Halfway To What?

Last we posted, we explored some options for the Giants as the trade deadline nears. Suddenly, at the halfway point in the season the Giants find themselves at a crossroads.

To The Left: The Giants can look at the world today and say this: as bad as we’ve been, as injured as our roster has become, even after being no-hit by a guy named Homer (who happens to be on my fantasy team: very conflicted emotions about that)…despite all that, we are only 3 GAMES OUT OF FIRST PLACE!

What kind of crazy world is this???? The way the Giants have hit, pitched, ran the bases, and caught the ball…the way they have accumulated a -31 run differential…they SHOULD be in last place (where they haven’t been since 2007).

But, they are also three game out of first place. There is hope. All is not lost. Let’s make some trades, let’s get Vogey back, let’s bolster the pen, let’s hope Pablo and a few other guys get hot…we can still win this thing.

That’s one way the Giants can look at the world.

To The Right: The Giants can look at the world this morning and say, hey, it’s been a good run, no one thought we’d win 2 titles in 3 years, but it’s time to retool. We don’t need Bud Norris, or Ricky Nolasco, or Joba Chamberlain, not at the expense of the few decent prospects we actually have.

The Giants can say, instead, let’s trade Timmy, let’s move Pence, let’s shop everybody (with the exceptions of Buster, Matt, and Madison) and see if we can’t restock the farm system, clear some salary, and get after this thing again next year.

The Path Ahead: I’ll be honest, there’s a big part of me that wouldn’t protest to waving the white flag and restocking the system. I don’t like the idea of giving up on a season, but this roster is only engineered properly if the team is healthy. Moreover, this team is designed to win close games, riding the strong backs and arms of its rotation. It is my belief that the rotation, as it is currently constructed, is not able to do what it did from 2009-2012 (see this insightful post from Giants OC).

I think expecting everything to magically fall into place for a stretch run is wishful thinking.

But 3 GAMES!

And that’s why there won’t be any dumping. As long as there is a sliver of hope, they’re going to ride this thing out and try to find some magic.

I really hope I have to swallow my words, but I think the brass will mortgage the future to try to salvage what might be a lost cause.

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Targets

The trade deadline is 6.5 weeks away, so we have a while to go before the rumor mill really heats us, but it’s never too early to speculate, debate, and hope for something magical to happen by July 31.

A couple of things we know about the Giants so far

  1. They are doing ok at scoring the runs
  2. They are not doing so well at preventing the runs, especially in terms of pitching, and especially those pitchers called upon to start the baseball games
  3. They have many injuries

Points 1 and 3 related because at the beginning of the year it seemed a slam dunk that the Giants would be in the market for an outfielder by this time of the year. All love and respect to Gregor “White Shark” Blanco and Andre Torres, but that duo was never going to really cut it as a corner outfield platoon.

Josh Willingham, Jeff Francoeur (gasp), even Raul Ibanez…these are the kinds of names we all expected to be debating.

But, now that seems wide open. The Giants could maybe use an infielder, or first basemen (pushing Belt to left), or they could do nothing as their offense seems to be holding its own despite lacking some key pieces.

Meanwhile, everything one can read online indicates that if there is a pitcher rumored to be available the Giants have asked about them. As of right now, there are 5 names that keep surfacing…here’s my quick and dirty take on each (in no particular order).

