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The great white-flag debate
July, 25, 2013
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Should the Royals sell Ervin Santana and store more assets, or hope he'll keep them in contention?
Before the trade deadline in 1996, then-Orioles general manager Pat Gillick assessed his team and decided to blow it up. He arranged trades of Bobby Bonilla and David Wells, believing that Baltimore’s organization needed an injection of prospects for its depleted farm system.
When you looked at that through the prism of the standings, it made complete sense: On July 28, 1996, the Orioles were 12 games out of first place.
But Baltimore owner Peter Angelos had a completely different perspective -- as someone who was focused on selling tickets, selling hope. And he thought it was a bad idea to raise the white flag on the season with more than two months to play because of what that said to paying customers.
That the Orioles surged back and advanced all the way to the American League Championship Series didn’t necessarily mean that Angelos was right and Gillick was wrong, because there have been plenty of examples of owners stepping in and killing deals for the same reason only to see their team fall out of the race.
But that example should underscore the reality that Major League Baseball teams aren’t run like Strat-O-Matic teams: They are businesses. Sure, the chances of the Kansas City Royals and the Philadelphia Phillies, who are both eight games out of first place, look really bad, and the same goes for the Seattle Mariners, 11 games out in the AL West.
The chief officers of those franchises must assess what surrendering in July would signal to the fan bases, because once the Royals trade Ervin Santana, or the Mariners trade Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, that means they’re telling their fans that they’re willing to give up any chance of a comeback, and they'll see the evidence in the attendance.
The St. Louis Cardinals came back from the dead in 2011, after Atlanta disintegrated, and went on to win the World Series, and the Rays made the playoffs that same year after the Red Sox collapsed. The Rockies had a historic, miraculous finish in 2007 and wound up facing the Red Sox in the World Series.
Teams that sell off in July are telling their customer base: We don’t have any chance.
That’s a hard thing to sell for the Royals, who haven’t been in a postseason since 1985, or the Mariners, who have been almost irrelevant for the past decade and seem to be building something in the past month. Keep that in mind over the next six days, as you scratch your head about some decisions that confuse you.
• Ervin Santana is too much of a commodity to not trade now, writes Sam Mellinger.
• Selling players such as Hunter Pence could be a bad decision for the Giants, writes Henry Schulman.
• Tim Hudson’s awful injury was heartbreaking, because he’s one of the game’s great pros, a great teammate, universally respected, in the way that Mariano Rivera is.
And the reaction of Eric Young Jr. was just as heartbreaking. This was a tough break for Hudson, writes John Harper.
The injury robs them of a team leader, writes Jeff Schultz.
From ESPN Stats & Information: The Braves have had amazing health and consistency among their starting pitchers this season until recently. Paul Maholm went on the DL this week and Hudson suffered an ankle injury at first base Wednesday night. They’ve used only six starters all year, tied with the Tigers and Athletics for fewest in MLB. Check out Braves starters this season, with total starts at right:
Tim Hudson: 21 (Injured Wednesday)
Paul Maholm: 20 (Placed on 15-day DL Tuesday)
Kris Medlen: 20
Mike Minor: 20
Julio Teheran: 19
Alex Wood: 1 (Will start Thursday for Maholm)
• Dustin Pedroia’s contract was announced, a great deal both him and the Red Sox. It would seem possible that someday in the future, Pedroia will be offered the captainship of the Red Sox, the big “C” on his jersey.
And here’s hoping that he turns it down.
Because being named captain really has very little upside and possibly a lot of downside.
Pedroia is certainly worthy of being named captain because of the way he leads, and by the time his career is over, Pedroia will be most one of the most prolific players in Red Sox history. But he knows as well as anyone that the formal designation of captain is unnecessary, because the players always know who the leaders are, and from year to year, that can change, depending on injury and performance.
If the guy with the “C” on his jersey starts to slide in performance -- which inevitably will happen with Pedroia, as it does with all players -- the designation adds another layer of discomfort. Pedroia is as blunt as any player in the game and this is part of the reason why players and staff love him: He is demanding and accountable and not about frills and lacing. He just plays. I suspect that when he gets older and his performance goes into serious decline, probably many years from now, he’ll want an honest assessment on that, and the stupid “C” on the jersey could get in the way of that.
