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It was a busy day for GM’s yesterday, with several contenders adding key pieces to their post-season drive.  Let’s take a look at the moves and the effect I think they will have.

Boston Red Sox Acquire Victor Martinez

The Red Sox added a big bat in Martinez, while holding onto prized pitching prospect Clay Bucholz.  Instead, they sent reliever/spot starter Justin Masterson to the Indians along with minor league pitchers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price.  This is an excellent trade for the Red Sox, as none of the players they gave up are irreplaceable.  It also gives them incredible line-up flexibility.  Martinez can catch or play first base while Kevin Youkilis can play first or third.  This will allow the Red Sox to rest either Jason Varitek or Mike Lowell and his achy hip on any day. 

Red Sox Acquire Casey Kotchman

The Red Sox traded recently acquired Adam Laroche back to Atlanta, where he started his career, for first baseman Casey Kotchman.  I am not totally sure what the point of this trade was.  Kotchman will be a defensive substitution at best for the Red Sox, and has a lot less pop than Laroche.  For Atlanta, I would consider Kotchman a superior player, so I am not sure what their plans are either.   

Detroit Tigers Acquire Jarrod Washburn

With the White Sox hot on their heels, the Tigers were in need of a veteran presence to settle their rotation.  Washburn is a perfect fit, and is having a career year in 2009, with a 2.64 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He will combine with Verlander and Jackson to give the Tigers a strong trio of starting pitchers, but I do not think it will be enough to get them past the big dogs in the AL East in the post-season.

Chicago White Sox Acquire Jake Peavy

Finally, the Jake Peavy saga has ended in San Diego.  He agreed to waive his no-trade clause to head to Chicago, something which he refused to do earlier this year.  While the White Sox gave up a lot, including pitcher Clayton Richard and top prospect Aaron Poreda, it gives them the ace they need this year (if Peavy is health).    

Twins Acquire Orlando Cabrera

Despite a .500 record, the Twins fancied themselves a buyer at the deadline due to the fact that they are only three games out of a playoff spot.  They needed an upgrade at SS, and Cabrera’s .694 OPS provides a significant upgrade over the .639 that they have gotten from the position this year.  He is also a career 5.0 UZR/150 fielder at short, although he has slipped this year.  While the intention was good, it does not match what the two teams above them did, and the Twinkies are headed for a third place finish.    

Yankees Acquire Jerry Hairston Jr.

Hairston’s particular talent is not with the bat or his glove, but that he can play pretty much anywhere on the diamond.  This will be huge for the Yankees, who are an old team, and this will allow them to rest some regulars down the stretch.  Do not be surprised if you see Hairston come up with a big play late in the season or in the playoffs, just a funny feeling.

Marlins Acquire Nick Johnson    

I almost cannot believe it, but the Marlins added a piece to their team instead of selling for once.  Johnson is an on-base machine, and will give the Marlins greater flexibility in their infield.  However, they are already six games behind the Phillies, and it may be a case of too little, too late.

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While it was generally accepted that the Giants would be a team to be reckoned with in 2010, GM Brian Sabean started the party early, acquiring first baseman Ryan Garko from the Indians and second baseman Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates.  My prediction is that these two players will help the deliver the Giants an NLCS championship.  They are huge upgrades over the production that the Giants are currently getting from these positions.  At first base, the Giants received a .747 OPS, ranked 25th in the league, and at second, a .601 OPS, good for a rank of 28. 

Sanchez brings to the table a .776 OPS, and will probably give the giant an extra fifteen runs above average based on weighted on-base average.  Garko owns a .826 OPS, and based on the same statistics, should give the Giants an extra five runs over their current production.  Over the course of 61 games, twenty runs is nothing to shake a stick at.  An extra .33 runs per game would move them from the 27th ranked offence in runs scored to 23rd, a significant increase.  If you add .33 runs per game to their current statistics this season, their Expected Pythagorean Record winning percentage would jump from a pedestrian .532 to .615.  To put that in perspective, the Yankees and Dodgers are leading the league with a .614 winning percentage. 

Already leading the Wild Card Race, the Giants, barring a serious injury to Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain, should slide comfortable into the postseason.  This is when they will be the most dangerous.  Lincecum and Cain form the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the NL, and will be extremely effective in a post-season series.  Let’s take a look at the Giants new and improved roster.

Lineup

C – Bengie Molina (80 OPS+)

1B – Ryan Garko (114 OPS+, 12.1 UZR/150)

2B – Freddy Sanchez ( 109 OPS+, 6.3 UZR/150)

3B – Pablo Sandoval (142 OPS+, -1.07 UZR/150)

SS – Edgar Renteria (65 OPS+, -1.9 UZR/150)

LF – Fred Lewis (93 OPS+, 3.0 UZR/150)

CF – Aaron Rowand (102 OPS+, 8.4 UZR/150)

RF – Randy Winn (86 OPS+, 15.1 UZR/150)

Utility IF – Juan Uribe (94 OPS+, 7.38 UZR/150)

On average, this line-up has an OPS+ of 98.3, barely below league average.  When you combine that with their stellar pitching, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  They are also an above average defensive squad, with a cumulative UZR/150 of 49.31 among these nine players.  This is 49 runs that the Giants will save on defence alone. 

