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July 28, 2010

On the Beat

Worth the Price

by John Perrotto

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All talk about pitching phenoms now begins and ends with Stephen Strasburg. That is quite understandable as no pitcher in baseball history has ever arrived in the major leagues with quite the fanfare that the Nationals' right-hander did last month.

Strasburg certainly has the ability to be great. The 22-year-old has a fastball that reaches triple digits, a breaking pitch that defies description, and a change-up that has fooled some of the best hitters in the game.

All of the hype surrounding Strasburg, as justified as it may be, seems to have made the big left-hander who entered spring training in 2009 touted as the game's next great pitching phenom rather anonymous. Well, as anonymous as being one of the starting pitchers in the All-Star Game can be. However, while every time that Strasburg pitches is declared "Strasmas," Rays left-hander David Price is able to make his starts without it being called "Pricemas."

In his first full year in the major leagues, Price is living up to the billing that came with being the first overall draft pick in 2007 from Vanderbilt and becoming an improbable post-season hero for the Rays a year later as a reliever. He is 13th in the American League with 3.5 SNLVAR, though not asked to carry the load in a starting rotation that also includes Jeff Niemann (3.9) and Matt Garza, who threw the first no-hitter in the franchise's 14-year history Monday night against the Tigers.

"The great thing about David Price is we're just seeing him scratch the surface of what he can eventually be," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He has the fastball. He has the breaking pitch. His change-up is better. Looking at it as a development guy, I still see a lot more there, especially in terms of command. He's only going to get better with experience. Don’t forget that he's a very young pitcher."

Price is just 24, though it seems like he has been around forever. And he has thrown just 269 2/3 innings in the major leagues, part of the Rays' plan to protect from overuse at a young age.

The Rays might have cost themselves a return trip to the postseason last season by waiting until Memorial Day to promote Price from Triple-A Durham in order to keep his total inning count to 162 2/3 for the year, and, of course, limit his service time and delay his eligibility for arbitration and free agency. By the time Price came to the majors, the Rays were five games out in the American League East and were never able to make up that ground on the eventual World Series-winning Yankees and the wild-card winning Red Sox. Price had a good rookie season but not a great one with 2.8 SNLVAR.

Price admits that got he got antsy spending two months in the International League last year. However, in retrospect, he believes the Rays handled it the right way.

"It isn't the road I would have taken," Price said. "Obviously, I wanted to be in the major leagues from day one. Their way worked, though. I've felt strong all season. We're past the All-Star break and I don't feel tired. What happened last year is paying off this year."

Price has pitched 127 1/3 innings this season. While the Rays (at least publicly) don't have a specific limit for him, Maddon says they will watch Price closely for the remainder of the season. One of the statistics they will pay close attention to is pitches per innings because, as Maddon says, "not all innings are created equal. Some are much more stressful than others."

Price is averaging 16.0 pitches an inning and 107.2 per game this season.

Price certainly won't have a problem if the Rays back him off a little bit at times in the second half. He wants a chance to return to the postseason after making a big splash in relief in 2008, including getting the final out in the Rays' victory over the Red Sox in the ALCS.

The Rays are in position to get to the postseason, as they have the second-best record in the major leagues at 61-38. They are two games behind the Yankees in the AL East but five games in front of the Red Sox in the wild-card standings.

Price was used strictly in relief in the 2008 postseason, working 5 2/3 innings. If the Rays play in October this season, he will take on a much bigger role, and Maddon feels Price is quite qualified to handle it.

"I think starting in the All-Star Game was important for him," Maddon said. "There is so much hype, and you're getting pulled in so many different directions when you're the starting pitcher in that game. Despite the distractions, he went out and pitched two scoreless innings. He's going to benefit from that and we're going to benefit from that as a team.

"David has been through a lot for a young pitcher. He's pitched in the postseason, he been the number one draft pick, he's pitched in the All-Star Game. Those kinds of experiences are invaluable and make him more advanced than most players his age."

---

The Angels made a big strike on the trade market Sunday when they acquired right-hander Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks for left-hander Joe Saunders and three minor-leaguers. However, it left some in the Angels' clubhouse wondering if general manager Tony Reagins made the right move as he has yet to find a replacement for first baseman Kendry Morales, who suffered a season-ending broken ankle on May 29.

"It's a boost," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "I don't think it's as big a boost as a Kendry Morales we lost. I don't see too many players out there like that Kendry Morales. Obviously, they (the Angels' front office) see the same thing. We got somebody good. But it's not Kendry Morales."

The Angels traded for the Royals' Alberto Callapso last week to play third base. However, the Angels decided to then deal for Haren after feeling the cost of acquiring a first baseman like the Nationals' Adam Dunn or the Brewers' Prince Fielder was too high. In fairness to Reagins, the Angels are seventh in the AL in runs scored with an average of 4.53 a game but 11th in runs allowed with a 4.70 average.

