Will the Oakland A’s Continue Their Historical Second-Half Dominance in 2014?

It's a common thought: "The Oakland A's are a second-half team." But is the notion baseless, one simply created by fans, or are the A's truly better in the final 81 games? And if so, can they do it again this year and dominate down the stretch?

All indications—for both questions, historically and present day—point to yes.

First, let's look at the theory of being a second-half team. The idea didn't just arrive out of left field. But it very well could be that the A's had two or three runs in the final months of baseball, and now fans see the team as having that magical ability to do the same year in, year out.

There's an easy way to determine the validity of the perception. Look at the records.

Of the last 10 seasons, the A's have had a better second half in eight of them. Final records aside, they've also played their best single month of baseball in the latter half eight out of 10 times, too. In fact, stretching back as far as 2000 still sees more of the same results—better second-half records.

The conclusion? This theory is confirmed. The Oakland A's, statistically, play better after the turn.

That's great news for A's fans. But at 51-33 already in 2014, can they continue the trend and play even better from here? At the halfway point, the team was on pace to finish with a 102-60 record. All it takes is 52 wins to improve upon the first half, technically speaking. That means Oakland finishes with 103 wins.

SportingCharts.com shows that, in the history of the game, teams have finished with 100 or more wins in a season only 97 times. Coincidentally (or not), the A's have done it 10 times.

To win 103 games would mean something special, as Joe Giglio points out on Twitter:

But back to the original questions:

Is Oakland a second-half team? It appears so.

Can the A's be even better in the second half this year? It would take absolute domination on their part. Let's look at the schedule.

They've kicked July off in rocky fashion against the Detroit Tigers. Now they will return home, finally, to battle the Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants. Afterward, they'll play the Giants away, the Seattle Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles. This stretch should really show us how good this team is.

July closes out against the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.

August and September are both extremely winnable months, as the A's square off against many opponents they've either beaten often this season already and/or teams with losing records. At a minimum, the Athletics should be able to finish with 43 more wins.

That's 94 wins total.

Of course, that's a guesstimate based on an eye-ball test and not factoring in injuries.

But let's say Jed Lowrie picks up his hitting, increasing his wins above replacement (WAR) from a 0.6 to a more reasonable number for starters like 1.5; Eric O'Flaherty returns and pitches more effective than the worst current reliever; and the A's make a trade for a starting second baseman, rotation guy or both. That's one win here, two more potential wins held onto by the bullpen and three or four more contributed to by new faces.

That's just about 100 wins.

Oakland has three potential starting All-Stars in Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris and Yoenis Cespedes. John Jaso and Stephen Vogt have forced themselves into the lineup with fantastic play, and guys like Craig Gentry have filled in nicely for injuries.

The starters play like All-Stars; the depth behind them is arguably the best in the game.

Oakland had one of its best first halves in recent memory. Historically, they play outstanding ball in the second half. Yet the team has set the bar so high, it'll be difficult to have a "better" second half. Still, they should be able to continue to be dominant and win near 100 games.

Outside of the one recent series in Detroit, the A's have shown they can prevail over anyone in the league.

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Deal Of The Day: 40% Off On iStabilizer Dolly

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More and more people are taking mobile video seriously. While you’re still not able to achieve the same quality as shots made with professional and dedicated cameras, the little phones are pretty capable. All the more so if the image is stabilized with something like the iStabilizer Dolly, pictured above. It’s a combination mini-dolly with an articulated arm that lets you track horizontally at almost any angle. As long as your device is less than 2.75 inches wide, and your surfaces smooth, you can get stable, pro quality footage. You’d normally have to pay $65 for this device, but today’s deal brings it down to $40.

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Ted Williams’ Lone MVP Vote in ’53 Would’ve Come in Handy in ’47

Last in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

My final entry in this series more concerns odd fact than dispute. The Boston Red SoxTed Williams, perhaps baseball’s most polarizing figure, was no stranger to MVP controversy. Well known were his distaste for the press and running feuds with several sportswriters—which ultimately led to his one-point runner-up finish to the New York Yankees Joe DiMaggio in the 1947 American League MVP race.

The Yankee Clipper had a good season by anyone’s standards but his own—and Williams. Batting .315, scoring 97 runs, driving in another 97 and playing a near-flawless center field (only one error), DiMaggio propelled the Bronx Bombers back to the World Series after a four-year absence.

But New York sewed up the pennant by mid-July and could afford a less-than-DiMaggio DiMaggio, who had undergone surgery before the season to excise a bone spur in his left heel and experienced complications during the season.

Up the Post Road, Williams captured his second Triple Crown, leading the AL in just about everything: runs scored, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases, as well as the “big three” categories. His Red Sox scored 74 fewer runs than the pennant-winning Yankees, illustrating just how vital Williams’ run production was to their 83 wins.

More importantly, the Splendid Splinter’s offensive numbers so dwarfed DiMaggio’s that comparison seems unfair: Williams outhit DiMaggio by 28 points, outscored him by 28 runs, crashed 12 more long balls and drew nearly 100 more walks (a mind-boggling 162 total).

However, New York, which had limped to third place the previous season as Williams led Boston to its first pennant since 1918 and copped the MVP, turned the tables on the Red Sox—likely causing some voters to blame Williams, despite his Triple Crown, for Boston’s failure to repeat.

Even though, as Bill James specifies in The Politics of Glory, several voters failed to select DiMaggio on their MVP ballot, one writer with whom Williams did not get along refused to list him at all—a shamefully petulant act that cost Williams at least a tie for a well-deserved MVP.

The absent vote that robbed Williams of the 1947 award showed up six years later, when Williams tied for last place in the MVP race with teammate George Kell and White Sox shortstop Chico Carrasquel. The twist is that Williams played in only 37 games that season—which may well be the most meager track record for a non-pitching MVP vote-getter.

Recalled to active service by the Marines six games into his 1952 season, Capt. Williams did not return to the Red Sox until August 1953. His tour in Korea included 39 combat missions, experiencing several near-fatal close calls and receiving an Air Medal with two gold stars for his actions.

Williams’ claim to the title of Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived is bursting with fantastical statistics, accomplishments and anecdotes. But perhaps nothing in his Black Ink–stained batting record better illustrates his inborn talent than how he twice returned from extended tours of military service and picked up right where he left off.

After three years away from the game during World War II—an interruption that proved lethal to many baseball careers—Williams lit up the scoreboard as if he’d never been away and grabbed his first MVP award.

His batting exploits in those first half-dozen post-war years reflect astonishing continuity, certifying him perhaps even more than his mythic 1941 season as a naturaler natural than even Roy Hobbs. 

Following combat in Korea, during which he served for a time as future astronaut John Glenns wingman, Williams returned in his mid-30s to better pitching than he had ever faced—thanks to the proliferation of integration—yet hit .340, slugged .634 and snared two more batting titles in his “declining” years.

In those first 37 games after returning from Korea—a physically draining tour of duty during which Williams often was sick and battled various ailments—he batted .407, smashed 13 home runs in a mere 91 at-bats and slugged an otherworldly .901. (Williams actually out-homered Kell, even though the AL’s top-fielding third baseman played 97 more games and set a career high in round-trippers.)

