A flurry of moves over the past few days has the hot stove firing earlier than usual this offseason. With the Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler blockbuster swap already thoroughly examined, let's explore what these other trades and signings mean for the teams, the players, and the rest of the winter.
New York Yankees
What they've done: The Yankees signed catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a vesting option that could take the deal to six years and $100 million.
What it means: McCann gives the Yankees' offense a big boost. A few years ago, the Bombers fielded a lineup stuffed with power hitters and big on-base threats, the kind of attack that would wear down opposing pitchers and bash teams into submission, making up for New York's sometimes shaky run prevention. That formula unraveled in 2013, with major injuries knocking multiple boppers out of the lineup, reducing the Yankees' offense to no. 28 in baseball on a park-adjusted basis. Chris Stewart, the team’s primary receiver, hit an abysmal .211/.293/.272. Since 2006, McCann’s first full season, only four catchers have delivered more offensive value. Strip out Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli, who no longer catch, and McCann trails only Joe Mauer and Buster Posey; and once the 2014 season starts, Mauer won't be catching, either.
Only two more weekends left in the regular season, and to use one of my favorite clichés, these guys have EVERYTHING to play for! Let's get to it.
10. How the Nationals Will Destroy the NL Central (MIA-WAS)
At exactly the moment in the season when it was pretty much too late, the Nationals started winning like fiends. Going back to September 3, they've put together a 13-3 streak and salvaged a very remote chance of snatching the final wild-card spot. It's still a huge long shot; with nine games remaining, they find themselves five back of the Reds. We're at the point where one Reds-win-Nats-lose night will basically sink them. On the other hand, the Reds have six games remaining against the Pirates, and as long as Pittsburgh has a shot at the NL Central title, thus avoiding the wild card, they won't be laying down for anyone. The Nationals don't have it much easier, finishing with the Pirates and Diamondbacks, but they do have three games against the Marlins this weekend. In theory, it's not insane to imagine that they could be two back with six to play on Monday. And that's a very different outlook.
So, this is how the Nationals could destroy the NL Central. First, they finish in a tie with the Reds for the final playoff spot. That would result in a one-game playoff. If the Nationals won that, they would then play the wild-card game against whoever loses the Pirates-Cardinals battle for the NL Central for argument's sake, let's say the Pirates. If they won that game, and St. Louis maintained a lead in the standings over the Dodgers, the Nats would then play the third NL Central team in the divisional round. It could be a clean sweep! Five games, and a whole division destroyed! If that happened, I would add the NL Central massacre to this Wikipedia page over and over until they let it stay.
Jonah Keri talks to San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Susan Slusser about the streaking A's. How has Oakland gone from league doormats to odds-on favorites to win two straight AL West titles? Who's the face of the franchise when you have a mostly anonymous roster? If there's a new Moneyball, what is it? And what does the future hold for the team's stadium saga? We cover all that, plus examine the role of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, with help from the BBWAA's acting president.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. How is it mid-September? Did we even have August this year? Are the playoffs really sneaking up on us? This is getting serious, gang. Each team has about 15 games left to win, lose, bargain, plead, suffer, and despair. There are only three weekends of regular-season baseball left, starting today, and here's something important: A fancy word for "third-to-last" is "antepenultimate." Armed with that knowledge, it's time for the antepenultimate weekend countdown. Join me!
Angels manager Mike Scioscia denies that he’s experiencing tensions with his boss, general manager Jerry Dipoto, over "philosophical differences." One presumes that these differences are about the kind of players Dipoto has acquired, or the manner in which Scioscia has deployed them. I'd like to imagine these two having actual philosophical differences, Dipoto spitting out quotations from John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice at his field manager, and Scioscia angrily returning fire with choice excerpts from Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia. We should be so lucky.
What is interesting about this rift (which, even if it doesn’t actually exist, is a credible enough possibility to warrant Scioscia’s denial) is that it brings into relief how little control and prestige belongs to baseball’s field managers anymore.
In case you were out becoming more mosquito bite than man, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Miami Marlins starter Jose Fernandez shut down fellow NL Rookie of the Year candidate Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers in a 6-2 victory. "Miami, so close to home yet a million miles away," Puig said to himself after the game, as he took a limousine down the streets of South Beach. "Everybody here is dressed like they have something to prove. I guess I still have something to prove. I guess we all always have something to prove." Puig looked down at himself and muttered, "How am I both underdressed and overdressed? It's like I'm not at home anywhere," before he yelled up to his driver, "Hey, does good pitching always beat good hitting?" When the driver shook his head and said, "Not you big Yas. You the man!" Puig had him stop the car. The Dodgers slugger then paid the driver and said, "It's not kind to lie to a man's face," before disappearing into the Miami night.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to look shaky, as they were beat by Rex Grossman and the Washington Redskins, 24-13, in a preseason clash. When asked about Grossman's performance in relief of the injured Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan scrunched up his face and said, "That doesn't sound right. Grossman was Rex Grossman? Really? No. Unless I woke up on the wrong side of a time nap. What year is this?" When told it was 2013, Shanahan snapped his fingers and said, "Damn, I was really hoping time naps were a thing."
