Captain’s Call: News and Notes Around Baseball

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=Dan+Haren&iid=8975187″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8975187/mlb-arizona-diamondbacks/mlb-arizona-diamondbacks.jpg?size=500&imageId=8975187″ width=”500″ height=”388″ /]

The loss of Dan Haren could create problems for the D-Backs in future seasons.

This is the first edition of the Captain’s call. The baseball season has now reached the dog days of August. The trade deadline has come and gone and now we are into the final two month stretch of the regular season. Since I missed the trade deadline, I want to talk about the winners and losers of the trade deadline and the biggest surprises and disappointments of the season thus far, along with some news and notes for the Yankees.

First, we begin with the trade deadline. I ask, is there anything more exciting than the July 31 trade deadline, waiting for each move by the teams trying to improve this year for a pennant race, or teams trying to get better for the future? As with every deadline, there are winners and losers. Teams who acquire exactly what they needed to strengthen their team, or the teams who gave up too much or got too little. This year’s deadline was no different. There were clear winners and losers this year.

We will start with the losers of this year’s deadline:

Arizona Diamondbacks: This was a case in which the Diamondbacks gave up too much and got way too little in return. They were clearly not making the playoffs this year, but what they gave up may have a negative impact for their future. They gave up Dan Haren, an established starter who has ace potential for basically nothing in return. Haren, the number two on the staff, complimented injured ace Brandon Webb greatly. Haren also has a very manageable and affordable contract that runs through 2012 with an option for 2013. What did they get in return? A number three or four starter in Joe Saunders and three average prospects. Not too much for a pitcher of Haren’s stature. With Webb returning next year, the D’backs were in ok shape with Webb and Haren as a one-two punch. But Arizona traded a vital cog in Haren and received way too little in return.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants more or less stood pat at the deadline. They did add two relievers, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, but what San Fran really needed was an impact bat. The Giants are right in the division race, trailing the Padres by only a couple of games. This team is set up for the playoffs, with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain anchoring their pitching staff. Seeing them in a short series is a very scary thought for opposing teams, but they have to get there first. Maybe the wavier wire will be nicer to them than the deadline was, by possibly adding an Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez (anyone ever heard of those two?). But talking about the deadline, the Giants failed to land the big bat they have been searching for since the departure of Barry Bonds. This was a case of a team failing to get what they really needed.

Honorable Mention: The New York Mets and the Tampa Bay Rays. Both of these teams stood pat and watched their divisions improve. The Mets watched an impact pitcher they desperately needed go to their division rival Phillies. They also watched the  NL East leading Braves get better with additions to their outfield and bullpen. The Rays lost out to the Yankees in the running for Lance Berkman and did not add the bat that they needed. The did add reliever Chad Qualls, but they, like the Mets, watched their division only get tougher without doing much in return.

Now for the winners:

San Diego Padres: For the last few years San Diego has been known more for Ron Burgundy (with good reason he is kind of a big deal) than the Padres. With the moves they made at the deadline, Padres ownership hopes to change that this year. The up-start Padres are leading their division and have done it all on pitching and Adrian Gonzalez. With the additions of Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada, the Padres are trying to change that. Tejada is clearly not the player he once was, offensively or defensively. But he can still help a team and provides experience and depth. Ryan Ludwick, two years removed from a 37 home run campaign, provides some pop in the lineup and even more veteran experience. Now, he is not going to find that 37 home run form, especially not in Petco park, where home runs go to die, but he will add a viable power threat to a lineup that has been void of one besides A-Gon. This addition will pay off immediately and immensely.