For Williams’ abbreviated wrecking of AL pitching, one writer threw him a 10th-place MVP votea salute to the 34-year-old Kid’s continued greatness. Debuting on August 6, in Boston’s 108th game of the season, Williams, who only pinch-hit in the late innings for his first seven games back, did not alter Red Sox fortunes.

Thirteen games off the lead and in fourth place despite a 59-49 record, Boston never mounted any kind of charge and remained an also-ran in the wake of the New York Yankees, who were en route to a record fifth consecutive World Series title. (In the slightest of moral victories, Boston took four of five from the hated Pinstripes to wrap up the season, with Williams going 6-for-12, including three doubles.)

Quirkily, in his two-month season, Williams reached base 56 times (not counting potential fielder’s choices, which are not available). Yet discounting the times in which Williams drove himself across the plate with a home run or was caught stealing, he scored a mere four runs in 42 times on base.

Boston’s paucity of offensive prowess—only the sad-sack Philadelphia A’s and the sadder-sack St. Louis Browns proved less potent at scoring runs—dramatized the struggle of a franchise that only three seasons before had scored nearly as many runs at home as it did for the entire 1953 schedule.

Gone were Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Vern Stephens, Johnny Pesky, Walt Dropo and their titanic run totals—replaced by very un-Fenway team highs of Kell’s 73 RBI, Jimmy Piersall’s 76 runs scored and Dick Gernert’s 21 home runs.

On the near side of 36 years old when the 1954 season opened, Williams began the gradual physical slowdown of all ballplayers. Yet his batting eye aged as gracefully as could be.

Suiting up for only 117 games after suffering a broken collarbone in spring training, Williams hit .345—which would have taken the batting crown under present rules. He also drew an astounding 136 walks—a league high that, projected to a full season, would have shattered Babe Ruth’s 31-year-old record.

However, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, idiotically opposed to integration, allowed his beloved franchise to sink into mediocrity as the rest of the league raced past his racism.

Boston would never finish nearer than 12 games out for the remainder of Williams’ career—and would deteriorate further in the following decade—largely because Jackie Robinson’s career was long finished by the time Yawkey consented to break the color barrier.

Fortunately, even as the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived lauded his longtime boss in his 1966 Hall of Fame induction speech, the deeply principled Williams urged a racially torn nation and its historically conservative pastime that Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson be enshrined in the Hall of Fame on behalf of all those denied a place in the major leagues because of their color.

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Bleacher Report’s Dream 2014 Home Run Derby Contestants

Those in charge of America's pastime haven't always been that wise when it comes to making decisions that impact All-Star Weekend. Thankfully, while the format has changed, MLB was smart enough to leave the Home Run Derby as an exhibition.

Toronto's Jose Bautista and Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki are serving as team captains for the event, representing the American League and National League, respectively, and both have a huge field of candidates to consider before settling on a five-man squad that will do battle for home run supremacy.

Serving as team captain is a great honor, but nobody ever said it was an easy gig. The pair has some tough decisions to make, and more than a few deserving players are going to have to wait until next year to have a chance at putting on a show at the Midsummer Classic.

What follows is our dream lineup for the Derby.

We've included five players for each side, giving Joey Bats and Tulo a chance to pick one player as an alternate, just in case a freak illness or injury should befall one of the participants between now and July 14, when the festivities begin at Minnesota's Target Field.

 

American League

Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

On pace to tie the major league record for most home runs hit by a rookie (49), set by Oakland's Mark McGwire in 1987, Jose Abreu is quickly making the six-year, $68 million deal that he signed with Chicago last October look like one of the offseason's biggest bargains.

More than half of Abreu's 26 home runs, which put him in a three-way tie for the MLB lead, have traveled more than 400 feet. Toss in the chance that we could see Abreu destroy another baseball, and his inclusion is a no-brainer.

 

Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

It's been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so Bautista must be thrilled to see his teammate, Edwin Encarnacion, emerge as one of baseball's premier sluggers. From 2010 to 2011, nobody hit as many home runs as Joey Bats (97).

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Encarnacion is making a run at the current two-year mark (2013-2014):

Tied with Abreu (and Baltimore's Nelson Cruz) for the MLB lead with 26 dingers, the 31-year-old would have to be considered one of the favorites heading into the event.

 

David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

We don't know how much longer 38-year-old David Ortiz is going to play, so we have to take advantage of plugging one of baseball's most prolific power hitters over the past decade into the event while we have the chance.

A six-time Home Run Derby participant and one-time champion (2010), watching Big Papi clinch his second Derby crown in Minnesota, where his major league career began back in 1997, would be kind of neat.

 

George Springer, Houston Astros

It's been quite an eventful first few months in the career of Houston's George Springer, who sits tied with Baltimore's Adam Jones for 11th in the American League with 16 home runs, trailing only Chicago's Jose Abreu in the race for most bombs by a rookie.

However, when asked by the Houston Chronicle's Evan Drellich whether he'd be interested in participating, Springer sounded like a player who wanted no part of it:

Oh, I don’t know, I’m not really a good home run derby guy. I don’t know … I can hit home runs here (in batting practice), but I’m not a home run derby guy. I mean, who knows, I don’t know. I did ‘em in the minor leagues. I wasn’t that good at ‘em.

But there's reason for optimism in Houston, and Astros fans deserve to see their team's best player (sorry, Jose Altuve) participate in the All-Star Weekend festivities. That's not to discount Springer's power, which is very real—real enough to win the whole thing.

 

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

We tend to gloss over Mike Trout's power and focus on everything else that makes him the best player in baseball. That's a mistake, as his raw power just might be the most impressive tool that he's got.

His 489-foot blast off Kansas City's Jason Vargas on June 27—the one that landed in the fountain beyond center field at Kauffman Stadium—stands as the longest home run in baseball since 2012, when Giancarlo Stanton sent a pitch from Colorado's Josh Roenicke screaming 494 feet into the left-center field stands.

 

National League

Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

With 15 home runs on the season, Paul Goldschmidt trails some of the players who didn't make the cut for Tulo's NL squad. But you don't pass on the chance to add a player who can hit the ball 470 feet to dead center, like the one seen in the video above.

A perennial MVP candidate, Goldschmidt doesn't get the national recognition that he deserves—showcasing him in the Home Run Derby would go a long way towards rectifying that situation.

 

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

No player in the past 50 years has had as much hype surrounding his freakish power before he ever stepped on a major league field as Washington's Bryce Harper. That's what happens when you're crushing 500-foot bombs at the age of 16, I suppose.

Runner-up to Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes in last year's Derby, the chance to watch Harper, who sits in the midst of another injury-filled season, take out some of his pent-up frustration would make for must-watch television.

Who knows—maybe his dad will hit him with another pitch, and we'll see the first-ever mound-charging incident in Derby history.

 

Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants

Like Goldschmidt, Hunter Pence doesn't have the gaudy home run totals that some of the other competitors and players who didn't make the cut do, but San Francisco's right fielder puts a charge into those shots, with eight of his 11 home runs traveling at least 400 feet.

Pence also puts on a show in batting practice, something he's done at each of the three stops that he's made during his eight-year career. While with the Phillies, he developed a nasty habit of hitting cars in the parking lot outside the team's spring training facility.

