The Atlanta Braves and Their Andrelton Simmons Problem

The Atlanta Braves have a problem this season that will not be solved with a trade before Thursday's non-waiver deadline. It is also not a problem that will be solved in August.

The Braves offense currently ranks 24th in runs scored, 23rd in OPS, 23rd in total bases and 26th in strikeouts. Atlanta is simply a team that has a number of highly talented pieces who do a few things well but struggle mightily with others; call it the Andrelton Simmons problem.

Simmons was one of the better players in baseball last season. According to Baseball-Reference's defensive WAR, he actually had the best defensive season in the history of baseball! So that's something.

He was also reasonably OK with the bat. Although he didn't get on base often enough, he hit well (.692 OPS) and managed to tally 50 extra-base hits in his 150 total hits. He also managed to score 76 runs with that on-base percentage hovering around .300.

This season, though, Simmons' bat has regressed to essentially replacement level. The main difference is the power has dropped. He has registered just five home runs for the season and just 22 extra-base hits.

His glove, still great, has also slipped a bit, according to advanced stats. These things have combined to bring Simmons from a 6.9-win player in 2013 to a 2.5-win player heading into August of 2014, and he is now someone who is almost a liability in the lineup.

With the way the Braves are currently constructed, this is a huge problem. Simmons is not the only player with these "good, but" caveats.

Jason Heyward is having a similar season. He's a plus-plus defender and good runner who has been a huge minus at the plate. With Simmons, it was somewhat expected; for Heyward, his putrid year of batting is so demoralizing because of how unexpected it has been.

Although he's picked up his batting average (.260) since a horrible start to the season, the power is still not there (9 HRs). His .379 slugging percentage puts him 113th in the league among qualified hitters, behind the likes of Dioner Navarro and Adam Eaton.

B.J. Upton is yet another Brave currently falling under the invented category of unwell-rounded. He runs well and still plays competent defense. His bat is the worst of the three, though, as evidenced by his .215/.282/.333 slash line and league-leading 134 strikeouts.

Braves fans have been clamoring for a change in center field, but that wouldn't really solve this team's problem. It's an epidemic more than an infiltration.

Teams built on pitching and defense can win championships. That is not up for debate. However, because Atlanta is so poor at getting on base and scoring runs, it puts added pressure on players to be elite in other categories.

This worked out for Simmons last year; he was well worth playing every day. It no longer seems like that formula is weighted in Atlanta's favor, and it may be time for the Braves to overhaul this roster with players who can help across the board.

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Twitter Reacts as Jon Lester Is Reportedly Traded for Yoenis Cespedes

The Oakland Athletics continued their wheeling-and-dealing ways Thursday by acquiring starting pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes prior to the 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline.

The surprising blockbuster trade was first reported by Alex Speier of WEEI.com and later confirmed in full by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

With Lester and the Red Sox unable to reach a contract agreement, it has been assumed for the past several days that he was a candidate to be dealt. However, Oakland was never viewed as a potential landing spot since it acquired pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs a couple weeks ago.

The A's clearly felt as though another arm was needed, and they were willing to part with a power-hitting star in the form of Cespedes to get it.

General manager Billy Beane has done an incredible job keeping the Athletics competitive over the years without a ton of financial backing. With Oakland sporting the league's best record at 66-41, he has been extremely aggressive.

ESPN's Adnan Virk is among those who believe that this trade is a sign of Beane and the A's proving their gusto:

Passan agreed and suggested that the Athletics are likely favored to win the World Series due to their deep and talented pitching staff:

The trade makes sense on some level for Oakland since it truly believes that this is its opportunity to win it all. At the same time, though, Lester is a rental, while Cespedes is a 28-year-old slugger who doesn't become a free agent until 2018.

Because of that, Marc Bertrand of CSNNE.com believes the Sox came out on the winning end of this deal:

MLB Network's Fran Charles echoed that sentiment and was thoroughly impressed with the return Boston was able to coax out of Oakland:

With a Lester trade potentially on the horizon Wednesday, Red Sox manager John Farrell expressed the utmost confidence in general manager Ben Cherington's ability to make the right decision for the organization, according to ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes.

"What we have to do is step back from all of this and know there are decisions from the business side of the game, and have faith in the fact that Ben has a clear-cut plan to get us back to a team that will contend," Farrell said. "Our faith in Ben and the plan that's in place is steadfast."

It is entirely possible that Boston has even grander plans on the horizon following this trade. Not only do the Red Sox now have the two-time defending Home Run Derby winner on their roster, but ESPN's Jim Bowden believes they will make a big push to sign Lester back in free agency this offseason:

MLB.com's Ian Browne also acknowledged that possibility and noted that the Red Sox could emerge as huge winners:

Jen Royle of the Boston Herald added that Cherington may have put himself in position to make Boston a contender once again in the near future in the event that Lester returns:

If the Red Sox are able to pull that off, then this trade could ultimately become Gomes and two months of Lester for Cespedes, which is an unequivocal win for Boston.

Also, although there aren't any current plans to do so, Speier points out that the Red Sox could easily ship Cespedes elsewhere for other assets if they so choose:

As big as Lester promises to be for the A's down the stretch due to his playoff experience, losing Cespedes certainly leaves a hole in Oakland's lineup. At the same time, John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle believes that Cespedes' unwillingness to be a team player contributed to his departure:

While most like to declare a trade a victory for one of the teams involved, ESPN's Buster Olney took a more diplomatic approach. He believes that both teams got exactly what they needed for the present and the future:

With that said, there is no question that there is now a ton of pressure on the A's to win it all. That is the only acceptable result after trading away a player in his prime who currently averages 22 home runs and 76 RBI per season in his MLB career.

If the Athletics do win the World Series, then Beane will be lauded for taking a risk and throwing caution to the wind. If they don't, however, he will be questioned for years to come.

Chances to be champions don't come about with great regularity, so it is tough to blame Beane for being aggressive. The Red Sox did well to get something of value for a player who may very well leave via free agency, but the main focus will most definitely be on how Lester performs in the coming months.

 

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Yoenis Cespedes to Red Sox: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The first blockbuster of MLB trade deadline day is reportedly complete. The Boston Red Sox are set to acquire outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for starting pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes.

The Red Sox announced the details of the trade:

Alex Speier of WEEI initially broke word of the deal:

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports filled out the details:

Passan also spoke about the possibility of another trade coming prior to the deadline:

David Ortiz spoke about the trade on Twitter:

The Red Sox had been looking for an impact bat and Lester was one of the most talked about players on the trade market in recent weeks. Nobody made the connection with Cespedes, however, as his name was not active in rumors.

Given the fact Lester is scheduled to become a free agent at the season's end while the talented Cuban outfielder is under team control for another season, it's quite a coup for the Red Sox. It was unclear how much they could get for a potential rental.

Susan Slusser speaks about why the A's thought process:

John Hickey of the Bay Area Media Group notes that the A's had been attempting to trade Cespedes for some time now:

John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle provided another possible reason Oakland made Cespedes available:

However, Jane Lane of MLB.com provided insight into how the A's have performed with and without Cespedes in the lineup:

The Red Sox have fallen out of the playoff race, which means losing Lester for the rest of the season isn't a major setback. Adding a building block like the two-time defending Home Run Derby champion is a step in the right direction for the future.

He's hitting .256 with 17 home runs through 101 games. Boston would like to see his on-base percentage increase from its current .303 closer to the .356 mark from his rookie season, but he still represents a good haul for Lester and Gomes.

 

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Oakland Athletics Land Jon Lester from Red Sox for Cespedes

The Boston Red Sox have sent starting pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, according to Alex Speier of WEEI.com.

Oakland will also send a competive balance pick to Boston for cash considerations, according to Yahoo SPorts' Jeff Passan.

Rumors had been swirling for a while that the last-place Red Sox could deal their ace, but their intentions were made clear when it was announced Tuesday night that Lester would be scratched from his scheduled Wednesday start, as ESPN's Jim Bowden pointed out:

Lester was also sure to show his appreciation for the support he had gotten with rumors running rampant:

After winning the World Series in 2013, Boston struggled on the field this year, playing to a 48-59 record thus far. More importantly, at least in regard to this trade, the Sox failed to sign Lester to an extension as he approaches free agency. With the season lost and the risk of not being able to re-sign its star pitcher, Boston decided it was time to sell.

In Lester, the A's have obtained a top-of-the-rotation pitcher with an abundance of postseason experience as they make a run at a playoff berth. Lester is 10-7 with a 2.52 ERA on the season. In 21 starts Lester has 149 strikeouts, a 2.62 fielding independent pitching (FIP) and a 155 adjusted ERA (ERA+).

