Zack Greinke traded to the Los Angeles Angels; Hanley Ramirez dealt to the Dodgers; Cincinnati Reds full steam without Joey Votto; Another busy weekend for the Boston Red Sox; British Baseball’s lost Olympic opportunity and World Baseball Classic news.
On Friday, with the 31 July non-waiver trade deadline approaching, Zack Greinke was dealt from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels for rookie shortstop Jean Segura and Double-A right-handers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg. The acquisition of a proven front of the rotation starter is is confirmation of what most baseball fans already know – despite a .500 July, the third-place Halos can smell the World Series. Truth be told, after investing all that dough in Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, the Angels had better make the playoffs and start earning the revenue that comes with post-season baseball. With October baseball on the line, giving up three of the organization’s top-10 prospects for a high-powered rental makes sense for a Los Angeles team in win-now mode. If Greinke, a soon to be free agent, walks away from the Angels after the season, then so be it.
Greinke is a weapon, one that has won in the American League before. In 2009, he found a way to go 16-9 with a 2.16 ERA on a Kansas City team that lost 97 games, accounting for nearly 25% of the Royals’ victories. In his Angels debut on Sunday, LA’s bats wasted a sterling effort by Greinke, who allowed just two runs in seven innings, striking out eight Rays batters while walking just one. Tampa won 2-0.
For me, the most interesting thing to come out of the trade of Greinke is a photograph that was taken by former teammate, John Axford. Shortly after news of the trade broke, Axford sent a snapshot out into the world via instagram, showing Greinke surrounded by teammates that are sad to see him go. The caption read:
“in the words of Lloyd Christmas, “I hate goodbyes”! #ZackWillBeMissed
The photo offers some insight into the relationships between players who spend an enormous amount of time with each other, the camaraderie of a clubhouse, and of course, the business of baseball. It’s obvious that Greinke’s teammates thought a lot of him, that he meant more to the team than just wins and strikeouts. It’s an authentic, impromptu baseball moment, thankfully shared with all.
All Han-ds on deck
The Angels weren’t the only LA team making moves last week. The Dodgers, a team desperate for offense, acquired Hanley Ramirez from sellers Miami on Tuesday. Just four Dodgers, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, AJ Ellis and James Loney, were everyday players in LA’s line-up, the remaining positions involved platooning players. With Ramirez made available by the Marlins, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti jumped on the opportunity, dealing Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough for reliever Randy Choate and Ramirez.
It’s a gamble for Los Angeles, who are on the hook for over $30m over the next two seasons for a player who has been on a downward spiral since winning the batting title in 2009. At the time of the deal, Ramirez was hitting .246, a shadow of the franchise player he once was, never mind his attitude issues. Colletti was clearly banking on the old change of scenery thing working out, and so far the early returns are positive, hitting a 10th-inning home run at San Francisco on Friday night.
Randy Choate told the Los Angeles Times: “It seemed there were a lot of expectations [in Miami] fell solely on him and a lot of blame fell solely on him. It just seemed the more that we started failing, the more he started getting blamed.”
Ramirez said to the Times
“I’m happy, I’m relaxed. My mind is completely clean. … We got a chance. It’s a different feeling.”
In his first five games the Dodgers have averaged nearly 1.5 more runs per game with Ramirez in the line-up, while the 28-year-old hit for a 1.036 OPS compared with .749 in Miami. Los Angeles swept their three-game series with the hated Giants, to move LA into a tie for first place in the NL West, while panic buttons were pressed in the Pacific Northwest. The San Jose Mercury news sounded the alarm Sunday:
“Must make a trade! The Dodgers look invincible with Hanley Ramirez! The Giants MUST respond by getting a big bat NOW NOW NOW!”
The clock is ticking on the Giants and the rest of baseball with the deadline for non-waiver trades set to come and go on Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the White Sox made their big move on Saturday, dealing for inconsistent Twins starting pitcher Francisco Liriano in exchange for infielder Eduardo Escobar and lefty Pedro Hernandez. Depending on which Liriano takes to the hill, the Sox could have a game-changing front of the rotation starter, or the pitcher who is 3-10 with an ERA over 5.00 this season. He’ll face his former team in Minnesota on Tuesday.
Red with envy
OK, who had the Reds being able to rip off 10 straight, their longest winning streak of the season, without their franchise slugger Joey Votto? I feel like I’ve been asking a lot of questions like that this year… Anyway, as the old hardball cliche goes, baseball is indeed a funny game, and we should never, ever, ever be surprised or shocked by what it throws at us.
The Reds are hot, scorching hot, and happen to be tearing it up without their one-time MVP in the lineup. So, how do the Reds make up for all that firepower? Like any team called “Reds”, collectively. Heading into Monday, the Reds are 11-3 since Votto landed on the shelf, Brandon Phillips is hitting .372 with two homers and four doubles in the last two weeks, Ryan Ludwick is hitting .417 over the past week, while Drew Stubbs has provided timely hitting and a .950 OPS over the past 14 games, that’s after batting in the low 200′s all season long. Without Votto, Cincinnati have scored more runs per game than they have averaged all season long. How about that?!
And while all of this offense is helping fill the gaping hole left by Votto, the 2012 Reds continue to show that they are a team led by its pitching staff. In fact, the Reds have used just five starting pitchers through their first 100 games, something they haven’t done in, say, 114 years, which is a very, very long time. More than just healthy, Cincinnati pitchers are effective, especially as of late. Mike Leake has given up more than two earned runs just once in his previous seven starts, while Bronson Arroyo has lowered his ERA by more than a half run over his past six outings. Meanwhile, Mat Latos, acquired over the winter to provide that young starter bursting with ace potential, has only allowed more than two earned runs just once in his previous six starts. Yes, the Reds starters can throw and their bullpen is deep.