 

Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Home Run Derby is all about entertainment, and there may not be a more entertaining player in baseball than Yasiel Puig. It helps, of course that he can absolutely crush a baseball when he sees a pitch that he likes.

A final that pitted Ortiz against Puig could be the greatest thing we've ever seen.

 

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

When you leave your contemporaries scratching their heads and questioning their manhood, you know that you're doing something right. That's exactly what Miami's GiancarloStanton does, as noted by the Bay Area Sports Group's John Hickey:

Baseball's most prolific slugger has already accepted an invitation from Tulowitzki to participate (h/t the Miami Herald), making up for being forced from 2012's event due to arthroscopic knee surgery and a bizarre omission from last year's senior circuit squad by then-captain David Wright.

 

What does your dream Home Run Derby field look like? Let us know in the comments below.

Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball:  

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2014 MLB All-Star Rosters: B/R’s Final 34-Man Roster Predictions

The rosters for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game won't be revealed until Sunday night, so we'll all just have to wait patiently for a few more...

Actually, scratch that. Why wait patiently when we can ponder what the All-Star rosters might look like?

That's what we're here to do, and we're not going to stop simply at who's going to make the final cuts in the voting for the American and National League starters (which ends Thursday night). We're going to take a whack at predicting all 34 players on the final rosters.

This entails the initial reserves chosen by the players and All-Star managers John Farrell and Mike Matheny, which Mark Newman of MLB.com says will amount to 24 for the AL and 25 for the NL. From there, we'll determine who might emerge as the winner of the Final Vote for both leagues.

For the record: No, I don't have any delusions of getting every single roster spot exactly right. But what the heck. YOPASRO, as the kids say these days. You only predict All-Star rosters once.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs and are current as of the start of play on Wednesday, July 2.

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MLB Rumors: Analyzing All the Latest Whispers, News and Speculation

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is officially just four weeks away. By the end of business on July 31, the landscape of the 2014 season will have changed, potentially altering the fate of October in the process. 

With each passing day, the news cycle will be littered with rumors, speculation and nuggets from the best beat writers and columnists around the game. In reality, much of the conjecture will come to pass, proving to be nothing more than talk between active and smart executives.

As trade talk flies, Bleacher Report is here to unearth the best rumors, dissect the ramifications and bring perspective to the season thus far.

Here is what you need to know about the latest banter surrounding the game right now.

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MLB’s Early Winners and Losers of 2014 International Free Agency

The first day of the 2014-15 international signing period officially is in the books.

While most teams played by the rules and stayed within their allotted bonus pools, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox set a new precedent by opting to ignore spending limitations (at the cost of a future penalty) in order to sign many of the top-ranked prospects in this year’s class.

Based on the players they landed Wednesday, it’s hard to criticize either team for having the means to exploit a loophole in the current collective bargaining agreement. At the same time, there also were plenty of teams that landed promising young players without exceeding their bonus pools.

While the Yankees and Red Sox both enjoyed a rewarding start to the current international signing period, there were several teams that made lackluster signings Wednesday as others were kept off the board completely.

That said, it simply isn’t fair for me to declare teams as either “winners” or “losers” one day into the signing period; remember, we’re talking about 15- and 16-year-old kids who have minimal experience and will need numerous seasons to develop in the minor leagues, if they’re even so lucky to reach a stateside level. However, that doesn’t mean teams’ international strategies aren’t worth analyzing.

Here are the early “winners” and “losers” of the 2014-15 international signing period.

 

*All bonus pool and signing information is courtesy of either Ben Badler of Baseball America, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com or MLB Trade Rumors.

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See Billy Run: Hamilton a Hit as Reds Look for Traction in NL Central

Beep, beep!

Here comes Billy Hamilton, there goes Billy Hamilton, whooshing around the bases like a summer breeze. Come October, if the Cincinnati Reds get there, his breeze will ruffle the autumn leaves and send them blowing across the playoff horizon.

But it is a different part of Hamilton that may be what helps push the Reds through the stretch run.

His maturity and growing confidence at the plate.

Yes, he’d like to strike out less.

Yes, he’d like to get on base more.

But for those who watched him whiff four times in four plate appearances against the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright on Opening Day…well, would you have ever figured the Runnin’ Red would be sitting here with a .279 batting average and a .309 on-base percentage with the Fourth of July on deck?

Beep, beep!

Yeah, Reds manager Bryan Price remembers Wainwright gobbling up Hamilton on Opening Day like a box of Red Vines.

And do you know what?

“You think that would have opened a book on how to pitch Billy,” Price says. “But he’s done a great job of closing up holes.

“That’s the one thing I’ve noticed with Billy—a confidence to compete. I’ve never, ever seen him look like he’s beaten. And I think that’s a character trait.”

While a couple of well-traveled newbies—the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka and the White Sox’s Jose Abreu—battle for Rookie of the Year in the American League, Hamilton is gaining speed by the week toward the NL award.

For the month of June, he led all NL rookies in steals (14), runs (18), hits (36), doubles (10) and OPS (.848), was tied for first in homers (three) and was second in RBI (18) and hitting (.327).

Speed has been Hamilton’s biggest asset throughout his life. But in Cincinnati, the questions have always been: Would he hit enough, could he get on base enough, to take advantage of it?

Replacing Shin-Soo Choo, who ranked second in the NL with a .423 on-base percentage for the Reds in 2013 (to teammate Joey Votto’s .435), was only going to increase the degree of difficulty.

That tough Opening Day turned into a rough first few weeks. On April 21, he was slogging along at .203. Since then, it’s been a steady ascent.

“If he’ll just be himself, he’ll be successful,” Reds' All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips says. “Don’t worry about what other people say. Don’t worry about stats. The stats will be where they’re supposed to be.

“That’s what I told him. Don’t worry about on-base percentage; play the game.”

That’s one of those tips that is real easy to dispense, and far more difficult to digest.

Hamilton is only 23, Cincinnati’s second-round pick in 2009 out of Taylorsville (Mississippi) High School, and is an extremely hard worker. He has the curiosity to ask the right questions and the intelligence to implement the answers.

Always, he is prepared, going all the way back to when he joined the team as a pinch runner extraordinaire last summer.

“I agree,” Price says. “There is an early part of the developmental process as well. He’s been caught stealing third base with nobody out this year, and that’s really not what we’re looking for.

“He’s going to make mistakes. But I think he has a vault in which he puts his lessons, and he brings them with him the next day.”

Out of that vault came the hard lessons of early April, slowly, day by day, as the calendar flipped to May and then to June.

Hamilton acknowledges he put an unhealthy amount of pressure on himself early.

“Too much,” he says. “I was thinking that I’m going to get sent back down, that I’m not playing well, that everybody hates me here.”

Extreme? Well, yes.

But computer viruses sometimes can be nothing compared to the dark thoughts that worm their way through a young prospect’s mind when the numbers on the scoreboard tilt toward taunting instead of reassuring.

“I told myself I’ve got to play the way I always have, the way I played at home with friends in the yard,” says Hamilton, who has fanned 57 times in 290 at-bats. “The way I played in Little League. It wasn’t about anything back then.”

Sometimes, now, watching Billy run is like watching a kid in a pickup game down at the park. His 35 thefts rank second in the NL to the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon, who has 40.