New York Yankees: The defending champions made three key additions at the deadline. The Yankees added Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood. In Berkman, the Yankees added a veteran bat to hit against righties and come off the bench. He essentially is what the Yankees hoped Nick Johnson would be (that really panned out didn’t it). Obviously on the downside of his career, Berkman is no longer the player he once was. But the Yankees added a team’s number four hitter and turned him into a platoon DH in the number 2 or 7 hole. Talk about depth. He fits into the Yankees lineup very well. He takes pitches and walks and is still not an easy out. Austin Kearns is a player who can hit lefties and will compete against Marcus Thames for playing time and pinch hitter duty. Kearns has the advantage over Thames because Kearns is much better defensively than Thames. Kearns adds more depth and improves the Yankees bench, which was one of their flaws. The wildcard in these three moves is Kerry Wood. Wood is one of those what if kind of players. What if he just stayed healthy and he lived up to his potential. But now at 33, Wood is a reliever and has an ERA hovering around 7. But if healthy, Wood could provide much needed help in the 7th or 8th inning and be that bridge to Mariano Rivera. It is a low risk move because Cleveland is eating most of his salary and if he is not healthy or is ineffective the Yankees are in the same place. Three low risk high reward moves will only help the defending champions.

Honorable Mention: St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles. I will start with the Rangers. How can you not be a winner when you add Cliff Lee to your pitching staff. The only reason I have them as an honorable mention is because he may end up being a rental player and may bolt Texas in the offseason. If Texas does not win with him, people may look at this trade as a failure because Texas gave up prospect Justin Smoak, who many regard as a future superstar. But for the time being Lee is in Texas and makes that team a whole lot better. He is a dominant ace who should seal the division win for the Rangers. The Cardinals make this list because of the addition of Jake Westbrook. Westbrook is a solid 3rd starter and is a great option following potential Cy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Westbrook should solidify the back end of the rotation. Atlanta appears on this list because I really like the additions of Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. Ankiel provides depth in the outfield and still has some pop in that bat. Atlanta’s center fielders have not played as well as Bobby Cox would like so Ankiel should help out. Farnsworth, the inconsistent fireballer should help out that Brave bullpen. He is having one of his best years of his career and is already familiar with Atlanta. He can be a very strong bridge to Billy Wagner. You may say how is Baltimore on this list. They did not do much at the deadline and have the worst record in baseball. The O’s are on this list, not for a player, but for their new manager. Welcome to Baltimore Buck Showalter. Buck takes over an Orioles club that has basically become a laughing stock. But one of his strengths as a manager is working with young players and Baltimore is full of them. He should improve this team in a couple of years.

Each baseball season there are surprise teams and surprise players that have unexpected great seasons. This year the biggest surprises to me thus far are the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox’s injury woes.

San Diego Padres: Did anyone think that by August the Padres would be leading their division? Certainly I did not. After finishing 4th last year and 5th the year before that, I thought San Diego would fight for 4th once again. With rumors of the Padres trying to trade their best player, Adrian Gonzalez, they seemed content to rebuild. To quote a wise man “not so fast my friend” (Lee Corso). San Diego is not trading A-Gon, with good reason. They believe they can make the playoffs and do some damage when they get there. His numbers are slightly down this year, but Gonzalez is no doubt the anchor of that lineup. The Padres don’t hit much, they rely on pitching and defense. With surprise ace Mat Latos at the helm, they have four pitchers with sub 4 ERA’s. They also have all star closer Heath Bell anchoring a solid, underrated bullpen. They are a very interesting team to watch the rest of the year.

Boston Red Sox Injuries: The baseball season is not a sprint, it is a grueling 162 game marathon. Injuries are a commonplace in baseball. But this year for the Boston Red Sox, it has gotten a little out of hand. Each day it seems like one of their best players go on the 15-day DL. They just added Kevin Youkillis to that list. It seems just to get worse for the “Sawx.” That list included Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Victor Martinez, Mike Cameron, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, and J.D Drew. Those are some pretty big names in Red Sox nation. The Red Sox have not been fully healthy all year and have paid for it in the standings. They trail the Yankees and Rays by a number of games, and may miss the playoffs if they do not start to get healthy.

Honorable Mention: Jose` Bautista. If I had to guess who would be the home run leader at the beginning of August, Jose` Bautista would be pretty close to the bottom of my list. His career high was sixteen in 2006 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, so it comes as a  bit of a surprise that he is now over thirty for the year. He is well on his way to forty plus home runs this year and is in line for a big pay day. Contract year strikes again.