In 13 postseason games (11 starts) he is 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA and has come away with two shiny World Series rings.

General manager Billy Beane and the A's already pulled off a big trade earlier this season when they landed Chicago Cubs starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Now Oakland boasts a rotation led by Lester, Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray. They have more than a few solid options to fill out the fifth spot in the rotation going forward.

Gomes on the other hand will provide some pop and versatility to a team that loves to move its lineup around on a day-to-day basis. He has six home runs and 32 RBI this season. He played for Oakland in 2012.

Cespedes is a nice pickup for Boston. The 28-year-old Cuban outfielder is hitting .256 with 17 homers and 67 RBI. He will not be a free agent until after the 2017 season, meaning he will be crushing balls at Fenway Park for at least a few years.

There is also the chance that Lester decides to re-sign with the BoSox in the offseason. He recently said there would be no hard feelings if he were dealt, according to Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com:

We all understand where we're at, we understand it's a business. And (general manager Ben Cherington) and ownership have to do what's right for this organization and if that means whoever it may be is traded for prospects or other guys or whatever, that's just part of the business. We all understand it.

Yeah, why not (in response to whether he could return to Boston)? I mean, (Boston) is what I know, this is what I love. Like I've said plenty of times, this is where I want to be. And if they trade me I completely understand. No hard feelings. I know what they have to do for their organization and if that involves me, so be it. If it doesn't I'll keep running out there every five days and pitching.

With Lester likely to hold off on signing a new deal until the winter, the A's may just be renting him for the remainder of the season. Expect the Red Sox to be in the mix when it comes to Lester's free-agent suitors. For now, Oakland has set itself up as a true contender in the American League playoff race.

With this move, the Athletics are not joking around. They already pulled off a blockbuster. They already were one of the best teams in baseball.

If they were not already, the addition of Lester makes the A's World Series favorites.

 

All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference.com.

Question or comments? Make your voice heard below or feel free to follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk baseball.

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Jon Lester to A’s: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The Oakland A's have traded for one of the most talented pitchers in baseball in Jon Lester

The league confirmed the transaction between the American League clubs (via MLB Roster Moves):

Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan was first to report Lester had been traded from the Boston Red Sox. Alex Speier of WEEI.com quickly provided the details on the deal:

Passan later provided the specifics of the swap, in addition to his thoughts:

WCVB provides a photo of Lester hugging Red Sox owner Jon Henry:

Lester is in the midst of yet another fine season. The 30-year-old left-hander was selected to his third All-Star Game and has already reached double-digit wins. His sub-3.00 ERA is the lowest mark of his nine-year career.

The A's currently lead the Angels by 2.5 games in the American League West. It's clear they're looking to contain the Angels' high-powered lineup by trading one of the top power hitters in the game for one of the top overall pitchers.

Lester has bounced back beautifully since his 9-14 2012 campaign to show why he is one of the top players in the game. Since breaking out in 2008, he has been Boston's ace and a model of consistency.

Jonny Gomes is currently hitting .234 on the season with six homers and 32 RBI. It's difficult to expect him to fill the shoes of Yoenis Cespedes for the A's, but he has proven in the past to be a serviceable outfielder and hitter. 

In return for those two, the Red Sox obtain an emerging superstar in Cespedes, who is hitting .256 with 17 homers and 67 RBI this season. The recent Home Run Derby champion will be a major draw for Boston fans, who should expect to see his home run column increase dramatically at Fenway Park. It'll be fun for all to watch him take on the Green Monster with his extraordinary power.

Passan weighed in on the Red Sox's decision to trade for Cespedes, as well as his long-term future: 

Unfortunately, the Red Sox have been poor as a team in 2014 and have fallen to last place in the American League East. ESPN's Buster Olney reported that a deal was likely to happen:

The defending World Series champions decided to get some value for a player set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Boston's loss simply becomes the A's gain as they are able to add an elite left-handed starter who has been red hot lately. Additionally, Lester has won two World Series titles and has loads of postseason experience.

For a squad hoping to finish the year strong and contend in the playoffs, this appears to be the perfect addition.

ESPN Stats and Info tweeted about just how good Lester has been in October:

The only downside is the pitcher's aversion to signing an extension with his new team. In fact, he explained before the deal was completed that he would be willing to re-sign with the Red Sox after the season regardless of what happened at the trade deadline, via Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe:

Why not? This is what I know. This is what I love. Like I’ve said plenty of times, this is where I want to be. And if they trade me, I completely understand. No hard feelings.

I know what they have to do for their organization, and if that involves me, then so be it. If it doesn’t, I’ll keep running out there every five days and pitching. Hopefully in November we get something done.

Considering the Red Sox were able to get a decent return in this trade while also having a chance to bring Lester back for next season, this was a great move.

On the other side of the deal, Oakland gets a proven elite arm who immediately boosts the rotation. Even if Lester is ultimately a short-term rental, he can be the difference between the A's being a fringe playoff contender or a World Series contender.

This seems like a move that works out well for all parties involved.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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6 Surprises We Could See on 2014 MLB Trade Deadline Day

If you’ve been following the news surrounding the MLB July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, there is no doubt some confusion. There are so many rumors going around that making any sense out of the madness is an effort in futility.

We are not going to try and change that. After all, that’s part of the fun this time of year.

We are here to look at six potential surprises on MLB’s day of all days.

Not all surprises are good, however. Some of these are clubs that will do a whole bunch of nothing when an overhaul is in order. Others will try as hard as possible yet come up short in the pursuit of that one player who will put them over the top.

Here are six surprises we could see on the day of the MLB non-waiver trade deadline. 

Begin Slideshow

New York Yankees Trade Rumors: Last-Minute Buzz Ahead of the Deadline

The 2014 MLB trade deadline has arrived, and the New York Yankees have deemed themselves to be buyers in the market.

Their position in the standings, five-and-a-half games out of first place in the AL East and three games out of the second wild-card spot, coincides with that premise despite others believing the opposite.

Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com is asking the bold question of whether or not the Yankees should actually be sellers.

The truth of the matter is, I am not sure how far back the Yankees would have to be to even consider selling in Derek Jeter's final season.

Jeter entered his career as a winner and there is little doubt he wants to go out fighting to win again. With that in mind, general manager Brian Cashman has been doing a nice job of piecing together small trades to help bolster the roster, and the early returns have been positive. He will try to finish the job today and is looking at several players to help fill the holes on this team.

Despite losing four of the five members of the opening day starting rotation, it is the Yankees offense that has really been holding them back this season. They have been in the market for an outfielder for weeks now, inquiring about guys like Alex Rios and Josh Willingham.

The biggest buzz surrounds Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd, though.

Bringing in a guy like Byrd would allow Ichiro to go back to being a fourth outfielder, where he flourished earlier in the season. As of July 30, the Phillies and Yankees were still in talks for Byrd, who is having a nice season with the Phillies and could certainly give the Yankees the right-handed power they lack.

However, according to ESPN's Jayson Stark there is still one hurdle stopping the Yankees: Byrd's 2016 vesting option.

As I mentioned earlier, the Yankees starting rotation has been crushed by injuries this season, and despite recent positive reports on Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda's comebacks, pitching help is still a priority.

The Yanks have been in talks with the Chicago White Sox for over a week about acquiring lefty John Danks.

CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says that dialogue is still ongoing, but there is still a large gap, mostly due to the amount of money still owed Danks after this season. I've always viewed the Colorado Rockies' lefty Jorge De La Rosa as a much better target due to his free agency at the end of the season as well as his overall talent being better than Danks'.

Unfortunately Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post says a deal for De La Rosa is unlikely.

Moves may be in the works for the Yankees for someone other than an outfielder or starting pitcher. 

Heyman also reports that the Yankees are in talks with the San Diego Padres for reliever Joaquin Benoit. Bringing in another reliever would make sense, considering how much Joe Girardi has had to use Dellin Betances and David Robertson.

The bottom line is that, with the final hours of the trade deadline approaching, the Yanks expect to be very active in the market.

They won't be making any big splashes, but if the right deals are made, they could make a legitimate playoff push.

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Under the Knife: MLB Injury Analysis on Tulowitzki, Tanaka, Harvey and More

The trade deadline is always an exciting time around baseball, but if you look closely, team health feeds the deadline. Teams are replacing players they expected to have. They're buying expensive pitchers to soak up innings that young pitchers can't handle. They're valuing prospects not just on talent, but risk. 