Pitching

SP – Tim Lincecum (2.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 1.99 FIP)

SP – Matt Cain (2.27 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 3.81 FIP)

SP – Barry Zito (4.54 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 4.37 FIP)

SP – Jonathan Sanchez (4.92 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 4.33 FIP)

SP – Randy Johnson (4.81 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.91 FIP)

Bullpen – (3.37 ERA , 1.32 WHIP, 3.74 ERA)

While starters three through five leave much to be desired, Lincecum and Cain are so dominant and throw so many innings that the Giants still have second best starting pitcher ERA in the league.  The bullpen is ranked third.  Even when you factor out the excellent fielding; the starters and relievers rank third and fourth respectively in FIP.

Even though Sabean gave up a big part of the future in Tim Alderson to acquire Sanchez, it was well worth it.  So there you have it folks, the 2009 NL Champion San Francisco Giants.

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Well, the defending world champions got their man.  No it is not Roy Halladay, but it is a second ace they can pair with Cole Hamels for a strong 1-2 punch.  The big win in this deal is that the Phillies kept their top two pitching prospects, Happ and Drabek, the former who is having a strong season with the big club.  If they had traded for Halladay, one or both of these guys would have been on their way north of the border.  The difference between Halladay and Lee is not big enough that it would warrant the Phillies giving up one of these two elite pitching prospects.  

Here is what the Phillies gave up (Baseball America Prospect Rank in parentheses):

Carlos Carrasco, RHP (2) – Carrasco topped the Phillies prospect rankings in 2007 and 2008, and has been in the top 10 since 2003.  He is still just 22 years old, but has not really put it together.  In 2007 and 2008, he put up ERA’s of 4.86 and 4.32 at AA Reading.  This year, he has a 5.18 ERA at AAA Lehigh Valley compared to 3.06 for Drabek, who has supplanted him as the organizations top pitching prospect.

Lou Marson, Catcher (3) – While Marson has a solid bat and excellent plate discipline for a catcher, his arm is not as strong as you would want, and he threw out 37% of base runners in 2008.  If his arm strength slips at all, he will no longer be able to play catcher, and his bat will no longer be nearly as impressive.

Jason Donald, Shortstop (4) – Another guy on the list who does not really have a position.  He has an excellent bat for a shortstop, but is below average defensively.  Scouts also say he barely has the skill to play second.  This leaves third base as his other option, but like Marson, his bat suddenly does not seem like such a weapon at a premiere power position.  Many scouts project him as a super utility player; valuable, but not a difference maker like Lee.   

Jason Knapp, RHP (10) – Knapp is a power pitcher who can hit the high 90’s on the radar gone.  Like many young power pitchers, he also has trouble staying consistent.  His command is sub-par, and he is certainly a work in progress.  While the Phillies used him as a starter, it is projected that he will be a power bullpen arm.  Like Donald, valuable, but not irreplaceable. 

Overall, the Phillies did well in this trade.  They traded some solid prospects but no “can’t miss” guys, and got a reigning Cy Young winner.  Lee’s low HR/9 will play well in Citizens Bank Ballpark, and he will also benefit from a move to the weaker National League.  While I do not know if this move pushes the Phillies ahead of the Dodgers as favourites in the NL, it certainly moves them closer.  Considering that 4/5 of the current Phillies rotation is now left-handed, and the Dodgers feast on left-handed pitching (290/.375/.444), this could pose a matchup problem against the Dodgers..    

Almost unmentioned is the fact the Phillies are also adding OF Ben Francisco.  Current 4th OF Matt Stairs hits exclusively against right-handed pitchers.  This year, he has 66 AB’s and a .879 OPS against righties, and only 3 AB’s and a .250 OPS against lefties.  Francisco, on the other hand, owns a .845 OPS against lefties, over 100 points higher than against righties.  This addition will give the Phillies a potent platoon off the bench, capable of hitting left-handed and right-handed pitching. 

While the Phillies did well in this trade, so did the Indians.  They received four legitimate prospects for a pitcher with a limited track record of success in the major leagues.  I would say it is even more impressive than the haul they received last year for CC Sabathia, although he was only a half-season rental.  The Indians have done well to restock their farm system, and within a couple of years have an excellent core of young players to support star Grady Sizemore.

This trade was the definition of win-win, and was well played by both sides.  The real losers are the Toronto Blue Jays, who played hardball with the Phillies and may be left with nothing at the deadline.

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It seems the Pittsburgh Pirates cannot do anything right.  Faced with brutal ticket sales for an upcoming series against the lowly Nationals, the Bucs marketing department came up with a “You Score As The Bucs Score” campaign.  I do not know about you, but I would rather have my “scoring” tied to something other than the Pirates offense, which ranks thirteenth in that National League.  Either way, the point of the promotion was that for each run the Pirates scored in their weekend series against the Diamondbacks, fans would receive $1 off of a $24 dollar ticket to a game against the Nationals. 