Two great disappointments stick out in my mind this year. The Seattle Mariners have been an absolute abomination and B.J Upton’s season has been mired in laziness and low production.

Seattle Mariners: Seattle acquired ace Cliff Lee in the offseason and looked to be a contender in the AL West. When you have a one-two punch of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, you are in pretty good shape. They also signed free agent, super utility player Chone Figgins. Now we are in August, Cliff Lee is gone, Figgins has underproduced and is hitting below .250. He also was in the middle of a dugout altercation after being called out by teammates for not being in the right spot on the field. They also had to deal with the Ken Griffey Jr. scandal of allegedly sleeping in the clubhouse and then his sudden retirement. Manager Don Wakamatsu’s job is in serious jeopardy and they are in the basement of the AL West. Pretty far from contender status.

BJ Upton: In 2007, B.J Upton hit .300 with 24 home runs and over 80 RBI’s. It looked like he was ready to break out and have a great career. But it has not panned out that way. Two straight down years have led to this 2010 year where B.J is hitting below .240 and has been called out for lack of hustle on more than one occasion. B.J has all the talent in the world but there are times when it seems he couldn’t care less. In a season where the Rays are in a fight for the best record in baseball, Upton’s production could put them over the edge. They failed to get a bat at the deadline. If the Rays could get him going for the stretch run it would be just as good as a deadline acquisition. But so far he has not produced and worse he has been a distraction and a poor teammate.

Honorable Mention: The Colorado Rockies, The Philadelphia Phillies, and the firing of Fredi Gonzalez. The Colorado Rockies have personally been a disappointment to me this year because I picked them to win the NL West. Besides Ubaldo Jimenez, they have been a disappointment. I thought Troy Tulowitzki was going to have a break out, MVP type season. To his credit, Troy has has battled injuries all year and is still hitting over .300. They have been towards the bottom of the division all year and still trail the Padres by a number of games. They have been mediocre and inconsistent.The Phillies, another team I picked to win their division, have been a disappointment because they have not stood out all year. The reigning NL champs have been average and mediocre this year. They have struggled to hit all year and are still trailing the Braves. I think they will end up making the playoffs, especially with the acquisition of pitcher Roy Oswalt. But so far they have been a disappointment. The last disappointment that sticks out in my mind is the firing of Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez. Gonzalez, in only about three years became the Marlins all time winningest manager. After his first year, Gonzalez led the Marlins to 84 and 87 wins, respectively. He did this with the lowest payroll of any team in the majors. He was a good fit for the Marlins but was fired in June after a slow start and an altercation with superstar Hanley Ramirez. I think they pulled the trigger way too fast and should have stuck with Gonzalez.

Now for some news and notes on the Bronx Bombers.

Yankees News and Notes: We all know the big news of the day. A-Rod finally hit number 600. Now that this is behind him and the team, the Yankees should finally be able to break out of the little slide they have been in for the last week or two. A-Rod was the big story of the day but there were also other notes and people to mention during Wednesday’s game. Derek Jeter went 4-4 and is now one hit away from matching Babe Ruth’s career hit total. That is a pretty big name that “the Captain” is closing in on. Now Jeter is already the Yankees hit leader, but Ruth also played with the Red Sox. Jeter is now 39th on the all time hit list. Derek should reach 3,000 hits next year, the first to do so in a Yankee uniform.

Mark Teixeira continues to rake. Back in June, Mark was hitting around .210. With 2 hits yesterday Mark is now hitting .258 and is just hitting the ball all over the place. Tex hit .344 in July and he looks to continue that hot hitting in the month of August. If we look to the bullpen, Boone Logan has come into his own lately and David Robertson seems to have overcome his early season woes and has embraced the 8th inning role.

Friday starts a four game series against the Boston Red Sox. This series could either get the Sox back into the race or ultimately end their season. With Kevin Youkillis out for the season, the Red Sox took another giant blow. Losing 3 of 4 or even being swept could and would most likely put them out of their misery. Javier Vazquez starts Friday and is opposed by Clay Buchholz.

-Tim Morgan ’12

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