  1. Cliff Lee. We’ve discussed Clifford here before, and if he is available he is the best pitcher to be had for 2013. Taking Lee will be expensive (both in prospects and in money), but a third championship in 4 years makes it worthwhile. Also, the Giants have a history of trading with the Phillies (see Pence, Hunter), which may or may not be a good thing. What acquiring Lee means: the Giants are ALL in, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are gone at the end of the year, and the Giants better win it all.
  2. Ricky Nolasco. I would have to believe that Nolasco would be the cheapest of these five arms to acquire. Also, you are dealing with the Marlins who haven’t made a sound baseball decision in quite some time, a track record that Brian Sabean has exploited with organizations before (see Pirates, Pittsburg; Schmidt, Jason; and Morris, Matt). Nolasco has always been very talented, maddeningly inconsistent, and very unlucky. He’s also pitched well at AT&T. What acquiring Nolasco means: the Giants felt they could get a good deal and bolster their rotation for the present without mortgaging the future.
  3. BudNorris.  Norris is the “ace” of Houston Astros, a strikeout machine, and a young guy who allows too many men to reach base. In all likelihood he will not be around (due to free agency) when the Astros are able to be good again, so it makes sense for the ‘stros to cash in and get some (more) prospects who could help them in 2-3 years when they expect to be competitive again. Norris would be somewhere in the middle of the expense chart, probably requiring one of the Giants’ top pitching prospects. What acquiring Norris means: the Giants are willing to spend a little more to get a guy who helps not only now, but also for the next couple of years. They believe a move to a better pitchers’ park, a better team culture, and life under the watchful eye of Dave Righetti will allow Norris to reach his full potential.
  4. Josh JohnsonJohnson was, seemingly, as important a piece in the blockbuster Blue Jay-Marlins trade over the winter as anyone else. As dynamic as Jose Reyes is atop a lineup, Johnson gave the Jays a power arm/ace pitcher that the team sorely lacked as it attempted to compete in baseball’s toughest division. Johnson, though, always comes with a significant disclaimer: he has rarely been healthy. When healthy he’s been as good as anyone in baseball (and his last few starts seem to show that he is close to that form again). Should he continue to pitch well over the next couple of weeks, and should the Blue Jays continue to languish, I imagine the demand for Johnson will skyrocket and his price will be close to that of Cliff Lee. Johnson is a free agent at the end of the year so this will be a showcase for him…if he pitches a team into the playoffs and on to the World Series he will cash in significantly. What acquiring Johnson means: it means the Giants lost out on Cliff Lee. It means, again, they are ALL in and willing pay big for a rental pitcher who almost assuredly will not be around in 2014. It also means the Giants have some level of confidence in his ability to stay healthy for the remainder of the season.
  5. Matt GarzaGarza is Johnson lite. He has a similar profile to Johnson, but all things being equal, if they are both on top of their game Johnson is the better pitcher. That said, one thing Garza does bring to the table, that only Lee can match, is the experience and resume of post-season success. Garza was the best pitcher for the Rays in the 2008 post-season and he backed that up in subsequent years. Garza, who hasn’t been pitching well since returning from injury, will also be a rental/audition as he will be a free agent this offseason. Garza, though, is from Fresno and might be interested in sticking around if things go well in San Fran. What acquiring Garza means: Garza is the middle ground of these options, representing the line between going all in for 2013 and thinking about the future. The Giants’ probably don’t have to give up their prime prospects to get him, but they also are thinking about the present and acquiring an arm that most likely won’t help them beyond this year.

What Should the Giants do? If I had to pull the trigger today I’d go for Bud Norris as he represents help now and into the future. In a couple more weeks, though, a win-now move might be more appealing. I think Lee is a bold move, but too expensive and he will be expensive for years to come. Johnson is too brittle, Nolasco too unpredictable. Matt Garza intrigues me, but in many ways he is having the worst year of anyone on this list, and what the Giants don’t need is another middling pitcher trying to regain his old glory.

I also like Josh Willingham, but that’s another post for another day.

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Crazy Trades

For the second time in the last three months an absolutely crazy trade has gone down in MLB. There have been plenty of articles written about how terrible the Marlins are for making this deal happen.

But I get it, in a bottom-line, penny-pinching way, I get it. It’s terrible and it’s wrong and all that, but it makes a weird sort of sense.

Not the point. The point is, the Marlins best player is still a Marlin. His name is Giancarlo or Mike or whatever Stanton.

And they are NOT going to trade him.

Right.

Actually, I makes a lot of sense for them not to trade him. Yet. He’s not expensive at this point, he hits crazy home runs, and he will be the ONLY reason to go to that hideous ball park in 2013.

But, what would it take to get him?

Probably a Zack Wheeler and a Tommy Joseph at least. Oh, wait.

Would you give up a Gary Brown? Would you try to sell some combo of Crick and Hembree and Susac and Peguero?

Stanton is going to command big money at some point, which is maybe how you pull the strings and get something to happen. Anything is possible in this crazy world.

