Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—National League

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Yesterday I talked about players who could make a difference to contenders down the stretch from the American League. Now let’s look at the National League.

Jason Bay, LF—New York Mets

I know he’s been about as bad as bad can possibly be and is owed $19 million next year, but if someone gets him out of New Yor…I’m sorry. I thought I could get through it and make myself sound convincing. But I can’t.

It was worth a try.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

K-Rod was awful after he took over for John Axford as Brewers’ closer and it was his poor performances against the Phillies in helping blow two games that led to the Brewers tossing in the towel on the season and trading Zack Greinke. But he’s a veteran who’s got post-season experience and is a free agent at the end of the season. A contending team could get him for nothing. I’ve thought for awhile that he’d wind up back with the Angels and it’s still a fit.

Alfonso Soriano, LF—Chicago Cubs

The speculation has already started up again that the Giants would be a landing spot for Soriano now that Melky Cabrera has been suspended for 50 games for using a banned substance. Soriano can still hit the ball out of the park and the change to a new venue and a contending team could wake him up. Soriano’s owed $36 million in 2013-2014, so the Cubs would have to pay a chunk of it. They probably would to get him out of town and get a decent prospect or two.

Wesley Wright, LHP—Houston Astros

He’s a lefty specialist who’s held lefty bats to a .221/.295/.314 slash line with 30 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. I can’t see the Astros being too demanding in trading him.

J.J. Putz, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks are 5 ½ games out of first place in the NL West behind both the Giants and Dodgers; they can forget about the Wild Card with the Braves rolling the way they are and the Pirates, Cardinals and one of the two teams in their division still fighting for one of the two extra playoff spots. Putz has a $6.5 million club option with a $1.5 million buyout. David Hernandez will be closing for the D-Backs next year and they’re not going to pick up Putz’s option. It makes sense to trade him and save that buyout money while getting a prospect or two from a contender, which they are not.

Luke Gregerson, RHP—San Diego Padres

The Padres aren’t selling. In fact, they’ve signed several players who might’ve been available—Huston Street, Carlos Quentin, Mark Kotsay (?)—to contract extensions; but they reportedly offered Gregerson to the Mets for Daniel Murphy. I’ve always liked Gregerson and if he’s available, he can help someone. I doubt they’re trading him though. He’s under team control for two more seasons.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Colorado Rockies

Betancourt could help multiple teams a great deal as a set-up man, but the Rockies haven’t shown the willingness to make any trades of their veterans and with the change in the power structure from Dan O’Dowd as the GM to Bill Geivett taking charge of the big league operation, it’s still unclear as to what’s going on in Colorado. I doubt they’ll do anything significant until the season’s over. Betancourt is signed for 2013 with a reasonable option for 2014 and unless an interested team gets crazy with an offer, they’re not moving him.

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Laughable Or Not

Hot Stove
  • Inspirations for wit:

It’s easy to take potshots at teams that have bad off-seasons especially when one of those teams is the Yankees. Certain signings have looked odd and created the cleverly snide comments designed to denigrate; but the fact is that they’re decisions for which there’s nothing to lose.

There’s a significant difference between asking, “what are they expecting from him?” and openly ridiculing without basis.

We’re seeing it now with the picking amongst the scraps that has led to the Orioles signing Justin Duchscherer; the Yankees Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia; the Mets holding an introductory press conference for Chin-lung Hu; the Indians looking hard at Jeremy Bonderman; the Brewers signing Mark Kotsay; and the Braves signing Rodrigo Lopez.

Because these players are still out on the market and relegated to taking a “why not?” minor league contract or signing with teams for whom they’re not going to play much, they’re open targets. But the truth is that it’s sometimes these small, seemingly insignificant signings that end up being big successes.

Just this past week we saw one with the Mets and journeyman knuckleballer R.A. Dickey agreeing to a 2-year, $7.8 million contract with an option for a third year. Dickey’s career is the stuff people write books about; and Dickey—an English major in college—is bright enough and well-spoken enough to write the thing himself.

A first round draft pick of the Rangers in the 1996 draft, it was a photograph of the U.S. National Team that raised the eyebrows of the Rangers front office when they saw the bizarre crookedness of his right arm. Dickey had yet to sign his contract and when he was examined closely by a concerned Rangers staff. They were stunned to find that he didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament in his arm.

For all intents and purposes, he shouldn’t have been able to pitch at all. The Rangers lowballed him in the negotiations not expecting him to be able to last very long, let alone make it to the big leagues.

He did make it to the big leagues, but didn’t have much success even after making the switch from conventional pitcher to being a knuckleballer…until last season.

Was it opportunity? Luck? Or did it simply take him a few years of learning how to throw a pitch that few understand, teach or explain?