"We were just looking for an opportunity to upgrade our club," Reagins said. "I don't think we said it had to be a bat. The acquisition of Callaspo gives us some versatility and Dan Haren is going to make us better. We just didn't see the fit from an offensive standpoint that would make us better. There are still opportunities out there. We're not done looking to improve our club."

Meanwhile, Haren never thought he would be traded when the season began. The Diamondbacks acquired him from the Athletics in a trade following a 2007 season in which they won the National League West and advanced to the NLCS.

"I had a lot of high expectations for myself and the team this year," he said. "It didn't really work out that way. I'm kind of sad it didn't lead to what I was brought here for, which is bringing the team to the next level. I've had some good years here. I was brought here to put us over the top, and it didn't happen that way, unfortunately. I have to move on, and the organization is going to move on as well."

Haren teamed with 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb to give the Diamondbacks a strong top of the rotation in 2008. The Diamondbacks led the NL West for five months before finishing second to the Dodgers. However, the Diamondbacks finished last in the division last season as Webb did not pitch after Opening Day because of shoulder surgery that has also kept him out all of this season, one in which the Diamondbacks are again last.

"When you are not winning, it is not fun," Haren said. "Coming to the field has not been as exciting as it was. The first year here we were in the race all the way through. It was fun. The last couple of years have been tough. I played for three mangers since I've been here, have guys shuffling in and out. It hasn't been the greatest baseball experience I had, and I wish it was. I wish I would have come here and put us over the top."

---

The Tigers are trying to hang on by their fingernails in the AL Central with three regulars on the disabled list. They are in third place, four games behind the White Sox and three games in back of the Twins.

Left fielder Magglio Ordonez and second baseman Carlos Guillen were injured last weekend for the Tigers, joining third baseman Brandon Inge on the disabled list. As evidenced by Garza's no-hitter, the Tigers need help offensively. Yet, GM Dave Dombrowski insists he will not make a panic move such as dealing pitching prospects Andy Oliver and Jacob Turner between now and Saturday's non-waiver trading deadline.

"Other clubs look at us and say, 'Well, they are desperate so maybe they will trade us Oliver and Turner,'" Dombrowski said. "Well, we aren't. I'm not meaning to say that anyone is untouchable. I'm not going to give away blue-chip young players for a guy for two months. It just doesn't make sense. Will we be active in talking to people? Yes. If there is a deal that we think can be made that can help us, will we? Yes. Are we going to mortgage our future? No. It just seems like every conversation we have starts with those two names. I don't care if it's a guy who's the 12 guy on your staff or your 25 players. They say we'd like one of those two guys. But sorry, I'm just not there. I'm not going to do that."

In addition to missing one-third of their lineup, the Tigers will play the rest of the season without top set-up reliever Joel Zumaya. Dombrowski admits there are too many holes to fill strictly through trades.

"We'll see who steps up for us internally," Dombrowski said. "You're not going to trade for every one of those positions. It's just not going to happen. But we'll see if there's something that makes sense for us."

The White Sox are willing to make a trade to strengthen their chances of winning the division. However, GM Ken Williams is adamant he will only make a deal on his terms.

"Prices are still too high as far as I'm concerned," Williams said. "You know, we have a plan, and that plan resulted in this team being constructed the way it is. This plan also has contingencies based on somebody going down for injury and being able to bring up minor-leaguers to fill those needs. And next year, we've got guys that come up and fill much bigger roles. So you have to be cognizant of making a move that is a little too shortsighted and jeopardizes your future. However, with that said, you know me. If there's an opportunity to do something in a major way that doesn't disrupt what we have and adds to it, we'll take that shot."

The White Sox have been linked to Dunn for weeks. Indications are that the team would still like to trade for him, but only if they don't have to surrender a player of significance from the major-league roster, such as second baseman Gordon Beckham or right fielder Carlos Quentin.

Meanwhile, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos could be extremely busy this week as he has a lot of players other clubs are interested in, including relievers Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, and Kevin Gregg, catcher John Buck, first baseman Lyle Overbay, and right fielder Jose Bautista. The rookie GM hasn't been afraid to make big trades since replacing J.P. Ricciardi last October, as he dealt ace pitcher Roy Halladay to the Phillies in December and swapped shortstops with the Braves earlier this month, trading Alex Gonzalez for Yunel Escobar. However, Anthopoulos says he will only look to make his team better, not dump salaries.