I can’t help but keep looking at this, your 2014 SF Giants:

  • CF Brown
  • 2B Panik
  • 3B Sandoval
  • C Posey
  • LF Stanton
  • 1B Belt
  • RF Peguero
  • SS Crawford

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Let’s Trade Tim Lincecum

It’s election night, so to keep from going crazy let’s think about baseball!

I begin with the following premise: the free agent market is a dangerous trap of fools gold, dashed dreams, and sorrow. Last offseason the “winners” were the Angels and the Marlins and neither of them made the playoffs. Another winner was the Tigers and we all know how that ended.

However, teams that made good trades included the A’s, the Nationals, the Orioles, and…wait for it…the Giants. None of those trades made the kinds of headlines that Pujols and Wilson and Reyes and Fielder made, but they sure turned out really, really well for each team.

All that to say: bringing back Pagan and Scutaro and Affeldt and potentially filling the LF hold through FA doesn’t bode well for the Giants in the short, or, especially, the long-term.

I think the Giants will get Scutaro and get him at a decent value. I don’t know that the Giants get Pagan and even if they do it will almost assuredly be an overpay.

It’s time then to get creative! Here’s my thinking: I believe Anibal Sanchez is a value buy in this FA market. If the Giants could get him at 4 yrs/$52 mil I think that would be a steal. That signing would give the Giants 6 starting pitchers, making one expendable.

Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are not going anywhere. Barry Zito, redemption or not, is still pretty untradable, and even if he could be moved it wouldn’t bring much back other than salary relief. Ryan Vogelsong is interesting: he could bring back value due to his small contract, but I don’t see it happening.

That leaves Tim Lincecum.

Reasons NOT to Trade Tim Lincecum:

  1. He just had a horrible season and his value is at all time low.
  2. He is owed $20+ million next year so he can probably only be traded to a rich team or else the Giants will have to eat salary.
  3. He is, in many ways, still the face of the franchise.
  4. Tim Lincecum, when he is right, is better than Anibal Sanchez.

Reasons TO Trade Tim Lincecum

  1. In addition to what I mentioned above, I think there are two interesting scenarios for the Giants. The first is to try to match up with a team like the Royals/Twins/Cleveland who desperately need pitching. The Giants throw in the cash to cover the salary and steal an Alex Gordon-type player (plus a reliever) to cover an outfield spot and bolster the bullpen. The Giants don’t have to deal with Tim’s drama if things don’t go well and actually get something in return for a player who will hit FA after 2013.
  2. Now, here is where I really want to go. The Giants should trade Lincecum to the Red Sox for Jacoby Ellsbury. I have a secret fantasy of Ellsbury and Gary Brown at the top of the Giants lineup. Ellsbury is in a similar place to Lincecum: a year away from FA, some impressive years under his belt, but still with something to prove. The Red Sox need pitching, the Giants might need help in the outfield and at the top of the order. The trade allows both teams time decide if they want to commit to each player long-term. If it doesn’t work out, it was only a year.

Undoubtedly, the best case scenario for the Giants is that Tim Linceucm comes back strong and pitched like 2010 Timmy. But, creative trades paved the way for many successful teams last year and might be the right antidote to a crazy, overspending spree on the near horizon.

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Something About a Trade?

So, yeah, this.

A fascinating trade for a million reasons, but of primary importance is this: this trade is way more about the next five years than it is about this season. Nothing about this move dooms the Giants’ chances, they don’t need to do anything drastic, and when all the dust settles the most important development for THIS season that took place last night is that the Giants starters have now won five games in a row. Each starter won his turn through the rotation for the first time since 2007. That’s huge.