Regardless, people laughed at the thought of Dickey as anything but minor league filler; his rise is not complete because the Cinderella story can end at any moment, but at the very least, he has two things going for him: he throws an unconventional pitch that has, historically, allowed pitchers to last well into their 40s; and he’s got a guaranteed contract and spot in the rotation for the first time ever.

Objectively, Colon and Garcia are highly worthwhile shots in the dark for the Yankees. Colon was serviceable with the White Sox in the first half of 2009 before he got hurt; Garcia, despite having no fastball left, pitched well last season. They’re on minor league deals, what’s there to lose?

The Mets inexplicably—much of what they do is in this same vein—held a press conference to introduce Hu. Why? I don’t know. It had a similar feel to last year when the news was coming down that the Mets were about to announce a deal as if it were a cataclysmic event and it turned out that they’d acquired Gary Matthews, Jr.

The Mets bring this stuff on themselves sometimes.

Duchscherer’s not going to stay healthy, but why not?

Bonderman? Why not?

Kotsay? Why not?

You’d be foolish to expect a Dickey-like rise, but they happen; they’re inexpensive; if it doesn’t work, they can be dispatched with no remorse or financial hit.

People either need to gain some more baseball knowledge or find better joke writers because it’s decisions like these that end up paying off big once in a while. And nobody’s laughing then.

  • Viewer Mail 2.2.2011:

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez:

Whether you like him or not, it seems to me that Ichiro has got to finish his career in Seattle. Even though Hernandez and Gutierrez may be more valuable, Ichiro is the franchise player at the moment. I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet that the fans would be none-too-happy if he doesn’t retire in their uniform.

Plus, he’s 37 or 38 now. Might as well let him see out the rest of his career at Safeco. It’s not like the M’s could trade him for that one solid piece that will make them a World Series contender.

On the subject of Gutierrez, I really wish the Rangers could make a deal for him. He’s a more sure thing [than Borbon] to keep Hamilton out of CF, which is exactly what needs to happen from now until the end of time.

I understand the fan considerations especially for a team that has few players aside from Felix Hernandez that will draw specifically to watch them; and I do believe that the Ichiro factor has negatively affected club operations. His demanding nature; clashes with former manager Mike Hargrove; quirkiness; and “star” status has given him far too much power for such a selfish and unproductive player in the team sense. In context, I suppose he does have to finish his career in Seattle if for no other reason than to get fans to come and watch the Mariners.

I doubt they’ll trade Gutierrez and probably not within the division.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mets:

Uh oh… don’t get the Prince started on another Ichiro battle! Haha!

From what I understand the Wilpons got duped like everybody else, and I can’t help but feel sorry for them… for that reason alone, though, the Mets’ recent identity problems haven’t been to kind to the owners either. Double empathy!

I won that battle. Anyone wants to scrap, they know where to find me…

As I said earlier, sometimes the Mets invite this stuff; with the new regime, they’re getting away from what they did before and are trying to craft an organization not in the Moneyball mold, but in the Red Sox mold; Sandy Alderson and his staff weren’t going to walk in and clean everything up in two weeks; the whole operation has to be changed after the mess that was left behind. I like what they’ve done so far. And I’m a tough grader!

John Seal writes RE Mike Francesa and the A’s old-school uniforms:

If you could describe Mike Francesa with only one word, that word would, of course, be ‘fungible’.

As for those new A’s unis, all I can say is “tweet!”…er, I mean “sweet!”

My West Coast Spiritual Adviser returns!! Just in time too. I may be salvageable. Or incorrigible. One of those.

I find Francesa’s actions to be strange as if he must somehow save face by casting a glow of omnipotence; whether that includes alterations of past statements or out-and-out ignoring when the inconsistencies are pointed out are irrelevant to his ends; he doesn’t grasp that it makes him look like an egomaniacal fool.

I try to learn from the things I got wrong and hearken back to my thinking at the time to possibly get it right the next time. Sometimes it even works.

I burst out laughing when I read the “tweet” comment. I’m waiting for the Astros to bring back the “tequila sunrise” uniform tops. I’m all for reminiscing and sentimentality when it doesn’t harm team operations and the new uniforms are a talking point, but those 1970s uniforms were ghastly.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Mets and Bernie Madoff:

I think you’re right and the lack of spending probably was unrelated to the Madoff thing. I sure hope the Wilpons didn’t encourage their good friend Koufax to invest with Bernie.

Sandy Koufax doesn’t even like answering his phone; I doubt he was involved in any big time investing.

The thing that needs mentioning when talking about the Madoff/Mets/25% sale is that anyone who buys the Mets in whole or part is going to have CASH!!!! The league isn’t going to approve someone who doesn’t have the money to spend and keep them competitive because it’s bad for business to have a weak Mets team. It’s not going to be the Padres/Athletics situations that Alderson went through before because baseball won’t let it happen for a large market team.