"I'd like to continue to talk to clubs and find out what they're going to look to do and places that they feel that they can improve," Anthopoulos said. "I've had dialogue throughout the year and I'm going to continue that dialogue, but I really have no sense between now and the deadline. I think if something does happen we're going to feel pretty good about it improving the club."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Cardinals have backed off their pursuit of Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, but they are still looking at a number of other starting pitchers as trade candidates, including the Brewers' Dave Bush, the Nationals' Livan Hernandez, the Indians' Jake Westbrook, the Astros' Brett Myers, and Cubs left-hander Ted Lilly. … The Yankees have also decided to end their pursuit of Oswalt and are focusing on acquiring bullpen help with Downs and Gregg topping the wish list and the Mariners' David Aardsma and the Royals' Kyle Farnsworth also possibilities. … The Padres figure to be rather quiet this week as their primary focus is on adding a second baseman with David Eckstein on the disabled list and the Pirates' Aki Iwamura, Astros' Jeff Keppinger, and Cubs' Ryan Theriot among the players they are eyeing. … The Twins are interested in trading for Nationals closer Matt Capps as insurance for Jon Rauch possibly faltering down the stretch. … The Giants have turned their attention, albeit halfheartedly, to Royals outfielder Jose Guillen after failing to make a trade with the Brewers for either first baseman Prince Fielder or right fielder Corey Hart. … The Brewers want two young starting pitchers who can step into their rotation now for Fielder, one starting pitcher and a top-level prospect for Hart, and have also told teams that second baseman Rickie Weeks is not available. … Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez plans to exercise the club option in his contract for next season rather than test free agency. … The Marlins have not only decided not to trade second baseman Dan Uggla but are working to sign him to a multi-year extension. … Second baseman Kelly Johnson is drawing the most interest among a number of Diamondbacks on the trade market, a list that includes right-hander Edwin Jackson, closer Chad Qualls, catcher Chris Snyder, and first baseman Adam LaRoche.

---

Scouts' takes on various major-leaguers:

Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo: "Everyone thinks he's a bit of a flake, but he's really one of the smartest pitchers in the game. He plays cat-and-mouse games with hitters better than anybody."

Rays right-hander Wade Davis:"He's starting to gain confidence that he can get big-league hitters out. He's cutting loose with the fastball now and not being so tentative."

Rockies right fielder Brad Hawpe: "I thought this guy was ready to blossom into a star last year, but now he doesn't even make hard contact. He has holes in his swing and pitchers attack them."

Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen: "It's amazing to think that he was just converting from a catcher to a pitcher at this time last year. He throws hard, and he's got a great slider. He has future closer written all over him."

Twins catcher Joe Mauer: "(Twins manager) Ron Gardenhire says he plans to rest him more down the stretch, and that's probably a good idea. He's a big guy for a catcher, and I think he gets worn out from catching so much. On the other hand, I certainly understand why Gardy is reluctant to ever take him out of the lineup."

Athletics right-hander Vin Mazzaro: "He's starting to understand the importance of commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate, and it's making a big difference. I can see this kid turning out to be a good No. 3-type starter for a long time."

Braves closer Billy Wagner: "He's been in a funk lately and has been struggling to control his fastball. I wouldn't worry about him, though. He's  proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that he's healthy, and there is no one I'd want more to get the last out of a game in a pennant race, except for (Mariano) Rivera."

Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks: "This is the year it's all come together. He's learned how to drive the ball, and he's staying healthy. He's still a center fielder for me instead of a second baseman but I love the bat."

---

Interesting stories from newspapers across the United States:

Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that Carlos Zambrano's decision to apologize to his teammates on ESPN was careless and selfish.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic writes that the trade of Dan Haren showcases the Diamondbacks' general lack of direction.

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes that in trading for Haren, the Angels skirted their real issue of hitting.

John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times writes that Matt Garza's no-hitter caps his growth as a pitcher.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press writes that the Tigers getting no-hit is the prelude to a long final two months of the season.

Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News writes that injuries leave the Tigers in a lurch.

Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News writes that Alex Rodriguez supplanting Barry Bonds as the all-time home run king is no longer assured.

Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes that the Twins are dawdling as the trading deadline nears.

Barry Rozner of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald writes that Andre Dawson poured his heart out and had a message for kids considering using steroids during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald writes that Dawson became the voice of his era with his speech at Cooperstown.

Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post writes that Stephen Strasburg's competitiveness is what sets him apart.

---

Three series to watch:

Yankees (63-36) at Rays (61-38), Friday-Sunday July 30-Aug. 1
Phil Hughes vs. Wade Davis, 7:10 p.m.; Javier Vazquez vs. Matt Garza, 7:10 p.m.; CC Sabathia vs. James Shields, 1:40 p.m.

Braves (57-42) at Reds (56-46), Friday-Sunday July 30-Aug. 1
Kris Medlen vs. Johnny Cueto, 7:10 p.m.; Jair Jurrjens vs. Mike Leake, 4:10 p.m.; Tommy Hanson vs. Bronson Arroyo, 1:10 p.m.

Rangers (59-41) at Angels (52-51), Friday-Sunday July 30-Aug. 1
Scott Feldman vs. Ervin Santana, 10:05 p.m.; Tommy Hunter vs. Dan Haren, 9:05 p.m.; Cliff Lee vs. Jered Weaver, 3:35 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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