Southern California was not a good geographical destination for baseball players who changed addresses in the second half of the season. Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik and Octavio Dotel moved to Los Angeles, Dan Haren and Alberto Callaspo to Anaheim and Miguel Tejada and Ryan Ludwick to San Diego. Now they have all gone home.
Their changes of address, of course were involuntary, but so were a bunch of others, and those players have had their seasons extended. That group includes Cliff Lee, Bengie Molina and Jeff Francoeur in Texas, Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood in New York, Derrek Lee, Rick Ankiel and Alex Gonzalez in Atlanta and Roy Oswalt in Philadelphia.
Contenders, as usual, were active in the trade market, and the more successful teams are still playing. Some teams will continue playing because of what the newcomers have done for them in the division series.
The Rangers’ 5-1 opening-game victory over Tampa Bay was almost entirely a newcomers’ production.
Francoeur, who was acquired from the New York Mets Aug. 31, the last day players can join new teams and be eligible for the post-season, doubled home the game’s first run in the second inning. He scored on a single by Molina, acquired July 1 from San Francisco, who later homered and added another single for a three-hit day.
By no means was the Rangers’ other newcomer icing on the cake. Lee, whom the Rangers acquired from Seattle July 9 for first baseman Justin Smoak and three minor leaguers, allowed 5 hits, walked none and struck out 10 in his 7-inning effort.
With Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan at the helm, the Rangers acted with uncharacteristic aggressiveness to get Lee before the calendar reached July 31, the non-waiver trading deadline. Chances are, if Ryan were not the club president, the Rangers would not have pursued Lee.
Tom Hicks was the debt-laden owner at the time, and without Ryan’s input, he might have been reluctant to commit $4.23 million to pay the remainder of Lee’s salary. In addition Lee can be a free agent after the season, and Hicks might have balked at giving up cheap, young players for a player he was going to lose in three months.
However, Ryan, who with Chuck Greenberg, a Pittsburgh lawyer, heads the new ownership group, is changing the culture that Hicks created, and the results have been impressive.
There has been no change in culture, on the other hand, in New York despite the death of the legendary owner, George Steinbrenner. A big spender from the start of his ownership regime, Steinbrenner taught his sons to spare no expense and spend whatever it takes to win.
As they approached the trading deadline last July, the Yankees knew they needed reinforcements. They knew they would have to pay to get them, but the Yankees have never shied away from spending.
That’s what other teams hate about the Yankees. It’s bad enough that their payroll is already over $200 million, but they will pay additional millions to bolster their pitching rotation, their lineup, their bench or their bullpen. This July they spent a total of $5 million for those reinforcements. That is unheard of for most teams to do.
“We felt we needed a d.h. because Johnson wasn’t coming back,” general manager Brian Cashman said, discussing the trade with the Astros for Berkman and referring to the injured Nick Johnson. “We felt we could protect our system and get a player. Berkman was someone we identified as a guy who could help us despite his subpar year for him.”
The Yankees gave the Astros two minor leaguers of little consequence for Berkman, who was 34 years old, wasn’t having his best season (.245, 49 runs batted in) and had a $15 million option Houston wasn’t going to pick up. The Astros agreed to pay $4 million of the $7.07 million left on his contract.
At the trading deadline the Yankees also grabbed Wood from Cleveland to shore up their relief corps.
“Our scouts saw him throw in June and he was throwing really well,” Cashman said. “We thought he could help us. We called Cleveland, but they said they weren’t ready to trade him at that point.”
Wood, who has had a career filled with arm injuries, spent most of July on the disabled list with a blister on the index finger of his pitching hand. That problem didn’t discourage the Yankees. Wood came off the disabled list July 31, and the Yankees made the trade that day. “We were satisfied with the way he was throwing before,” Cashman said.
The Yankees were very satisfied with the way Wood threw after the trade, too. In 24 games, he allowed 2 runs in 26 innings for a 0.69 e.r.a.
The Yankees got the Indians to pay part of what Wood is owed for the rest of the season. The Indians will pay $1,672,131 and the Yankees $2 million.
Wood relieved in each of the three games against Minnesota.
In Game 1 he allowed a hit and a walk but no runs in two-thirds of an inning, and in Game 2 he struck out two of the three batters he faced and got the third on a grounder, protecting a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning as the set-up man for Mariano Rivera.
In Game 3, though, Wood faltered, giving up 3 hits, a walk and a run while getting only one out. But the Yankees had built a 6-0 lead.
Berkman, serving as the left-hand hitting designated hitter against the Twins’ right-handed starter, Carl Pavano, was instrumental in the second-game victory, breaking a 1-1 tie with a fifth-inning home run and a 2-2 tie with a seventh-inning double.
The Braves’ platoon of newcomers was instrumental negatively in Atlanta’s 1-0 loss to San Francisco in the opener of that division series, failing to get a hit in their collective 10 times bat. In the second game, they were instrumental positively.
