Posts Tagged ‘Ichiro Suzuki’

The Big Dealers, Thus Far . . .

Now that Josh Beckett has won his first game as a Dodger, maybe it’s a good idea to see how those involved in the biggest deals—non-waiver trade deadline and waiver deadline period alike—have done since pulling those triggers. We’ll list them by the major players who moved:

Ichiro Suzuki—Since becoming a Yankee, Ichiro’s played 37 games, scored nine runs, collected 35 hits including six doubles and (count ’em) three home runs. He’s racked a .310 OBP—55 points below his career average. He’s also -0.2 wins above a replacement player as a Yankee. As for the Yankees, since Ichiro joined them 23 July the Yankees have won 19 and lost 18, including one four-game winning streak and one four-game losing streak. The Mariners since the trade? 22 wins, 14 losses, including two stupefying winning streaks of seven and eight. Not to mention, immediately after Ichiro changed clubhouses (the Yankees were in town to play the Mariners when the deal was done) the Mariners reeled off a nine-of-twelve winning string that included the aforesaid seven-game winning streak.

Thus far, overall: The Marines only seem like a better team without Ichiro, but it’s really still too soon to tell for dead last certain. The Yankees have enough other problems (injuries for the most part) that you can’t really say they’ve been worse with or because of him than they would have been without him.

Not quite, not yet . . .

Zack Greinke—He became, arguably, the pitching star of the non-waiver deadline period once Cole Hamels signed that delicious extension with the Phillies, the Dodgers and Red Sox couldn’t yet pull a trigger on Beckett (the Dodgers were interested), the Rangers and the Red Sox couldn’t pull likewise, and Ryan Dempster’s dance between Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Texas drove everyone to drink. He hasn’t exactly been a saviour for the Angels since the deal: he’s 3-2 with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, with one less strikeout per nine and his strikeouts-to-walks rate cut in half on the strikeout side.

Thus far, overall: He hasn’t exactly pitched like a horror, but you note that through this writing his ERA as an Angel is a full run higher than his career rate, and he’s been more prone to the long ball as an Angel thus far than he was in Milwaukee before the deal.

Ryan Dempster—He finally went to the Rangers at the non-waiver deadline’s eleventh hour. And the timing was fortuitous for the Rangers, since Neftali Feliz went down for the season practically in the same minute. Dempster’s 33-inning scoreless streak probably inflated his worth as the deadline approached, but he was still pitching reasonably well enough to win when the Rangers finally landed him. Since the deal? Dempster got dumped by the Angels in his first Rangers start (eight earned runs); he beat the Red Sox in his next start in spite of three unearned runs, then he got waxed for another eight earned runs by the Yankees following that.

Thus far, overall: Dempster rehorsed after that Yankee spankee; he’s won three straight starts and shrunk his season’s ERA to 2.87 since. Still, as a Ranger overall since the deal he’s got a 4-1 won-lost record but a whopping 4.58 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. His strikeouts per nine as a Ranger are impressive at 8.7, and if he’s indeed rehorsing himself overall it’s going to count big enough for the Rangers as the stretch drive reaches white heat levels.

Shane Victorino—The change of scenery hasn’t done him as much good as the Dodgers hoped when they landed him from the Phillies. As a Dodger, Victorino is hitting .248 with a .308 OBP—well below what he was doing in Philadelphia before the deal, and he wasn’t quite looking like his former All-Star self. Since Victorino suited up for the Dodgers, they’ve been 15-14.

Thus far, overall: Victorino hasn’t necessarily hurt the Dodgers, but they haven’t really been a better a team with him. Which has to hurt considering the Dodgers did slip into first place in the NL West for a spell not long after acquiring Victorino but have clung to second place with a 4.5 game deficit behind the Giants—whom they’ll play in two more series, including a regular season-ender, yet to come this season.

Decent return thus far . . .

Jonathan Broxton—The Reds already had one of baseball’s best bullpens when they bagged the former Dodger closer from the Royals. As a Red, Broxton’s been hurt by three shaky outings in ten assignments, so don’t be alarmed by that 5.00 ERA or 1.44 WHIP since he put on Reds fatigues. He has two wins and five holds to show for setting up Arnoldis Chapman. The Reds are really getting a very nice return on him.

