Ten days remain until the switch is turned off on baseball’s mid-season
blue light special and, mathematically, any of the teams outside the Lone
Star State could be in first place at the end of July. Since all of the
clubs still harbor thoughts of donning their uniforms in October, let’s
look at what each of them should do before the trading deadline, based on a
realistic assessment of the division standings and each team’s needs.
Team President Tony Tavares recently said that Anaheim is interested in
acquiring a rent-a-player for the stretch drive, but won’t trade any of its
young pitchers. Since upper-level positional prospects in the organization
are as rare as Albert Belle sound bytes, hope exists that the Angels
may have stumbled upon the right answer.
The Angels are going to fall out of the playoff chase over the next couple
of months, but they can greatly improve their chances for next year if
dormant General Manager Bill Stoneman stops acting out his surname and
makes the correct moves.
Relocating Kent Bottenfield and Ken Hill should be the top
priority. Bottenfield has been largely ineffective in the rotation and is a
free agent after the season. While he could be a sturdy buttress in the
Halos’ bullpen, he probably has more value as a trade chip for prospect or
two. Moving Hill is even more urgent, since he may have sparked some
interest after pitching decently in his last three starts. The Angels are
not going to pick up his $6 million dollar option for next year and need to
ship him out before his arthritic elbow renders him not only useless, but
An unlikely but valid idea is to shop Garret Anderson. First-year
manager Mike Scioscia generally has done a very good job running the
ballclub, but his insistence on penciling Anderson’s name into the fifth
spot casts a shadow of doubt on his ability to assemble a lineup. Despite a
that places him in the lower tier of center fielders, Anderson has
glitter that sells: he’s 28 years old, inked a multi-year deal earlier in
the season and has some impressive, though misleading, run-production
numbers. Dumping him on first-place Seattle would simultaneously help sink
the good ship Mariner while returning some needed pitching depth.
Because offensive contribution is more important than fielding, we
generally don’t place much emphasis on defense as long as a player knows
which hand to put his glove on and doesn’t require a walker. The 2000
Oakland Athletics may cause us to rethink that position. Not only have they
committed the most errors in the American League, but aside from Miguel
Tejada and Terrence Long, they have as much range as a one-valve
tuba. Since they are not going to cure their defensive maladies with a
deadline deal, they’ll soothe the pain The Athletics Way: paper over the
bad glovework by scoring bushels of runs.
General Manager Billy Beane has stated that he would be willing to make a
short-term move and part with a few of the organization’s many prospects if
he can find the right player to push the team into the playoffs. He’s not
talking about Glenallen Hill or Al Martin. If Beane swings a
trade for offense, expect it to yield an impact hitter like Manny
Ramirez, even if that player is in the walk year of his contract.
If the A’s want to be in a race with the Mariners come September, they need
to stop inviting defeat once a week and trot a legitimate fifth starter out
to the mound. Last year, the team overhauled its rotation by snaring
Kevin Appier and Omar Olivares before the trading deadline.
Despite last week’s meltdown in Denver, fine tuning is all that is needed
for this year’s staff. Rather than go outside the organization, the A’s
have properly recalled their top draft pick from 1999, Barry Zito,
from Sacramento. Zito has been carving up PCL hitters of late and could be
this year’s Tim Hudson.
Though magnified since Alex Rodriguez went on the disabled list, the
team’s weaknesses are no different now than when they left spring training.
The Mariners range from below average to dreadful at four of the nine spots
in the lineup and have one of the least potent benches in the league.
The failure to promptly address some of these areas means that the team
could be a few games further ahead in the standings if General Manager
"Stand Pat" Gillick wasn’t justifying his old Blue Jay nickname.
This inactivity could come back to haunt Seattle if they don’t capture the
division and consequently damage their chances in this winter’s colossal
Gillick attempted to fill one of the holes when he took Rickey
Henderson off the Mets’ hands in late-May, but instead has created an
awkward situation. Seattle was at the top of the leader board in walks
before the pickup and need a corner outfielder with the juice to bring
runners home more than they needed Henderson’s declining on-base skills.
While Henderson would make a nifty chess piece off the bench, he has
personal goals that he wants to reach; if unwillingly shifted to a reserve
role, his performance could suffer such that he becomes a detriment rather
than an asset.
The Mariners should try to move some of their arms surplus for a Jeromy
Burnitz or Manny Ramirez. If Henderson can’t accept a reduced role, he
can be given his walking papers.
Another, less complicated, boost for the bench could happen if the M’s
simply designate Raul Ibanez for assignment and recall Mike
Neill from Tacoma. Long dubbed a "minor-league hitter", Neill
would give the Mariners a left-handed hitter with pop to play in right
field on Jay Buhner‘s twice-weekly days off. Neill is currently
hitting .312/.424/.505 at Tacoma.
More glaring is the lack of production from three of the spots in the
infield. Mark McLemore (.235 EqA), David Bell (.224 EqA) and
Dan Wilson (.208 EqA) all rank in the bottom third of their
positions offensively, and none of them are great shakes defensively. As
attractive as it would be to dump Wilson, it’s also highly unlikely since
he comes with a hefty three-year contract gifted to him last off-season.
And since second base and third base are skill positions, significant
upgrades are hard to find unless the Mariners bring in young players with
big upsides. This would be a good direction to go given the advanced age of
the team, but Gillick’s staunch conservatism and Lou Piniella’s passion for
war-torn veterans will undoubtedly put the kibosh on the notion. Instead
the team will continue to play the waiting game and hope that the pool of
players to choose from grows as the deadline approaches and clubs assess
their playoff chances more realistically.
In case staring up at the rest of the pack for six weeks wasn’t enough to
convince Ranger fans that their club isn’t going to win its fourth division
title in the last five years, the petty trade of Estaban Loaiza to
Toronto for two middling prospects should do it. It’s time for GM Doug
Melvin to add a few more live arms to the pipeline and clear up an outfield
situation muddied by Ruben Mateo‘s career-threatening leg injury and
Gabe Kapler‘s career-threatening stagnation. Fortunately, Melvin has
some nice pieces with which to barter.
Luis Alicea and David Segui are both in their mid-30s, having
career years and standing in the way of younger and better players.
Alicea’s extended stay above the hypnotic .300 mark in batting average is
keeping Frank Catalanotto (.310 EqA) glued to the pine. Jason
Romano will probably be shoving both of them out of the way by the
spring of 2002. While there isn’t a replacement for Segui on the big-league
roster, go shake a tree and an adequate designated hitter will fall out.
Heads up, there’s Pedro Valdes! Of course, whoever it is will only
be biding time until Carlos Pena moves Rafael Palmeiro to DH,
which could be as soon as next April.
Free-agent-to-be John Wetteland has followed up on last year’s
substandard season with another one almost exactly like it, and the Rangers
have a trio of hard throwers (Francisco Cordero, Jeff
Zimmerman and Tim Crabtree) to step in if he is traded. Since
having a "proven closer" on a last-place team is about as
important as a pro wrestler having a Ph.D. in literature, the time is right
for Melvin to pull the trigger. The club has been making noise about
wanting to re-sign Wetteland; folks in Arlington should hope that’s just a
ploy to drive up his price.
Jeff Bower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.