Beep, beep!

“I’ve never been around such an impact player in my life,” says Reds utility man and 10-year veteran Skip Schumaker. “He makes infielders worry, pitchers worry, coaches worry, managers worry and outfielders worry.”

Schumaker raves about Hamilton’s work ethic and ability to assimilate the game’s various angles and nuances.

“He gets here earlier than everybody else, and he listens,” Schumaker says. “He’s a really good kid.

“The thing about it is, we know about his baserunning. I played with Dee Gordon, and I think Billy’s faster than Dee. But as far as runs saved in the outfield, he’s got to be off the charts, too. I’m not into sabermetrics, but he’s got to be. And his arm is underrated.”

Hamilton is at plus-nine runs saved above average, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com.

And as far as worrying rivals, Schumaker is still raving about Hamilton tagging up and scoring earlier in April in St. Louis on a pop fly so shallow that it could have been fielded by the second baseman (right fielder Jon Jay handled it instead).

“I heard he did it in the minors, but I’d never seen that in my career,” Schumaker says. “And in a big league game against the Cardinals, who are as fundamentally sound as it gets.

“That’s probably been the most impressive thing I’ve seen.”

Price attributes some of Hamilton’s growth to veterans such as Schumaker and Ramon Santiago, who have helped school him in things like strike-zone awareness, when to be aggressive at the plate and when not to be aggressive.

Yes, it takes a village, as someone once said, somewhere along the line.

But for a project to reach full bloom, that village must have something to work with beyond simple physical tools.

In Hamilton and closer Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati has two of the most exciting players in the majors.

“We have four or five of them,” Schumaker says. “We have an MVP [Votto], a Gold Glove second baseman [Phillips], Johnny Cueto in line for a possible Cy Young…it’s an exciting time for us.”

This notion is unquestionable, whether it is Chapman pushing the radar gun toward 102 mph or Hamilton flying down the baseline.

“I try to improve everything, every day,” Hamilton says. “There is no one in the world who is going to get too good.

“Always, you can get a little better.”

Beep, beep!

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball here.

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David Price vs. Jeff Samardzija: Who Is MLB’s Best Ace on the Block?

Here's guessing that all general managers on the lookout for a stud starting pitcher this July would prefer to trade for David Price and Jeff Samardzija.

But since that's not very practical, the best choice between the two would be...

Actually, that's a pretty good question. So good that we should talk about it.

First, let's establish that, yes, the Tampa Bay Rays left-hander and the Chicago Cubs right-hander are legit candidates to be traded ahead of the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote in June that it was becoming "increasingly obvious" Price's days in Tampa Bay are numbered, and general manager Andrew Friedman admitted to Tyler Kepner of The New York Times that dealing him is "our only chance for success."

As for Samardzija, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times was reporting in mid-June that the Cubs had already engaged in trade talks with multiple teams.

Now then, let's venture to ask a few super important questions. The first of which would be...

 

How's the Present Look?

If we keep things simple by looking at ERA, it's no contest. Where Price has a 3.50 ERA in 18 starts, Samardzija has a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts.

But let's not be that simple. Since being misleading is a hobby of ERAs, we need to consider that maybe Price and Samardzija have misleading ERAs.

Fortunately, we can turn to ERA estimators designed to tell us just what we want to know. Two good ones are FIP and xFIP, and what they tell us about Price and Samardzija is this (via FanGraphs):

The message here is clear: Price may not have a better ERA than Samardzija, but he should.

Which isn't too surprising. These metrics really like high strikeout-to-walk ratios, and Price's MLB-leading 9.00 K/BB is nearly triple Samardzija's 3.32 K/BB. 

However, there is a hitch in Price's advantage in the eyes of FIP and xFIP, and that's how it's really only significant in the eyes of xFIP. That's where things get tricky.

What xFIP does is try to normalize a pitcher's home run rate by assuming he should have a home run rate befitting of his fly-ball rate. To this end, it tends to favor pitchers who keep the ball out of the air.

Which is something Price isn't doing nearly as well as Samardzija:

"HR/FB" is home run-to-fly-ball ratio, and it's the real key here. When xFIP looks at Samardzija, it might be assuming he deserves a higher HR/FB rate and, by extension, a higher ERA. But when it looks at Price, it's definitely assuming he deserves a lower HR/FB rate.

And while that's plausible in theory, it's less so in reality.

As Brooks Baseball can show, the fly-ball percentages on Price's four-seamer and sinker have both increased greatly from their 2013 levels. That's likely a product of how, according to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity has declined below 93 miles per hour.

And as I noted in a recent article, the sudden lack of velocity differential between Price's heat and his off-speed offerings has hurt the latter, too. After giving up eight homers on his changeup and curveball in 2013, he's already up to eight homers on them in 2014.

Point being: Price's home run problem is probably more real than xFIP wants to believe. Because of that, it's better for us to take FIP's word for it that Price and Samardzija are pretty close to each other in terms of effectiveness.

Since the edge has to go to somebody, I am going to give it to Price. Even if it is slight, I do trust his advantage in FIP more than Samardzija's advantage in ERA. Then you can add in how Price has been hot as blazes recently, and how it is worth something that his success has come in the American League.

It is a close call, though. 

Edge: Price

 

How's the Future Look?

More specifically: How do Price and Samardzija look for 2015? Both are due for free agency after next season, so eyeing them means having one eye on the rest of 2014 and one eye on 2015.

It's to Price's advantage that he'll be younger. Where 2015 will be his age-29 season, it will be Samardzija's age-30 season. Per conventional wisdom, that means Price will have more in his tank.

But let's not be so sure about that. 

Where Price has pitched over 1,100 big league innings, Samardzija has only pitched a little over 660. As such, the latter actually has the fresher arm.

That becomes even more apparent if we consider how the velocity of the two pitchers is trending. Samardzija's is declining, but not at the rate Price's is declining (via FanGraphs):

Another thing to consider is how Samardzija is cultivating a fall-back option for diminished velocity in his increasing ability to generate ground balls. That hasn't happened by accident, as Brooks Baseball can show Samardzija has made his sinker his primary fastball.

Price's sinker is also his primary fastball, but his ground-ball habit is trending down rather than up. That's related to what we talked about earlier concerning his stuff getting easier to elevate. If that is indeed related to his diminished velocity, it's probably not going to get any better with even more diminished velocity.

Between his arm having fewer miles on it, his velocity holding relatively strong and his ground-ball habit going up, Samardzija deserves the edge here.

Edge: Samardzija

 

How Affordable Are They?

Here's where one thing is clearly not like the other.

Per Baseball-Reference.com, Samardzija is earning $5.345 million in 2014. Price, meanwhile, is earning a salary of $14 million. 

Samardzija is going to get more expensive in his next trip through arbitration, but not as expensive as Price is going to get. Whereas Price could command as much as $20 million in arbitration next winter, Samardzija's salary might only double to around $11 or $12 million.

He would also be cheaper to sign to a long-term extension. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com recently reported that Samardzija turned down a roughly $80 million offer, but also indicated that something like Homer Bailey money ($105 million) could get the job done.

That certainly won't get it done for Price. Locking him up will likely require at least a $150 million guarantee.

So yeah.