Front-office types will be burning up the phone. Scouts will be watching and reporting. Medical staffs will be called in to check files and physicals will be taken. With everything that is measured in baseball now, they're still left guessing in many situations about injuries, risk and value. 

Again, we have an asymmetrical situation. Some teams will have more information or analyze it more accurately. Some teams will miss something or ignore an element they shouldn't have. A trade will succeed or fail based on an injury. Go ahead—look at some of the deals from a few years back and tell me how many injuries you see.

There's no area in baseball untouched by sports science and sports medicine, but too many teams leave those areas underserved and underfunded. The injuries of tomorrow might have been noted today, but from out here, we'll probably be left to guess. Maybe the trades that weren't made were successes because an injury acquisition was avoided. 

It will be hours before we know who moves at the deadline. It will be years before we know whether the deals worked, or maybe a couple months, when a team moves into October. For now, let's look around the league at the injuries this week...

 

Troy Tulowitzki

Needles. Groin. You never want to hear those two words in the same sentence. Troy Tulowitzki—yes, with a T—got to experience dry needling this week in hopes of avoiding another groin surgery. Tulowitzki was checking in with his surgeon and, while surgery isn't happening yet, it's still on the table.

Dry needling is a relatively new technique that's not far off from acupuncture, though it doesn't use the same principles. Essentially, it's just stimulating an area. You may not want to check out this video if you're squeamish, but it does show things clearly.

Tulowitzki's groin is problematic, chronic to a point and certainly makes it difficult for the trade that whispers have him pushing for. It's more likely that he'll have to wait until the offseason for a move.

In the meantime, he'd like to get back on the field to show that he's healthy enough to trade for. We won't get much of a chance until mid-August, if then, but look for any signs of physical activity, even jogging, to get a sense of which direction this is going.

 

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka reported last week that he was still having some pain in his elbow. This week, things are getting better every day. What changed? Well, nothing.

Tanaka had a PRP (platelet rich plasma) injection into his elbow. That injection is designed to inflame the area slightly and accelerate the healing process. Several doctors have told me that soreness in the first week after the injection is very common, especially if the injury is still in the acute phase. 

If Tanaka's progress really is progress, and if the PRP is helping even in a small way, it's a huge, massive win for the Yankees. Timing is almost irrelevant here since, if he does need Tommy John surgery, he'll miss all of 2015.

He could go all the way into December or January and not truly affect a 2016 return, so there's no rush, though certainly if he shows that he can come back and pitch, the Yankees would love to have him back.

We should get more indication in the next 10 days. Tanaka will likely play catch around that point and it will be very telling. Matt Moore couldn't make it past that easy stage and headed for surgery, which isn't uncommon. While we still don't know which way it will go with Tanaka, we're getting closer. 

 

Edwin Encarnacion

The Blue Jays don't have the best record of team health, but they're actually very good at keeping their position players healthy. It's a bit surprising that Edwin Encarnacion has taken as long as he has coming back from what was said to be a mild quad strain. The absence is going to force a rehab assignment now, pushing his return back at least a few more days.

Sources tell me that the setback he experienced a few days ago wasn't any re-strain of the muscle, but was merely some excessive soreness. Because of the location of the injury, low near the tendon, the Jays elected to back off a little, add some therapy and see how it went. So far, so good.

Encarnacion isn't a speed player, but injuries like this can throw off a player's hitting base. Joey Votto is an extreme example, but watch to make sure that Encarnacion is hitting well, not missing and showing some signs of power when he does go out on his rehab assignment.

If it happens this weekend, as is possible, he could be back by next week. 

 

Brandon Morrow

Brandon Morrow is closer to a return, but he won't be back as a starter. Instead, the oft-injured Jay will work out of the pen. It's not the worst idea, but my question is whether he'll be used to the best extent, assuming that the organization isn't doing it because they don't think he can stay healthy as a starter.

The job descriptions are telling: starter, reliever, closer, lefty specialist. But shouldn't it just be pitcher? Bo Porter, manager of the Astros, barked earlier this season that he didn't care about roles, just that his pitchers get outs. Easy to say when the pen didn't really have any standouts and the team isn't winning. Porter hasn't really had much in the way of innovative pen usage either.

Morrow, assuming everything is normal with his finger when he does return, is clearly not a one-inning guy. He's gone multiple innings, even complete games in the past. A finger injury shouldn't change that.

If John Gibbons and the Jays can't figure out how to leverage a player like this, using him as a long man, a swing starter or a shadow to keep the workload down on Marcus Stroman, then I just don't think anyone will buck the book.

Managers will say they don't manage to a stat, but with the pen usage of modern baseball, it's worse than that. They clearly manage to the save, leaving their best arm sitting in key situations. They won't use the eighth-inning guy in the seventh, despite the leverage. They're often lost in extra innings and nearly unwilling to use a quick hook. 

Morrow's situation isn't unique, but it is as clear an opportunity as I've seen for a creative, thoughtful usage of an asset. The Jays consider themselves contenders and need to maximize every possibility. Not using an asset like Morrow to his fullest reasonable extent is simply poor management. 

 

Ryan Zimmerman

A Grade III hamstring strain is about as bad as it gets. In most cases, it's a rupture—a complete tearing of the muscle. It can be used when the tearing is bad enough that any load will damage it further, where the structural integrity is damaged. It can often be surgical, though it depends on which of the muscles and the location of the tearing.

In other words, this is bad for Ryan Zimmerman, if you believe Bill Ladson's report (and I do.) Already plagued by shoulder problems, Zimmerman now has a significant leg problem to add to it. He's already not the fastest player, but dropping more speed might make playing the outfield even tougher. 

It's extremely unlikely that Zimmerman will make it back this season from a severe strain like this. It's not impossible, especially if he does a Kirk Gibson and hobbles up as a pinch hitter when rosters expand. The Nats are sticking to their eight-week timeframe, so while in most leagues, I'd say drop Zimmerman now, deeper leagues might want to wait just a bit.

 

Mythbusting

If you follow the trade deadline closely today, you'll likely hear someone say that a player can't be dealt if they are on the disabled list. That's untrue. Any player, no matter their injury status, can be traded. As in most cases, a player has to be accepted, meaning they "pass" the physical. 

A "pass" doesn't mean that a player is injury-free. It's essentially saying that they're willing to sign, or in this case, transfer, the contract as written. The acquiring team is also taking responsibility for the player, incurring any further medical costs. That's a big deal, but not insurmountable in the right situation. Some have even suggested it could be a market inefficiency. 

Justin Masterson is just the latest example. He's on the DL now, expected to be activated on Friday for his start, though the Cardinals (assuming his knee and the rest of him pass the physical) may change that schedule. John Mozeliak knew he could make a deal for a DL player and is counting on his medical staff to make it work. Now you know. 

 

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey has been cleared to throw from a mound starting Friday. It's another step in the deliberate process the Mets are taking with his rehab.

Don't expect huge things from these early sessions. They're not about velocity or stuff, just merely getting in the work and stepping forward. There's still a chance Harvey gets a late-season cameo, even with the Mets being as conservative with this as they have been.

We'll definitely see Harvey in games this year, probably in Brooklyn not Queens. 

 

Wil Myers

Need to sneak another bat onto your fantasy roster? Wil Myers is getting ready to start a rehab assignment in the near future and should be back for Tampa in mid-August.

He didn't hit well before his injury, something of a sophomore slump, but he still has talent. The Rays are playing well right now and getting Myers and Jeremy Hellickson function as deadline acquisitions.

If Myers hits quickly and well, he's a big boost, but don't expect power to be instant after a wrist fracture. Look for any signs its coming, like hard-hit balls and gappers. 

 

Michael Bourn

Michael Bourn is a speed player. He has a chronically bad hamstring. Surgery didn't cure this, as it often doesn't. The advantage is that Lonnie Soloff is charged with getting him back out there and Soloff has experience. He first got noticed for his work with Ken Griffey Jr.

Bourn's a much different player than Junior, and if the speed isn't there, he'll have to adjust.

The Indians would settle for seeing him on the field right now. Bourn is closer, taking batting practice, but there's still no date for a rehab assignment, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He's at the long end of the three-to-four-week estimates, but the Indians will want to see him not only play, but recover, so don't expect him back too soon.

 

Derek Holland

Derek Holland is coming back from knee surgery that has cost him the season so far and, with the paucity of success of microfracture in baseball, he's going to have to beat the odds as well.

It was a good first step for him in Frisco (AA) where he got in two innings of work. He didn't have great control (two BB) but he did dominate with four strikeouts. He'll step up the stamina next time out and should use most of the 30 days of his rehab before a possible return to Arlington.