Thus far overall: The Reds are 9-1 in games in which Broxton has pitched. He’s no team or pen killer just yet. And unless the Cardinals or the Pirates find a little September magic, you can all but hand the NL Central to them.

Hanley Ramirez—He came to the Dodgers before they landed Victorino. He looked like a classic change of scenery guy, since he’d all but worn out his welcome in Miami. As a Dodger, he’s been better than he was as a Marlin before the trade: he’d had a mere .322 OBP with the Fish this season, but since becoming a Dodger he’s swollen it to a .344, not quite to his career level .373 but well enough on the way. He’s being more selective at the plate and rediscovering his consistent enough power, with nine bombs, 17 of his 39 Dodger hits going for extra bases, all in 36 games.

Thus far, overall: With Ramirez the Dodgers have been 18-18. Don’t blame Ramirez, this one’s pretty much a team effort.

Hunter Pence—The Giants landed him right around the non-waiver deadline. He’s played thirty games with them since, with a .292 OBP, a .362 SLG, and 37 runs produced in those thirty games. He’s 0.2 WAR as a Giant, too.

Thus far, overall: Melky Cabrera’s suspension put a big cloud over the Giants when he went down midway through August. Without him, the Giants are 10-5. Keep that pace up and they can only win the NL West, assuming the Dodgers can’t rehorse in September. Since Pence joined them, the Giants are 18-11, and their longest losing streak over that period has been two games. So while you can’t necessarily argue that Pence is that much of a help to the Giants, he certainly hasn’t hurt them. If you’re 10-5 since your best hitter (reputedly) goes down under suspension, and you’re 18-11 overall since you picked up a Hunter Pence, you’ve sure got a terrific team.

(Come to think of it: If you’re 10-5 without Cabrera, who was fool enough to get bagged for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, why on earth would you want to screw with a team makeup that gets you that kind of performance otherwise and let him back in during the postseason, when he’s eligible to return? The Giants know better than most organisations what the PED issue can do to you. Here’s a grand opportunity to make a very big statement about that matter. It would also help remove that little gray cloud hovering around the return of two-time actual or alleged PEDaler Guillermo Mota, too . . .)

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto—I mention those three alone because Carl Crawford won’t be back from Tommy John surgery until early in 2013. Gonzalez got off to the absolute right start when he suited up for the Dodgers after that laughing-all-the-way cross country flight from Boston that Saturday, hitting the second pitch he saw as a Dodger into the right field seats, on a day the Dodgers battered Miami.

That three-run bomb to introduce himself to Los Angeles has been his highlight thus far . . .

Unfortunately, the Dodgers are 2-5 since The Big Deal. Beckett’s first start as a Dodger wasn’t terrible, and his masterpiece against the Diamondbacks yesterday was much needed. He’s only given up four earned runs as a Dodger, and three were against the Rockies in his first start, not to mention he seems to have rediscovered his strikeout pitches for now. However, his WHIP in his two Dodger starts as been 1.39, which seems to indicate on the evidence thus far that you can hit him but he may still find a way to beat you. Gonzalez has played in eight games as a Dodger and, following that crowd-pleasing opener, has hit a mere .182 with a .250 OBP, though he has taken three walks, stolen a base, scored three runs, and only five of his 27 outs have been strikeouts—he’s making contact, but not getting much for it yet. Punto has only thirteen plate appearances since joining the Dodgers and you probably shouldn’t expect a big show out of that just yet, especially for a utilityman.

Thus far, overall: You can’t hang the Dodgers’ latest slippage on the three ex-Red Sox alone, or even remotely, just yet. How they do in September, when the Dodgers will really need them the most, should tell you more.

Got Melk—Under Drug Testing Program, That Is

This is just what the San Francisco Giants don’t need, though it probably did the Washington Nationals—who just squared off against the Giants in San Francisco—a small favour: Melky Cabrera, the MVP of this year’s All-Star Game, suspended fifty games for a positive testosterone test.