Even if the Pittsburgh Pirates are getting all the attention these days, (and really, why not, being in their first bona fide pennant race in 19 years), Dusty Baker’s first-place Reds, flying well below the radar, are deserving of the three game lead they hold over the Bucs.
You have to laugh…
Bobby Valentine said on Saturday “We’ve got drama. We’ve got pre-game drama, we’ve got in-game drama, and we’ve got post-game drama. Man, we’ve got drama.” Some baseball fans think the polarizing Valentine is wrong about everything, but who after watching the goings on in Boston in 2012 could deny the truth in those words?
Valentine’s in-game drama this weekend came on Sunday night when he was ejected during Boston’s 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees, one that sealed a series win during their first visit to Yankee Stadium this season. That was the least of the action in and around the Red Sox clubhouse last week.
There were rumors of a deal to trade Carl Crawford to Miami for Jose Reyes, rumblings that made their way through Fenway via the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Later in the week, an unnamed baseball executive said that Ben Cherington was trying to find a way to get Josh Beckett out of town, a rumor eventually denied by the Sox GM.
Then, after the Yanks pasted Boston 10-3 on Friday’s series opener, Dustin Pedroia sounded off.
“The first 100 games have been [expletive],” Pedroia told reporters. “We’re two games under .500 and we’re the Boston Red Sox. If everyone is thrilled about where we’re at, we need to re-evaluate because I don’t like losing. We need to play better, man.”
There was more:
“Our at bats later in the game were not good,” Pedroia said. “We’re swinging early in the count. Heck, if their eighth-inning guy is going to come into the game, let’s at least get 25-30 pitches, so maybe he can’t pitch tomorrow. Do something productive and we’re not doing that. That’s a sign of not a winning team.”
All this from the Sox second baseman, while Valentine sung a different tune about his cellar-dwelling Sox:
“We’ll turn it around. We haven’t had our big streak yet. That’s the good news.”
In case that outburst wasn’t enough for Sox fans, Saturday saw Terry Francona make an appearance in his former clubhouse. The ex-Boston manager, who was fired after the team collapsed last September, was visiting Cody Ross, gathering information for his current gig as an ESPN analyst. That one-on-one chat quickly transformed into Francona holding clubhouse court for roughly a half-hour with a host of his former players including Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Nick Punto and David Ortiz. Valentine and Francona, who sparred in the press earlier this season, would later meet for an informational session as is normal for ESPN broadcasters to do. Francona would later text Valentine to apologize for causing any hubbub.
There was also continued discussion surrounding the documentary film Valentine executive produced called “Ballplayer: Pelotero” which focuses on some of the dodgy dealings that used to take place surrounding the signing of baseball players from Dominican Republic, a process that Major League Baseball has improved over the past couple of years.
The film drew the ire of Bud Selig earlier in July, and the commissioner let Valentine’s employers know of his displeasure. The Sox manager defended the work on Friday.
“They made a good film. Someone looks at this and has been in baseball a while, been in Asia, been in Korea, been in Taiwan, been in Venezuela, it’s the way of the land. You think when I was being signed they didn’t try to tell me some things that weren’t true? Of course.”
Just another odd moment in a season of never ending odd moments.
And despite the wacky week in Beantown, and everything else that has gone down in Back Bay thus far in 2012, rather incredibly, the Sox are just four games out of a wild card spot heading into Monday’s games.
No Olympic baseball in Blighty
These were supposed to be banner days for the British Baseball Federation. Had baseball been played at these Olympic Games, it would have meant construction of a bona fide baseball venue in London (not to mention softball), and a Great Britain team playing on an Olympic level, which, at least in theory, could have provided a springboard for the growth of the sport in the UK.
In 2005, two days after the Olympics were awarded to London, both baseball and softball were voted out of the Games, and today, the good people at the BBF are standing outside of their own house without a ticket to the big party in their backyard, a crushing blow to all involved in British baseball, especially considering how close they were to realizing one of their major goals. Josh Chetwynd, former co-host of MLB on Five UK, was playing for GB when the sport was dropped.
“We all knew what a difference this sort of high-profile event could have on interest in the game, and, equally as important – if not more so – creating a legacy facility. As cliche as it sounds, there is a “if you build it, they will come” phenomenon with baseball. GB baseball has lagged terribly behind other European countries in terms of infrastructure. This could have started the process of turning things around.”
They’re not alone of course, other countries looked forward to playing baseball at the Games as well – Cuba can’t be too pleased. The International Baseball Federation has joined forces with the International Softball Federation in what will be a joint bid to get back into the IOC fold for 2020.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association, along with the leagues and players associations of other professional leagues worldwide, have succeeded in bringing their biggest stars to the plate with the World Baseball Classic, a tournament sanctioned by the IBAF, which began in 2006. Perhaps seeking to generate some international news ahead of the Olympics, MLB announced on Wednesday that they had awarded the final of the 2013 to AT&T Park in San Francisco. Games in earlier rounds will take place at the new Marlins ballpark in Miami, Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona and the Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona. There will be an additional international venue to be determined at a later date.
When the event is played next year, for the first time, it will feature teams that had to qualify, 12 of which are new to the tournament. Great Britain will get its chance to make up for a lost Olympic opportunity when they face Germany, Czech Republic and, believe it or not, Canada, who were forced to qualify after not winning a game in the previous tournament. The winner of the group stage, to be played September 20th to 24th in Regensburg, Germany, will be invited to the WBC next spring. Three other groups of four will also play for the right to participate, including non-traditional baseball countries such as Israel, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil and the Philippines – a sign that the sports’ global reach is on the rise despite losing its place in the Olympic program.