SweetSpot: Jurickson Profar



Have there been more injuries than usual this spring? I don't know. We probably say that every year. Eric and myself discuss the five most critical injuries of spring training and how they could affect the pennant races. In one case, it's led Eric to picking a different division winner than he otherwise would have.
Some stuff to check out ...
  • With the season-ending injuries to Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, and the delayed start to Mike Minor's season, it was a little surprising the Braves cut Freddy Garcia, who you may remember actually started a playoff game last year for the Braves. He was a non-roster invite to camp but they instead decided to go with 25-year-old rookie Gus Schlosser, a 17th-round pick in 2011 who posted a 2.39 ERA in 25 starts in Double-A in 2013. Despite the impressive numbers in Double-A, Baseball America didn't rank him as one of the Braves' top 30 prospects, even though his fastball reaches the low 90s. He's a sidearmer so has to prove he has an out pitch against left-handers. Martin Gandy of Chop County has his thoughts on the decision.
  • Interesting little graphic from FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine on MLB's youth movement. Neil checked the percentage of overall MLB WAR contributed by players 25-and-younger each season since 1976. Neil writes: "In 2013, about 28 percent of all Wins Above Replacement were created by the under-25 set. That was the ninth-largest share for any season since 1976. Output from youngsters has been on the upswing since the mid-to-late 1990s, when the percentage of WAR from young players hit its nadir. That nadir happened to occur at the height of baseball’s so-called steroid era."
  • Last week, It's About the Money had a good series comparing the Yankees to their AL East rivals, reaching out to the other blogs on the SweetSpot network. Here's a look at Yankees-Red Sox, plus Yankees-Blue Jays, Yankees-Rays and Yankees-Orioles.
  • Mike Petriello of FanGraphs (and a contributor to ESPN Insider) with a good piece on Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, who uses advanced data on pitch location to try and improve his pitch framing. Ellis admits his weakness has always been the low pitch but he likes the data, telling Mike, "The thing I like about the pitch framing stats, which I need some more information on how they determine what it is, at least it’s giving me a number, a bar, so I know where I’m at right now, and at the end of the year I can check and see, 'hey, did I get better?'" At the SABR Analytics conference two weeks ago in Arizona, Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy estimated 5 to 10 percent of major leaguers would know what FIP is. As Ellis shows, that number will only rise in the future.
  • Speaking of the SABR Analytics conference, Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus looks at the big questions to come out of the conference.
  • Richard Bergstrom of Rockies Zingers writes about Rockies co-GM Bill Geivett, who was on the GM's panel at the conference.
  • Grantland's Jonah Keri had a long conversation with A's general manager Billy Beane and owner Lew Wolff.
  • Chris Jones of ESPN The Magazine with a feature on Royals coach Mike Jirschele, who spent 36 years playing, coaching and managing in the minors. But spending so long in the bushes was hardly the toughest thing Jirschele had to deal with.
  • Ryan P. Morrison of Inside the 'Zona on the Diamondbacks' first two losses in Australia to the Dodgers.
  • Brandon Land of One Strike Away on the Rangers' spring injuries, including Jurickson Profar's shoulder issues.
  • Nick Kirby of Redleg Nation with Part 1 of a two-part NL Central preview. This part examines the lineups and pitching staff of all five clubs.
  • Marc W. at the U.S.S. Mariner has an involved look at James Paxton and his high groundball rates in his four starts last season for the Mariners -- despite pitching primarily up in the strike zone. It's sort of about Paxton but it's also about how pitching in general works.
  • Finally, can the Astros make the playoffs? Well ... Baseball Prospectus ran through 50,000 simulations of the 2014 season and the Astros won the AL West in 0.4 percent of them and made the playoffs 1.3 percent of the time. Sam Miller checks out at those "playoff" seasons, including season No. 33913 in which the Astros won 99 games. You never know!
Let's catch up on a few things ...
  • I enjoyed the two games from Australia, even getting up at 4 a.m. to watch the opener. Clayton Kershaw didn't really have his best stuff in that game, with his fastball velocity way down, averaging 88.3 mph. Remember, he struggled all spring with fastball command and had allowed 15 runs in 14 2/3 innings, but when the big lights went on he was able to adjust and allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings while striking out seven. In the second game, the Dodgers tried to blow a 7-1 lead as Don Mattingly got a little cute with his bullpen, running through seven relievers over the final four innings. The Diamondbacks scored four runs in the ninth as Jose Dominguez walked two batters and gave up a two-run single and Mark Trumbo blasted a two-run homer off Kenley Jansen. I still expect the Dodgers bullpen to be one of the best in the league.
  • After going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in the opener, Yasiel Puig had three hits in the second game but was up to his usual shenanigans on the bases, getting thrown out trying to advance to second after a single and then getting throwing out trying to advance to third on a pitch in the dirt. Neither play was close. He then didn't come out for the bottom of the ninth inning, clearly irritating Mattingly, who after the game said, "Shoulder yesterday, back today, so I'm not sure if they're going to get him tests or get him to the MRI Monday or a bone scan on Tuesday, maybe. I'm not quite sure what we'll do. We may not do anything. I'm not sure." Here's Mark Saxon's report.
  • Joe Kelly beat out Carlos Martinez for the Cardinals No. 5 starter slot and you can't argue with that too much. Is Kelly as good as the 2.69 ERA he posted last year? Probably not, as that ERA was helped by a high strand rate that included a .161 average allowed with runners in scoring position. Critics point to his low strikeout rate (79 in 124 innings) but Kelly's best pitch is a 95 mph fastball with sink that doesn't necessarily register strikeouts but does get ground balls (he gave up just one home run off his fastball in 2013). As for Martinez, he returns to the eighth-inning role we saw him in during the playoffs, when he averaged 97.8 mph on his fastball and reached 100 pmh on the gun. I don't think this means the Cardinals are giving up on him as a starter, but some projected he would eventually end up in the bullpen anyway. Don't write him off as a starter, but we also know -- see his teammate, Trevor Rosenthal -- that once you turn into a dominant late-inning force managers will be reluctant to move you back to the rotation.
  • The Rangers announced second baseman Jurickson Profar is out 10-12 weeks with a torn muscle in his shoulder. He won't need surgery but won't be able to resume a throwing program for six weeks or so. The Rangers' backup infielders on the 40-man roster are Adam Rosales, Andy Parrino and Luis Sardinas, none of whom have shown much ability with the bat. The Rangers could scuffle along with Rosales or Parrino, but it's certainly a minor blow. An obvious trade candidate would be the Cubs' Darwin Barney, as the Cubs have prospect Arismendy Alcantara ready for the near future, not to mention that shortstop prospect Javier Baez played some second base this spring. Even if they didn't want to rush Alcantara or Baez, they could plug in Donnie Murphy at second on a short-term basis.
  • One of the most encouraging results this spring has been the solid performance of Yankees starter Michael Pineda, trying to return after missing two seasons (he did pitch in the minors last year). Pineda had another good effort on Sunday, allowing three runs (two earned) in six innings while walking nobody. Pineda is throwing 90-92, not the upper 90s heat he flashed as a rookie with the Mariners, so the concern is that there won't be enough of a velocity difference between his fastball and slider, and without the big fastball the slider alone may not be enough to be effective against left-handers. As a rookie back in 2011, he did flash on occasional changeup (162 of them in 28 starts) so that may have to become a more important pitch for him.
  • With hard-throwing Yordano Ventura winning a spot in the rotation, the Royals optioned Danny Duffy to the minors. No surprise there since Duffy has had a rough spring (15 runs and six home runs allowed in 11 innings). Even with Luke Hochevar's injury the Royals have plenty of depth in the bullpen, so it makes sense to send Duffy to the minors and keep him stretched out as a starter.
  • It hasn't been announced, but Brad Miller will be the Mariners' starting shortstop over Nick Franklin, as expected. Miller has been one of the most exciting players in the Cactus League, hitting .438/.491/.938 with four doubles, four triples and four home runs. With Willie Bloomquist signed as the team's utility infielder, Franklin may start the year in Triple-A. You can bet the Mariners are still receiving calls from teams asking about Franklin.