The announcement came practically on the heels of the Giants announcing contract talks with Cabrera would go on hold until season’s end. Cabrera, of course, was enjoying a very respectable walk year, with a .906 OPS and a National League-leading 156 hits, 51 of which came in May alone (tying Randy Winn’s team record for any month, and breaking Willie Mays’ team record for May, since the Giants came to San Francisco in the first place), a significant factor in the Giants at this writing sitting tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in the NL West.

Got melked by a positive testosterone test . . .

Cabrera’s suspension begins at once. If the Giants get to the postseason, those games will be included as part of Cabrera’s suspension. If they don’t, Cabrera will finish serving the sentence at the open of the 2013 regular season.

Give Cabrera credit for this much: He ducked nothing and manned up at once when handed his sentence. “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organisation, and to the fans for letting them down,” he said in a formal statment.

The Giants landed Cabrera in the off-season in a swap that sent Jonathan Sanchez (P) to the Kansas City Royals. He signed a single-year deal with the Giants rather than go to salary arbitration.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

CONTINUING THE CUB SHUFFLE—Theo Epstein’s work on remaking/remodeling the Cubs continued Wednesday with the execution of Oneri Fleita as vice president of player personnel. “All of us with the Cubs owe Oneri a debt of gratitude for his tremendous service to the organization over many years. Oneri has impacted countless people here in a positive way, and we wish him well as he continues his career elsewhere,” said Epstein in a statement. Fleita had been in the Cubs’ organisation since 1995; he was actually given a four-year contract extension in 2011, before Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were brought aboard. The Cubs also canned manager of baseball information Chuck Wasserstrom, who’d been with the Cubs for 25 years; and, reassigned statistical analysis manager Ari Kaplan to become a consultant to owner Tom Ricketts.

THE BOSTON BRISTLE, CONTINUED—Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry says none of the players who wanted to meet with the brass in that July New York sit-down actually called for manager Bobby Valentine’s execution. Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports—whose colleague, Jeff Passan, wrote the article that launched this week’s  hoo-ha over the meeting—argues that, whatever you do or don’t think about Valentine’s style vis a vis a rickety Red Sox clubhouse, Henry must tell one and all that Valentine’s his man through the end of his contract (it expires after 2013, specifically) at least, “that employees do not fire managers.”

Tell everyone this isn’t working because bad contracts and worse attitudes have fouled the place, but will not any longer. Tell them that it will be addressed this winter, that the talented [general manager Ben] Cherington is under orders to see to it, no matter the cost in discarded mistakes and malcontents. Now what? Tell them none of this will be tolerated any longer. 

That’s a pretty point. But what do you say about a manager who, yes, walked into a fragile enough situation to begin with—and after assorted Red Sox brass, perhaps unaware of what other assorted Red Sox brass thought, told assorted Red Sox players last winter that the divide-and-conquer Valentine wasn’t even a blip on their managerial radar—chose almost from the outset to inflame rather than inspire his players?

Will John Henry’s hammer drop on Bobby V., his rickety clubhouse, or both . . .?

It wasn’t the players who threw Kevin Youkilis under the proverbial bus right out of the chute, questioning his heart in hand with his physical condition, possibly as revenge for Youkilis, supposedly, being the one who dropped the proverbial dime on the chicken-and-beer contingency of last September. (Enough say that was the precise moment Valentine lost much of his clubhouse.)

It wasn’t the players who filled out the wrong lineup card against the Minnesota Twins shortly after the Youkilis yak—though it was one player (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) who caught the blunder in time enough for its correction.

It wasn’t the players who made a starter out of setup man Daniel Bard only to learn the hard way Bard would be in over his head in that role.

It wasn’t the players who finked on now-traded Kelly Shoppach, who took his complaint about playing time to Valentine for a private discussion about it.

It wasn’t the players who took poor Will Middlebrooks’s “nice inning, kid” barb from Valentine public. (Though it may have been one player, post-Tommy John patient John Lackey, out for the season while he recuperates from the procedure, who took that remark to Henry privately. Emphasis on “privately.” Lackey may have his troubles otherwise, but he wasn’t looking to make a press pump out of it.)

It wasn’t the players who betrayed Clay Buchholz’s private request for an extra day’s rest and threw in a subtle implication that Buchholz’s heart, too, should be deemed suspect.

