August 10, 2008
Every Given Sunday
While most of the heavy-duty trading is over now that the deadline to make deals without securing waivers passed on July 31, there are still potential swaps to be made. A couple of relievers cleared waivers and changed teams this past week; the Rays acquired right-hander Chad Bradford from the Orioles, and the Phillies picked up left-hander Scott Eyre from the Cubs. The Red Sox had a deal in place to add to their already impressive arsenal by trading for Padres outfielder Brian Giles, but the San Diego native invoked his no-trade clause, preferring to remain in his hometown with the last-place Padres rather than join the contending Red Sox.
A few more players could change hands between now and baseball's next deadline on August 31, the last day a team can acquire a player who would be eligible for the post-season roster. While the pickings are slim, there are still some decent and useful players who could be moved between now and the end of the month. Keeping in the mind that the waiver process is quite hush-hush (Major League Baseball does not allow the information to be made public, and there is the possibility of fines for those who leak waiver news), the list below is based on conversations with various baseball people about which players are being made available who have either cleared, or are likely to clear waivers.
Being an umpire isn't an easy job, and that point was driven home this past week when the men in blue got caught in a few more sticky situations. The umpiring crew took plenty of heat on Monday night for allowing the game between the Cubs and Astros to continue while lightning flashed all around Wrigley Field. Under a directive from the commissioner's office to try to complete games if at all possible, umpires have been more willing to allow teams to play on with storm conditions in the area in recent years.
After a nearly three-hour delay in the sixth inning (during which there was a tornado warning for downtown Chicago), play was resumed, and in the bottom of the eighth inning the Astros didn't wait for the umpires to stop the game, as first baseman Lance Berkman and catcher Humberto Quintero went sprinting off the field after a massive lightning bolt struck just beyond the left-field wall. The game was eventually called following another 45-minute delay, with the Astros winning 2-0.
As the bolts got closer, Quintero kept thinking of former major league pitcher Geremi Gonzalez, a fellow Venezuelan, who was killed by lightning in his native country in May. "I wasn't going to go back out there," Quintero said. "A friend of mine was killed by lightning this year. Any of us could have gotten hit. And I wasn't going to play again, so I sprinted off the field." Astros manager Cecil Cooper was relieved that his players took the initiative to get off the field. "You don't want to take chances," Cooper said. "Everybody was at risk. Everybody. It's not like it was just a slippery field and the players had a chance to get hurt. Everybody was at risk. What if that had hit the stands?"
Umpiring crew chief Wally Bell admitted to the Houston Chronicle that he was hoping to finish the game without another delay. "Our job is to try to get the game in," Bell said. "You do the best you can do at the time. I understand players don't want to be out there. I don't want to be out there."
Berkman knows what kind of the pressure umpires are under, and believes Major League Baseball should have a consistent policy for calling or stopping games. "You put umpires in a bad spot because everybody's like, 'Well, it's on them. They got to make the call,'" Berkman said. "Well, I mean, they're getting all kinds of pressure so I don't blame them. I think somebody's got to step up in a situation like that and say, 'Look, yes we all want to win a World Series here. We all want to make the playoffs, but there comes a point in time when you've got to just say [stop].' I guess in our modern day of technology, [people say] 'oh well the radar says this.' Well I'm standing outside there, and I can see the lightning hit the firehouse 100 yards behind the stadium. So I don't need radar to tell me that."
Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies' Shane Victorino was awarded a two-run home run on a line drive hit down the left-field line which replays showed was clearly foul. Fortunately, it was not a factor in the game's outcome, as the Marlins won 8-2.
Third-base umpire Dale Scott, who let the home-run call stand even after huddling with the rest of the crew, admitted after watching the replay that he was wrong. He also readily admitted to the Philadelphia Daily News that having video at his disposal would have been helpful. "That is what replay is going to be there for, and replay is coming very soon," Scott said. "I can't give you a date, but it's going to be this year. There are a lot of factors in replay that I could go on and on about. There are a lot of ballparks that are not umpire-friendly when it comes to border calls. That's how they build them. They're fan-friendly and they don't want to change that. Do we like that? No. But you know what? We're losing that war, so we'll accept it and we'll move on and deal with however Major League Baseball wants us to deal with it. And that's about all I can say about it. But [Victorino's home run] is a perfect example of why they want replay."
Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez welcomes instant replay, although like many in baseball, he wants it on a very limited basis. "I just don't want them to open Pandora's box and go to safe or out, [or] balls and strikes," Gonzalez said. "I think eventually it'll go to that, and I hope we'll long be gone when that starts."