AL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
9:30
AM ET
Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we’d take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our American League look.

AL East

Blue Jays: The transition from J.P. Arencibia to Dioner Navarro behind the plate is likely a wash and there hasn’t been much of an overhaul to this team other than the departure of Rajai Davis (who did have a decent amount of defensive value).
Ryan Goins
Goins
The most interesting thing for the Jays will be how Ryan Goins fares as a regular second baseman. Goins racked up a hard-to-believe 12 Defensive Runs Saved (backed up on video review by 21 Good Fielding Plays and only a pair of Defensive Misplays & Errors) in a 32-game stint last season.

Orioles: The biggest issue on defense for the Orioles will be dealing with the loss of Manny Machado’s major-league leading Runs Saved, at least until he returns from injury. Baltimore did make one positive move that should upgrade its outfield defense, getting David Lough from the Royals for utilityman Danny Valencia.

Rays: The Rays made a long-term commitment to James Loney, which bodes well from a defensive perspective, and also made one to catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is considered one of the best base-stealing deterrents and pitch-framers in the sport. He’ll give them a solid alternative to Jose Molina.

Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will likely step into everyday roles and fill the shoes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew. The Red Sox will also have a new catcher, though there isn’t much of a defensive difference between A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Both rate below-average statistically.

Yankees:There have been some pretty notable changes on the defensive side. Brian McCann’s pitch-framing rates well, but he’s not the baserunning deterrent that Chris Stewart was. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts could split time at second base but neither is the Gold-Glove-caliber glove that Robinson Cano was. Johnson could also wind up full-time at third base, a position at which he’s barely played more than 100 innings, if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended.

The Yankees should be great in center and left with an Ellsbury/Brett Gardner combo. Carlos Beltran has less ground to cover in the Bronx than he did in Busch. That could benefit his achy knees and help his defensive rating.

One smart thing the Yankees did: Hire Brendan Ryan to be their “shortstop closer” for the next two seasons and as much as it will pain Derek Jeter to leave games, it will be for the good of the team to let Ryan finish close games.


AL Central

Indians: The Indians tried to make a right fielder out of center fielder Drew Stubbs in 2013 and it didn’t work. They got themselves an upgrade in free agent David Murphy who rates adequate enough (5 Runs Saved in about a season’s worth of innings in right field) that his D could be a one-win upgrade by itself.

Royals: The best team in baseball, as it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, tinkered a little bit, swapping out Lough for Norichika Aoki in the outfield, which probably rates as a push (they’re both good … fair warning to Royals fans, Aoki likes to play a deep right field), and making an offensive upgrade by getting Omar Infante to fill the hole that was second base.

The one thing the Royals got from their second basemen last season was good defense (18 Runs Saved from the collection of Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and others). Infante isn’t at that level, but he rates above average more often than not (he did by UZR, but not Runs Saved in 2013) and his offensive work should make up for any drop-off.

Tigers: The Tigers' defensive overhaul has been the biggest of the offseason as the team’s opening-day infield will be entirely different from 2013. Ian Kinsler is a definite upgrade at second base and we’ll see if Jose Iglesias’ wow plays add up over a full season (he has seven Runs Saved in just under 800 career innings at short).

Going from Prince Fielder back to Miguel Cabrera should actually be a slight upgrade.

The big question will be third base where the scouting reports on Nick Castellanos’ defense don’t inspire confidence. But even so, conservatively, the Tigers should be about 25 Runs Saved better in 2014, which takes them from being a lousy defensive infield to an average one.

Twins: The Twins made the career-preserving move of shifting Joe Mauer from behind the plate to first base and signed Kurt Suzuki, who has a good statistical history at the position. Suzuki has rated better than Mauer over the course of his career in Runs Saved, though he’s not as good at throwing out basestealers.

I asked Doug Glanville to assess what Mauer’s challenge will be in making the move to first:

“He is a super athlete and I am sure he will be fine. It will be tough to not be as involved with the game in every single moment. No one can compete with catchers in the leadership it requires to play that position and the need for constant vigilance. He has to sharpen his focus to deal with new lulls in time. I am sure he will.”

White Sox: The White Sox had the third-worst Defensive Runs Saved total in the majors in 2013 and they’ve been overhauled all over the place. Their worst position last season was center field (-19 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013) and they’ll have a new look there with Adam Eaton.

They’ll also be much different at first base with Jose Abreu, whose hitting has been compared to Ryan Howard's (but if his defense is, that’s not good) and third base with adequately-rated Matt Davidson, whom they got for Addison Reed. Will different equal better? They better hope so.