It wasn’t the players who decided Jon Lester absolutely needed to stay in, on a day he clearly didn’t have it, for an eleven-run beating from which no one could find anyone to step in for him before it got past a five-run first-inning flogging.

And it wasn’t the players who told the Boston Herald, ““I hear a lot of (players) say, ‘Why doesn’t anybody talk about this other team like that? Why don’t they talk about anyone else?’ I just say, ‘It’s just because this is who we are. We’re the Red Sox.’ And maybe it’s because of who I am, too. They have to understand, I’m here. There’s going to be a lot of bullets thrown my way, and they can become collateral damage.”

The Red Sox players aren’t quite innocent. But if Henry were to heed Brown and deputise Cherington to clean house, the housecleaning probably has to include the manager, too. If Valentine has a few too many of the wrong players to lead, high-priced or otherwise, a few too many of the right players (high-priced or otherwise) have the wrong manager to lead them. And what would make someone think that cleaning out the Red Sox clubhouse would give the divide-and-conquer Valentine a better shake at anything . . .  other than possibly blowing up a cleaner clubhouse, perhaps while shrugging that off as just a case of collateral damage from the “bullets” thrown his way?

Valentine has his talents as a manager. Unfortunately, they’re not suited for just any old place. And Boston, for better or worse, isn’t just any old place.

ABOUT THOSE TRADE-DEADLINE PICKUPS—In a word, says SweetSpot’s David Schoenfeld, they’ve been duds thus far, to a considerable extent:

Ryan Dempster—After all the hoopla about where he’d go (or want to go), before he finally consented to go to Texas, Dempster as a Ranger has been nuked for 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings in three starts, two of which saw him reached for eight runs each.

Anibal Sanchez—As a Tiger, he’s been a pussycat: 1-3, 7.97 ERA since going to Detroit, 19 runs in 20.1 innings, and by the way he got lit up Monday, too.

Zack Greinke—Until he beat the Indians Tuesday night, Greinke came off a five-walk game and the Angels hadn’t won in his previous three starts since joining them.

Hunter Pence—Struggling when the Phillies dealt him to the Giants in the first place, Pence through Tuesday had a .445 OPS.

Ichiro Suzuki—The good news: He’s been a better Yankee than Mariner this season. The bad news: He’s not exactly pushing the Empire Emeritus closer to the top.

Jonathan Broxton—In four innings with Cincinnati, he’s burped up four runs. Not to mention one loss and one blown save in one of his gigs.

The good news? Hanley Ramirez isn’t putting up a better OPS in Los Angeles than he did in Miami, but he has driven in eighteen runs since joining the Dodgers. Omar Infante (to the Tigers) and Shane Victorino (to the Dodgers) are doing well in their new environs. Chris Johnson also has eighteen ribs since joining the Diamondbacks. And Paul Maholm, not exactly the most glittering name on the non-waiver trade block, has allowed only three runs in his first two Atlanta starts, building himself to a total of eight runs in his previous eight starts.

Ichiro Goes from Worst to First, with a Few Pangs Between

Nobody saw it coming until it came, as Yogi Berra might say: Ichiro Suzuki dealt to the New York Yankees for a pair of minor league question marks. And all the iconic Seattle Mariners outfielder had to do was pack his bags, say goodbye politely, then walk from clubhouse to clubhouse, since the Yankees had just arrived to start a series with the Mariners. Then, all he had to do to seal the deal was exactly what he did when, batting eighth in the Yankee lineup, he faced his former team as a hitter for the first time.

Bowing to Mariners fans in appreciation, before opening his Yankee life with a hit and a theft . . .

First, he acknowledged the appreciative cheers of the Safeco Field crowd—cheers which must have been six parts saying goodbye to a long-loved player, half a dozen parts gratitude that he chose to move rather than logjam the Mariners’ has-to-happen rebuilding—with a few gracious but unexaggerated bows.

Then, he lined a base hit right back up the pipe and wasted no time stealing second base without much of a fight. He even came thisclose to throwing out a Mariner trying to score, his hard throw missing by a foot.

