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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.

  • Leading the list of the five most desirable and available starting pitchers is Padres right-hander Greg Maddux (2.6 SNLVAR). Reportedly, Maddux cleared waivers on Friday, and can be traded to any of the other 29 teams. The kicker here is that Maddux, like Giles, has a no-trade clause, and it doesn’t sound as if he wants to waive it. “Living in San Diego is like being on a perpetual vacation,” Maddux said earlier this season. “It’s a great city, and I tried to get here for a number of years.” The Padres and Dodgers did talk before the deadline, but San Diego general manager Kevin Towers has a genuine dislike for his Southern California rivals, and is demanding a high price in return for Maddux.
  • Indians right-hander Paul Byrd (1.9 SNLVAR) has also cleared waivers, and would waive his no-trade clause to go to a contender. He seems the most-likely starting pitcher to change teams before the deadline, and interest is starting to pick up after his complete-game win over the Blue Jays in Toronto on Saturday.
  • Mariners left-hander Jarrod Washburn (1.7 SNLVAR) was nearly traded to the Yankees before the July 31 deadline, and reportedly has also cleared waivers. The Mariners’ insistence that they net a few decent young players in addition to salary relief is likely to scuttle any possible trades, as Washburn is set to make $10.35 million next season.
  • Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo (1.4 SNLVAR) is adamant that he doesn’t want to leave Cincinnati, but he also doesn’t have no-trade protection. He’s only 31 years old and durable, making him an attractive target, but he is also guaranteed $22.5 million over the next two seasons, which reduces the likely number of suitors.
  • Left-hander Kenny Rogers (1.3 SNLVAR) could be intriguing to some clubs once the Tigers acknowledge the obvious and admit that they are out of contention.
  • In addition to Arroyo, the Reds would also consider offloading closer Francisco Cordero (1.183 WXRL), although Cordero comes with an even greater financial commitment than Arroyo (a guaranteed $37 million over the next three seasons). Cheaper relief alternatives are Giants right-hander Tyler Walker (0.940 WXRL), and Tigers right-hander Todd Jones (0.738 WXRL), both eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
  • Orioles designated hitter/cornerman Aubrey Huff (.296 EqA) is the biggest impact bat with the best chance of being traded this month. He has one more year left on a contract that will pay him $8 million next season, so it will be interesting to see if a contender looking for left-handed power will be willing to take on that obligation to make a run at the playoffs.
  • Pirates utility player Doug Mientkiewicz (.290 EqA) has turned himself from strictly a first baseman into a capable four-corner reserve, though the Pirates may be hesitant to trade him because he’s a favorite of manager John Russell and has played a large role in dramatically changing the clubhouse chemistry this season.
  • Pirates third baseman Jose Bautista (.265 EqA) is expendable after losing his starting job when Andy LaRoche was acquired from the Dodgers in a July 31 trade.
  • Giants utility infielder Rich Aurilia (.257 EqA) can play all over the infield, and still has some occasional pop in his bat.
  • Giants outfielder Randy Winn (.274 EqA) is stretched as an everyday outfielder, but few teams may be willing to take on his $8.25 million salary for next season.

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 AngelsJon 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:

  • Orioles left-hander Chris Waters allowed one hit in eight shutout innings and beat the Angels in his major league debut Tuesday. That was the least number of hits allowed by an Orioles pitcher in his first big-league start since Bob Milacki also gave up one hit in eight scoreless innings against the Tigers on September 18, 1988. Dave McNally pitched a one-hit shutout for the Orioles in his debut against the Athletics on September 26, 1962.
  • The Athletics were swept in three consecutive series of three games or more for the first time since the franchise moved to Oakland in 1967 when they lost three to the Royals from July 28-30, three to the Red Sox from August 1-3, and four to the Blue Jays August 4-7.
  • The Marlins and Rangers are the only two teams in the major leagues to have records over .500 despite negative run differentials. The Marlins are 61-56, scoring 552 runs and giving up 576. The Rangers are 60-58, scoring 652 runs and allowing 699.
  • The Marlins are looking to become the first National League team to have an infield with each player recording at least 20 home runs (minimum of 75 games at each position). Second baseman Dan Uggla has 26, shortstop Hanley Ramirez has 25, first baseman Mike Jacobs has 23, and third baseman Jorge Cantu has 19. The only other major league teams to accomplish the feat were the 2004 and 2005 Rangers, with first baseman Mark Teixeira, second baseman Alfonso Soriano, third baseman Hank Blalock, and shortstop Michael Young. The Marlins could also become the first team ever to have four infielders with 25 homers in a season.
  • Since the start of the 2004 season, Mets left-hander Johan Santana leads the major leagues in wins (80), earned run average (2.88), and strikeouts (1,118).
  • Mets reliever Eddie Kunz, who made his major league debut last Sunday, is just the third player from the 2007 draft to appear in the big leagues, joining Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler and Rangers pitcher Tommy Hunter. Meanwhile, Mets outfielder Daniel Murphy, who made his big-league debut August 2, is the fifth non-pitcher from the 2006 draft to appear in a major league game, joining Giants shortstops Brian Bocock and Emmanuel Burris, Rangers first baseman Chris Davis, and Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.
  • Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is two home runs shy of his second consecutive 30-homer season. Only two Padres have ever had back-to-back 30-homer seasons: Fred McGriff (1991-92) and Phil Nevin (2000-01).
  • Athletics reliever Brad Ziegler‘s 37-inning scoreless streak is an Athletics record for a reliever, and the modern major league record to start a career. It also ties the longest scoreless streak by an Athletics pitcher since the franchise moved to Oakland; Mike Torrez set the record in 1976.
  • Astros left fielder Carlos Lee, whose season might be over after he suffered a broken left pinky finger Saturday night, leads all major league outfielders with 661 RBI since 2003.

Series to watch this week with rankings according to Jay Jaffe‘s Prospectus Hit List:

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