades for Justin Masterson and John Lackey, but rather than shifting him back to the bullpen the Cardinals have decided to send the 22-year-old right-hander to Triple-A.
Aug 1, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Instant Karma’s gonna get you.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
Mike Carp reportedly requested a trade from the Red Sox last week, but after failing to find a taker before yesterday’s deadline they’ve designated him for assignment.
Aug 1, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
We won’t really know for sure for some time, but for now let us offer knee jerk reactions!
Aug 1, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
Tyler Skaggs exited Thursday’s start in the fifth inning with forearm tightness and now the Angels have placed the 22-year-old left-hander on the disabled list.
Aug 1, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Johnson saved 50-plus games in each of the previous two seasons, leading the league both years, but this season he posted a 6.92 ERA in 38 appearances for the A’s while almost immediately being stripped of closing duties.
Jose Bautista, Casey Janssen “frustrated” and “disappointed” by Blue Jays’ lack of trade deadline activity
Aug 1, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Toronto was 38-24 and in first place by six games on June 6, but the Blue Jays have gone 22-26 since then and general manager Alex Anthopoulos did nothing at the trade deadline yesterday.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
The Royals just had an infuriating trade deadline day.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t make sense.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:04 PM EDT
Perhaps he and Uggla can join up to fight crime someplace?
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 38
- Cliff Lee placed on DL with recurrence of flexor pronator strain 27
- Winners and losers at the trade deadline 45
- 2014 Trade Deadline Tracker 49
- ACES GALORE: The Rays trade David Price to the Tigers 137
- Red Sox trade John Lackey to Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly 91
- The Lester trade is a win-win 113
- Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes heading to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes 165
- “Caucasians” t-shirts are hot sellers on Canadian Indian reservations (200)
- Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes heading to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes (165)
- ACES GALORE: The Rays trade David Price to the Tigers (137)
- Tampa Bay news station tweets classless Detroit joke following David Price trade (128)
- Rangers’ retirement gifts for Derek Jeter: Yankees cowboy boots, signed George W. Bush photo (126)