Many of Venezuela's top players, upset over the way that their team for the World Baseball Classic was organized and the way that the players were treated in the inaugural event in 2006, are saying that they will not participate next March. Many were also reportedly unhappy with manager Luis Sojo, who is expected to be the skipper again in 2009 despite leading Venezuela to a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 16-team event three years ago.
Mets left-hander Johan Santana, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, third baseman Carlos Guillen, and right fielder Magglio Ordonez have all told Venezuelan media that they will not play. Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano is also undecided. "I am not a clown," Guillen told the Detroit News. "On the opening day of the event, we didn't even have any jerseys until 15 minutes before the game." Guillen also cited poor housing accommodations, lack of post-game food in the clubhouse, and players not being treated professionally as other reasons why he and other Venezuelans plan to skip the WBC.
Cubs backup catcher Henry Blanco, who also played for Venezuela in '06, said he did not have a problem with Sojo, but was curious to talk with some of his fellow countrymen to learn about their grievances. "I don't know what the issue is," Blanco told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We'll see."
Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee, who played for the United States in '06, said it would be a big blow if the Venezuelans stars skip the event. "If you don't get the top players, it's not the same type of competition," Lee said. "But I think everyone enjoyed it, so I have a feeling when it comes time, those guys will end up playing for their countries."
General manager J.P. Ricciardi said this past week that the second incarnation of Cito Gaston as the Blue Jays' manager is going so well that the veteran skipper is being kept on the job for 2009. Gaston took over on June 20 after John Gibbons was fired and the Blue Jays had a 35-39 record. Toronto has since gone 24-19 under Gaston, who managed the Jays from 1989-97, compiling a 683-636 record and winning the franchise's only two World Series titles in 1992 and '93. "He's laid the groundwork for the right stuff," Ricciardi said. "The guys really like playing for him. We're just very fortunate that he was there. He was the right guy at the right time."
The Blue Jays' players seemed thrilled to hear Gaston will be retained. "He's great," right-hander A.J. Burnett told the Toronto Star. "He talks to everybody. I think that's what everybody likes. He's real loose in the dugout. He's not afraid to come to anybody at any point in the game and let them know what he thinks."
Gaston is looking forward to returning and getting the Blue Jays back into contention. They haven't been to the postseason since '93. "I think we're real close here," Gaston said. "We just have to get some guys back that are on the [disabled list], and hopefully we can add here and there and we'll have a chance. I'd like to be part of it."
AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Yankees seem to be the early-line favorite to sign free-agent right-hander Freddy Garcia, who is ready to return to action after undergoing shoulder surgery last year, while the Mets and Rays are also expected to be strong suitors. … The Yankees are said to have little interest in signing Manny Ramirez as a free agent this upcoming winter, although the Dodgers left fielder reportedly wants to come home to his native New York. … The Twins would like to add a reliever in a waiver deal this month in an effort to boost their chances against the White Sox in the tight AL Central race. … Tigers manager Jim Leyland wants reliever Joel Zumaya, erratic since returning from off-season shoulder surgery, to spend time in instructional league after the season to work on regaining command of his pitches. … The Rays plan to give left fielder Carl Crawford some extra days off at home on the Tropicana Field artificial surface as a means to keep his tender hamstring healthy. … The Mariners plan to experiment with outfielder Jeremy Reed at first base.
NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Rockies want to try to sign corner infielder Garrett Atkins and left fielder Matt Holliday to long-term contracts. If unsuccessful, they will put them on the trade market this upcoming winter. … The Braves' primary off-season objective will be to add a front-line starting pitcher, and among the potential free agents they have interest in are the Cubs' Ryan Dempster, the Angels' Jon Garland, the Dodgers' Derek Lowe, and the Brewers' CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. … Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is reportedly set to bid $1.3 billion to buy the Cubs, which would be the largest franchise sale price in baseball history. … John Baker is expected to get the bulk of the starts at catcher for the Marlins down the stretch unless they make a trade; Matt Treanor is only going to play part-time because of hip problems after coming off of the disabled list this past week. … Shortstop Rafael Furcal says his preference is to re-sign with the Dodgers instead of hitting the free-agent market this winter. … The Pirates are considering making long-term contract offers that would buy out their arbitration years to catcher Ryan Doumit and outfielder Nate McLouth.
Interesting facts as the 19th week of the regular season comes to a close: