Ken Davidoff's baseball insider

Yankees, Mets, trade rumors, free agents, off-the-wall predictions and other MLB musings.

The most intriguing people of the second half

New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez (75) throws

New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez (75) throws a pitch during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. (April 26, 2011) (Credit: AP)

The Yankees resume business tonight in Toronto - here are three key storylines and five key dates - while the Mets will hold a workout this evening in preparation for tomorrow's second half opener against the Phillies at Citi Field.Here are the the Mets' five key dates and three storylines.

Let's do one inriguing person per division, starting with the Easts and heading westward on I-80. Any inferred New York bias is almost certainly accurate.

AL East: Derek Jeter. As I deplaned with my family late yesterday afternoon, a flight attendant asked my son, who was wearing a brand spankin' new All-Star Game cap, "So did you enjoy the All-Star Game?"

"Not really," my son replied. (Like the rest of us, he was bored silly Tuesday night, although he enjoyed the Home Run Derby and the overall Arizona experience.)

Instantly, the flight attendant followed: "Was it because Derek Jeter wasn't there?"

"Good Lord!" I thought. "He's even lost the flight attendants!"

I've been critical of Jeter somewhat regularly, for different reasons, since last winter's contract negotiations. My feedback, both in reader e-mails and general conversation with folks inside and outside the industry, was mixed. A healthy portion of people saying, essentially, "Right on!" but also a group of angry Jeter loyalists."

When I defended Jeter for blowing off the All-Star Game? I found a total of two people who agreed with me: Bud Selig and Michael Weiner. My e-mail was unanimously anti-Jeter, and people within the industry were really, really upset with him.

So he'll undoubtedly face another round of questioning tonight, before the game, and I'm curious to see how he'll handle it. Will he be defensive and grumpy, or will he attempt to make peace with the masses? Here's my proposed speech:

"I fully understand why fans were upset with me. I take the fans' interests very seriously. All I can say is, I'm sorry. I made the decision that I felt was best for both me and the Yankees. It was a difficult choice, but I made it and I'll live with it, and again, I apologize to those who were offended, and I get why they were offended."

Once he moves past tonight's pre-game news conference, of course, he has the far more important matter of a whole second half to play. And with Alex Rodriguez out and Joe Girardi apparently determined to stick with his worst offensive performer as his leadoff man, we'll see if Jeter can pick up his game

NL East: Carlos Beltran. I'm betting that he'll be an ex-Met _ a Giant, to be more specific _ by July 31. If he's still a Met by that juncture, that means Terry Collins' group has burst out of the gate and has increased its chances of making the playoffs.

Assuming Beltran is dealt, can he keep up his superb performance to date? Can he be an impact player in the pennant race and enhance his value in this coming winter's free-agent market? 

AL Central: Jim Leyland. What a wacky division this has turned out to be. The Indians looked like they were sinking in mid-June and then rose again. The White Sox have been in a "Once we pass .500, we're gonna roll" phase for about a month now. The Twins looked completely dead and, as they always do, have at least rejoined the conversation.

And there are the Tigers, who have managed to hang around since a 10-1 surge in mid-May, but whose strategy appears to be: Win every fifth day when Justin Verlander starts, and pray that Miguel Cabrera hits us out of trouble sufficiently the other four days.

Verlander or Cabrera could get this spot, and Cabrera has enjoyed support in the lineup from Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. GM Dave Dombrowski, too, has shown that he'll pull the trigger on trades, and you'd bet on him finding another starting pitcher somewhere.

But I'm going with Leyland, the manager, because this could be it for him. At 66, he's in the final year of his contract, and there's no guarantee the Tigers will retain him if they fail to make the playoffs. He'd be missed greatly - the smoking, the grunting and, when he's in a good mood, the underrated sense of humor.

For what it's worth, Baseball Prospectus' formula still has the Tigers as strong favorites to win the division.

NL Central: Francisco Rodriguez. He hasn't been a setup man since 2004, since he valeted for Angels closer Troy Percival. How will he react to the expected demotion with Milwaukee? Even if he fully embraces the job emotionally, it's still a mental adjustment. 

Will he be 2007 Eric Gagne, or 2010 Kerry Wood? Probably somewhere in the middle. That doesn't reflect my opinion on K-Rod as much as it does that I presented two extremes as the options.

By the way, I think the Brewers are making a mistake by not fully stating K-Rod's role, by going with this "We'll approach every situation as it comes." They're trying to appease K-Rod, but they're also drawing additional scrutiny on every single game and manager Ron Roenicke's decisions.

AL West: C.J. Wilson. The Rangers' ace, and the losing pitcher in the All-Star Game, he's also pitching for a big payday this winter as a free agent. Can he continue to pitch well into the postseason, first helping Texas get there, despite pitching so deep into last season, as well?

NL West: Brian Sabean. The Giants, in some ways, represent as big a threat to the Mets as the Phillies and Braves do.

San Francisco has a superb pitching staff that a) makes the Giants legitimate playoff contenders; and b) consequently draws huge crowds to AT&T Park, and because the Giants have both motive to get even better and the funds to do so, they'll spend to improve their weak offense.

That could mean Beltran, in the coming weeks. It also could mean Jose Reyes this winter.

The Reyes question will come to pass later. For now, the focus falls on Sabean, the Giants' general manager, to see what he does to help the club defend its World Series title.

--Have a great day.

Tags: Derek Jeter , Carlos Beltran , Jim Leyland , Francisco Rodriguez , C.J. Wilson , Brian Sabean

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