Al West

Angels: The aging of Albert Pujols will continue to be an issue both on offense and defense. Last season broke a run of eight straight seasons in which Pujols ranked in the top five among first basemen in Runs Saved.

Pujols will have a familiar teammate working at the opposite corner with the addition of third baseman David Freese, who had a dreadful season in 2013 per both Runs Saved and UZR, ranking third-worst in the former and second-worst in the latter. That’s something that will need to be dealt with.

Astros: The Astros traded away their second-best defender stats-wise from 2013 in Brandon Barnes to get Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies. Fowler has less ground to cover in the gaps of Minute Maid Park, but has a deeper center field (and Tal’s Hill) to worry about. Fowler has posted a negative Runs Saved rating in four of his six seasons, but has fared well at handling balls hit to the deepest parts of the park.

Athletics: The Athletics made two moves that should definitely help their defense in 2014.
Craig Gentry
Gentry
By adding Craig Gentry in a trade from the Rangers, they’ve obtained one of the game’s premier outfield defenders and one who could fit in well both in left field (to make Yoenis Cespedes a DH) and center (to give Coco Crisp a breather) very well.

The Athletics also added a valuable utility piece in Nick Punto, who could start at second base (ahead of Eric Sogard) or close games at shortstop (replacing Jed Lowrie, who rates as a poor defender). Either way, he’s a big upgrade over what they had.

Mariners:The Mariners now have a Gold Glove-caliber defender at second in Cano. He’ll need to cover more ground to his left than he did in New York, because the Mariners’ first-base options (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart) do not rate well. Morrison is going to present an issue wherever they put him. He’s not quite at the level of Michael Morse, but his ratings historically have been poor.

Rangers: The difference between Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland at first base is a sizable one, potentially 15 runs over the course of a season, so if the Rangers do decide to hang on to Moreland, they'd be best off playing him at first base and having Fielder DH. The Rangers could use a good defender at first, since Jurickson Profar is basically going to learn on the job at second base. Texas will also have some outfield concerns with Shin-Soo Choo having limited experience in left field and the team no longer having the security blanket of Gentry (traded to Athletics).

Playoff watch: Thoughts of the day

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
11:55
PM ET


Some quick thoughts on the most important results and plays of the day and a look forward to Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeMat Latos
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMat Latos is a big part of the reason why September could be good for the Reds.
Pitching performance of the day: Mat Latos, Reds. Don't count the Reds out just yet in the NL Central race. For the second start in a row, the Reds battered Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, but Latos stepped up with his first complete game of 2013 and just the fourth of his career. Dusty Baker rarely lets Latos get to 110 pitches (his season high is 111, twice) so Latos rarely gets past the seventh. But he threw an efficient 100 pitches, striking out two while allowing four hits. If the Reds don't win the division, it could be Latos who gets the ball in the wild-card game.

Key at-bat of the day: Jurickson Profar versus Grant Balfour. With a 4-2 lead and Oakland closer Balfour pitching for the fourth time in five days -- he said after the game he was "pitching on fumes" -- he walked David Murphy on four pitches to start the ninth and gave up a Leonys Martin single to left. That brought up the rookie, Profar. The Rangers are second in the AL in sacrifice bunts (although with 34, they're hardly Gene Mauch-ish about it) and Ron Washington decided to play for the tie rather than a win against a tired reliever. Except Profar squared around twice and took two strikes. Swinging away, he ended up bouncing out to first, so he at least advanced the runners. But what if he had been allowed to hit away? Balfour escaped the inning as Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre both swung at first pitches and flew out.

Most important win: Oakland's win over Texas, giving them a tie for first rather than a two-game deficit.

Most important loss: The Indians not only dropped behind the Yankees (not to mention the Rays and Orioles) for the second wild-card spot, but lost rotation ace Justin Masterson after just one inning with soreness in his side. He'll undergo an MRI and other tests on Tuesday.

Awards watch: Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is pushing his way onto the short list of NL MVP candidates. He homered, doubled and drove in five runs in Atlanta's 13-5 thrashing of the Mets and now ranks fourth in the NL with 93 RBIs. And there's nothing MVP voters love more than an RBI guy on a playoff team.

Tuesday's best pitching matchup: Detroit's Max Scherzer versus Boston's Jon Lester. Scherzer is going for his 20th win but faces Lester, who has allowed more than three runs just once in his past nine starts. Scherzer escaped his second defeat in his last start when the Tigers rallied in the ninth inning. Considering the Tigers' remaining schedule, if he gets past this one without a loss we could be looking at the best single-season win-loss percentage in history.

Tuesday's most important pitching matchup: St. Louis' Michael Wacha versus Cincinnati's Homer Bailey. Wacha pitched out of the bullpen in August and the rookie will be making his first major league start since June. He did throw four scoreless innings in relief against the Reds on August 28, but the Cardinals rotation is scuffling right now: Since Aug. 15, it has the second-worst ERA in the majors (5.14). The St. Louis rotation is why I think the Pirates can win the division -- or why the Reds could catch the Cardinals and Pirates, even though everyone still seems to be picking St. Louis. Wacha has talent, but he's also pitching in Cincinnati, where the Reds are 42-23. Look for more angst in St. Louis after Bailey beats the Cards.

Player to watch: Matt Moore. The Tampa Bay lefty returns to the rotation for his first start since July 28 following a DL stint with elbow soreness. He made one rehab start in Triple-A, allowing eight hits and two walks with two strikeouts in four innings.

NL's latest rookie crop shining bright

June, 2, 2013
6/02/13
12:40
AM ET

 
When it comes to this year's rookies, as fans I think we sort of came into this season like the kid at Christmas the year after you got the bike and the pony, or the new car and the Red Ryder BB gun. Because, let’s face it, the year after Mike Trout and Bryce Harper arrived on the scene had to be something of a letdown, right?

Turns out, not so much, at least not in the National League. The difference is that this year the kids are all right on the mound. Hyun-Jin Ryu has been one of the few bright spots on a Dodgers team desperate for something worth bragging about beyond its price tag. But the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller just got his ERA down to 1.82, almost a full run lower than Ryu’s, while catching the Korean southpaw in the win column for at least a day, what with Ryu set to take the mound Sunday.