In hockey, the captaincy is a significant and important honor. In baseball, it’s more of a marketing thing.
Pedroia needs it as much as he needs a sign on his back that says, LOOK AT ME, I PLAY HARD.
• You can’t stop the Dodgers, you can only hope to contain them. Meanwhile, Arizona is plummeting.
• David Price dominated the Red Sox, writes Roger Mooney. From ESPN Stats & Information, how Price won:
A. Efficient: Only one plate appearance versus Price lasted beyond five pitches (David Ortiz, 6), only the second time he has done that this season. In July, opponents are averaging 3.0 pitches per plate appearance versus Price. For reference, the lowest P/PA in a calendar month since 2000 is 2.96 (Gil Heredia, 2001).
B. Price threw 41 of his 59 fastballs in the strike zone (70 percent), his second highest percentage in 134 career starts. Fifteen of the 17 outs he recorded with the pitch were in the zone.
C. Price started 23 of 31 hitters (74 percent) with a first-pitch strike and didn't stop there. He went to only one 2-0 count and one three-ball count the entire game. Among the 151 pitchers to make at least 10 starts this season, nobody goes to a 2-0 count less than Price (6.8 percent of PA).
• Matt Garza was great in his first start for the Rangers, writes Jeff Wilson. From ESPN Stats & Information:
A. All 22 outs Garza recorded came on his fastball (17) and his slider (5), only the third time this season he has done that.
B. Four of the five outs Garza recorded on his slider were strikeouts, tying his second most this season.
C. Garza is throwing his slider 43 percent of the time with two strikes in his past seven starts after throwing it 31 percent of the time with two strikes in his first five starts.
1. The White Sox aren’t sure yet what they want to do with Jake Peavy. They could keep him into the offseason and either market him in the winter or keep him around in the last year of his deal, at $14.5 million. Or they could take what they can get for him now, and according to other teams, the asking price is really high, at the moment. Peavy takes the mound against the Tigers this afternoon, against Justin Verlander.
Peavy will make at least one more start for the White Sox. From Mark Gonzales’ story:
"I'm abreast of what's going on," Peavy said. "(General manager) Rick Hahn does an incredible job of staying in contact with us, just being professional, just letting us know kind of how things stand.
"If something does happen, I'm not going to be caught off-guard. We do understand that's a possibility. Despite the reality of the situation, we hope it doesn't happen. But we're prepared for it if it does."
The Red Sox and Diamondbacks are expected to have two scouts apiece at Peavy's start.
2. The Diamondbacks continue to look for a good left-handed reliever, a scarce commodity in the current market -- and they’re just one of many teams searching for that very piece.
3. Alfonso Soriano asked the Cubs for two or three days to make a decision.
4. David DeJesus is back, but on the trade market.
5. The Phillies could be nearing a contract extension with Chase Utley, writes Jim Salisbury. Agree with everything he writes.
6. Dejan Kovacevic has advice for the Pirates.
7. The price for bullpen help for the Red Sox appears to be really high, writes Scott Lauber.
8. Stuart Sternberg says the Rays are unlikely to be active at the trade deadline.
9. Bud Norris may have made his last start for the Astros.
10. The Rangers are looking for an impact bat on the market. From Drew Davison’s piece:
They have identified three potential fits, baseball sources said, in White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, Giants right fielder Hunter Pence and Mariners designated hitter Kendrys Morales, a switch-hitter.
“Certainly we’d like to add another bat,” manager Ron Washington said. “We are left-handed heavy, so we certainly want to add a right-handed bat. What bat that will be? I think [general manager Jon Daniels and company] are hunkered down up there trying to figure that out now.” Rios, who is batting .278 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs, appears to make the most sense, and is the only one playing for a clear seller. The White Sox, after all, trail by 16 games in the American League Central.
Rios, 32, is also signed through next season for $12.5 million with a club option for 2015 at $13.5 million, which means he could replace Cruz or David Murphy -- both free agents after the season -- in 2014. Additionally, Rios would fill-in for Cruz this season should MLB suspend Cruz for his ties to the Biogenesis of America clinic that reportedly supplied players with banned substances.