If only he could have factored directly in the Yankees’ 4-1 win, that would have been cherries and cream atop the sundae. The Yankees were in the hole 1-0 until the fourth, thanks to a pair of Seattle double plays quashing potential rallies, but they pushed through with Alex Rodriguez’s double (he missed an opposite-field homer by inches), a walk, an RBI double (Mark Teixiera), and a pair of RBI singles (Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones). While the Mariners couldn’t push a run across the plate with a bulldozer, the Yankees added their fourth run in the top of the eight when A-Rod opened by hitting one over the center field fence.

According to just about every report that flooded cyberspace and the printed press in the hours to follow, Ichiro approached the Mariners somewhere around the All-Star break asking to be traded. Ichiro himself hinted he spent much of the break thinking seriously about whatever future he has left in the Show. He did so knowing the Mariners were in desperate need of rebuilding. Knowing they probably couldn’t afford to offer him his final major league contract. Knowing, too, that if there was one underlying reason why he’d been less than content in the Mariners’ clubhouse, for the past few years, it was that winning seemed very alien to the team for whom he once featured in a stupefying 116-win 2001.

When he stood before a bank of microphones to say his official goodbye, Ichiro left little doubt. “I am going,” he said as the trade was announced, “from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins. It’s hard to contain my excitement for that reason.”

That was a very rare offering to the public of his emotions away from the field. For twelve seasons, Ichiro has played the game as passionately as anyone who ever took the field or checked in at the plate, but otherwise he’s rarely if ever allowed anyone to see through or into him. Like Sandy Koufax four decades earlier, Ichiro (very few ever find it in them to refer to him by his family name) has made a public living while keeping his integrity and his life off the field tucked into a discreet wrap.

Saying goodbye to the Mariners as the trade was announced was probably typical of the closest he could come in letting his feelings flow through his voice. He even had to fight tears once or twice.

When I think about this long period, it is hard for me to concisely express my feelings. When I think about the last 11 and a half years, about the times and feelings of the last 11 and a half years, and when I imagined taking off the Mariner uniform, I was overcome with sadness. It has made this a very difficult decision to make.

When I spent time during the All-Star break to think, I realized that this team has many players in the early 20s. And I began to think, I should not be on this team next year, when I thought about the future of the team. And I also started to think about the desire to be an an atmosphere that I could have a different kind of stimulation than I have now. If that were the case, it would be the best decision for both parties involved, that I would leave the team as soon as possible. I have made this decision.

Fighting tears as he said goodbye to the Mariners and their fans . . .

He hadn’t been the hitting machine of old for over a season and a half.  But he still had some life in his legs and his throwing arm, and he still knew how to cover outfield ground. It turns out that he made a few concessions before the Yankees agreed to make the deal: he agreed to hit toward the bottom of the lineup (he batted eighth Monday night); he’ll move to left field when Nick Swisher, the Yankees’ regular right fielder, returns from the disabled list; he’ll even sit now and then against lefthanded pitching, something once unthinkable.

“He was asked to make a lot of sacrifices,” Yankee general manager Brian Cashman disclosed. “And he agreed to every one of them.”

He’d never have said it in public himself until he agreed to the trade, but Ichiro gave Yankee scouts the impression that, as much as he loved playing in Seattle, he’d been bored long enough with the team’s ineptitude otherwise. Words like “playing down to his surroundings” made those scouts’ rounds. So did the thoughts that Ichiro’s athleticism and defence weren’t quite so diminished.

“He’s a fit under the circumstances we’re in,” Cashman told reporters, in light of Brett Gardner going down for the season and Ibanez and Jones more aged than Ichiro happens to be. “Worst-case scenario, I’ve improved my outfield situation. Best-case scenario is a tremendous upside. We might be getting a superstar.”

Interesting phrasing, that. Yankee-haters might take it to mean one thing. Objective observers might take it to mean something else. Something that might mean the Yankees pulling off the theft of the year. A superstar who gets himself back to or near enough to that level for one more period. Watching age catch up to Ichiro (it’s sometimes easy to forget he had a full, sterling career in Japan before he came to Seattle and opened the gates for other Japanese position players in the Show) wasn’t pretty. Watching him find a way to transcend his age—even if not quite at the level that’s already assured his Hall of Fame plaque—could be fun.