 

C.J. Wilson

C.J. Wilson made it through his Monday rehab start, going 81 pitches over five innings for Arkansas (AA). He didn't have any apparent trouble with his ankle or the hip that he now says was the real issue.

His stamina is already up there, so it should be a normal start for him Saturday. Watch to see if his feet are moving well, especially the back leg where Wilson says the real problem was.

 

Starling Marte 

The Pirates were involved in a lot of trade rumors this week, including some about Jon Lester. To get Lester, they'd need to have a package of prospects, and Marte could be the kind of game-ready, under-control player who would fit in nicely in Boston.

Of course, the Pirates would rather keep him alongside Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco, but sacrifices are sometimes made to long-term plans, even when it's Neal Huntington at the helm.

Marte is still having some issues with his concussion, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, wavering with symptoms. This isn't uncommon at all, and the Pirates are monitoring him closely. He won't be off the concussion DL when eligible, but there's no way to say just how long he'll be out. There's no sign this will be extended, but concussions follow no pattern. 

 

Gerrit Cole 

Gerrit Cole looked great in his first rehab start, done at Indianapolis (AAA). He'll have one more start, this coming Saturday at Indy's Victory Field.

If he can show the same kind of stuff and have no setbacks with his strained lat, he'll be back in Pittsburgh for his next outing. The velocity was back for sure and Cole seemed to be focused on the attack, which is a positive.

No one seems too worried about a lat strain here after his shoulder injury, but it isn't a great pattern. Sources tell me the Pirates want to keep Cole healthy and focus on some changes in the offseason that they think will help.

 

Mark Appel

Wondering why the Astros sent Mark Appel to Corpus Christi (AA) despite a poor run in Lancaster (A)? The answer isn't entitlement, but system. A source tells me that the Astros have a system called Kinatrax installed in Corpus Christi, though I could not confirm this. Given some of the statements that came out about additional tools, this makes some sense now. 

Kinatrax is a multi-camera markerless biomechanics system that can show many things that could be used to analyze Appel beyond the results. (Corpus Christi also has a Trackman system installed, but those are pretty widespread. They're pretty easy to spot as well, with a flat radar panel installed directly behind the plate.)

A couple teams, including the Mets, have been testing this kind of system, but the results are unknown. We'll see how the Astros use it. With someone like Brent Strom running the pitching program, it could be a big weapon. I wonder if there were any mentions of this system in the Ground Control leaks.

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MLB Rumors: Players with Potential to Shift Power Dynamic at Trade Deadline

Like just about everything else in life, the MLB trade deadline seemed more fun as a kid. The Internet and round-the-clock gossip were nowhere near as prevalent during my generation—the last to not have the World Wide Web at our disposal from the womb—so everything had an air of mystery.

There were SportsCenter updates, Baseball Tonight and the like, but even grown-ups were kept in the dark. We all found out at generally the same time when Randy Johnson was traded in 1998. And even if you weren't hanging near a news service, there was plenty of time to get caught up before discussing the evening's events at school or work.

I'm not saying life for the eight-year-old baseball fan was better than it is now at 24. It's quite the opposite. The advent of the Internet allows fans to have information within seconds of a sourced reporter. What would have constituted as breaking news a decade ago is reported, dissected and tossed into the trash heap within minutes.

Everyone with a modicum of baseball interest knows the major players who could be on the move before Thursday's 4 p.m. non-waiver cutoff period. The more informed fans could probably power rank the stars from "most likely" to "least likely" to be dealt with good level of accuracy. It's infinitely easier to follow baseball than it's ever been.

Which is great—and kind of takes the fun out of things like the trade deadline. So instead of speculating about who will and won't get moved, let's instead look at a few difference-makers who swing more toward "yes" than "no" on the pendulum.

 

Jon Lester

The Red Sox have activated their "build for 2015" gift card, so we might be seeing the end of the line for Lester and John Lackey (about whom more anon) on Thursday. A year removed from winning the World Series, Boston is closer to the dregs of the state of Texas than it is to the top of its division.

Assuming Ben Cherington can get better value than compensatory draft picks, it only makes sense to deal Lester. The 30-year-old lefty is in the midst of his finest big league season, setting bests in earned run average, FIP and xFIP among myriad other categories. He's responsible for more than a fifth of Boston's total wins on the season and has been one shining positive in a sea of spoiled chowder.

And he's a free agent this winter.

Lester rejected a four-year, $70 million extension earlier this year and is said to be looking for a contract commensurate with his performance. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reported Lester was looking for a deal of "$22 million-$24 million a year over five or six years," though that has since been denied by the pitcher's representation. 

"The discussions we had with the Red Sox were confidential and will remain that way," Seth Levinson, Lester's agent, wrote in an email to Gordon Edes of ESPN. "There is no truth to the report, and I am not going to guess why it was written or the basis for that report."

True or not, the Red Sox have opened Lester to the highest bidder. The Orioles, Pirates and Marlins have been mentioned among possible suitors, with Baltimore seemingly having a leg up at the moment. Abraham reported the AL East rivals were working on the framework of a trade that would send Lester to Baltimore for a young pitcher. The Orioles have attractive young arms in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, but parting with either would be a tough pill to swallow.

Landing Lester would instantly make Baltimore the favorite to run away with the East. As Jonah Keri of Grantland pointed out, the Orioles' current rotation consists of a series of arms performing right at the league average. Lester is the bona fide ace they've been missing all year, someone with the type of playoff chops to make a two-month rental worth it.

The Pirates, who have slowly recovered from an awful start, are another interesting possibility. A blockbuster of this magnitude would be unprecedented for this franchise while signaling a willingness to spend from ownership. Neal Huntington has been active at the trade deadline the last couple seasons, but he has mostly come away with middling veterans.

Pushing the chips to center table now would be a sign to St. Louis and Milwaukee that the Pirates are here to stay.

 

John Lackey

The "other" Boston starter on the market may quietly be the more interesting. Lackey, whose $80 million contract was once the scourge of Red Sox nation, is now worth every last penny. He's come back from 2012 Tommy John surgery and essentially matched his output from his days as an Angel.

But what makes Lackey so intriguing isn't the money he's already earned—it's what his contract calls for next season. Because of an interesting quirk in his deal protecting the Red Sox against elbow injuries, Lackey is locked in at a $500,000 base salary for next season. (His missing the entire 2012 season triggered the clause. Whether Lackey is actually willing to pitch next season at that salary without a number is a concern.)

While Lackey will remain expensive for the remainder of this season, in 2015 he'll become one of baseball's biggest bargains. Smaller-market clubs like the Royals and Marlins have reached out to express interest. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported the Red Sox were already probing Miami about a deal centered on outfielder Christian Yelich.

Yelich, 22, has already developed into nearly a three-win player. Trading him for Lackey would be borderline insane, and perhaps Boston's asking price will tamp down the market. The Royals have already begun balking at giving up their top-level prospects, per Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.

From a pure logical perspective, it's a little curious that Miami is closer to pulling the trigger than Kansas City. The Marlins are not going to make the playoffs this season. They're a surprisingly solid 53-54, but there are four teams between them and capturing the final wild-card spot. On paper, each of that foursome is more talented. Giving up an elite young player for an aging veteran would be a sign that Marlins management has not learned from mistakes of years past.

The Royals have glaring holes in their everyday lineup that need fixing, but so does nearly every buyer on the market. Hitting talent is scarce. Substituting Lackey into the Jeremy Guthrie slot in the rotation might be the next best option.

Kansas City has a good, albeit not great, farm system. If the price dips even the slightest bit near the deadline, Dayton Moore should take the opportunity and pounce. Moore has already quite a few win-now moves in his time running the franchise. Lackey down the stretch might be enough to push a team that's only two games behind in the loss column in the wild-card chase.

Plus, like, we're going on three decades here. If the Pirates can do it, well, anyone can.

 

Marlon Byrd

Byrd is akin to a unicorn on this open market. Which essentially means he's a non-terrible hitter who can be had via trade. The 36-year-old outfielder is batting .270/.318/.477 with 20 home runs and 60 RBI, putting him well on pace to break his career-high home run total from last season. His sudden pop is a surprise to anyone who watched him smack double after double in his previous stops.

With the Phillies continuing their descent toward the bottom of the National League, general manager Ruben Amaro should be holding a fire sale. Instead, he's holding onto his veteran assets like it's a real-live version of Hoarders.