Now, thoughts on this blockbuster move:

  • Short Term: Replacing James Loney with Adrian Gonzalez is a huge upgrade for LA. I felt like Adrian not got his fair shake from the Boston fans/media, but he’s good and he’s back to torment the Giants. (That said, Cody Ross has hit 19 home runs this year to Adrian’s 15…just saying). The rest of the trade is pretty much a non-factor over the next 36 games. Becket will either take the place of Joe Blanton or fill in for Billingsley (if his elbow keeps him out). In either case, his addition is fairly negligible. He might show a few flashes of brilliance, but the other big move the Dodgers had pondered involved Cliff Lee, and that would have scared me. Beckett does not. Nick Punto fills in for Hairston and Carl Crawford is a long-term gamble who won’t play this year. The Giants are 7-5 against LA so far and even going 3-3 over the final 6 games will secure a winning record against their rivals.
  • Long Term: AGon is clearly the big catch. The Mexican-born, SoCal native will help mobilize the franchise and be a face as they move forward. Beckett has a Huff-like odd/even season thing going. He does well in the odd years, if healthy he could be a plus for LA in 2013…I also think he will do well in the NL West, but doing well and being an Ace, circa 2003/2007 is not going to happen. Nice guy to have next year, but would you take Beckett over MadBum or Vogelsong as your 3rd/4th starter. No. Crawford is interesting. He will likely take over for Victorino, but he is also going to miss 2 seasons worth of baseball, in his prime, when this is all said and done. And he still will be owed a ton of money. The Dodgers are essentially saying this: “we are willing to pay, for Adrian Gonzalez, the price (~250 mil) that the Angles are paying Pujols and the Reds, Votto, and if we get lucky we also get an All-Star left fielder out of the deal.” Interesting.
  • Big Picture: while the move does help, somewhat, the 2012 Dodgers, this trade is all about making a statement. The New Dodgers are here to play and to spend. Deal with it MLB.

The NL West really is shaping into Red Sox/Yankees. What is interesting, is that the Giants, through very different from the Red Sox, have a philosophy, a way. In the end, the trade the Giants may most regret in light of all this is the Wheeler for Beltran move last year.

In this new day and age, and with an extra wild card, the Giants don’t need to do anything different. Strong starting pitching, development of young players, and reasonable extensions for our own talent is the way to go. The Giants, if they stick with this plan, actually have the edge in my opinion. I will take the Giants strong pitching and Buster Posey over an All-Star lineup and a Cy Young award winner any day. Obviously, there’s more to the Giants line up than Posey and more to the Dodgers rotation than Kershaw, but that is essentially the story that is developing here. Moreover, the Giants must hope that the Gary Browns, and Joe Paniks, and Francisco Peguero’s of their system develop into good players.

If nothing else, the NL West is no joke anymore.

One final thought, the player who now matters more than anyone else to the remaining 36 games of 2012 is none other than Tim Lincecum. We’ve been saying this to one extent or another all season, but it is now more true than ever. He must pitch like vintage Timmy in his final 7+ starts to help the Giants nail this division down.

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On Mat Latos

Two recent events have conspired to plant a seed of thought…and I will admit this is not fully formed yet. These events are:

  1. Pujols signing with the Angels
  2. The Padres trading Mat Latos to the Reds for some good stuff in return

So, the seed of thought is this: The Giants should consider very strongly trading Tim Lincecum. My soul hurts typing that last sentence, but I am starting to consider that it might be the best idea. Hear me out…

1) Lincecum still has 2 team controlled years (expensive arbitration years, yes, but he’s not a rental). Latos has four years left, part of what made it easier for the Reds to give up so much, so the Giants are at a bit of a disadvantage here. BUT…

2) Tim Lincecum is better than Latos and has hardware to back it up (CYAs plus a Ring). Also, Timmy has never been injured.

3) The Giants should lock up Cain and Bumgarner is under control for a while. Hopefully they’d get at least one good arm (plus a significant bat) in return for Lincecum. They should be fine, especially in the long-term, in the rotation. (Side Note: they could really do this if they still had Wheeler in the system…just sayin’).

4) As I said last week keeping Cain and Lincecum is going to be incredibly expensive, and while I’m in no way opposed to keeping them both, at some point Buster is going to get paid, and Panda, and MadBum, and Wilson (if they want to keep him) and it goes on and on. Someone is going to get left out at some point.

I have no idea what the Giants could/should get back. I don’t have any fake trade ideas. But seeing Cardinal fans take a deep sigh of relief when the club didn’t tie their fate to El Hombre for the next decade and then observing the return the Pads got for Latos makes me curious. It makes me think. It opens me up to the possibility.

I don’t like to say it, but they should think about it. At the very least.