The cheers for Ichiro, as he checked in at the plate for the first time as a Yankee, might have had more than one meaning, after all. A lot of Mariner fans thought he should have been dealt sooner considering his fade; a few (“ICHI-ROD Don’t Sell Out!” went one placard in the stands) hoped he’d remain a Mariner for life. Sell out to what? His contract expires at season’s end. There’s no guarantee the Yankees will offer him one last contract at comparable money. And the terms of the contract include the Mariners paying him about $25 million after he retires, through 2032, money deferred at a 5.5 percent interest rate, while he collected about $18 million a year in salary including for 2012.

The Yankees are no strangers to bringing in stars, superstars, and even Hall of Famers in waiting when they’re near the end of the line. They’ve gotten results ranging from the unexpected (Darryl Strawberry, 24 home runs in 1998, though he missed the postseason thanks to cancer surgery) and the impressive (Lee Smith, who got into eight games and converted all three of his save opportunities in 1993) to the mundane (Goose Gossage, whom they brought back for stretch help in 1989 but picked up one save in eleven appearances before moving further on; Kevin Brown, whom they picked up in a trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the 2003 season—he had a respectable season’s record but was injured at one point punching a wall in frustration, then got murdered to open Game Seven of the 2004 American League Championship Series) and mediocre. (Ivan Rodriguez, a certain Hall of Famer whom they picked up at the 2008 non-waiver trade deadline, but who hit a mere .219 the rest of the way and looked almost finished as the Yankees missed the postseason.)

They could get unexpected shining results at the plate from Ichiro to match his still-expected prowess in the outfield and, when he reaches base, on the bases. Or, they could be watching him finish his fade in earnest. The one thing they probably won’t lack for seeing is the fun he still brings to the game when he plays, no matter what.

And it was always fun to watch Ichiro Suzuki play baseball. Hell, it was fun watching him stretch every inning as he took his position in right field, never mind poking a base hit or three and stealing an average of forty bases a year at his best. Even on his occasional worst days before time and the Yankees caught up to him.

Life During WARtime and Other Movements . . .

The bomb-robbing catch of the year isn’t exactly the only reason Mike Trout’s the most valuable Angel through this writing . . .

Life During WARtime—If you’re looking for an entry into the wide world of WAR (wins above a replacement-level player), David Schoenfeld of SweetSpot has a pretty good starting point, with a couple of links to a couple of more pretty good starting points. In case you’re wondering before you go in, Mike Trout—the white-hot Los Angeles Angels rookie—leads the American League pack through this writing with a 5.2 WAR, followed by Robinson Cano (New York Yankees) at 4.8 and Josh Reddick’s (Oakland Athletics) 3.9. In the National League, the top three through this writing are David Wright (New York Mets), 5.3; Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates), 5.1; and, Joey Votto (Cincinnati Reds), 4.5.

Piracy—Speaking of McCutchen, for the second year in a row the Pirates look pretty at or just past the midway point . . . but Jon Paul Morosi (FoxSports) isn’t the only one who thinks there’s a sterling opportunity for the Pirates to stand taller than they ended up standing in 2011. Summary: The Reds are going to be hurting without Votto (out 3-4 weeks following torn meniscus surgery); the Milwaukee Brewers are giving Zack Greinke a week off after he started three straight games (following an early heave-ho) and rolled a 9.00 for July, which Morosi thinks will damage Greinke’s trade value enough to keep the Brewers from getting back into the NL Central race seriously. Meaning GM Neil Huntington should be thinking of moving boldly—perhaps luring a deal for talented but disgruntled Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, who’d give McCutchen a little more lineup protection and the Pirate offence a little more firepower; and/or, luring a deal for a veteran starting pitcher (Wandy Rodriguez might be one candidate, Morosi suggests) or another veteran bat (Shane Victorino and Carlos Quentin are two names Morosi has in mind). The idea, says Morosi: moving for impact players would tell the Pirates and their long-parched fans that the team intends to play for the roses right away. The kicker: Will the Pirates be willing to part with a few prospects, given that they’ve tended to overrate most of them the last several years? Even if the Pirates don’t make it again, at least this time they’ll be seen as serious players for it.