It’s a showdown between a pair of outstanding candidates who press many of the hot-button issues about Rookie of the Year voting every season. Some fans -- and perhaps more than a few voters -- might favor the future value they anticipate when they see Miller. Some might have qualms about voting for a foreign leagues veteran, MLB-rookie status or no. But as long as Miller keeps pitching like a man who belongs with teammate Adam Wainwright in the conversation on who the best pitcher in the league might be, two months into the season it’s Miller’s race to win -- if he pitches all year.

[+] EnlargeShelby Miller
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesShelby Miller improved to 6-3, and lowered his ERA to 1.82, in the Cardinals' win over the Giants.
That said, it is a long season, and as the Nationals' decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in 2012 reflected, pitchers might be excused for factors that have nothing to do with performance.

Happily, the NL field for first-year talent is wider than that tandem, even as Miller and Ryu contend for headlines. Just from among the hurlers, Jose Fernandez might have to labor in relative obscurity with the Marlins, marooned in the depths of a new-park hangover that has many Miami fans and voters asking themselves the coyote-ugly question about their franchise a year or two too late. But that has nothing to do with Fernandez’s talent, on full display as he mowed down Mets on Saturday. Like Miller, he’s striking out more than a man per inning, good enough to put him in the top 10 among NL starters in K/9. If it weren’t for Ryu and Miller, even in the spring of Matt Harvey, we’d be talking about Fernandez a lot more. So you can imagine how Julio Teheran, doing well as a rotation regular on a first-place Braves team, feels.

This year, you can really only say one NL rookie position player is generating anything like the same buzz. Atlanta's Evan Gattis deserves the love he’s getting, not for the backstory but for the production. This is not Chris Coste 2.0 -- not that a guy like Coste wasn’t as easy to root for as Gattis, but when you’re slugging north of .600 two months into the season, you’re not a passing fancy, you’re somebody hitting so well that demoting an eight-figure salary becomes something more than merely speculative.

Gattis is doing for position players what Miller and Ryu have done for the pitchers in terms of sucking all the oxygen out of the room. As a result, Jedd Gyorko of the Padres might not merit more than a courtesy mention now, but I wouldn’t count him out over the next four months. Gyorko has the power to slug .450 or better despite having to call Petco Park home as a rookie; if he cranks 60 extra-base hits while helping the Padres finish around .500, that’s an amazing season.

You could say much the same for the pair of rookies starting up the middle for the Diamondbacks. However overmuch attention has been given to Kirk Gibson’s clubhouse makeover or the likely big-picture penalties for trading away Justin Upton, the work Arizona is getting from Didi Gregorius at shortstop (and A.J. Pollock in center field) has helped propel the Snakes to first place in the NL West. As easy as it might be to say Gregorius has been helped by the D-backs’ bandbox ballpark, three of his four homers have come on the road. If he starts slugging at home, too, how do you count out a slick-fielding shortstop with power on a first-place team?

Even with their delayed call-ups, by this time last year Trout and Harper had already been strutting their stuff. Trout was putting up an .887 OPS for an Angels lineup that needed all the help it could get overcoming Albert Pujols’ slow start. Harper was hitting .274/.357/.504 in a little more than a month. They might not have been brought up until the end of April, but you already knew we were in for something special. But this year’s class? Its players might not compare directly, but they’re doing more than enough to pay attention to, now and down the stretch.

The American League, on the other hand ... well, you have to give the Rangers some unexpected due. I don’t know if anyone really expects Justin Grimm or Nick Tepesch to still be in this conversation at the end of June, let alone September, but their contributions have clearly helped keep the Rangers' riding to the league’s best record. But Conor Gillaspie? Yan Gomes? That they're among the top WAR-generating rookies in the AL so far just means that nobody has shown enough, for long enough, with the expectation that he’ll still have a job at the All-Star break. I wouldn’t rule out Nick Franklin or Jurickson Profar in partial seasons. I also wouldn’t rule out that the eventual AL Rookie of the Year hasn’t been called up yet. Or possibly even drafted yet -- who said Christmas comes just once per year?

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

 
Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland did this today off Brandon McCarthy, although I'd like a new measurement on the reported 391 feet.

Moreland
That was Moreland's 11th home run and he's hitting .286/.333/.555. Not bad for a guy many suggested before the season should be benched to find room in the lineup for Jurickson Profar, with the popular idea being to play Profar at second base and move Ian Kinsler to first.

The sentiment to replace Moreland wasn't without merit. His Baseball-Reference WAR last season of 0.3 suggests a replacement-level first baseman. While he hit .275/.321/.468, those are Arlington-inflated numbers, and he didn't do much damage against left-handers. Overall, for a first baseman, his season wasn't anything special.

On the other hand, his OPS was still higher than Kinsler's, and moving Kinsler to first wouldn't necessarily have been a defensive upgrade. And while there's no doubting Profar's potential, we were still talking about a 20-year-old kid who hit .281 in Double-A. Profar is a switch-hitter, but sitting Moreland would have meant losing one of the few power lefty bats in the Texas lineup -- not a good idea with the departure of Josh Hamilton.

Anyway, the Rangers and manager Ron Washington have always liked Moreland more than the scouts and analysts, even giving him a regular spot against lefties -- 10 of his 11 home runs have come off right-handers, but nine doubles against lefties have helped him to a respectable .268/.312/.437 line against southpaws. I still think the Rangers would be better off platooning him -- finding a right-handed batter who can mash against lefties and play first base is a pretty easy roster spot to fill if you so choose -- but playing him every day has worked so far.

I'm not trying to portray Moreland as some kind of future star here. He's already 27 years old and could just be riding a hot streak right now. But so far he's proving that you don't get rid of a guy unless you know you have a better option available.

As for Profar, with Kinsler currently on the disabled list he will get a few weeks of action in the big leagues. After a three-hit day in the Rangers' 9-5 victory over the Diamondbacks on Thursday, he's hit .370 in seven games. Hey, there's nothing wrong with having depth.

A quick warning about Jurickson Profar's call to the majors to replace the disabled Ian Kinsler: Do not expect Mike Trout; do not expect Bryce Harper; do not expect Manny Machado.

Yes, the performance of those three wunderkinds has, unfortunately, raised the expectations for all prospects, especially one deemed the best in the game entering this season.

In time, maybe Profar joins them as generational talents (I can see the corny nickname already: "The Four Tops"), but it would be unfair to believe Profar will hit like they have, at least right off the bat. Remember, he's only 20, and, while he held his own in Triple-A, hitting .278/.370/.438 with four home runs, HE'S ONLY 20 YEARS OLD. Most 20 year olds are still learning how to hit curveballs in the South Atlantic League.