Byrd seems the most likely of the Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, etc., group to go. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the Yankees and Phillies have discussed parameters of a potential deal, though Byrd's salary is causing some hesitation. He is under contract for $8 million next season and then has a vesting option at another $8 million for 2016. He needs only to have 1,100 plate appearances between 2014 and 2015 to lock into that salary, which is looking like a strong bet.

The Yankees already added third baseman Chase Headley to improve their scuffling offense. Adding Byrd would allow Joe Girardi to move away from Ichiro Suzuki as his everyday right fielder, which should prove a slight boost offensively and defensively. New York could still really use help in the back of its rotation and will probably make at least one deal Thursday for a starting pitcher.

Are Byrd and Starting Pitcher X enough to push the Yankees into the playoffs? Maybe not. It will definitely get them closer than they are at the moment, though. The #Re2pect tour is only a game in the loss column behind Toronto for the second wild-card spot. Even if their run differential is much closer to a below-.500 team than a true contender, trading mid-level prospects to fill a couple needs might be worth it.

If the Byrd chase becomes a bidding war, though, it's probably best to pull off and wait until next year. No one wants to see Derek Jeter go out without October baseball, but these Yankees aren't headed anywhere magical with or without Byrd.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Atlanta Braves Trade Rumors: Rounding Up Most Recent Buzz Before Deadline

By all indications, it's going to be a quiet trade deadline for the Atlanta Braves

It could be because the franchise is notoriously tight-lipped, and there just haven't been many leaks about their Thursday plans. Or it could be because they are simply content with their roster, while minor upgrades will cost too much in what is a relatively thin market. 

The Braves currently sit at 58-49, one game behind the Washington Nationals in the East and a half-game in front of the San Francisco Giants for the top wild-card spot. They are built for a playoff run as is, and according to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, they have been telling teams they aren't willing to take on more money this season.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez, via MLB.com's Mark Bowman, is comfortable with his squad:

We're who we are and we're [one game] behind the Nationals in our division. So, you feel like you have a pretty good club. Yeah, you always want to improve, but you never want to take away from your own club if you can [avoid it]. We could get a piece here or a piece there. We'll see.

To make matters more difficult, you have 19 teams either leading a playoff race or within 5.5 games of a top spot. That means more buyers, less sellers and higher prices. 

Put it all together, and a major move from Frank Wren and Co. is unlikely. 

That doesn't mean the Braves will be completely silent in the next several hours, though. A lefty reliever and pinch hitter to strengthen the bench are still realistic options that can improve this team. 

The leading candidate to fill the former role is Andrew Miller. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien has the most recent buzz on that front:

As the non-waiver trade deadline approaches (4 p.m. Thursday), the Braves were still trying to add Boston’s Andrew Miller or another quality left-handed reliever without giving up too much in the way of quality prospects. But the Red Sox were asking for at least one top prospect in a deal for Miller, and it remained to be seen if there would be middle ground for a deal with the Braves.

Miller has been a stud this season. Through 41.1 innings, he boasts a 2.40 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and a silly 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Atlanta's bullpen has been very good, but Chasen Shreve—he of only 5.0 career MLB inningsis the only current left-hander in the bullpen.

Is Miller worth giving up a prospect for, even though he hits free agency in the winter? It's tough to say, but he represents a clear upgrade. 

As far as a potential pinch hitter, the New York Post's Joel Sherman reports San Diego Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia is on the radar:

On the surface, it's about as underwhelming of an option as it gets. The 34-year-old is hitting .242/.293/.319 in 2014 and has just 18 walks to 51 strikeouts. Basically, numbers that only Dan Uggla would be jealous of. 

However, "Norf" is a career .301 hitter against left-handers and plays good defense, making him a solid late-inning replacement whether it be as a pinch hitter or in the field. 

All in all, these aren't necessarily game-changing options. But they are cheap ways to improve for a postseason run, and that's exactly what the Braves are looking for at this point. 

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Grading All 30 MLB Teams’ July Trade Window Activity

So much for a quiet MLB trade deadline. 

Jon Lester is on his way to Oakland, while Yoenis Cespedes is off to Boston, as first reported by Alex Speier of WEEI.

What follows is a look back at which clubs made the best and worst use of their respective assets. The grading criteria is simple. Teams get credit for the smart swaps they've pulled off and for avoiding foolish moves, as well.

It's no surprise that teams that went big like the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics receive the highest marks of all. 

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MLB Trade Deadline 2014: Recap and Report Cards for Every Deal

The 2014 MLB non-waiver trade deadline now is less than 12 hours away, as teams have until 4 p.m. ET Thursday, July 31, to make a deal without having to go through waivers.

On Wednesday, only one major trade transpired, as the St. Louis Cardinals upgraded their starting rotation by acquiring right-hander Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for outfield prospect James Ramsey. We broke down the trade here

However, while the Cardinals' acquisition of Masterson is the most significant move of the deadline thus far, that could change in a hurry Thursday should one of the big names on the market, such as David Price, Jon Lester or Cole Hamels, get dealt to a contender. 

Whether it's a small, under-the-radar deal or headline-grabbing blockbuster, we'll keep you up to date with live, real-time analysis of every trade as it happens. So be sure to check back here often throughout the day for our ongoing coverage of the 2014 trade deadline.

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MLB Trade Deadline 2014: Predictions for Top Pitchers Amid Latest Rumors

Thursday's non-waiver MLB trade deadline may result in a serious shakeup with regard to the playoff picture if some of the pitchers involved in the latest rumors switch teams.

Starting pitching is the most critical element to contending for a World Series crown, so plenty of clubs will be attempting to upgrade in that area any way they can. Much of the latest buzz comes out of the American League East division, featuring the likes of Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, along with Boston Red Sox teammates Jon Lester and John Lackey.

The St. Louis Cardinals already enhanced their staff by landing Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians Wednesday, as per MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. It will be interesting to see what type of domino effect—if any—that has on the other front offices mulling deals.

Here is a closer look at Price, Lester and Lackey and where they might end up in light of what exists on the rumor mill.

 

Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

There isn't much for the reigning World Series champions to play for anymore, since they're in last place in the AL East by a considerable margin. With that in mind, it's time to look to the future, in which plenty can be had in exchange for a southpaw dynamo like Lester.

According to Fox Sports 1's Jon Morosi, Lester could also be in the market to go to St. Louis:

Boston.com's Nick Cafardo named a number of other teams in the market for Lester:

Speculation swirled regarding Lester's status when he was scratched from the lineup Wednesday, prompting him to take to Twitter, appreciating the fan support:

Lester is beloved in Beantown—and rightly so, given the wonders he's accomplished as part of one of baseball's most storied franchises. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted Lester's elite, crowning achievements:

One team in particular that Lester has been linked to is inside the division: the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, as per Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe:

That is quite an interesting proposition, and Boston had better have a viable vision for the future if Lester remains in Baltimore. Facing him so often every season, if he continues to dominate, would make the trade all the more difficult for Red Sox fans to take.

Given that Lester is pitching so well this season, with a 10-7 record and a 2.52 ERA, Boston is taking a considerable risk in giving him up, if it chooses to do so. The heights he's reached with the Red Sox will be hard for any of Lester's successors to replicate, as the team searches for a new ace.

There are so many teams in the market for Lester, but based on Abraham's sources on both sides, it looks like his most likely landing spot is in Baltimore.

Prediction: Lester is traded to the Orioles.

 

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are just five games out of the final wild-card spot in the AL playoff chase, courtesy of a recent hot streak.

With the bats coming around and Price pitching well, leading all of baseball with 189 strikeouts, trading him has become an even trickier proposition. That's more to do with the king's ransom a lot of teams would pay just to get Price, whose contract doesn't expire until after the 2015 season.

"We are talking and willing. [We'll] see if any teams have the desire," said one source about the possibility of trading Price, as per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.

It would be sad to see Price leave Tampa Bay with a losing decision, yet that's what could happen after he was on the bump for a 5-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday.

As impressive as it's been that the Rays have battled back from obscurity this season, Grantland's Jonah Keri notes how history isn't exactly on their side:

The latest update from Morosi hints that Tampa Bay is looking to the future and whatever will benefit manager Joe Maddon's club most in the long run, rather than what will earn the most victories this year:

Price is irreplaceable, and much like Lester's situation in Boston, the Rays had better construct a strong contingency plan. They are also unable to buy their way back to prominence like the Red Sox can with their gigantic payroll.

The ever-frugal Rays have bucked the odds, played hard for Maddon and built a team with modest costs. Their elite talents are few and far between, which would add to the disappointment of getting rid of Price if he continues to deal like a No. 1-caliber starter.