While they did bust out in game one, scoring ten runs, they were shutout the next two games by Doug Davis and Max Scherzer.  This left fans with a $10 discount to a game of their choice versus the Nats.  I think this is a slap in the face to the fans.  Pittsburgh is only averaging 19,074 fans per game, which is fewer than 50% of their capacity.  I understand that their ticket sales against the Nationals are going to be brutal, but the fact is they are not going to sell out against ANYONE.  Why make the promotion available only for a game against the worst team in the league?  You are not going to lose any revenue if you offer the promotion for the series’ against Arizona or St. Louis that are coming up.  You are putting a crappy product on the field; at least let your fans see a good visiting ball team for a discounted price. 

Also, why tie the promotion to your little league offence?  You know they are not going to score many runs, and the promotion will probably just tick fans off.  Why not make it something like $5 off for every hit Freddy Sanchez gets, $4 off for each strikeout Paul Maholm gets, or get a free ticket if Matt Capps serves up a home run.  Ok, maybe the last one is not the best idea. 

The first point I am trying to make is that organizational mediocrity is contagious, and spreads from baseball operations.  Poor performance on the field leads to terrible promotional ideas like this.  If you put a winning team on the field, you do not have to worry about embarrassing yourself with promotional campaigns like this.  The second point is give your fans something they want.  No amount of a discount is going to make someone excited about watching a meaningless Pirates-Nationals contest.  Baseball is a business like anything else, and people do not buy something they do not want just because it is discounted.  Pride.  Passion.  Pittsburgh Pirates.  Maybe twenty years ago.

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Here is my latest article at Inside The Majors in which I discuss the acquisition of Matt Holliday.

http://www.insidethemajors.com/?p=2369

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The last couple weeks have added a new wrinkle to a 2009 Mets season that most fans are already trying to forget.  Forget injuries to Reyes, Delgado and Beltran, or six home runs from David Wright, how about a member of the front office trying to throw down with two players on separate occasions, and the ensuing battle between GM Omar Minaya and New York Daily News reporter Adam Rubin.

About ten days before the All-Star Break, Bernazard took off his shirt and challenged the AA affiliate Binghampton Mets to a fight, specifically Jose Coronado.  While news of the event did not really surface until last week, it blew up in the tabloids and the Mets launched an investigation.  While this investigation was ongoing, Bernazard also got into a confrontation with star closer Francisco Rodriguez.  While Rodriguez did admit to it happening, he refused to elaborate on the event.  I do not know about you, but if I am already under investigation for inappropriate behaviour, the last thing I want to do is get into a fight with the star free agent pitcher. 

Barnazard has been under intense scrutiny for the Mets failures this year, and it appears the pressure finally got to him.  The team has been unable to replace key injuries from within, resulting in a disappointing 47-51 record, ahead of only the lowly Nationals in the NL East.  The AAA Buffalo Bisons are in last place in the International League at 37-61, while the AA Mets are also last in the Eastern League with a 39-61 record.

After the entire saga with Bernazard was wrapped up, Minaya proceeded to get in a war of words with Daily News reporter Adam Rubin, accusing him of trying to wiggle his way into a front office job by discrediting the current members of the staff.  Rubin was the man who reported the Bernazard stories, and denies Minaya’s accusations.    

While I have all of the respect in the world for Minaya, it appears he has lost control of the franchise, and despite a roster that includes stars like Beltran, Reyes, Delgado, Wright, Rodriguez and Johan Santana, has only made one playoff appearance since their Subway Series loss to the Yankees in 2000.  The secondary talent is simply not there to support the star players.  I think it is time for the Mets to make some changes at the top of the organization as well as on the field, and Bernazard’s head may be just the first to role.

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What a month it has been in baseball.  Jarrod Washburn and Jason Marquis were one and two hits away respectively from perfect games, and last week Jonathan Sanchez was one error away from a perfecto.  Now, on July 23rd, Mark Buerhle has done what these other pitchers could not accomplish, and has thrown the 18th perfect game in the history of baseball.

Unbelievably it is the second no-hitter of Buehrle’s career, as he also threw one on April 18th, 2007.  He is the first pitcher since Randy Johnson to throw a perfect game, who is coincidently also the last pitcher to throw two no-hitters. 

Unfortunately, I was not able to watch the game, but from all accounts it was a 116 pitch gem for the ages.  Buehrle struck out six batters and the Rays only managed three line drives, while grounding out eleven times.  The highlight of the game was defensive substitution Dewayne Wise elevating at full speed to bring back a Gabe Kapler home run to begin the ninth.  Unbelievable.

I could not pick a better guy for this to happen to than Mark Buehrle.  He has always been one of my favourite pitchers, and despite his no-hitter remains underrated in my books.  He has thrown over 200 innings in each of his eight seasons in the big leagues, and is well on his way to his ninth.  He has won 133 games, owns a career 123 ERA+, and has only twice put up a full season ERA over 4.00.  He has never been on the disabled list, something which not many starting pitchers can attest too.  If there was ever a sure thing every five days, it is Mark Buehrle.  Yet he is somehow NEVER mentioned in the discussion of the best pitchers in the league.  Heck, he is not even considered an ace by most.

So here is to you Mark Buerhle, enjoy your historic moment.

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