Edge: Samardzija

 

What Will It Take to Get Them?

One thing Price obviously has on Samardzija that we haven't yet discussed is a better track record. He won the AL Cy Young in 2012, finished second in voting in 2010 and has been an All-Star three times.

And you'd better believe the Rays are going to take full advantage of this in trade talks.

For example, ESPN.com's Jim Bowden (subscription required) could be right in thinking that the Rays would start trade discussions with the St. Louis Cardinals by asking for Oscar Taveras, who is one of baseball's five best prospects. With other teams, the Rays will surely be asking for several top prospects.

Let's not overlook another motivation the Rays have: Their farm system desperately needs help. According to Baseball America, they only entered the year with the No. 20 system in MLB.

With Baseball America's No. 4 farm system, the Cubs aren't as desperate. Also, Jon Heyman isn't even sure the Cubs could get for Samardzija what they got for Matt Garza last summer, thanks to three factors:

  1. Teams "aren't as desperate for pitching as in past years."
  2. Samardzija's apparent inferiority to Price.
  3. Thanks to Samardzija's rejections of the Cubs' advances, there "would appear to be no hope" of extending him.

The Cubs aren't going to give Samardzija away for spare parts, but Heyman could be right. At the least, here's guessing that the Cubs won't be insisting on prospects as good as Taveras in talks.

Edge: Samardzija

 

Overall

If all a team cares about is acquiring the best pitcher it can possibly get for a possible championship run, that team is probably better off targeting Price. He's had his issues in 2014, but not enough of them to overrule what he's accomplished.

But if a team is looking to make the best trade for a pitcher it can make, Samardzija's the guy.

A team won't have to gut its farm system to get him, nor will it have to write supersized checks to pay him. Add in how it's not impossible to argue that Samardzija is on Price's level in terms of talent now and that he should age better, and you're looking at a considerably lower-risk venture.

Either way, here's hoping they both actually get traded. As fun as it is to talk about how things will work out, it's more fun to watch things actually work out.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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Like so many things in life, Tinder is just different for lesbians

I feel like Tinder is a place where lesbians play badminton and drink iced tea, while straight women trawl through skips while dodging rotten turnips that are being lobbed at their heads.

This is what Tinder is like for lesbians. Honest. Photo: Getty
This is what Tinder is like for lesbians. Honest. Photo: Getty

“My dick has died, can I bury it in your arse?”

It’s almost art. My inner literature student wants to call it something like “verbal brutalism”. Anyway – it’s Shakespeare; it’s Byron; it’s Virginia bloody Woolf. Presenting: a message a man sent to a woman I know, on Tinder.

Over a pint, some of my straight female friends are comparing gross things that men have said to them on Tinder. For those who aren’t in their twenties and single, Tinder is a dating app with around ten million users worldwide. You know how, in Fifties America, young people supposedly met in malt shops? That’s exactly what Tinder is – a gargantuan, spermy, digital malt shop. And it recently emerged that everyone’s hook-up generator of choice is run by at least one heinous person. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, one of the brains behind an app that men are regularly using to vent their disgustingness has been accused of sexual harassment. Former Tinder executive, Whitney Wolfe, claims that the app’s head of marketing, Justin Mateen, called her a whore and was generally quite medieval about the whole her being a woman thing.

But back to the pub. After listening to stories about dick pics, Poundland-quality banter and the least appealing anal sex offer I’ve ever heard, it’s my turn to reveal my Tinder burns. I’m struggling. In all honesty, the most traumatic message I’ve had on the app was one in which there was a “your” where there should’ve been a “you’re”. Like so many things in life, Tinder is just different for lesbians.

I’ve been using it since last year, and Tinder has generally treated me kindly. When I message a match, we usually chat about twatty London things, like how great Brixton Market is, or where does the best flat white. Not once have genitals (let alone deceased ones) entered the picture. One of the few downsides for me is that, in spite of having my preferences set to “women only”, men regularly crop up. I have no idea why this is, but it means I have to look at a lot of pictures of the Tinder stalwart that is “man stands next to sedated tiger and pretends he’s some kind of fucking beast master”.

But apart from having to left-swipe male intruders, my experience with the app has been everything from “fine” to “quite good”. I’ve been on a couple of Tinder dates (not including the one where I was stood up, but let’s not go into that) and even know people, both gay and straight, in bona fide Tinder relationships. Broadly speaking though, I feel like Tinder is a place where lesbians play badminton and drink iced tea, while straight women trawl through skips while dodging rotten turnips that are being lobbed at their heads.

The recent sexual harassment scandal probably came as little surprise to the turnip dodgers. Before speaking to them, I didn’t know the full extent of the app’s generalised horribleness. Maybe I should have been less naïve about a dating model where you look at someone’s face for a couple of seconds before deciding whether or not you’d like to sleep with them. But could Tinder actually be one of the near-mythological areas in life where lesbians get a better deal? For the ones who are after primitive gruntings about sex parts, no. But those of us who get off on gentle discussions about beverages, Tinder is queen.

A Welcoming Prank: 50 Dollar Bill Welcome Doormat

50 Dollar Door Mat

Now isn’t this is a welcome sight for anyone who comes wandering to your front door: a 50 dollar bill on the welcome mat, ripe for the picking. They’ll quickly realize they’ve been had the moment they bend down to pluck the bill off the mat. That’s because the hyper-realistic fifty dollar bill is imprinted right on the doormat itself, so the fact that it’s fake isn’t obvious until their face is a few inches away.

You won’t make new friends with this doormat out there, but you’ll be able to have a laugh or two at the expense of your older friends. The 50 Dollar Bill Welcome doormat retails for $24.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Holy Cool ]

The post A Welcoming Prank: 50 Dollar Bill Welcome Doormat appeared first on OhGizmo!.

Upcoming Road Trip Will Be a Big Test for Toronto Blue Jays

With a two-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers, the Toronto Blue Jays (47-39) wrapped up a nine-game homestand with a 5-4 record and managed to hold on to the top spot in the American League East.

It doesn’t get any easier from here on out, though, as Toronto will now play all 10 of its remaining games before the All-Star break on the road against some tough teams.

The Blue Jays will first play a four-game set against the Oakland A’s at the O.co Coliseum starting Thursday. This promises to be a tough series, as the AL West-leading A’s (51-33) have the best record in baseball.

While Toronto’s offense has been the team’s biggest strength this season and ranks fourth in baseball in runs scored, Oakland’s offense has been even better. The A’s have scored the most runs in the majors and rank second in the league in OBP. Oakland’s starting rotation also leads the AL with a 3.37 ERA.

One piece of good news for the Blue Jays here is that they’ve already swept the A’s this season when the two teams last met.

Following the series with Oakland, Toronto will travel to Angel Stadium for a three-game set against the Los Angeles Angels.

The Angels have the third-best record in the AL and have a very good 26-14 record at home. This is another well-balanced team that plays well in all facets of the game. It ranks third in the AL in runs scored and sixth in staff ERA.

Toronto has already lost three of four against the Angels earlier this season at the Rogers Centre.

Finally, the Blue Jays will wrap up their Western road trip with three games against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

Despite being expected to be a contending team heading into the season, the Rays currently find themselves in last place in the AL East. Injuries have played a huge part in Tampa Bay’s struggles, and the team has lost some of its key players such as Matt Moore and Will Myers for an extended period of time.