 

John Lackey, Boston Red Sox 

Lackey's 11-7 record with a 3.60 ERA suggests he has plenty left in the tank at age 35. Having missed the entire 2012 campaign, the veteran has performed well in two seasons since.

Morosi reports that the Red Sox are considering shipping Lackey to the Miami Marlins and have had discussions with that suitor about Lester, too:

Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal added it's likely that both Lackey and Lester will be shipped out of Boston:

It makes sense that the Red Sox want to get value out of Lester, even if he wants to stay in Boston. Lester's contract expires after this season, but keeping Lackey seems logical, too. Lackey is making just $500,000 next season.

That's because, as per Spotrac.com, Lackey's injury that forced him to miss 2012 left him with a club option in the final year of his deal at the MLB veteran minimum salary. Thus, the Marlins would be getting a bargain in Lackey and someone who could help mentor a younger pitching staff that ranks 20th in quality starts.

Between what Miami is seeking and how Lester likely wants to spend the remainder of his career on a team built to contend soon, Lackey makes more sense as a one-year option with the Marlins. For Lester to remain there long term, Miami would have to sell him on its plan, which could be tough.

The Marlins would love to pick up Lackey's cheaper player option, taking away the complication of persuading Lester to stay. Plus, to get either one of these Red Sox hurlers, it will likely require Miami to put one premium prospect or more on the block. Lester will command more in return for Boston than Lackey will.

Therefore, it appears Lackey is destined to head south, while Lester will either stick with the Red Sox and help them contend in the future, or perhaps close out a second straight World Series in the AL East. Only this time, it will be with a different team, the Orioles.

Prediction: Lackey is traded to the Marlins.

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Yankees Trade Rumors: Recent Rumblings on New York’s Last-Minute Deadline Deals

What tricks does New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman have up his sleeves in the next few hours?

The Yanks are in an interesting position. At the time of writing, they're 5.5 games out in the American League East and 3.0 back in the wild-card race. Doing something before the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline would be great and all, but New York doesn't have much to offer in terms of assets.

How much can it get done?

Instead of dictating the market, the Yankees will more likely let the market play itself out and then figure out workable trades. ESPN's Buster Olney believes that New York will take advantage of teams hoping to offload unwieldy contracts:

For the most part, money isn't much of an issue for New York. Now, the team isn't going to be trading for Ryan Howard anytime soon, but it could take on a veteran or two who are slightly overpaid but productive pieces.

One such veteran could be Josh Willingham. CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees are interested in possibly acquiring the 35-year-old outfielder. His contract is up at the end of the year, and with the Minnesota Twins unlikely to bring him back, he likely can be had for a low price.

Willingham's having a tough year, batting .222/.363/.422 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in. Nobody's expecting him to return to his 2012 self, when he hit 35 homers and drove in 110, but he could be a nice situational bat.

With Willingham's contract expiring, the Yankees wouldn't be stuck with him for the future, either, in the event they're not satisfied with his contribution.

Another outfielder in New York's cross hairs is Philadelphia's Marlon Byrd. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reported that the Yankees are interested but slightly turned off by the vesting option in his contract for 2016:

Byrd would arguably be a better fit following Kelly Johnson's injury. The 36-year-old is a much more natural right fielder than the converted infielder, who is out with a sore groin. Byrd would fill the corner outfield spot, which is where the Yanks are having a lot of problems. He's also hitting .270/.318/.477 with 20 homers and 60 RBI.

When asked about the possibility of getting traded, Byrd responded that it's all out of his hands, per George A. King III and Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

That’s something I can’t control. I don’t have a no-trade [clause], So if [general manager] Ruben [Amaro] makes a trade with them and gets something back in return, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to trade Marlon,’ there’s nothing I can do. I’ll pack my bags and move on.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would add Byrd to solve their problems in right and add a little more power. Between his contract and the Phillies' asking price—which is likely more than nothing—the deal will be hard to pull off before the deadline.

Another area New York is looking to bolster is the bullpen. Stark reported that Philadelphia's Antonio Bastardo, San Diego's Joaquin Benoit and the Chicago Cubs' James Russell are only a sampling of the names the Yanks are considering.

They aren't desperately in need of relievers, but you can never have too much bullpen depth with as much as relief pitching has grown specialized. None of those players will move the needle, but they could come in handy come playoff time.

That's the umbrella the Yankees' deadline business will likely fall under. Chase Headley was New York's semi-big bit of business, and now the team is looking to fortify a few problem areas.

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San Francisco Giants Trade Rumors: Last-Minute Buzz Ahead of the Deadline

It's the end of July, which means Brian Sabean can work his magic once again. The San Francisco Giants general manager has shown his ability to turn fringe playoff-contending teams into World Series winners, and he'll now be asked to do it once again on the final day of the non-waiver trade deadline.

But what's in store for the Giants, a team with holes that need filling but few viable trade pieces to fill those holes? Sabean already dipped into the organization's thin farm system to acquire right-hander Jake Peavy, and he'll be looking to bring in at least one more player by the Thursday deadline, according to the San Jose Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic. Let's take a look at the options.

 

Second Base

The Giants roster is full of holes, but second base is the most gaping.

The Dan Uggla experiment has proved to be an unmitigated disaster, with his 0-for-11 performance and error-filled play. Joe Panik, though solid at times, has been decidedly below average and inconsistent with his .282 OBP. Marco Scutaro, the team's would-be starter, has suffered through recurring back issues and likely won't be available as a regular for the rest of the season.

The Giants have been linked with Chicago Cubs outfielder/second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, but the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman believes he won't be headed to the Giants.

That said, Chicago White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham and Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera are both on the team's radar, according to Fox Sports' Jon Morosi.

Cabrera, the longtime Indians shortstop, is going through a bit of a down year offensively, but he could bring some stability to the second base position, and his defense might even improve a bit by shifting over to the "easier" middle infield position.

Beckham is a career .246 hitter who has spent his entire six-year career with the White Sox. He's hitting .225 with a .271 OBP this season, but he'd likely come at a low cost both in terms of what the Giants would have to give up and how much the team would have to pay him (Beckham is arbitration eligible next season, and he doesn't stand to make a fortune given his poor numbers this year.). Should the Giants go that route, it would be a classic case of buying low.

The Giants' other potential second base acquisition, Ben Zobrist, is still a viable option as well. According to Morosi, the Giants are "ready to act" on the Tampa Bay utilityman, but it's another matter entirely if the Rays actually decide to make him available. Put this one lower on the Giants' list of likely deals, but it's still a very real possibility given the Rays' expressed interest in the Giants farm system—or what's left of it.

 

Outfield

The Giants have a strong starting outfield of Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan and Michael Morse when everyone is healthy, but they're still reportedly looking at other options. According to MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo, Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia is drawing interest from the Giants, though it's unclear how likely that pickup would be.

Even less clear is how much of an upgrade Denorfia would be over the Giants' current backup options. Though Gregor Blanco hasn't been stellar, Denorfia's .242/.293/.319 slash line would be a downgrade from Blanco's .245/.321/.315 mark, and the Padres might not be interested in selling Denorfia with his value so low anyway.

There's also the issue of just how much the team needs another outfielder, especially with the more pressing need at second base. Brandon Belt is nearing his return (which will allow Morse to stay in the outfield, though Andrew Susac's call-up ensures that anyway with Buster Posey shifting to first base), and Angel Pagan isn't far behind. It comes down to whether the Giants need five outfielders on the roster, and when everyone is healthy, four outfielders might be enough.

It appears that Pagan might rejoin the team on Tuesday in Milwaukee, according to the Chronicle's Henry Schulman. With four healthy outfielders and Brandon Belt presumably back by then, plus the issue of the Giants' lack of prospects to sell, the chances of acquiring an outfielder don't look great.

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MLB Trade Rumors: Latest Rumblings on Orioles, Yankees and More

If you are a fan of prospects, building toward the future, weighing current needs against future potential and a loaded transaction page on the inside flap of the sports section, the MLB trade deadline is like Christmas.

There are plenty of rumors circulating around the league as teams look to position themselves for the October chase. With that in mind, let’s take a trip to the rumor mill. 

Note: All players included in this article were not yet traded as of this writing.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Jayson Stark of ESPN.com filled fans in on the latest regarding the Baltimore Orioles:

The Orioles are still shopping for starting pitching and left-handed relief. But teams that have spoken with them now think it's unlikely they'll deal for a starter. They kicked the tires on Lester but never got far. They dabbled in the A.J. Burnett market but backed off.