In case you were busy sitting on a 70 million pound war chest because it's just too heavy to move, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Matt Carpenter provided four hits and the game-winning run as the St. Louis Cardinals took the rubber match of their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 in 12 innings. "We're still getting used to playoff atmosphere baseball," said Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle. "Obviously I have some experience with it, but a lot of guys on the team were terrified. Pedro Alvarez begged me to keep him out of the game. But I insisted that he had to learn what it was like sometime. And yeah, we sort of threw the guys in the deep end by coming to St. Louis. But that's the only way you learn. Not by dipping your toe into playoff baseball and then running back to the clubhouse like a child."
Quarterback Jay Cutler had a mixed outing, but the Bears' first-team defense was dominant in Chicago's 33-28 preseason win over the San Diego Chargers. Cutler, visibly pleased with his performance, said after the game, "This was perfect for me; I didn't want to show defenses the full Cutty Sark." When asked what he meant by that, Cutler said, "I mean the full Cutty Sark. The 19th-century British sailing vessel. What did you think I meant, you idiot? That thing has sails, and planks, and masts and stuff. That thing is a real boater's boat. Much like I'm a real boater's QB. But you gotta keep that bad boy in dry dock till the regular tea shipping season gets under way. Also, I've had a whiskey drink or two."
In case you were busy brainwashing your current star quarterback so he won't talk with your former star quarterback lest things get awkward, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their stunning run, pairing an Andre Ethier game-tying ninth-inning home run with 12th-inning heroics from Yasiel Puig to top the New York Mets 5-4. "We're unstoppable," yelled veteran second baseman Mark Ellis as he walked home from the stadium after the game with three of his teammates. Just then, in the distance, he heard the sound of a train whistle. Ellis ran onto the tracks. "Come on, Marky," A.J. Ellis called to his teammate from the safety of the road, but Mark said back to him, "No, uh-uh. I'm gonna dodge it." A.J. called again to his teammate, "Come on, get off the tracks, you're crazy," but Mark stood his ground and said, "Train dodger. Dig it." Suddenly the locomotive came into view, and A.J. yelled, "Get off the tracks, you want to get yourself killed?" as an increasingly uncomfortable Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu stood silently by him. Mark then mimed swinging a bat at the train, but as it barreled closer A.J. grabbed him firm and dragged him out of danger. A.J. screamed at his namesake "You want to kill yourself? Is that what you want, goddamnit?" But Mark stared him straight in the eye and said, "The way we're playing, we could have dodged it." This would be only one incident in the most meaningful summer of these young men's lives. Teammates come in and out of your life, but you never have any friends like the ones you do when you're in a pennant race. Jesus, does anyone?
Despite the seemingly endless string of heroics taking place at Chavez Ravine, the Arizona Diamondbacks are doing their best to keep the NL West division race alive, walking off for the third consecutive night behind two key hits from Aaron Hill in a 5-4 14-inning win over the Baltimore Orioles. "We've found a winning formula, we just have to hit walk-offs every night where we otherwise wouldn't win," Hill said after the game. "Think about it: If we can't lose when we're losing, and we can't lose when we're winning, we can't lose. Which means we can't lose. Think about it. It's so simple."
In case you were busy hiding out in your ill-conceived meteor shower bunker, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Texas starter Yu Darvish came close to throwing a no-hitter in Houston, but had to settle for a 2-1 win over the Astros after it was broken up with a solo home run by catcher Carlos Corporan. "Carlos seems like a great guy," Darvish said after the game, his lip quivering. "I totally get why my no-hitter would go and fly off with him. It makes total sense to me. I just — I just wish I knew what I'm doing wrong. If I could change who I am, I would. Really. Every time I get close to a no-hitter, it pulls away, and I never see it again. Then another no-hitter comes around, everything seems like it's going great, and bam. Gone again. It shouldn't be this hard." Darvish then shook his head and smiled. "I guess that's what makes it worth it, right? If it were easy, it wouldn't be as meaningful. I get it. I really do. I really, really, really do."
Despite another late scare, David Robertson and the New York Yankees made Hiroki Kuroda's gem hold up for a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Robertson, who was visibly relieved after the game, said of his performance, "This team needed a pickup, and I am glad I could bring it. Got some great love from my teammates plus a weird call from a dude calling himself Brosh-Dog saying I'm 'in on clutchtrueyanks.biz,' whatever that means. Then I got a follow-up text saying not to tell Alex about clutchtrueyanks.biz because that would ruin it. Then I got some texts from my family. Then more texts about not telling Alex about some dumb website. Really though, I'm happy for the team and for Mo, that I'm able to give him a day off so he can come back strong. And also I think that website gave me a virus."
It's August, the worst month of the year! Time to shut your blinds, turn the air conditioner down to 56, and hibernate for 30 days with only baseball and unsweetened ice tea for companions. Here are the best ways to make it through the first weekend of Hell Month.