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Pagans

The Giants made another trade for another so-so outfielder last night. Welcome to the Bay Area Angel Pagan (one of the greatest names of all time). Some thoughts…

1) We will miss Andres Torres. Pagan and Torres are essentially the same player (Pagan brings more bat, Torres is superior with the glove), but Pagan is younger so that makes sense. However, Pagan did not help the Giants win a World Series. Even though it was pretty clear the carriage had turned back into a pumpkin, Torres’ one magical year will always be remembered by Giants’ fans.

2) I want the Giants to trade for Jed Lowrie. It could still happen. But, I just don’t know why we need another outfielder. Unless that outfielder is Carlos Beltran. A good trade, but not the one I wanted. This team still needs to get stronger in the middle of the infield.

3) Grant, at McCovey, nails the true fear at the heart of this trade: what now for Brandon Belt? If everyone is healthy there is not enough room for Huff/Belt/Pagan/Cabrera/Schierholtz/Pill/plus Posey at first from time to time. It is easy to envision a situation where Belt gets the shaft and either rots on the bench or jumps up and down from Fresno. Dude needs to play everyday in the Majors. Make that happen!

4) It sure sounds like this is it. So, your 2012 SF Giants:

  • Angel Pagan CF
  • Freddy Sanchez 2B
  • Buster Posey C
  • Pablo Sandoval 3B
  • Aubrey Huff/Brandon Belt 1B
  • Melky Cabrera LF
  • Nate Schierholtz RF
  • Brandon Crawford SS

Is that going to be good enough?

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Hola Melky, Adios Jonathan

So, nick is going to have a post on the trade the Giants made today soon. I will try not to steal his thunder.

Here are my quick hit thoughts:

  • We easily could have just cut Sanchez and got nothing for him
  • We could have traded Sanchez for Orlando Cabrera!
  • We could have kept Sanchez and continued to hear about Coco Crisp. I’m 97% sure Coco would have been our starting center fielder next year
  • We could have kept him, hoped he had a great first half and then traded him for Jeff Francouer (ha!)
  • I don’t really like the idea of Melky Cabrera in center field. But I do like the idea of Melky in left, Beltran in right, and Torres in center. And Belt at first and Aubrey in an A’s uniform. I would love that.
  • Don’t forget that Melky Cabrera was always supposed to be good. Let’s hope he’s a late bloomer, plus he is entering free agency and the magical age 27 year. That bodes well.
  • We should have traded Sanchez to Tampa three years ago for Ben Zobrist
Thoughts on Cabrera for Sanchez?
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Evaluations and Ruminations Part II

Yesterday we looked at teams that added pitching (which has a strong correlation to postseason success), and today we will look at teams that added hitting (no correlation to postseason success but very helpful in getting to the postseason).

  1. The Giants: The Giants got the big fish in Carlos Beltran but also added middle infielders Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera. Considering the Giants have had black holes at 4-5 positions this season and have had to deal with several injuries including two season enders, it made to sense to acquire all that they did. And they did it by surrendering only one legitimate, top of the line, prospect. Still, it feels like ultimate success for this team will only come when parts they’ve had all season (Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, etc) start producing. B+
  2. The Braves: Atlanta added excellent center fielder and leadoff man Michael Bourn. They fixed the only real problem they had (other than injuries) without giving up any of their “untouchable four”. There is really no way to say this move was not worth it. Well done Braves. A
  3. The Phillies: Hunter Pence is a nice player. He hits some and he fields some and he does it in a very unorthodox fashion. The Phils get bonus points for the fact that Pence will be around for a while (and is a lot cheaper and younger than Jason Werth who he is essentially replacing). That said, and I know this is a crude evaluation tool, I never have Pence on any of my fantasy teams. Bourn I would take, Beltran I have, but Pence I generally avoid. Doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, nor should that have any bearing on real baseball, but it does say something about a player that I actively avoid having him on a fantasy team. There just always seem to be too many other better players. C+
  4. The Red Sox: The Sox added Mike Aviles and I only put him on here to say that he is the guy I wanted the Giants to get. All indications seem to be that the Red Sox overpaid to get him so that makes me feel better. However, I’d take this guy over O-Cab every time. C+
  5. The Pirates: Pittsburg acquired two vets who are in decline but hopefully have something left in the tank. This team could have really used a Bedard-type strikeout pitcher, but they needed some offense too. I don’t know how much Derek Lee and Ryan Ludwick help, but the real story here is Pittsburgh bought and did not sell at the end of July. That’s a win all by itself. C-
  6. The Cardinals: The Red Birds gave up Colby Rasmus and acquired Rafael Furcal. I know that’s not the actual deal, but as their line up goes that’s what happened. Hopefully Edwin Jackson pitches like a monster and Rasmus is never allowed back in the US. I have no idea what this team is thinking. F
Still a lot of baseball left and much will happen with these teams in terms of slumps, hot streaks, waiver claims, minor league call ups, and injuries. Given that, I like the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Rangers in the AL with the Rangers making it back to the World Series. In the NL I have the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, and Giants, and I think the Braves might get it done. However, the NL playoffs are going to be epic if those 4 teams make it. It’ll be some amazing October baseball, and anyone could walk away with the pennant and probably be World Champions.
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Evaluations and Ruminations Part I

