Pretenders or Contenders? Sizing up MLB races at trade deadline

MLB Hats done Right (Road)This is the key turn in the race. The MLB non-waiver trading deadline is nearly upon us and August begins the dog days of the grinding baseball season. With the addition of an extra Wild Card playoff slot, many teams still hold out hope they can grab one of the many rings that will get them into the postseason and the flurry of player movement has begun.

Fans around Cincinnati are wondering if the Reds will make a move, but this may well be a case of if it isn’t broken, well, don’t mess with it. Certainly any team can improve, but considering the Reds Joey Votto-less ship has cut through the water without him like a speedboat, going 11-2 and currently riding a 10-game winning streak, status quo isn’t exactly a bad thing at this point, which also speaks volumes for the makeup of the guys on the field doing all the wining right now.

Such is not the case around baseball as teams are making their push at this point in the marathon. The Dodgers landed a big fish in their fight for the NL West title adding Hanley Ramirez. This guy is an enigma, once one of the premier players in the game just a short time ago And while the poor teams build for the future trading names for prospects and ridding themselves of payroll, the rich get richer.

Ramirez could well prosper by new digs. A couple of thoughts regarding the Marlins, his former team. First the Marlins, even after spending so much money in the off-season to look like a contender on paper, their flop could not have happened to a better guy, team owner Jeffrey Loria.

I closely monitored the goings on in Montreal when he was the team owner and aside from the 1994 MLB work stoppage that came earlier as the first real blow for baseball there, the sport was making a comeback north of the border with the plans of a new ballpark with Loria their owner, until he single handily was the final death-blow for baseball in Montreal.

The other thought is that strange things happen when Ozzie Guillen is the manager of a team, much like what is happening in Boston now under the guiding hand of manager Bobby Valentine.

I was a fan of Valentine and his work as manager of the Texas Rangers, way back when, but Valentine and Boston, from the start, was simply a match made in Hell.

Not to defend Miami, but when All-Star Giancarlo Stanton went down with an injury, so did the team and the hip pick of prognosticators were sizzling in a frying pan.

The rich, in more ways than one, got far richer when the LA Angels acquired right-hander Zack Greinke and that has to be a concern for the front-running Texas Rangers as the Angles more than stack up with the two-time AL champs now.

Detroit, embroiled in a three-team fight for the top spot in the AL central certainly improved their chances landing right-hander Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante for the stretch run, from Miami.

Although nothing should surprise me, the New York Yankees picking up Ichiro Suzuki certainly increases their chances of running away with the AL East, even if Ichiro is not the same player he once was. The only real surprise is he agreed to the deal after being loyal for 11 ½ years to the Mariners, but here is one guy who remained loyal by saying he agreed because he knew the move was best for his struggling former team trying to build for the future.

Adding crafty southpaw Wandy Rodriguez was a major deal for the Pittsburgh Pirates and should  boost the Bucs chances of staying in the race for the long haul.

The move that commanded far less attention was the rather quiet signing of right-hander Ben Sheets by Atlanta who had nothing to lose with the move, a hurler who hadn’t pitched in two years. For the record in three starts he is 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA.

The move the Angels made had to hurt Oakland as well. The A’s, maybe THE most surprising team in a year of huge surprises have placed themselves in playoff conversations with the way they have played since the All-Star break and in no uncertain terms, are scripting Moneyball 2. Their four-game sweep (all one-run decisions) of the Yankees certainly validated this team, at least currently. But it is a bullpen that leads the AL in ERA that keeps this overachieving team quite interesting, as is their penchant for comeback wins.

There are a number of teams headed the opposite direction and Milwaukee is certainly one of them. On the heels of being swept three in Cincinnati, the Philadelphia Phillies dealt them their final blow, turning them into sellers winning three straight for the sweep in their final at bat all three games against a deplorable bullpen. It is hard to imagine John Axford, now demoted from the closers role, lead the NL with 46 saves last year.

The Phillies were not the sellers many expected, at least yet, signing All-Star left-hander Cole Hamels to a new four-year deal.

Not much has gone wrong in Washington where the Nationals continue to play great baseball, neck and neck with the Reds for the best record in the NL, but they took a big hit Ian Desmond was placed on the DL with a torn chest muscle. The good thing for Nats boosters is Michael Morse is finally healthy and that could help make up for the loss of the All-Star Desmond. Same holds true as Ryan Zimmerman is back at full strength and really swinging the bat.

The fading New york Mets may not have wanted to rush blue-chip righty Matt Harvey to the majors, but had little choice but to bring him up last week.

When Tampa Bay was forced to move Evan Longoria to the 60-day DL, hopes considerably dimmed for a run at a Wild card spot.

Maybe at this point people will begin to take Baltimore serious. A major reason they could stick around is the fact that closer Jim Johnson was the first pitcher in the majors to reach 30 saves, anchoring a bullpen ranked only behind Oakland’s in the AL.

I think it is noteworthy that a guy who I have always felt is arguably the best hitter in the game, the Tigers Miguel Cabrera hit his 300th career homer last week making him only the 14th player in history to do so before the age of 30.

The funniest thing that happened … well to me .. this week is someone in Boston stole the Green Monster mascot uniform.

We began this essay with the Reds and shall close with them. One of the main reasons the Reds do not have to go out and make a move is they have plugged in Ryan Ludwick in the starting lineup everyday (and it is about time) that was just like going out and getting another bat.

Too bad he cannot hit leadoff, but even if a true leadoff man is desirable in Cincinnati, the Reds seem to be doing just fine with what they currently have.