Regardless of their record, though, the Rays have played the Blue Jays tough these past few years and are not to be taken lightly. Toronto has famously not won a series at Tropicana Field since 2007.

With the Baltimore Orioles just one game back, it is crucial for Toronto to do well in this upcoming road trip if it wants to retain the top spot in the AL East heading into the All-Star break.

 

*All stats are from MLB.com.

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Will Scott Kazmir’s Injury Demons Prevent Dominance Continuing in 2nd Half?

When the Oakland A's signed Scott Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million deal this offseason, they didn't know what they were getting.

They hoped they were getting the guy who had a quiet bounce-back season with the Cleveland Indians in 2013, after injuries and mechanical issues forced him out of the big leagues. A decent middle-of-the-rotation arm.

So much for that. Halfway through the 2014 campaign, Kazmir looks like the guy who led the American League in strikeouts, who pitched in two All-Star Games and a World Series as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, who was once among the most dominant left-handers in baseball.

Through 17 starts, Kazmir is 9-3 and ranks fifth in the American League in ERA (2.61) and fourth in WHIP (1.03). He looks, more or less, like his old self.

For a 30-year-old whose career was on the ropes, it's a remarkable renaissance.

To recap: Kazmir, a high school phenom, was drafted in 2002 by the New York Mets and ultimately dealt to Tampa Bay. He made his Major League debut with the then-Devil Rays in 2004; by 2006 he was an All-Star and in 2007 he led the AL with 239 strikeouts.

The slender southpaw battled elbow issues in each of the next two seasons, but still showed flashes of brilliance.

After a trade to the Anaheim Angels in 2009, the wheels began to come off. Kazmir finished the 2010 season with a career-worst 5.94 ERA, and was cut loose by the Halos in 2011.

His confidence, along with his fastball, had vanished.

Part of the problem was physical. In addition to elbow issues, Kazmir spent time on the disabled list in 2010 with what the Angels described as "shoulder fatigue." But there was a psychological component as well.

Kazmir offered this self-diagnosis to the Los Angeles Times in 2010:

It kind of feels like I'm thinking too much about where I'm throwing the ball and things start snowballing, and the next thing you know you don't really know what's going on. You're just out there trying to throw to a spot, but then you look at your video the next day and you're like, who is this guy?

Kazmir spent the 2012 season with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. His 5.34 ERA did not portend a comeback.

The following year, however, he signed a minor league deal with Cleveland and made the rotation out of spring training. He'd hit bottom, and was on his way up.

Nobody, possibly including Kazmir, knew how high and how fast he'd rise.

"The biggest piece of analysis we did was try not to out-think ourselves on it," Oakland assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi said of the Kazmir signing, per ESPN The Magazine. "We saw a guy who was relatively young, who had good stuff, who had good numbers, who was a good fit for our park."

Kazmir has regained some zip on his fastball, touching the mid-90s at times. He's relying more on his secondary pitches, though, including the changeup. More than anything, he looks confident. Like a guy who knows who he is.

The question is, can it continue? Can a pitcher who hasn't thrown 160 innings since 2007, who has battled nagging injuries and mental lapses, keep it up through the dog days of summer and a possible postseason run?

Is this re-invented Kazmir an oasis or a mirage?

Kazmir exited his last start, June 30 against the Detroit Tigers, in the sixth inning with what manager Bob Melvin later termed a calf cramp, according to the Bay Area News Group's John Hickey.

The A's insist there's no issue. Still, seeing Kazmir on the mound wincing in pain was a stark reminder of his fragility—of how quickly the wheels can come off.

Entering play Thursday, Oakland's lead in the AL West had dwindled to 3.5 games. With the Angels charging and the Seattle Mariners lurking, the A's will need a healthy Kazmir to get back to the playoffs.

The good news is that Kazmir has already proved he can overcome adversity. "He lost his way a little bit, and that might have been the best thing that could have happened," Melvin said in the same ESPN The Magazine piece. "It's a rare story."

Whether the story has a happy ending remains to be written.

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Justin Verlander’s Much-Needed Win to Sweep A’s Puts Tigers Back Among AL Elite

When Justin Verlander recording a win counts as big news, it's safe to say things haven't gone according to plan.

Yet there was Verlander on Wednesday night, celebrating his first win in more than a month (since May 30, to be exact). It was a good night for the Detroit Tigers: Not only did they prevail 9-3 behind their struggling former ace, but they also swept the Oakland A's, owners of the best record in baseball.

The Tigers have now won three straight and eight of their last 10 and hold a 4.5-game lead over the upstart Kansas City Royals. With their sweep of Oakland, they look more and more like the team to beat in the American League.

Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler—the second baseman acquired from the Texas Rangers for Prince Fielder, who is out for the season after neck surgery—provide a fearsome middle of the order. Anibal Sanchez and surprising sinkerballer Rick Porcello provide a solid one-two punch atop the rotation, not to menton reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Other contributors—such as Rajai Davis, who belted a dramatic walk-off grand slam Monday night—have stepped up as well.

Two years removed from their most recent World Series appearance, the Tigers look poised to claw their way back.

"There's nothing I dislike about the team," manager Brad Ausmus said, per Matt Slovin of MLB.com.

Verlander might disagree. The big right-hander—who underwent offseason core-muscle surgery—is having easily his worst season as a professional; after allowing two runs in six innings against the A's Wednesday night, he lowered his ERA to a still-unsightly 4.71.

Across the board, Verlander's stats are down. Not coincidentally, so is his fastball. In fact, Verlander's velocity chart, per FanGraphs, looks like the Dow Jones Industrial Average at the dawn of the Great Recession.

This is a guy who once routinely touched triple digits and was famous for gaining gas in the late innings. Now, he's lucky if he survives to the late innings.

As with most pitchers who falter, Verlander has tried tweaking his mechanics. In fact, as he said after his long-awaited win, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com), the process of deconstructing his motion has taken its toll—to the point where Verlander is actually glad he won't be participating in the All-Star Game:

I'm not going this yearI can pretty much guarantee that. I didn't have a good first half, and I know that. It's going to be the first time I get that weekend off in a while. It will be nice to get that time where I don't have to tax my arm. I've put in a lot of extra work this year, trying to find my mechanics, so the rest will be good.

Assuming he doesn't get an invite to Minnesota (and that's a safe assumption), it'll be the first time Verlander will miss the Midsummer Classic since 2008.

Yet another sign that the once-unhittable stud has hit a serious skid.

Will his performance against the A's provide a springboard, not just for the Tigers but for Verlander personally?

Maybe, maybe not. It's tough to get too giddy about a night when Verlander surrendered two home runs in the first inning to leadoff hitter Coco Crisp and right-fielder Brandon Moss. In all, he allowed nine hits while striking out four and walking none.

Hardly dominant, but a step in the right direction.

"I didn't make a big adjustment, I just got more into my rhythm," Verlander told the AP.

As Verlander searches for his rhythm, it looks like the Tigers have found theirs. They'd love to get their ace back; they'd love for a Verlander win not to be big news.

In the meantime, as the summer gives way to fall, look for Detroit to stay in the headlines.

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Texas Rangers’ Latest International News and Rumors

After the Texas Rangers international spending spree last year, the club will be limited in what it can spend this season as the 2014-15 international signing period begins July 2.

Three of its 2013 signings are in the team’s top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com. Those players include shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri, outfielder Jose Almonte and right-handed pitcher Marcos Diplan. MLB Pipeline says those three players and the rest of the Rangers’ signings cost the club $8.42 million in bonuses.

MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan wrote on July 1 that the team from Arlington will have a budget of about $2 million and cannot spend more than $250,000 on any player. Considering the No. 28 international prospect got a $750,000 deal from the Chicago White Sox, per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, the Rangers will most certainly be limited in the size of talent they can sign.

Here is the latest news and rumors concerning the Rangers on the international front. This will be updated periodically as the club signs players.

Begin Slideshow

Texas Rangers’ Latest International News and Rumors

After the Texas Rangers international spending spree last year, the club will be limited in what it can spend this season as the 2014-15 international signing period begins July 2.

Three of its 2013 signings are in the team’s top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com. Those players include shortstop Yeyson Yrizarri, outfielder Jose Almonte and right-handed pitcher Marcos Diplan. Baseball Americas Ben Badler estimates those three players and the rest of the Rangers’ signings cost the club $8.42 million.

MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan wrote on July 1 that the team from Arlington will have a budget of about $2 million and cannot spend more than $250,000 on any player. Considering the No. 28 international prospect got a $750,000 deal from the Chicago White Sox, per Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, the Rangers will most certainly be limited in the size of talent they can sign.

Here is the latest news and rumors concerning the Rangers on the international front. This will be updated periodically as the club signs players.

Begin Slideshow

MLB Trade Rumors: Analyzing Latest Buzz for Best Available Players

In the United States, July is a special month. We honor our nation's independence. We schedule vacations. We actually go outside for 15 minutes a day rather than sitting in our slovenly filth all day long. We undergo crippling defeats in the World Cup.

We also welcome Major League Baseball's midseason trade extravaganza. Over the past few seasons, teams have become more conservative. The names thrown around on the rumor mill are very often more exciting than the ones who actually get dealt.

Last season, Jake Peavy was the biggest name who flew off the market. Peavy is a very good starting pitcher—at least in most seasons—but an in-his-prime Randy Johnson being traded to Houston he is not. Teams have become increasingly smarter about locking up their promising young players to long-term contracts that buy out their first couple years of free agency. The trend is great for fans of small-market clubs and horrible for those who want July to become engulfed in anarchy.

Luckily, the anarchists will have plenty to root for over the next few weeks.

David Price, Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija and plenty other top-notch talents will hear their name bandied about—some of whom have a better-than-50 percent chance to be dealt. Price, whose contract expires after this season, might be the best player dealt midseason since CC Sabathia in 2008.

With that in mind, let's check in on Price and the latest news on the other top players who are being shopped around.

 

Price Being Held Until Near the Deadline

Price has been on the block for more than a year. The Rays have dangled him in talks and spent all of last season throwing out Godfather scenarios to other teams. They knew they had one more year of control, and Price is not the type to ruin his value via poor performance.

Tampa Bay never thought its leverage would be ruined by its own futility. Even in the midst of a five-game winning streak, the Rays are 9.5 games back of Toronto in the AL East. The division isn't what it once was, but at 38-49 and boasting teamwide underperformance, the Rays are probably cooked.

Faced with the franchise's first losing season since Tampa Bay removed Devil from its nickname, Rays management has begun admitting it's time to retool—even if they won't mention Price by name.

"I think, in a lot of ways, it's our only chance for success," general manager Andrew Friedman told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times. "The trades that we've made, looking back, the only reason we got good players in return is because we traded really good players. And so it's important for us to know what our weaknesses are and what our limitations are and operate within them."

In Price, the Rays know they have one of the best pitchers in baseball. He bounced back from a rocky start over the past month, giving up only 11 earned runs in his past 46.2 innings pitched. The uptick has seen Price lower his ERA to 3.50 and even his record at 7-7. His strikeout-to-walk ratio remains absurd, and he may end up as a five-win player for the first time in his career at this pace.

Whatever concerns teams had in April are gone.

The questions are now when and where rather than if. The Rays can coax teams into a bidding war here, even if it's only between a select few teams that think they can keep him long term. Sources told CBS Sports' Jon Heyman they expect Friedman and Co. to string the process out near the deadline.

While I fully expect Price to get dealt, this will also allow the Rays to assess whether their recent hot streak is a mirage or a sign of things to come. Toronto isn't setting the world on fire and is tied with Baltimore in the loss column. We're not in the heyday of the AL East when 98 wins could have sent you to the Wild Card Game.

If the streak continues, expect Price's, um, cost to keep going up as we get closer to the deadline.

 

Jays Probably Aren't Getting Their Hands on Cole Hamels

The Blue Jays hit the ball very hard. They rank in the top 10 in runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and almost every advanced measure that's publicly available. Jose Bautista is back to performing at an All-Star level after two lost seasons. Edwin Encarnacion is tied for the MLB lead with 26 home runs. Almost everyone has forgotten the steroids thing with a solidly performing Melky Cabrera.

There are good vibes north of the border—except when one of their own pitchers steps to the mound.

Taking the excellent Mark Buehrle and the mostly OK Drew Hutchison out of the equation, Toronto's pitching staff has been a mess. R.A. Dickey's such a high-variance guy you never know what's coming. J.A. Happ has gone mostly bust. Toronto starters currently rank 19th in WAR, per FanGraphs, and I'd shudder to see those numbers once Buehrle is taken out of the equation.

Point being: The Jays need pitching—badly.

And since there is roughly an igloo's chance in hell Tampa does an intradivisional trade, Alex Anthopoulos is tasked with scouring the non-Price market.

One of the names that has continually come up is Phillies mainstay Cole Hamels. The 30-year-old lefty is again mired in a situation where his win-loss record wildly deviates from his effectiveness. Despite giving up more than three runs just three times all season and having put up a 1.23 ERA in June, Hamels sits at 2-4.

The Phillies have lost six straight and are 10.5 games out of the NL East lead. Eventually, Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to realize he built this roster on a dilapidated foundation and begin a complete overhaul. That probably begins with trading Hamels, who still has value despite a whole metric bleep-ton of money coming his way.

Amaro just probably isn't going to start that process by dealing Hamels to Toronto. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently reported that the Blue Jays are on Hamels' list of teams he can refuse a trade to, as stipulated in his contract:

With four more years remaining on his deal after this season, it's unlikely Hamels would waive his deal. If he were an impending free agent like Price and could be a hired gun for a few months, then perhaps a stint in Canada for a pennant run might be appealing. Doing so after years of getting comfortable in Philly and uprooting himself for almost a half-decade is a little more daunting.

Players negotiate these clauses for a reason. Even if he'd rather be competing, there's a reason Hamels wanted it put in writing he'd never take a hike to the Great White North.