The July 31st, non-waiver, trade deadline has come and gone. Tons of rumors were milled and many speculations made, and now that the dust has settled what do we have? Most trade winners and losers columns looks like this, but I want to frame this discussion in the pitching model we’ve been working on this year. In that light, let’s start by looking at who added pitching:

  1. The Indians: They obviously nabbed the big fish in this small sea by acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez. In my opinion this is a brilliant move by the Indians and quite possibly the stupidest trade of all time by the Rockies. Maybe Ubaldo has a torn rotator cuff that no one else can see, and maybe he hates Coors (the beer) or did something to offend everyone in Denver. But I have NO IDEA how a franchise that has been desperate for power arms (or any kind of quality pitching) trades Jimenez (a good and sometimes great arm) at all, let alone when they control him cheaply for 3 MORE SEASONS. Good for the Indians. They need more than an ace to really contend in the AL right now, but this is the kind of move that perfectly fits our model. A
  2. The Rangers: While not as flashy as landing an ace, the Rangers nonetheless made two exquisite additions at the deadline adding great arms to their bullpen in Koji Uehara and Mike Adams. This is a team that can now shut a game down after six innings. They reinforced their one glaring area of weakness. They still don’t have a prototypical #1/Ace type pitcher, but they have depth and may only need guys to get through five innings to win games. I’m this close to making them the team to beat in the AL. A-
  3. The Brewers: In my opinion, Bob Melvin has done everything right this year for his team. Given his constraints with money, he has gone all in for a small market team that has a short window. This is how you do it, folks, when you have limited resources. He made two big trades this offseason to get pitching and made another good July move to help the pen (adding K-Rod to lock down the 8th inning). I think they have more than enough to get this done, it’s up to the players now to make it happen. 
  4. The Diamondbacks: Ok, it’s good to add pitching, but Jason Marquis and BradZeigler don’t exactly get the blood moving. As it turns out, though, Marquis is great against the Giants (ugh) and Zeigler is a good arm in any pen. Hard to imagine that these moves put the D-Backs over the top, but they don’t hurt. B-
  5. The Cardinals: Sure they added an arm, but they did it in the weirdest way imaginable. I don’t care what Tony LaRussa says: I don’t know how you give away a young, talented, and contract-controlled player like Colby Rasmus for a free-agent to be like Edwin Jackson. But they did add pitching, and Jackson seems like a guy who will do well in STL with Dave Duncan. C+
  6. The Red Sox: all trades, of course, are much easier to evaluate in hindsight, but the move the Sox made yesterday is really a coin toss. It looks like Clay Bucholz is done for the season and Dice-K has turned in to a ghost, so the team needed pitching. Eric Bedard is really good when he is healthy, but he is rarely healthy. He may be fine and have a dominant two months and magical, ode inspiring run through the playoffs, or he might blow out a knee or an elbow or a shoulder getting out of bed tomorrow and be done for the year. NO ONE, not even the Red Sox, knows which one it’s going to be. Incomplete
We’ll look at the teams that added offense tomorrow. Right now, it is safe to say that the Rangers and Indians did the right thing and they did the right thing well by grabbing some good arms at the deadline.
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