11. The Cardinals appear unlikely to make a big trade, writes Bernie Miklasz.
Pete Kozma’s production is among the worst for shortstops in the majors and, sure, somebody like Asdrubal Cabrera would represent an upgrade. But you know what? St. Louis is a near-lock to make the postseason at this point, given the Cardinals’ 10.5 game lead over the club with the sixth-best record in the National League. “They’re going to be in The Dance,” said a rival GM, referring to the playoffs. “They don’t have to do anything.”
The Cardinals have by far the best run differential in the majors, at +140, and after going 9-for-20 with runners in scoring position in their victory Wednesday, they’re hitting .340 in those situations. That’s 51 points higher than any other team.
The fact that they have only 17 homers in more than 1,000 plate appearances in those situations -- one of the lowest rates in the majors -- is just one more clue about how sound and consistent their collective approach is.
To say that they’re just lucky with runners in scoring position would be like saying they’re merely fortunate in finding talent after the first rounds of the draft. Which they continue to do: Now an undrafted signee is rocketing through the Cardinals’ system, as Jenifer Langosch writes.
• The Alex Rodriguez stuff is ridiculous and the source of frustration not only for the Yankees, but also for those in the union. If A-Rod believes he’s healthy, he has full access to the grievance process prescribed under the terms of the labor agreement, and if that grievance led to an independent determination that the Yankees kept him on the disabled list despite being healthy, he would be entitled to relief and he would be forced onto the roster.
But as of Wednesday evening, there was no indication Rodriguez had used that option. Rather, he bizarrely chose to give an OK to a doctor he has never met to go on a local New York radio station and declare him healthy.
Rodriguez has become like Charles Foster Kane in "Citizen Kane" as he nears the end of his baseball life: In his castle, surrounded by riches, without allies, isolated.
• Privately, some teammates want A-Rod to go down, writes Mark Feinsand.
• A-Rod should either file a grievance or shut up, writes Mike Lupica.
• Ryne Sandberg wants tougher drug penalties.
• Kirk Gibson called on Ryan Braun to come out of his bunker and talk to the media.
• Mark Attanasio says he’s saddened but not angry about Ryan Braun. No single player defines the Brewers, says COO Rick Schlesinger.
• Bartolo Colon has no reason to cut a deal, writes Tim Kawakami.
Dings and dents
1. Miguel Cabrera missed another game.
2. Ryan Hanigan has an aggravated wrist.
3. Ross Detwiler had a setback.
4. Travis d’Arnaud was back on the field.
5. Derek Jeter might have to wait.
6. A top prospect had elbow surgery.
7. Brandon Morrow’s injury is a concern.
8. Matt Kemp went on the DL again.
9. Kyle Blanks is unlikely to come off the disabled list right away.
Moves, deals and decisions
• Jair Jurrjens signed with the Tigers.
1. An umpire’s decision contributed to the Twins’ loss.
2. Eric Hosmer was "the man" for the Royals.
3. Scott Kazmir ended a winning streak.
4. The Nationals are awful right now: Their losing streak is at six, all at home.
5. The Phillies flopped.
6. Oakland finished off a sweep, writes Susan Slusser.
• Francisco Rodriguez hopes to take pressure off the Orioles bullpen.
• The Jays need to leave Brett Lawrie at third base, writes Richard Griffin.
• Jered Weaver was great, again.
• Joe Saunders was hit around.
• Jenrry Mejia was called up.
• Justin Ruggiano is slumping badly.
From Elias Sports Bureau: Stephen Strasburg became the second pitcher in modern MLB history to lose with at least 12 strikeouts while allowing two or fewer hits and zero walks. The only other pitcher to do it was James Shields while with the Rays, versus the Orioles last season.
• Francisco Liriano was outstanding again.
• Jason Grilli’s replacement throws really hard.
• Buster Posey got some rest.
• The Rockies are not in a panic.
• The Mariners announced that Eric Wedge suffered a very mild stroke.
• The city of St. Petersburg is negotiating a stadium exploration deal with the Rays.
• Mark Berry is back, as he fights cancer.
And today will be better than yesterday.