It is somewhat surprising that the Orioles seem to be out on some of these top-notch starting pitchers considering they rank 26th in the majors in quality starts. We are talking about a team that is multiple games clear of the rest of the American League East and has a rare opportunity with the Boston Red Sox struggling and the New York Yankees mired in mediocrity.

Still, while it’s not as sexy as a front-of-the-rotation starter to fulfill a need, adding left-handed bullpen help should not be overlooked.

Individual matchups late in games take on even more pressure and importance than usual when one critical out could change the course of an inning, matchup and even an entire three-game series. If Baltimore can land the right southpaw, it can help itself reach the postseason this year.

 

Marlon Byrd

Stark provided an update on Marlon Byrd as the deadline approaches:

It doesn’t appear that the Seattle Mariners are going to land Byrd, but the Yankees could certainly use some power. In fact, only Mark Teixeira has hit at least 15 home runs this season for New York, and there really isn’t a prototypical No. 3 or 4 hitter on the roster at this point.

Byrd isn’t exactly Babe Ruth in terms of power, but he does have 20 homers and 60 RBI, both of which would lead the Bronx Bombers.

What’s more, Byrd also brings a veteran presence to the table who has been to the postseason before. There is a certain value in knowing what to expect in a pennant race that should not be overlooked this time of year.

For his part, Byrd commented on the possibility of being traded to the Yankees, telling George A. King III and Fred Kerber of the New York Post (h/t Brendan Kuty of NJ.com) the following:

That’s something I can’t control. I don’t have a no-trade [clause]. So if [general manager] Ruben [Amaro] makes a trade with them and gets something back in return, it’s like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to trade Marlon,’ there’s nothing I can do. I’ll pack my bags and move on. 

He may not seem too excited about joining the Yankees in that quote, but he will likely be ready to play if the situation arises and the postseason is on the line.

 

Colorado Rockies 

Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post filled fans in on some of the latest plans from the Colorado Rockies:

This is an interesting development given Colorado’s position in the race for the postseason. The Rockies are in last place in the National League West and have virtually zero chance of competing for a playoff spot. It would seem to make logical sense from Colorado’s perspective to land some prospects and rebuild with an eye on the future.

That would require a couple of trades.

However, both Brett Anderson and Jorge De La Rosa have turned in solid seasons for Colorado (Anderson sports a 3.24 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, while De La Rosa has an 11-6 record with a 1.28 WHIP). If the Rockies think they can keep these pitchers long term as part of a winning formula, then trading them may not be the best option. 

After all, it’s always about the future if you are a seller at the trade deadline.

 

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Rumors and the MLB Trade Deadline: ‘It’s Such an Uneasy Feeling’

Bzzzzzzt! A cellphone buzzes and a man’s world is turned upside down.

Whoooosh! An airplane reaches 30,000 feet, and a wife stares out the window into the very clouds obscuring her future.

At a hardball time of year that annually produces more rumors than Jennifer Aniston and the National Enquirer, hardscrabble thoughts clutter the minds of many players far more than rival scouting reports and tee times.

"People have families, kids, you’re thinking, 'I’ve got a house here, but now I’ve got to find a place to live there,'" says Padres outfielder and 10-year veteran Jeff Francoeur, who twice has been dealt at trade deadlines.

"And if it’s in the early part of your contract, you’re saying to yourself, 'Crap, I’m going to be there for the next two, two-and-a-half years.'"

Players will tell you they don’t read newspapers. They will tell you they ignore Internet reports. While they’re at it, they may as well tell you they don’t notice the postgame tri-tip in the middle of the clubhouse spread, either.

C’mon. This is their life. They can’t not know what rumors surround them anymore. Between crawls at the bottom of television screens, Twitter, Facebook, text messaging and websites devoted solely to trade rumor-mongering, the latest speculation is as ubiquitous as the air that they breathe.

“It’s such an uneasy feeling,” Francoeur says. “It plays with your mind.”

Francoeur broke in with the Braves, his hometown team, in 2005. By midseason 2009, he began hearing rumors. Then more rumors.

On July 10, 2009, he was dealt to the NL East rival Mets.

Not only did that trade send Francoeur packing away from his native Georgia, it also ripped his wife, high school sweetheart Catie, away from her Georgia home, family and friends.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Francoeur said. “We were in Colorado, I got word of the trade, and four, four-and-a-half hours later, we’re on a plane for New York.

“She was looking out the window on the plane, crying. And I remember thinking that the flight attendants were probably thinking that I was the biggest ass around, somehow mistreating my wife.”

This is baseball, too. Just like hot dogs, curveballs and walk-offs.

Generally speaking, the acquiring team wants the new player as soon as possible. The point of a trade usually is that one team is battling to contend and needs all hands on deck, pronto. Baseball is played every day. There is no, “Go on home and pack up and report to work in two or three days.”

The phone buzzes, the player packs up and off he goes.

If he’s married, the wife is left to deal with the logistics: kids, pets, boxes, movers.

“But to be honest, that’s where the agent comes in,” says Francoeur, who has been represented by Atlanta-based Keith Grunewald since breaking into the majors. “He can ship the cars, find you a place to stay. They can take a lot off of the wives’ plate, make it easier for them.”

But an agent is not Superman. As the trade deadline approaches, there is only so much he can do. On the list of impossible tasks is building a firewall to keep nagging thoughts out of a player’s mind.

Francoeur lasted 199 games with the Mets. And at the August waivers deadline in 2010, making another World Series push, the Rangers traded for him on Aug. 31.

By that time, Jeff and Catie had adjusted to New York. They did a few cool things that only the Big Apple offers, like attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Then, boom.

“I remember my mindset was bittersweet,” Francoeur said. “I really liked New York. I loved playing with David Wright and Jason Bay. But I knew [Texas] was a situation where I could go to the World Series.”

Which Francoeur and the Rangers did, and they lost to the Giants.

Almost always, players going through the July rumor wringer wrestle with emotions more jumbled than a box of puzzle pieces.

In a game of routine, where players can be knocked off-kilter with the simple change of a batting practice time, there is comfort in the familiar.

The flip side is, a veteran player facing a trade usually is looking at improving his situation and joining a contender.

Francoeur remembers working to counsel nervous reliever Jonathan Broxton in Kansas City in 2012 when trade-wind rumors blew through the Royals clubhouse.

“He loved it there in Kansas City,” Francoeur said. “Me, him, Luke Hochevar, Alex Gordon, we all hung out. But he had a chance to go to the Reds and a playoff situation.

“That was tough. There were rumors for five or six days, and every hour it seemed like it changed. He was going. Not going. Going. Not going.”

Eventually, like so many others will this month and next, he went. And after helping the 2012 Reds into the playoffs, where they were eliminated by the Giants in a division series, Broxton still works in the Cincinnati bullpen today.

“It’s different for every person,” Francoeur says. “Guys who are traded in the last year of their contract, they’re only going to a place for two or three months. It’s not that big a deal. You know you’re going to be a free agent.”

But when a guy has two, three, four years left on a contract, well, he’d better like his new home.

Francoeur, one of the most affable men in the game, has been lucky. He and Catie enjoyed New York, he reached the World Series with Texas, he met good friends in Kansas City, he hooked on with the San Francisco Giants last year, and after spending much of this season at Triple-A El Paso, he’s now back in the bigs with the Padres.

He has earned more than $25 million throughout all of this, all while surviving the chaos and upheaval that comes with this game. Including that sad, sad 2009 plane flight from Colorado to New York when Catie stared out the window in tears.

“We still look back on that now and laugh,” says Francoeur, now a proud father of one-year-old Emma Cate. “We laugh about that all the time. It wasn’t anything I did; she was just sad because she was leaving her friends.

“The trade came at 3:45 p.m. in Colorado, and I called her and told her we had a 7 p.m. flight. It was a Braves family trip, so she was with Ashley McCann [Brian’s wife], Lauren Johnson [Kelly’s wife]. They were all hanging out.

“I remember calling her and telling her, ‘Pack up, we’re leaving for the airport in an hour.’

“We had a day game in New York the next day, a 1 p.m. game. I remember being in right field that afternoon thinking, ‘This is crazy. Just yesterday I was sitting in a locker room in Colorado, and now 20 hours later, I’m wearing a Mets uniform.’” 

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Ed Smith: We can’t fix English cricket without tackling what’s wrong at county level

I used to hate it when the failings of the England team were blamed on the counties but there is no way of avoiding the fact: English cricket is getting a very poor return on its investment.

