Mastersball

A Tale of Three Teams
NL Beat
Written by Christopher Kreush   
Friday, 01 July 2011 12:13

The calendar has turned to July and the dog days of summer are upon us. So what does that mean in the baseball world? For one, the All-Star game – the traditional (if unofficial) halfway point of the season - along with the spectacle called the Home Run Derby is only a couple of weeks away.

Also, the non-waiver trade deadline is the last day of the month and it’s time for Major League clubs to take a good hard look at themselves. While the season on the whole is a marathon, this next month turns into somewhat of a mad sprint as GMs look to outdo each other and be the first to land the big prize that will, hopefully, push them over the top to a pennant. It could very well be the upcoming month that makes or breaks a team’s season.

Teams need to start to decide if they are either serious contenders and want to add a piece or two for the second half run, on the bubble and could add a game changer or two to push them over the top or clearly out of the running and want to deal for future considerations. There are three such teams in the National League East – the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. Whichever category they fall into, their general manager (as will all other GMs)  will be putting their brain cells at risk of being fried by cell phones talking with their counterparts from other teams as well as their team’s own brain trust and scouts in an effort to make the deal or deals that will define their immediate future.

The Phillies are 20 games over .500 and atop the division. You would think that a team with that record near the break and with starting pitching the likes of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels wouldn’t have much to worry about. But there are some concerns in the City of Brotherly Love. First, there are issues at the back of the bullpen. Brad Lidge has yet to throw a pitch in a real game this season. Jose Contreras, who started the season as the closer, is on his second DL stint. Ryan Madson, who took over as closer when Contreras landed on the DL for the first time, is now sidelined. So that leaves the Phils with Antonio Bastardo, fourth on the closer depth chart, as the de facto game finisher.

While it has worked out for Philadelphia up to this point, they don’t want to tempt fate for the rest of the year and would like proven insurance for the position. Players that could interest Ruben Amaro are Kevin Gregg, Brian Fuentes, Francisco Rodriguez (if the Mets would even want to help their division rival), Leo Nunez, Kerry Wood, Heath Bell and Hong-Chih Kuo – all of whom have had experience closing out games.

The Phillies also could use a right-handed bat to complement their obvious left-handed power. Carlos Lee (who has 2011 and 2012 left on his contract at $18.5 million each year) and Hunter Pence (last year of contract at $6.9 million) could be available. The Rays might be able to be enticed to let B.J. Upton go to make way for Desmond Jennings after the Super-2 deadline passes. The Mets have Carlos Beltran but see Francisco Rodriguez above.

The next team would be the Atlanta Braves. The Braves are one of the leaders in the National League on the pitching side. They lead the NL in batting average against and are second in strikeouts. The Braves have always been able to field good pitching teams. The problem is at the plate where they are near the bottom of the league in batting average and in the lower third in strikeouts and OPS. Other than Brian McCann, there isn’t anyone else who is a serious offensive threat. After the catcher’s .314 average, the closest is the .277 of Martin Prado. There are serious drop-offs after that culminating in Dan Uggla’s .178 average and 70 strikeouts in just over 300 at-bats. The Braves are in pretty dire need of some offense and could make a bold move by trading Jair Jurrjens, who is at his peak value right now and who I wrote last week probably isn’t going to maintain this level of performance.

With a real paucity of power in their outfield, the Braves would welcome any of the aforementioned Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence, B.J. Upton or Carlos Beltran. Even though it’s within the division, the Mets might not mind helping the Braves if it lands them someone like Jurrjens. Alfonso Soriano is a real long shot since he still has through 2014 with $18 million per year on his contract.

Before the whole Frank McCourt thing and the Los Angeles Dodgers filing for bankruptcy, there was the New York Mets, the Wilpons, and Bernie Madoff. Even though the Mets have been playing fairly well, they are still almost double-digit games out of first place in the NL East. Due to financial constraints and being in the same division as the Phillies, the Metropolitans fall into the category of out of the running. They have a number of players who are potential candidates for a change of scenery. At the top of the list is shortstop Jose Reyes who, at this point in the season, is arguably the best fantasy player in baseball. Reyes is in the final year of a four-year contract and is going to make a total of $11 million by season’s end. He certainly would be a difference maker for any team. The possible drawback for the Mets in trading him is since he is owed so much this year the team would either have to pick up a good portion of his contract or see their return package greatly limited.

In the same boat as Reyes is Carlos Beltran, who was due a total of $18.5 million this year. But finally, the Mets will be done with his contract, which has not been a good signing for New York. The 34 year old is having a productive year after all the injuries and would be a good addition for a contending team although he doesn’t run much anymore. A sticking point to a possible deal could be the full no-trade clause in his contract.

The third player the Mets could send packing is closer Francisco Rodriguez. While K-Rod has struck out better than a batter per inning, he is also allowing better than one hit per inning. He could be targeted by a team as a closer or setup man. Besides the fact he’s due to make $11.5 million in 2011, he has a $17.5 million option for 2012 that will vest if he finishes 55 games this year and is ruled healthy after the season.

This just covers a few of the teams that could be making changes soon. Much is going to happen in the weeks ahead. Surely, there will be many more rumors than actual deals but GMs will be working the phone long and hard and looking under every rock for the final piece or pieces that could send them into the playoffs or help them in future years. Fantasy owners need to be equally astute and not take anything for granted as it usually isn’t the team in first place at the halfway point that winds up drinking the Yoo-Hoo.

 

More Articles by Christopher Kreush

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