That said, I'm excited to see the kid play for a couple weeks. While Profar didn't start Sunday and Ron Washington said he'll split time with Leury Garcia, I'm not sure the Rangers recalled Profar to play three games a week. Profar has a good approach at the plate, particularly for a kid so young, drawing 21 walks in 37 games at Round Rock, so that's a good sign that he'll come up to the majors and not get in trouble by being overly aggressive. And, as Washington likes to say, "He's not afraid of the game."

Kinsler had been one of the best players in the league so far, hitting .302 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs and 24 runs, so the Rangers will miss his production from the leadoff spot. But they have a comfortable lead in the AL West and there was no reason to push him through the injury.

Profar is likely headed back to Triple-A once Kinsler's DL stint ends. Of course, who knows, maybe Profar hits so well he leaves the Rangers no choice but to find a regular spot for him. I don't think that will happen, but I wouldn't be that eager to bet against him, either.

REST OF THE WEEKEND

SportsNation

Of the early leaders, who is the best bet to lead the AL in home runs?

  •  
    65%
  •  
    9%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,052)

Three stars

1. Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays. Down 4-0 after one inning to the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, Joyce hit a two-run homer in the third to get the Rays closer and then hit a two-run, go-ahead double in the ninth. On Sunday, Joyce's homer provided the insurance run in a 3-1 win as the Rays swept the O's.

2. Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies. The Rockies had many heroes in winning three of four against the San Francisco Giants at home, but Fowler jumpstarted the offense all weekend with 10 hits and seven runs scored. Not a bad four days: He raised his average from .252 to .286.

3. Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians. Masterson tossed his second consecutive scoreless start, striking out a season-high 11 in seven innings against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday in a 6-0 victory. Masterson improved to 7-2 while lowering his ERA to 2.83. This is a different Masterson than we've seen the past couple seasons, with a much higher strikeout rate (25 percent versus 18 percent last season) but still keeping the home runs to a minimum (just three). While he's struggled in the past against left-handers, he's held them to a .226 average this season with a 36/19 K/BB ratio compared to 72/56 in 2012. And it's not all batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is a fairly normal .285 so far. If he keeps getting lefties out, he's going to keep winning games.

Honorable mention star of the weekend
Have to mention Joey Votto for getting on base all six times in Saturday's win for the Cincinnati Reds -- he went 4-for-4 with two walks, a double and a home run. Only two players had a "6-for-6" day last season -- Aaron Hill of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Neil Walker of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Both went 5-for-5 with a walk and, like Votto, doubled and homered.

One more honorable mention star of the weekend
The Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins on Saturday as Brandon McCarthy pitched the three-hit shutout (no save!), but he had a lot of help from Gerardo Parra, who led off the game with this on the first pitch and then did this in the bottom of the first. Parra has one of the better arms in the majors, but his bat is a big reason the D-backs are in first place, as he's hitting .320/.385/.494 with 28 runs (11th in the NL). That batting line, combined with his outstanding defense, has Parra leading the NL in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), tied with Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw, at 3.1. Justin who?

Clutch performance of the weekend
Atlanta Braves rookie Evan Gattis keeps finding a way to get himself into the highlights. On Saturday, he pinch hit in the eighth inning against hard-throwing Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers with the Braves down 1-0 and a runner on and did this on a 2-2 fastball. The best part of the highlight is Freddie Freeman's "I don't believe that" reaction in the dugout.

The Dodgers bullpen, meanwhile, continues to implode. They followed Saturday's loss with another one on Sunday, giving up four runs in the eighth in a 5-2 loss. It has 13 losses, three more than any other team, and its 4.61 ERA is better only than the New York Mets and Houston Astros.

Unclutch performance of the weekend
Aroldis Chapman, step on down. Chapman entered with a 2-1 lead on Sunday and walked Delmon Young with one out. That was bad enough, but Cliff Lee pinch ran for Delmon (yes, a guy who plays the outfield regularly got run for by a pitcher) … and got picked off for the second out of the inning. Game over, right? Nope. Erik Kratz homered on a 3-2, 98 mph heater. And then Freddy Galvis -- Freddy Galvis! -- hit the dramatic walk-off home run off a 95 mph fastball.

Best game
OK, it's pretty difficult to top that one. There were some wild games this weekend -- Tampa beat Baltimore 12-10 on Friday, the Indians gave up two home runs in the ninth to Seattle on Saturday only to win in the bottom of the inning -- but Friday's Washington Nationals-San Diego Padres game was a tough one for San Diego. Adam LaRoche homered twice off rookie Burch Smith, but the Padres tied it with two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Rafael Soriano -- with the help of another Ryan Zimmerman throwing error. (A situation that's becoming a serious problem for the Nationals, as that's nine errors for Zimmerman with his fielding percentage a Mark Reynolds-like .897.) Anyway, Chad Tracy hit a pinch-hit homer off Huston Street in the 10th to give the Nats a 6-5 win. That's already six home runs allowed for Street, whose trade value is shrinking with each home run.

Hitter on the rise: Jason Kipnis, Indians
He had a three-run, walk-off home run in the 10th inning on Friday and two hits on Saturday and Sunday, giving him nine in his past four games, all Cleveland victories. The Indians are 17-4 since April 28 and Kipnis has hit .305 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in the 20 games he's played. He won't start the All-Star Game with Robinson Cano in the American League, and the AL is loaded at second base with Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Kipnis at the All-Star Game.

Pitcher on the rise: Jeff Locke, Pirates
I'm not necessarily buying, but the lefty is now 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA after tossing seven scoreless innings on Sunday against the Astros in a 1-0 win. His K/BB ratio is a pedestrian 32/22, but opponents are hitting just .219 off him, thanks to a .230 BABIP. With that number likely to rise, Locke will need to record a few more whiffs to maintain success close to this level. Still, that's three scoreless outings this season and one did come against the Cardinals. Even though he's not this good, if he can give the Pirates 175 solid innings as a No. 4 starter, they'll take it.

Team on the rise: Pirates
The Pirates took two of three from the Astros to improve to 11-6 in May and 26-18 overall. They're second in the majors in ERA, and it's not necessarily a huge fluke as they're third in strikeouts. One thing to keep an eye on: Only the hapless Astros have needed more innings from their bullpen, so while the Pittsburgh crew has been outstanding, the workload is a possible concern down the road.

