July 29, 2009
On the Beat
Who's Still Shopping?
At the All-Star break, we looked at the limited number of teams who could clearly be defined as sellers and what they might be offering in the days leading up to the non-waiver trading deadline. The deadline is now just two days away, and the numbers of buyers still outweigh the sellers. That's because 18 of the 30 major league clubs are within five games of a playoff berth, which would seemingly mean they are buyers.
Since we've already reviewed the sellers, let's see what the buyers might be up to between now and 4 p.m. Eastern on Friday:
Yankees: They figure to be quiet because they feel their team is good enough to get to the postseason and win it all as-is.
Tigers: They would like to add both pitching and hitting help, but don't have much to give up in a deal, making their chances of pulling off a big trade unlikely.
Angels: They also have their sights set high, as they are trying to get Halladay or Lee. Bullpen help is also a priority, and they have targeted a pair of veteran left-handers-the Orioles' George Sherrill and the Blue Jays' Scott Downs.
Phillies: They continue to try to work something out for Halladay, but going after Lee is their fallback, with Mariners left-hander Jarrod Washburn currently rating as Plan C.
Cardinals: They've done most of their shopping by acquiring Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday to bolster the offense, but they would love to add a right-handed reliever, and the Athletics' Russ Springer is one of their targets.
Dodgers: They are heavily involved with the Indians on Lee, and are also trying to get Sherrill.
I have always found Mets general manager Omar Minaya to be an extremely bright man, going back to when I first met him when he was scouting for the Rangers many years ago. He has also always struck me as a good man, the kind of guy who has a smile and handshake for everybody.
Thus, I was quite shocked when Minaya attacked the credibility of Adam Rubin, the Mets' beat writer for the New York Daily News, during the press conference that announced the firing of vice president Tony Bernazard on Tuesday. It seemed completely out of character for Minaya, and seemed to indicate that he must be feeling the heat of a season that had gone haywire even before Rubin uncovered stories that showed Bernazard acted like a tyrant in running the Mets' farm system. The Mets, beset by injuries to so many key players, are 48-51 and a disappointing fourth in the NL East, 10˝ games behind the Phillies.
Minaya accused Rubin of trying to take Bernazard's job. That is a ludicrous accusation considering that no organization would hire someone who has never worked for a club and immediately have him oversee an entire department. It is also a terrible shot at Rubin, who is well-respected in the baseball writing business as a fair and hard-working reporter. Yet Minaya made his accusation, stating that, "Adam has lobbied for the player development position. I scuffled with it early on. I had to think about that."
Rubin denied that he had ever asked Minaya for career advice and said he has only once had a brief conversation with Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon about if it would be even be remotely possible for a newspaper reporter to ever work his way into an administrative position with the club. Minaya was visibly upset that he had to fire Bernazard, who was also a close friend, as his hands shook throughout much of the press conference.
However, portraying Rubin as a reporter with ulterior motives-rather than admitting Bernazard repeated acted in an unprofessional manner-was a ridiculous move. After all, in the last month alone, Bernazard ripped off his shirt and challenged the entire Double-A Binghamton farm club to a fight, berated a Mets' administrative assistant in front of a group of scouts from other clubs and fans in the box seats behind home plate at Citi Field, and nearly came to blows with closer Francisco Rodriguez during an argument on the team bus.
Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, and it might be the last time in a long time that we see two African-Americans honored in Cooperstown on the same weekend. For that matter, it might be another five years before we see even one black player enshrined.
Tim Raines has been on the ballot for two years, and has not come close to gaining the 75 percent of the vote necessary from 10-year members of the BBWAA that is needed for election. Barry Larkin and Fred McGriff become eligible next year, but they are considered borderline candidates. Barry Bonds becomes eligible in 2013 but he has been heavily linked to performance-enhancing drug use, meaning that he probably won't get enough votes despite being the game's all-time home-run leader. Thus, Frank Thomas could be the next African-American to make it when he becomes eligible in 2014.
African-Americans comprised just 10.2 percent of the players who appeared in a major league game last season, which has generated a lot of outspoken concern in recent seasons. "To see us not playing baseball, it's hurting," Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson told the Los Angeles Times' Kevin Baxter. "Especially after what Mr. Jackie Robinson went through to let us play this great game."
The Dodgers had seven African-Americans on their Opening Day roster, more than any other major league club, and it saddens manager Joe Torre that more aren't playing the game. "What you're missing as fans are very athletic people with a tremendous amount of ability," Torre said. "It's a shame. We should certainly be able to appeal to the black athlete. If there's something that can be done, I think we have to make a concerted effort to make it attractive. I'm not smart enough to know what that is, but we have to do more. We have to be more proactive."
Major League Baseball funds the Reviving Baseball in Inner cities program (RBI), which is aimed at involving youth in urban areas. However, many past and present African-American players say that MLB does not do enough to promote the initiative. Among them is Tommy Harper, who played in the major leagues for 15 seasons from 1962-76. "As an ex-athlete and African-American, I don't know much about RBI," Harper told the Boston Herald's Sean McAdam. "I'm at a loss to even explain what age groups they include."
There is plenty of evidence that Royals shortstop Tony Peńa Jr. is not much of a major league hitter. He has career slash stats of .228/.248/.300 through four seasons, covering 327 games and 870 plate appearances. His EqA this season was -.137 in 53 trips to the plate before his being designated for assignment on July 16.
On the other hand, there is an extremely small sample size at the big-league level that suggests the 28-year-old might have some latent pitching talent. He pitched a perfect ninth inning in the Royals' 19-4 loss to the Tigers last July 21. While a lifetime ERA of 0.00 in only one inning isn't much to get excited about, it was enough to make the Royals think Peńa can be converted to a pitcher. He reported to rookie-level farm club in Surprise, Arizona, this past week to begin making the transition.
"I saw touch and feel and I saw a lack of fear when he pitched for us last year, even though the situation didn't promote a lot of fear," Royals manager Trey Hillman observed. "He's got the ability to throw from different arm angles. He's got life to his fastball and he showed in the strike out of (catcher Ivan Rodriguez), the ability to spin the ball. Tony's all for it right now, to at least take a look at it and see where it goes."
Royals left-hander reliever Ron Mahay made a similar conversion. He made his major league debut with the Red Sox as an outfielder in 1995, and then returned to the major leagues with them two years later as a pitcher. Mahay is in his 13th season as a big-league reliever. "I was fortunate that the team I was with at the time gave me another chance, and I told Tony he's fortunate that this team gave him a second chance," Mahay told the Kansas City Star's Terez A. Paylor. "Now he's got to make it work for himself if that's really what he wants to do."
Scouts' views on various major league players:
Three series to watch this weekend, with probable pitching matchups (all times Eastern):
Yankees at White Sox, Thursday-Sunday (July 30-August 2)
Phillies at Giants, Thursday-Sunday (July 30-August 2)