10. A-Rod A-Rod A-Rod A-Rod
He's holding down the no. 10 spot! The latest news in the suspension saga is that his talks with MLB have "stalled." I mean, how classic is that? A-Rod has literally no ground to stand on, and the only thing saving him from a lifetime ban is that it would be kind of embarrassing for Selig and baseball. But I bet he sauntered into the negotiating room thinking he could talk them down to 30 days and a small fine. "I'm going to drive a hard bargain," he probably said to himself, narrowing his eyes as he took a seat at the table. Man, A-Rod is the worst. The correct tactic was obviously to accept anything less than a lifetime ban, and then drop to his knees in thanks. Instead, he's screwing himself. I shouldn't be surprised, but somehow he has managed to baffle me again.
In case you were busy becoming an expert on the recovery period for hip surgeries, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Red Sox bolstered their rotation before the trade deadline, acquiring former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal. When asked if he was worried about the pressure of playing in Boston, Peavy responded gravely, "Yes. Terrified. Everything changes. I've spent the last couple of hours weeping into this bucket. Look at it!" Peavy then held up an empty bucket, before adding, "Of course I dumped out the bucket before I came out here. I'm not a weirdo."
Mark Ellis hit a walk-off single and the Dodgers kept on rolling, edging past the New York Yankees, 3-2, and improving to 27-6 over their past 33 games. The hit extended Ellis's hit streak to 11 games, a run he credits to "not having anything to do with hallucinogenic drugs, why is everyone asking me that? Of course I'm not tripping at the plate. That would have made this impossible I would imagine." Ellis then furrowed his brow and asked, "Is this because of that honorary doctorate I got in June?"
For those of you who weren’t already aware, Mark Teixeira was traded twice a few years back, and as it turns out, those trades completely upset the course of baseball events, on a scale that alternate-history novels are written. It’s not an exaggeration to say that had either of those trades shaken out differently, we’d be looking at a radically unfamiliar baseball landscape.
In 2007, the Atlanta Braves were coming off their first playoff absence since 1990, a remarkable run that we underrate historically because they lost four of their five World Series appearances in that time. On July 31, 2007, sitting third in a close three-way battle for the NL East, they traded five minor leaguers to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay. Mahay was a pretty good middle reliever at the time, but a middle reliever nonetheless. The big get was Teixeira. In the years since, Teixeira signed a massive free-agent contract that covered his decline years, lost his foot speed and defensive ability, battled injuries, and watched his offensive output drop off precipitously. Which is to say that he’s become the archetypal modern New York Yankee.
But in 2007, he was a terrific baseball player. Over his first four and a half seasons with Texas, he was worth nearly 24 wins above replacement. He hit for average and power from both sides of the plate, played more or less every day, and had developed a good reputation with the glove. Teixeira was unflappable, just the kind of hitter who would show up at the ballpark and mechanically, monotonously, dispassionately grind his opponents into dust. He was, to paraphrase David Mamet, so cool that when he went to bed, sheep counted him.
In case you were busy realizing that your future isn't so bright, and you should probably take off your shades inside because you look foolish, here's what you missed in sports this weekend:
Derek Jeter came back with a bang, returning from injury by hitting a home run off the first pitch he saw in the Yankees' 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. I don't know about you guys, but given Jeter's impossible streak of heroism, isn't it time he got promoted? We all remember when Jeter got drafted out of Kalamazoo as lowly ensign, and then shot up the ranks, becoming Captain Jeter of the SS Yankees. But isn't it time that he's made a rear admiral of the AL East? Now we all know that Jeter is too humble to demand that we put stars on his shoulder, but I think we can all agree that no one deserves being given command of the entire AL East more than Jeter.
The U.S. men's national team reclaimed the Gold Cup title with a gritty 1-0 win over Panama in the tournament final. "Yes, good, now bring me the golden cup, for it must be the grail," said American manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who missed the final match because of suspension. "Finally, immortal life is mine!" Klinsmann then drank deeply from the cup only to find himself in immediate pain. "What is happening to me?" Klinsmann asked assistant coach Kasey Keller, who was screaming in dismay. Klinsmann then rapidly aged until he was nothing but dust and bone, before former manager Bruce Arena stepped out of the shadows and said with a modicum of irony, "He has chosen poorly."
You won't find many gloomier weeks of headlines for any sport than what baseball's getting right now. Ryan Braun has been compared to a cockroach. Alex Rodriguez is "the Whitey Bulger of baseball." We're drowning in PED rumors, PED news, and especially PED outrage.
The latest sordid report has A-Rod and the Yankees sniping back and forth at each other over a quad injury that may or may not exist. The Yankees are blocking him from playing, says Rodriguez and his multiple emissaries. A-Rod is violating the collective bargaining agreement by asking a doctor for a second opinion without team consent, says Yankees management. Meanwhile, another report speculated that Rodriguez could be facing a lifetime ban for PED possession and various bad behavior related to said possession, despite having zero prior suspensions on his record.