Team on the fall: Dodgers
The two bright spots this week were Zack Greinke's return and Matt Kemp's great catch on Saturday, but three losses in Atlanta reiterated that this isn't just a team ravaged by injuries: It's a bad team with a bad bullpen that finds ways to lose. Manager Don Mattingly said not to blame the bullpen. "You add on a run here or there, it takes a lot of pressure off a guy that you can't give up one hit that changes the whole game. I think we have to take this all as a group."

OK, then, we'll call it a team effort of a team on the fall.
Mike Trout and Miguel CabreraGetty ImagesThe SweetSpot bloggers predict another 1-2 MVP finish for Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera in 2013.


Yes, it's the time of the year ... awards predictions! Here are the collective thoughts of the writers from across the SweetSpot network.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Last year, the SweetSpot bloggers correctly picked Miguel Cabrera as the AL MVP winner. How quickly we fall in love with the new kid on the block! I'm not surprised that Mike Trout is the MVP favorite by the SweetSpot bloggers -- but I am surprised by his runaway vote total, as he collected 33 of the 47 first-place votes (including mine). If wisdom of the crowds proves true, it should be a landslide MVP result for Trout.

Amazingly, Cabrera only received two first-place votes (remember, he ranked ahead of Trout in our recent BBTN500 voting). This probably reflects the difference in the mind-set between the bloggers -- who are going to pay more attention to advanced metrics like WAR -- and the more conventional group of analysts (writers, announcers, former players) who voted in the BBTN500.

The network bloggers must have high hopes for the Rays since Evan Longoria ranked third in the balloting. And maybe the Yankees won't collapse just yet: Robinson Cano finished fourth in the balloting.

Points on a 14-9-8-7-6 basis.

1. Mike Trout, 574 points (33 first-place votes)
2. Miguel Cabrera, 374 points (2)
3. Evan Longoria, 268 points (3)
4. Robinson Cano, 238 points (4)
5. Adrian Beltre, 101 points (1)
6. Yoenis Cespedes, 92 points (0)
7. Jose Bautista, 85 points (2)
8. Prince Fielder, 70 points (1)
9. Albert Pujols, 62 points (1)
10. Jose Reyes, 43 points (0)

Others -- Josh Hamilton (41 points), Dustin Pedroia (34), Joe Mauer (21), Alex Gordon (18), Matt Wieters (9), Adam Jones (7), Curtis Granderson (7), Edwin Encarnacion (6), Carlos Santana (6), Ian Kinsler (6), Jacoby Ellsbury (6)

CY YOUNG

No surprise here: Justin Verlander collected 28 first-place votes to easily outdistance last season's Cy Young winner, David Price. Keep an eye on Yu Darvish: He finished ahead of Felix Hernandez in the voting. Reigning NL CY Young winner R.A. Dickey is now with Toronto and he collected just one first-place vote.

Points on a 7-4-3 basis.

1. Justin Verlander, 258 points (28 first-place votes)
2. David Price, 129 points (4)
3. Yu Darvish, 81 points (5)
4. Felix Hernandez, 70 points (5)
5. Jered Weaver, 34 points (3)
6. R.A. Dickey, 15 points (1)

Others -- Chris Sale (9 points), CC Sabathia (8), Max Scherzer (6), Josh Johnson (6), Jarrod Parker (6), Jon Lester (6), Doug Fister (3), Matt Moore (3), Jake Peavy (3)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

The rookie race is even more wide open, since most of the top rookie prospects will begin the year in the minors, including Tampa Bay outfielder Wil Myers, who led our balloting with 17 first-place votes. Outfielders Aaron Hicks of the Twins and Jackie Bradley of the Red Sox will break camp with their big league teams, and that helped them finish second and third in the voting.

Points on a 5-3-1 basis.

1. Wil Myers, 111 points (17 first-place votes)
2. Aaron Hicks, 71 points (8)
3. Jackie Bradley, 65 points (8)
4. Jurickson Profar, 46 points (4)
5. Dylan Bundy, 29 points (4)
6. Brandon Maurer, 24 points (2)
7. Trevor Bauer, 21 points (1)
8. Dan Straily, 12 points (1)

Others -- Bruce Rondon (6 points), Mike Olt (5), Mike Zunino (4), Chris Archer (3), Avisail Garcia (1), Conor Gillaspie (1), Nick Tepesch (1), Kevin Gausman (1)
We've heard the rumors and seen the tweets and gone to bed dreaming: The Miami Marlins will listen to offers for Giancarlo Stanton. Now, listening to offers isn't the same thing as actively looking to make a deal, and assistant GM Dan Jennings told Jim Bowden yesterday on MLB Radio that they aren't shopping their young outfielder. Others have tweeted that the Mariners and Marlins discussed a deal, but they ain't close.

Which begs the question: Is it even possible to trade Stanton? I mean, it's possible, of course; these are the Marlins after all and they'll do anything, and they'll presumably have 28 teams besides the Mariners making at least a token inquiry ("Hello, would Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo and a lifetime pass to Disney World do the trick?").

First off, let's see who Stanton is right now, besides a big dude who hits home runs that could clear Alligator Alley. He just completed his age-22 season (and spent the entire season at 22) and hit 37 home runs despite missing 39 games. He hit .290 and led the National League in slugging percentage, even more impressive considering the Marlins' new park was a tough home run park. Basically, we're talking about a guy who has 650 plate appearances could hit 50 home runs and is young enough to improve his batting averages and on-base percentages. He compiled 5.4 Wins Above Replacement in 2012 and already has 12.0 in his two-plus seasons in the majors.

Importantly for any trade, he still has four years of team control until he hits free agency.

What I want know: Has there ever been a player like Stanton who has been traded? A guy so young and so good?

I went back to 1950 and found the position players who had accumulated the most value through their age-24 seasons. If Stanton has two more 5.5-win seasons, he would have 23 Wins Above Replacement through age 24 -- squeezed in between No. 15 Willie Mays and No. 16 Barry Bonds. (Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. are 1-2-3 on the list.)

Stanton is already 87th on this list.