The Braves acquired Gonzalez in a swap of shortstops with Toronto July 14. Manager Bobby Cox had become disenchanted with Yunel Escobar after four seasons and wanted him gone. General manager Frank Wren obliged.
Wren remained busy for the next several weeks, adding pitcher-turned-outfielder Ankiel July 31 in a 5-player trade with Kansas City and obtaining first baseman Lee from the Chicago Cubs Aug. 18 for three minor leaguers.
The three new guys combined for 5 hits in 15 at-bats in Game 2, scored 3 runs and drove in three in the 11-inning 5-4 triumph.
Lee led off the sixth inning with a single and scored the Braves’ first run. He started the eighth inning with a single and scored the Braves’ second run. Later in the eighth Gonzalez lashed a double, driving in two runs and tying the game, 4-4.
The game remained tied until the 11th when Ankiel slugged a home run. Just before the home run Kyle Farnsworth, who replaced Billy Wagner in the 10th after the Atlanta closer was injured, induced a grounder for an inning-ending double play. Just after the homer, Farnsworth, who moved to the Braves in the Ankiel deal, got the three outs they needed to secure the 5-4 victory.
The lone newcomer who didn’t come through for his new team was Oswalt. Following Roy Halladay’s no-hitter for Philadelphia against Cincinnati, Oswalt gave up 4 runs (3 earned) and 5 hits, including 2 home runs, in 5 innings.
The Phillies, however, overcame the Oswalt-created deficit and won, 7-4.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
When the ball landed in Brett Gardner’s glove, Ron Gardenhire headed for the dugout steps leading to the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. He wanted no part of the scene that was unfolding on the field. He had witnessed it too many times.
The Minnesota Twins, the team Gardenhire has managed since 2002, have perhaps the best organization in Major League Baseball. It is probably the one I admire most. As good as they are, though, they can’t get past the Yankees in the post-season. They seldom get past anyone.
In being swept by the Yankees in the division series, the Twins have lost their last 12 playoff games, including 9 to the Yankees. They have lost 15 of their last 17 post-season games and, all told under Gardenhire, 21 of 27.
That they have reached the post-season six times in Gardenhire’s nine seasons is admirable, but they have then stumbled nearly every time. The lone exception came in 2002, Gardenhire’s first season, when they edged Oakland in five games, then beat Anaheim in the opener of the league series before losing four straight.
The Twins, whose owners let their general managers run the baseball operation without interference, deserve better, but they have to earn it, and some day they will.
A-ROD AND DiMAG
Say what you will about Alex Rodriguez – and he has plenty of critics who say a lot of negative things about him – but he has demonstrated this season what a remarkable hitter he is. For the 13th successive season he has hit 30 home runs and driven in 100 runs.
He broke his tie with Jimmie Foxx for the most consecutive such seasons despite playing only 137 games. But in doing so, he matched an even more remarkable achievement. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he joined Joe DiMaggio as the only players who have hit 30 home runs and driven in 100 runs in three straight seasons while playing in fewer than 140 games each season.
DiMaggio ran off that streak from 1939 through 1941.
SECOND LOOK AT LATINS
In an item here last week I criticized Major League Baseball for not doing a good enough job educating young Latin players about performance-enhancing drugs. Young Latins are the most frequently disciplined players of those who are suspended for testing positive for steroids use.
However, I have been corrected not by an MLB official but by an agent who has dealt extensively with Latin players.
“Regarding PEDs in Latin America,” Joe Kehoskie wrote in an e-mail, “I’m hardly an apologist for MLB’s international operations, but I disagree that MLB’s efforts to educate young Latin players are lacking. MLB has spent (and continues to spend) huge amounts of time, money, and effort on the issue, to the point MLB is well past the point of diminishing returns.
“When it comes to PED education in Latin America, I believe MLB has run into an age-old truth: Desperation is the enemy of education. Add in the players’ easy access to PEDs and the current weak penalties that have almost no deterrent value, and MLB is fighting a losing battle right now in Latin America (particularly in the D.R.).”
In a subsequent e-mail, Kehoskie added, “After years of education and publicity about PEDs, I doubt there are any baseball players in the D.R. over the age of 13 or 14 who don’t know that using PEDs is a violation of MLB rules.
“But with thousands of young, dirt-poor players desperate to sign contracts, even if it’s only for $10,000 or $20,000, and with very weak penalties in place due to resistance by the D.R. government, MLB faces an almost Sisyphean task right now.
“In a result perhaps befitting the so-called PED era, MLB was bashed when it didn’t test in Latin America, and now it gets bashed when Latin players disproportionately test positive, despite the fact MLB’s hands are mostly tied when it comes to punishing offenders. It’s a classic damned if they do, damned if they don’t.”