TrumbotronMike Trout may be getting the ink, and Albert Pujols may be right behind him with his resurgence (after a horrid beginning in his new fatigues), but Mark Trumbo hasn’t exactly been staying out of the way, either. The Angels’ jack-of-all-trades leads the American League in slugging percentage (.634) and ties with Josh Hamilton (Texas) for OPS (on-base plus slugging) with his .995, and no matter where manager Mike Scioscia plays him—first base, third base, around the outfield—the kid produces. Without undermining what Trout and Pujols mean, be advised that since 26 April Trumbo has started every Angels game but two . . . and the Angels are 42-29 since, the second-best spread in the Show in that time frame. Pretty damn impressive for a guy who was first seen as a hot pitching prospect until Angel scouts decided they liked him better as a hitter.

Odd Man Out?—Trout’s and Trumbo’s emergence may or may not leave Peter Bourjos the Angels’ odd man out, even if he isn’t exactly worrying about it. Bourjos was bumped to one side as a starter when half the Angels’ Terrible Ts (Trout) showed what he was made of, and the swift defender has been dogged by trade rumours ever since he was an Angel prospect offered up in talks when the team made a play for Roy Halladay in 2009. “This is the most relaxed I’ve ever been at the trade deadline because I’ve been through it so many times,” he told the Los Angeles Times this week. “Whatever happens, happens. If I’m traded, I’ll go to a team that wants me, that needs me. But hopefully, I can play my whole career here.” He may not get that hope, though, if he ends up going in any package the Angels might put together, successfully, for the like of Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels.

Rivals—If the Angels have Hamels on their radar, they’d better keep a wary eye on their number one nemesis in the AL West: the Texas Rangers are said to have longing eyes for Hamels and two other arms, Greinke and one-time Ranger Cliff Lee, he who chose Philadelphia over Texas after he was landed near the 2010 non-waiver deadline and helped pitch the Rangers to the World Series. CBS Sports reports the Rangers hungry for a bona-fide number one starter and, if they can’t bag either Hamels (assuming the struggling, injury-plagued Phillies think they can’t re-sign him before his free agency, which might be one indicator that they’ve surrendered the season) or Greinke, they’d take another flyer on Lee (whose availability would be another sign the Phillies are looking past this year). One kicker that might make a difference: Lee is owed $25 million for each of 2013, 2014, and 2015, with a 2016 buyout worth $12.5 million.

Upchuck—That’s what former Seattle star Jay Buhner says he’d do if the Mariners sign still-valuable but still-fading Ichiro Suzuki to a three-year deal ($35-40 million is the figure tossed around most often) after his current contract (five years, $90 million) expires at season’s end. Buhner told Seattle ESPN radio the Mariners need to turn around more than they need to spend that kind of money on one player, even a player as popular as Ichiro remains—despite his batting average falling to .260 (through this writing), his unlikelihood of reaching 200+ hits for a second straight season, and his likelihood of missing 30 stolen bases for just the second time in his Show career.

Do or Die Time?—The Mets haven’t looked as good since the All-Star break as they looked going into the break: they’re on a six-game losing streak (including a loss going into the break) after dropping two straight to the Washington Nationals this week. They hope R.A. Dickey, who had a shaky outing after the break, gets back on his so-far track and salvages the final game Thursday before the Mets come home for rounds with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Nats again, followed by a western road trip with stops in Arizona, San Francisco, and San Diego. In other words, including Thursday, they have fifteen straight games against teams in third place or better in their divisions, and playing out of their division with a sub-.500 road record to date means they’ll have to help themselves best. The problem for the Mets since the break: their none-too-steady bullpen has done the lion’s share of killing them whenever the Mets manage to make noise midway or late in games. It went from bad to worse when Pedro Beato (who may yet be their setup man of the future, but was in after the rest of the pen couldn’t stave off the Nats in regulation) wild-pitched the winning run home with the bases loaded in the tenth Tuesday, and the Mets couldn’t follow through after a pair of ninth-inning bombs by David Wright and Lucas Duda to pull back to within a run, with Tyler Clippard—who yielded the bombs—striking out Jordany Valdespin to nail it for the Nats.