From what I can gather, seven of the top 100 were traded before their 25th birthdays. Five of those seven were traded as prospects and don't really compare, but let's list them anyway:
  • Willie Randolph (No. 22): From what I can tell, Randolph was essentially a throw-in an exchange of pitchers -- Dock Ellis for Doc Medich -- between the Pirates and Yankees.
  • Hanley Ramirez (No. 45): Traded for Josh Beckett.
  • Ryne Sandberg (No. 51): Another throw-in, when the Phillies and Cubs exchanged shortstops, Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa. The Phillies just missed the boat, even though he'd played well as a 21-year-old at Triple-A.
  • Tom Brunansky (No. 89): Brunansky had been a first-round pick of the Angels, but they traded him to the Twins for reliever Doug Corbett and second baseman Rob Wilfong. Brunansky hit 107 home runs through his age-24 season.
  • Elvis Andrus (No. 93): While still in Class A, part of the Mark Teixeira trade.


So that leaves only two of the top 100 traded after they had established themselves as major leaguers. The first of those was Roberto Alomar. He was just 23 but had already spent three seasons in the majors when the Blue Jays and Padres made their infamous challenge trade at the 1990 winter meetings -- Alomar and Joe Carter for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. That deal doesn't really apply since the Marlins would be looking for a package of prospects.

So that leaves one comparable deal. Perhaps not surprisingly, it involves an ex-Marlin, Miguel Cabrera, who was traded to the Tigers after his age-24 season. Cabrera only had two seasons left of team control at the time but he'd already had two top-five MVP finishes. The Marlins received six prospects in the deal (Dontrelle Willis also went to Detroit) but the two prizes were Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.

Obviously, the deal didn't work out, but Maybin and Miller were both consensus top-10 prospects at the time (Maybin No. 6 and Miller No. 10 on the Baseball America list). Considering Stanton has four years of control, he would likely command more than that in a trade. Conservatively, we're looking at a player who will compile 20 WAR over the next four seasons and more likely closer to 25, with a high probability of a couple MVP-caliber seasons.

What kind of deals are even remotely close? Remember, R.A. Dickey was just traded for two of the Blue Jays' top prospects, including the highly-rated catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

1. Rangers send Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt and Martin Perez for Stanton and Ricky Nolasco. Jim Bowden tossed this one Insider out there last week. Profar is the No. 1 prospect in the game and is highly regarded enough that 20 WAR (or better) over six seasons isn't a stretch of the imagination. Olt should have a nice big league career as well, although he has some swing-and-miss to his game that raises concerns.

2. Mariners trade Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and Nick Franklin for Stanton. If the Marlins want young pitching that is close to big-league ready then the Mariners are the team to deal with. Walker appears to be a consensus top-10 overall prospect although Hultzen's status has dropped a bit after control issues in Triple-A. The Mariners could include a major-league ready outfielder like Michael Saunders.

3. Cardinals trade Oscar Taveras, Shelby Miller, Allen Craig and Trevor Rosenthal for Stanton. The Cardinals have prospects to deal and could move Carlos Beltran to first base if Craig is dealt. Taveras and Miller are top-20 prospects although Miller's minor league numbers raise questions and neither is a consensus top-10 guy. Rosenthal looked dominant in the bullpen during his big league call-up but started in the minors.

4. Pirates trade Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Alen Hanson for Stanton. This is similar to the Mariners' deal -- Cole is a top-10 prospect with a huge arm, Taillon is another pitcher who probably ranks in the overall top 20 and Hanson is a comparable infield prospect to Franklin. An outfielder like Starling Marte could be included. And, like the Mariners, the Pirates probably wouldn't want to deal away their young pitching anyway, no matter how great Stanton's future.

We're already stretching the possibilities and I'm not sure the Marlins would do any of those trades. The Orioles would have to start with Dylan Bundy and add other parts. The Rays could start with Wil Myers and some of their young pitching. The Padres have a lot of young talent in the pipeline, but no one player who stands out.

The Marlins may be listening, but will they stay on the line?

What do you think?
With the pesky Rays and Orioles battling it out in Baltimore, we talked about the wild-card race, whether the Rangers should trade Elvis Andrus, why football is more popular than baseball, playoff rotations, which city has fans that are most into games, the year Rick Sutcliffe won the Cy Young Award and much more. Yes, we were all over the place. Click here for the chat wrap.
Let's of good debates in today's chat: We discuss Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera in the AL MVP race, whether or not Ryan Braun is an MVP candidate in the NL, whether or not some teams should consider a three-man rotation in the playoffs, plus the most amazing play I've ever seen in person. Check it all out -- and more -- here.
Zach Britton pitched maybe the best game of his career Thursday afternoon -- striking out 10, allowing one run and walking nobody in the Orioles' 5-3 win over the White Sox -- and was rewarded by getting optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.

This is a procedural move. The Orioles will add Randy Wolf to the 25-man roster, making him eligible for the postseason roster, should the Orioles get there. Since Norfolk didn't make the playoffs, Britton won't even need to stay down for the required 10 days; in his postgame media session, Buck Showalter hinted that Britton is still likely to start Sept. 4 against the Blue Jays.

Keep an eye on the transactions wire over the next two days as teams maneuver to get players on the 25-man roster before the Aug. 31 postseason deadline. The official rules state that to be eligible for the postseason, as of midnight Aug. 31, a player must be (A) on the 25-man roster; (B) on the disabled list; (C) on the bereavement or suspended list. A player on the 60-day DL can be replaced by another player from the 40-man roster, but only at the same position (pitcher for pitcher or position player for position player).

In Wolf's case, since he wasn't already on the 40-man roster, he needed to be added to the active roster to be eligible for the postseason. This doesn't mean Britton won't be a postseason option for the Orioles. Right now they have Tsuyoshi Wada and Stu Pomeranz on the 60-day DL, so in theory Wada could be "added" to the playoff roster with Britton then replacing him.

In looking at other teams, there has been speculation the Reds may recall minor league speedster Billy Hamilton, to use as a pinch-runner in the postseason. But Hamilton isn't on the 40-man roster yet and GM Walt Jocketty indicated Hamilton won't get called up. "We haven't made a final determination," he said. "I'm going to go watch him this weekend, but probably not." For the Orioles, Dylan Bundy signed a major league contract out of high school so he's already on the 40-man roster so doesn't have to be called up to get maneuvered onto the postseason roster.

