Coming into the Mid-Summer Classic, we knew the greatest of fusses would be made about Derek Jeter’s final All-Star game. Jeter did not disappoint in the game, going 2 for 2 with a run scored in three innings, before giving way to Alexei Ramirez. Competition aside, his reception at Target Field was tremendous; the warm welcome during lineup announcements was surpassed in excitement only by the standing ovation he received before leading off the bottom of the 1st. The Twin Cities themselves form an extremely underrated sports locale and they handled Jeter graciously and with plenty of class, even though Jeter-led Yankees’ teams have eliminated the Twins from four division series appearances in the last 11 years. Moments before Jeter knocked a leadoff double, one bitter individual showed no shame whatsoever as stadium audio very clearly captured someone belting the familiar catcall of “OVERRATED”. Here’s to hoping that guy doesn’t find his way to Cooperstown for Jeter’s surefire induction in a few years.
FOX’s game broadcast took a mysteriously long time to acknowledge the most contentious topic of the game: NL starter Adam Wainwright’s sarcastic insinuation that he “grooved” a pitch for Jeter, giving him the opportunity to lace his first-inning double and subsequently score the game’s first run. This tidbit was exacerbated conveniently via social media, leading to Ken Rosenthal bringing it up during the late innings and Erin Andrews interviewing a flustered and apologetic Wainwright. He insisted his comments were taken completely out of context, and with good reason. I have a hard time believing the hypercompetitive ace Wainwright, who’s Cardinals team lost the 2013 World Series and are currently right in the thick of a tight divisional race, would do anything to threaten his team’s chances at home field advantage in the Fall Classic.
As Jeter concludes his final season, the torch has unofficially been passed to Mike Trout as the game’s most exciting player. He’s been one of the best in the majors so far this year and the main driving force behind Los Angeles’ ascension into the hierarchy of the American League. The Angels finished the first half winning nine of their last ten games and currently lead the big leagues in runs scored. They have some needs to fill, but they could find themselves playing for a Pennant if their offense continues to produce an abundance of runs. The most impressive thing about Trout is his ability to hit for power all over the plate. For all of his talents, he is remarkably adept at protecting the plate and driving pitches to the deepest recesses of ballparks. He’s worth the price of admission if the Angels come to your town.
Since the Tigers and Rangers unexpectedly swapped Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler last November, baseball fans have been waiting for another bombshell trade. As I discussed previously, the Oakland A’s opened a can of worms by pulling off the biggest deal of the 2014 season. With baseball’s best record at the All-Star break, Oakland has positioned themselves nicely, ahead of the second half.
There are seventeen teams with 47 or more wins (9 from the AL, 8 from the NL), meaning that nothing is set in stone and the door is open for plenty of shuffling in the standings before the conclusion of the regular season. Naturally, the contenders with fewer victories have more prevalent needs than some of the division leaders. Regardless, even right now there is no perfect team in the major leagues, so let’s break down the glaring needs of a few contending teams:
Biggest need: Starting pitching
With Matt Wieters out, the Orioles could surely use an upgrade to their catching corps. That being said, the AL East leaders need to upgrade their starting pitching more than anything else. It is clear that the Mets are making Bartolo Colon available, and the Orioles have hitters that would certainly appeal to an offensively-challenged New York team. The O’s reportedly expressed interest in Colon this offseason before he signed with the Mets, which makes the possibility that much more intriguing.
Biggest need: Starting pitching
Much like their division rivals, the Yankees need to boost their pitching staff that has been plagued by several unfortunate injuries. It was previously reported that they had checked in on Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel before they were dealt to Oakland, so they clearly are looking to fill the holes in their rotation. Besides Colon and Jake Peavy, who both play for the Yankees’ most bitter rivals, the most realistic option has to be former Yankees and current Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy. Cutting a deal for Kennedy would likely be difficult for New York as they don’t have an abundance of appealing prospects for a bottom-dwelling team like San Diego.
Biggest need: Bullpen help/Closer
The Angels are seeking to bolster their bullpen for the remainder of the season. As is the case with starter Ian Kennedy, the down-and-out Padres are listening to offers for veteran closer Huston Street and setup man Joaquin Benoit. Street’s 258 career saves make him the most sought after reliever on the market, and while his annual salary checks in at $7 million per year, his contract has a team option for 2015. I expect the Angels to make a deal and bring Street up the west coast to be their closer for the 2014 stretch run and help improve their 3.89 bullpen ERA.
Biggest need: Consistent and high-average position player
Coming into 2014, Seattle expected to deal with some offensive deficiencies, though they’ve impressed so far with 51 wins and currently are situated with the second wild card spot. Even with the signing of Robinson Cano, the lineup has underachieved; meaning that bringing in a proven hitter to augment their offense should be a top priority. Marlon Byrd comes to mind as a player that would fit what Seattle is looking for; he’s driven in 54 runs for a last place Phillies’ team and should fit seamlessly into the heart of the Mariners’ order to provide some much needed protection for Cano. To no one’s surprise, Dustin Ackley and Endy Chavez have underwhelmed at the corner outfield spots, and Byrd would represent a major upgrade at either position.
Biggest need: Offense
With lineup mainstays Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips on the shelf, the normally offensively potent Reds lineup has fizzled at times this year. After a slow start to the season they have fought their way back into both the NL Central and NL Wild Card races, making it all the more important for them to reinforce their lineup. At second base, the team may give Kris Negron a chance to win the job, but if they decide to move for a more proven hitter, Daniel Murphy will be an option. Murphy’s 113 first-half hits helped him earn his first All-Star nod in 2014. He’s previously confessed his loyalty to the Mets, but the team may shop him around if they decide that Wilmer Flores is their second baseman of the future. Murphy would serve as a worthy upgrade to a disappointing Cincinnati lineup thus far.