Dismayed: England captain Alastair Cook after losing the 2nd Test match between England and India at Lord's, 21 July. Photo: Getty
Dismayed: England captain Alastair Cook after losing the 2nd Test match between England and India at Lord's, 21 July. Photo: Getty

There is a vacancy at the top of English cricket. It is not for the role of captain, but that of chief executive. The psychodrama about Alastair Cook – a decent man dealt a terrible hand – is a relative sideshow. David Collier’s resignation as CEO gives England an opportunity to reform the whole game. This crisis must not go to waste.

Before we widen the lens, the position of Cook must be addressed. No one can lead a team on his own, in a vacuum. Cook’s team consists of five senior players (himself, Matt Prior, James Anderson, Ian Bell and Stuart Broad) and six fairly new faces. The six inexperienced players have held up quite well. For an explanation of the results, look no further than the five senior players – even a genius would struggle to captain a central core that is universally underperforming. Bell in particular, theoretically Cook’s second-in-command, has gone missing. In a conservative shuffle of the pack, he would most likely be the next captain, an example of rewarding failure.

Some shocking statistics emerged from the defeat against India at Lord’s, England’s seventh in nine Tests. Five English batsmen got out to the same short-pitched tactic, delivered by the same Indian bowler, inside one hour of play. But there is a more salient fact. At the start of this season, eight county teams employed overseas captains, all ineligible to play for England. I was commentating at Lord’s, surrounded by frenzied analysis of England’s “lack of leadership”. Yet no one, to my knowledge, mentioned that we demand leadership at Test level without supporting and nurturing it further upstream. Of England’s past eight captains, only Andrew Strauss (among the best) had significant experience as a county captain.

As a county cricketer, I used to hate it when the failings of the England team were blamed on the counties but there is no way of avoiding the fact: English cricket is getting a very poor return on its investment. The structure is internally contradictory. County cricket relies on centralised cash handouts from the England and Wales Cricket Board but county clubs are run and managed to please their members, prone to demanding instant results. Financially, county cricket resembles the subordinate minor leagues that supply top US baseball teams. In reality, they answer to themselves.

There have been various responses to this arrangement. Duncan Fletcher, now managing India but England’s coach from 1999 to 2007, basically cut out county cricket from the equation. A gifted technical coach, he wanted to manage a group of 15 players, in effect removing them from the first-class system altogether. He favoured players he himself had identified, distrusting everyone else. Two days before my England debut in 2003, I met Fletcher at the team hotel. “It’s Ed, isn’t it?” he asked. Even though I was the leading run scorer in the country that season, and had been the third highest in 2002, he wasn’t sure who I was. The physio joined us and the conversation moved to an injury to the England opener, Marcus Trescothick. “Put that Middlesex opener on standby,” Fletcher said to his back-up staff, “the left-hander.” “Andrew Strauss?” I wondered? “That’s the one.”

For a while, Fletcher’s deliberate contempt for county cricket worked. He identified and nurtured a group of players who were personally loyal to him. But such an inorganic attitude to the health of the whole game, eventually and inevitably, turned in on itself. Cut off from the game’s natural blood supply, Fletcher’s later England teams were aloof and underperforming.

There is another approach to reviving English cricket. That is to address the system. This requires more imagination than is on view at present. Mike Brearley, whose captaincy inspired England’s miraculous Ashes win in 1981, was interviewed about Cook’s position this past week. Inevitably, there was great curiosity about what he thought would happen next.

Instead, we might consider the journey that led Brearley to become England captain. Before becoming captain of Middlesex, he was a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Newcastle. Only in his sixth season as a county captain (1976) did Middlesex win the championship. Middlesex stuck with him during the five-year wait and he rewarded their trust with four championships in seven years.

This story is inconceivable now. That an academic could return seamlessly to the professional game; that a relative outsider could be invited to captain a county; that he would be given so much time to find his feet and nurture a team. Instead of worldliness, perspective and life experience, most captains now take the job in a context of short-termism and narrowness.

How to fix England? A commitment to nurturing leadership throughout the system; emphasis on developing rounded people as well as accomplished players (let German football be the model); allowing county players to operate in a semi-professional capacity, with careers and lives outside cricket (I know several top players who quit due to boredom); stressing the value of play and self-expression just as much as hard work and sacrifice.

As captain of Middlesex, I attended a meeting about an underperforming young spinner. I recommended we should advise him to get a job in the winter, grow up and come back ready to enjoy his cricket again. I was overruled in favour of a dreary gym programme (translation: two hours in the gym, eight on the PlayStation). He was sacked inside six months. He later told me he became a far better bowler as an amateur.

Dozens of times every day, I am asked if Cook should resign. Instead, it’s time to have the real conversation that everyone is avoiding – there is no one else. Changing that fact must be the focus of the inquiry. 

Why Jacob DeGrom Has a Realistic Shot at 2014 NL Rookie of the Year

As the 2014 season reaches the end of July, it's a good time to really start speculating who some of the award winners at the end of the season could be.

One award that Mets fans could look forward to is NL Rookie of the Year. The Mets have a rookie pitcher in Jacob deGrom who has been having a great start to what will hopefully be a long career.

Through 14 starts, deGrom is 5-5 with a 2.79 ERA, 31 walks and 83 strikeouts in 87.0 innings pitched. What makes deGrom's success even more impressive is that he was certainly not the Mets' most hyped pitching prospect in comparison to others like Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero.

Hopefully, deGrom will be able to keep up with the success he has had. But for now, let's see where deGrom ranks among other NL rookies this season.

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Loser of Athletics-Angels Division Race Will Face Postseason Death Sentence

The second wild card was supposed to inject excitement into the MLB postseason race. And it has. More teams than ever are in the hunt, at least theoretically, which means more intrigue, more pressure-packed matchups and more fan enthusiasm.

This season, though, it's also set up a nightmare scenario for one of the American League's two best teams.

Entering play Thursday, the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Angels owned the best and second-best records in baseball, respectively. They'll face each other 10 more times in the season's final two months, which means this race will likely go down to the wire.

And the stakes couldn't be higher.

Barring a precipitous slide, both the A's and Angels will qualify for the postseason. Yet while one team would take the AL West crown and a guaranteed spot in the division series, the loser would face a one-game, do-or-die wild-card matchup.

If the season ended July 31, that game would be played between Los Angeles and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays are certainly a formidable opponent (really, any team is scary in a one-game, anything-can-happen scenario).

But there's an even more ominous possibility.

Lurking on the edge of the wild-card picture is a third club from the loaded AL West—the Seattle Mariners and their ace in the hole, Felix Hernandez.

Imagine it. The A's and Angels go at it neck and neck through September, trading blows. Then, when the dust settles, the team that comes up short finds itself staring at none other than King Felix himself.

After 162 games of struggle and success, it'd all hinge on beating one of the toughest pitchers in the game.

The Angels and A's have aces of their own. Just as no one wants to see Hernandez in a win-or-go-home contest, no one wants to see Jered Weaver. Or Jeff Samardzija. Or Jon Lester, now that the A's have consummated a swap for the All-Star left-hander (along with outfielder Jonny Gomes), sending Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox, as first reported by WEEI.com's Alex Speier.

That's the point, though. For both teams involved, the wild-card matchup is the ultimate crapshoot—with everything on the line.

Fox Sports' Dave Cameron makes the case for how wide the gap has become between division winner and wild-card qualifier:

The reward for even winning the wild card used to be a best-of-five series that would likely result in at least two home playoff games, a nifty little reward for a team's fan base. Under the new system, however, the carrot at the end of the wild-card stick is just a single-game winner-take-all affair, with the loser only extending their season by one additional day.

Or what about this crazy scenario, posed by Angels catcher Chris Iannetta to Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times?

"One of us could take off and leave everyone else behind, or we could hang tight until the end," said Iannetta. "Who knows? Maybe we'll have a one-game playoff. It could be fun."

Fun is one way of putting it. In that case, the loser of the one-game division-deciding game would go on to the one-game wild-card play-in. Two games, two sudden-death gut checks.

Of course, it's all speculation at this point. With more than 50 games left to play, a lot can change: injuries, trades, unexpected hot (or cold) streaks. There are a host of variables that could alter the AL landscape in a hurry.

Right now, though, one thing's clear: The advent of the second wild card has endowed the division title with an importance it hasn't had since, well, the advent of the first wild card in 1994.

Count Angels skipper Mike Scioscia among the new format's defenders, even if it could end up costing his club.

"The primary focus of every team in baseball that is contending is to win your division," Scioscia told the Los Angeles Daily News' Robert Morales, "and I think that's a good thing.”

Certainly it's an exciting thing—and an intriguing thing.

But for one of the league's top teams, it might also be a heartbreaking thing.

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