Jurickson Profar, the top prospect in the minors, is an interesting recall candidate, since the Rangers currently don't have a utility infielder on their 40-man roster. The only position player the Rangers currently have on the DL is Mike Napoli, so Profar would have to be recalled before Aug. 31 to be postseason eligible.

Cardinals pitching prospect Shelby Miller is another recall candidate as he's been dominant of late in Triple-A. He would also needed to be added to the 40-man roster but not necessarily recalled before Aug. 31, since Kyle McClellan and Chris Carpenter are 60-day DL guys who could be replaced (although there is speculation Carpenter could return).

Kenny Williams never seems to get a lot of respect.

During his tenure as Chicago White Sox general manager, which began after the 2000 season, he's built two division winners, including the 2005 World Series champions. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his reign is that the White Sox are always competitive. They've been under .500 just three times, but two of those were 79-83. He's done this despite lacking the monster payrolls of teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies; despite only once having a pick better than 12th in the first round of the draft; despite never having a franchise superstar like Barry Bonds to build around or pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, like Brian Sabean has had with the Giants; despite a farm system -- in part because of ownership's unwillingness to spend in the draft and because of that lack of high picks -- that usually ranks near the bottom (Keith Law and Baseball America both ranked the White Sox system 30th heading into the season).

What I like about Williams is he never gives up. He's always trying to win, to build the best team he can given his resources. He never craters, never commits to a complete teardown and embarrassing on-field product, such as the one you're seeing from the Astros, Williams' 2005 World Series opponents.

This is why trading for Francisco Liriano is a typical Kenny Williams move -- high risk, perhaps mocked, but one with a potential nice payoff. Liriano's season numbers with the Twins look terrible -- 3-10, 5.31 ERA -- and his last start (against the White Sox, of all teams) was a rough, seven-run blowup. But after an awful April and temporary trip to the bullpen, Liriano pitched very well in a 10-start stint from May 30 though July 18, posting a 2.84 ERA with 77 strikeouts, 28 walks and 38 hits in 63.1 innings (a .171 average allowed). That stretch included back-to-back starts of 15 strikeouts and 10 strikeouts against the A's and Orioles on July 13 and 18, respectively.

In other words, there's a good chance Liriano will outpitch Zack Greinke the rest of the way, even though this trade will receive much less fanfare and required much less in prospect value: light-hitting infielder Eduardo Escobar and left-handed pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

In fact, despite the much-maligned farm system, the White Sox have received contributions from several rookies, most notably on the pitching staff with Jose Quintana, closer Addison Reed, and relievers Nate Jones and Hector Santiago. With Quintana still the big surprise in the rotation, Liriano presumably takes the place of Philip Humber, who did pitch well in a 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Saturday, but that strong start barely got his ERA under 6.00. With the hope that John Danks might return from his shoulder issues, the White Sox now have rotation depth and options in case of injury or if they want to conserve Chris Sale's innings.

The White Sox also have a lot to gain from a deal such as this; with a 2.5-game lead over the Tigers, winning the division title is obviously huge. There is a reason you're seeing teams contending for a division title making moves, while teams further back in the playoff chase -- such as the American League East wild-card contenders -- are more conservative. The reward for winning one of the two wild cards is essentially half as valuable as last season, with the one-game playoff plus the possibility that you've burned your best pitcher. But the payoff for the White Sox winning the division is worth taking a chance on Liriano.

As for the Rangers, they don't need to be as desperate as their division rival Angels, who gave up three good prospects to acquire Greinke. Yes, acquiring Greinke would have helped, but the Rangers have to ask: Do any of the other available pitchers make the team that much better? I agree with Jim Bowden: Probably not Insider.

The top three starters in a playoff series right now probably would be Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland (who has had a disappointing season but lately has looked more like the pitcher who threw so well in the second half and postseason a year ago). The fourth spot might be open as Neftali Feliz rehabs, but among Feliz, Scott Feldman, Roy Oswalt and maybe even Alexi Ogando, the Rangers have options. Do you want to give up Mike Olt or another top prospect for what might be just a minor upgrade in Josh Johnson (having his worst statistical season and would be expensive to acquire) or Ryan Dempster (who is unlikely to approve a trade to Texas anyway)?

Plus, Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli are impending free agents, and there's no guarantee they'll be back, even though the Rangers have entered the upper echelon of payrolls. Maybe the Rangers will let one of those guys walk, spend some of that money elsewhere and give a starting position next season to Olt (with super prospect Jurickson Profar waiting in the wings).

The Rangers have options, but their best chance at holding off the Angels and surging A's might lie within: Namely, Hamilton and Michael Young finding their strokes. Hamilton was given a mental day off Saturday to clear his head. Since June 1, he's been one of the worst hitters in the league, batting .190 with a .274 on-base percentage. He's hitting .145 in July with 21 strikeouts in 19 games. Young is eating up at-bats at designated hitter and first base despite an empty .270 batting average. His OBP is less than .300, and he hasn't homered since May 7.

For all the talk of needing a starter, Young is a gigantic hole in the lineup right now. Kenny Williams filled one of his holes. We'll see whether Rangers GM Jon Daniels plugs his.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Chase UtleyDale Zanine/US PresswireAs quick as Chase Utley is to the ball, he's not so quick he'll beat the ball to first base.

Podcast: Hanley! Hamels! A-Rod!

July, 25, 2012
7/25/12
1:24
PM ET
Well, a few things happened on Tuesday night in the great game of baseball worth discussing, dontcha think? Keith Law and I tried to recap it all for Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast!

1. Cole Hamels became a really, really rich man by opting to stay in Philly, but do we like this deal? And is it the right deal for the last-place Phillies?

2. Hanley Ramirez is a Dodger, but which version of Hanley is L.A. getting? And why is this team trying to get more pitching? Plus, between the Astros and Marlins, which team is more embarrassing today?

3. The Yankees lose their Hall of Fame third baseman for awhile, but can the franchise simply go out and trade for a Chase Headley, or will it be a lot of Eric Chavez at the hot corner?

4. Our emailers have thoughts about Rangers shortstops, Houston tanking and why it's not like other sports, and defensive value.

5. Wednesday's schedule features Hanley and his Dodgers in St. Louis, but we also have thoughts about Josh Beckett, Tim Lincecum and Ricky Romero, among others.

So download and listen to Wednesday's Baseball Today podcast. Yeah, it's a shame there was nothing in the news to discuss (sarcasm!) but we persevered!

SPONSORED HEADLINES