 

Quick Updates

Yankees Scouting Headley: It says something about the nonexistent hitting market that Chase Headley might be the most attractive piece available. Headley is hitting .202/.287/.318 on the season and hasn't posted a batting average of better than .212 in any month. It's been a miserable couple of years following a breakout 2012 campaign, and no one is quite sure what to make of his ceiling at this point. But, once upon a time, he hit 31 home runs in a season. That alone makes him valuable to teams. The Yankees, who no one would confuse with the Bronx Bombers of years past, have been scouting Headley, per Jon Morosi of Fox Sports. New York currently starts walking sad-face emoji Kelly Johnson at third. This makes some sense.

 

Cubs Plan to Wait with Samardzija: Jeff Samardzija's decision to turn down a five-year, $85 million contract offer from the Cubs, per Morosi, puts them in a similar situation to Tampa. Theo Epstein would optimally like to keep the flame-throwing righty, but avoiding a deal leaves the Cubs receiving lousy draft-pick compensation instead of a huge prospect haul. Samardzija, who is 2-7 despite a 2.83 ERA and nearly a strikeout for every inning pitched, is a coveted asset in the prime of his career. He's going to hit free agency this winter and command a deal near the $20 million-per-season range. Knowing this, the Cubs plan on holding on as long as possible before trading him, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Who knows? Maybe the wait will lead to one more big contract offer.

 

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New York Yankees: Latest International Signing News and Rumors

No stranger to spending money, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman opened his checkbook on Wednesday to sign some of the top international free agents.

The Yankees brought in a total of nine international prospects in hopes of bolstering the farm system with high-level talent moving forward.

Dionisio Soldevila of ESPN Deportes reported that shortstop Dermis Garcia was in agreement with the Bombers (link in Spanish).

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com tweeted that third baseman Nelson Gomez, another top international prospect, was also inked on Wednesday. Sanchez was on the pulse of a ton of action on Wednesday, as he also broke the news about the signings of shortstop Wilkerman Garcia and shortstop Diego Castillo.

Ben Badler of Baseball America was on the beat of several signings. He reported that shortstop Hyo-Joon Park, catcher Miguel Flames and outfielder Juan De Leon all came to terms on deals with the Yanks.

Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel broke the news of the other two signings, outfielder Antonio Arias and outfielder Jonathan Amundaray.

Following the spending spree, ESPN's Buster Olney took to Twitter to describe the exploits of Cashman:

Which prospects should you be on the lookout for moving forward? None of them are MLB-ready just yet, but some are closer than others. Below is a breakdown of the three best.

 

Dermis Garcia, SS, Dominican Republic

Garcia has a huge ceiling, but his future likely doesn't bode well for him to stay at short. While a good fielder, Garcia will continue to grow, and his frame will be better suited somewhere else. He could move to third or possibly a corner outfield spot, but, that said, many feel he is athletic enough to stay at the position:

It's Garcia's bat that does the talking, though, so all the Yankees need is league-average defensive work. Regardless of the position, he just can't kill the team with errors.

Garcia's swing is super smooth. He uses it to generate massive amounts of power, a reason why many considered him the most powerful prospect in this year's class of international prospects. This smooth swing gives him power to all fields, as it allows him to quickly get his hands in to put the barrel on inside pitches. It also gives him the ability to keep his hands back and cover the outside part of the plate.

His smooth swing is for power, however. He'll have to learn how to become a more polished contact hitter, as strikeouts might become an issue in the future. 

After he receives a year or two of coaching in the states, Garcia will see huge improvements all around.

 

Nelson Gomez, 3B, Dominican Republic

Possibly the only player in this class who can rival Garcia's power is Gomez. The third baseman has a big bat, and his power in batting practice has translated to in-game power over in the Dominican Republic.

Whether or not it can translate to the states remains to be seen, but this kid knows how to put on a show in BP. That alone likely attracted the Yankees his way.

Gomez has the arm to stay at the hot corner long term, but his size might inhibit his mobility. At 6'2", 195 pounds, Gomez is already a good size for the bigs. He'll continue to fill out with time, though, so a move over to first base or to a corner outfield spot might be best.

If you can hit, though, somebody will find a home for you.

This kid certainly has an advanced power tool, as he can hit the ball a long way. If he hits consistently from the start, Gomez could find his way to the bigs within two or three years. Third base is a giant question mark moving forward, as Alex Rodriguez might not be the player we're used to when he returns.

Yangervis Solarte, once thought to be the answer, has regressed significantly in the past few weeks.

All Gomez needs to do his keep hitting.

 

Juan De Leon, OF, Dominican Republic

You can't build a team only around power hitters, so Cashman went out and signed an all-around hitter on Wednesday. De Leon is probably the top overall hitter in the class, as he uses a quick swing to cover all parts of the plate and hit in all counts.

The fact that he has such a good swing bodes well for him moving forward. Young guys with quick swings often develop power, meaning De Leon could become a decent power guy in the future. His combination of contact ability and potential for power remind me a lot of a young Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians.

De Leon is a potential five-tool player,given his potential for power. He runs well, plays good defense, has a good arm and hits like I mentioned above. Not all five-toolers pan out after stints in the minors, but De Leon is a good candidate to stick.

The Dominican outfielder uses his athleticism to track down fly balls and play a solid game out in the field. While not the most polished defender, his athleticism and speed allow him to catch up to balls he got poor jumps on.

That aspect of his game needs a little work, but that will come with experience at a higher level.

It won't be easy for De Leon to crack the outfield picture in New York, given the long-term commitments to Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, but he has the potential to force a move several years down the line.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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Detroit Tigers Vendor Catches Foul Ball in Bucket During Oakland Athletics Game

The players man the field. The fans bring their gloves. 

In the end, the bucket wins out.

During Wednesday's showdown between the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland Athletics, Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler hit a foul ball hard into the stands. One vendor was ready with his bucket.

Interestingly, this is the second time in as many months that we've seen this type of display. A Philadelphia Phillies vendor accomplished the same impressive feat in late May.

[MLB.com, h/t For the Win]

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Angels’ Albert Pujols Moves into No. 24 on All-Time Home Run Leaderboard

Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim launched his 509th career home run during the first leg of Tuesday's doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, tying him with Gary Sheffield for 24th on the all-time list, per MLB.com.

Pujols hit long ball No. 17 of the season in the fifth inning off Hector Noesi, which directly followed a three-run shot by teammate Mike Trout. When Josh Hamilton homered in the seventh inning, it marked the second time ever that all three went deep in the same game, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The Angels' first baseman has already matched the home run total of his injury-shortened 2013 campaign and is well on his way to a rebound season, slashing .257/.312/.467 with 50 RBI heading into Wednesday's action. Prior to 2013, Pujols had accumulated 30 or more home runs in each of his first 12 MLB seasons.

Per Baseball Reference, Pujols has averaged 40 long balls per 162 games over his career. Should he keep up his current pace in 2014, there's a good chance the 34-year-old continues to ascend the power-hitting ranks. Next in line to be passed are Mel Ott (511), Eddie Mathews (512) and Ernie Banks (512), and Pujols will climb into the top 20 once he passes Ted Williams, Frank Thomas and Willie McCovey, all of whom own 521 career four-baggers.

Prince Albert remains 253 homers behind all-time leader Barry Bonds (762) but is in just the third season of his 10-year deal with the Angels. Depending on how well Pujols produces as he enters his late 30s, the record is certainly within the realm of possibility.

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise specified.

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