David Lennon's top 10 storylines for MLB's second half
For those suffering from Jeter Fatigue after the Target Field retirement party for No. 2 in Minneapolis, the All-Star break probably felt four days too long this year. But the farewell tour for the Yankees’ captain still has another 60-plus games left, and possibly a few more in October, if Brian Cashman can recruit some rotation help in the next two weeks.
For that reason, we won’t include Derek Jeter in our list of top 10 story lines for the second half. He’s in his own special category.
Saying goodbye to an icon doesn’t happen every season even if it seems that way, with the baseball world getting Mariano Rivera and Jeter back to back. So Jeter will get his due, along with a few more going-away presents during the final stops in Boston, Toronto and Baltimore.
Sorry, haters. Jeter has hogged the 2014 spotlight for good reason, just as Alex Rodriguez stole the show for a bad reason a year ago. But let’s take a look at what else will be orbiting Planet Jeter in the next 2 1/2 months (and we promise not to mention Adam Wainwright).
1. Price is right?(Credit: Getty Images)
Joe Maddon loves to embrace the underdog role in Tampa Bay. With his collection of vintage colognes, preppy-themed dress-up trips and laissez-faire managing style, Maddon gets his team to win with an almost anti-establishment vibe. But the Rays’ hole this season might be too big to climb out of, and if so, the temptation to deal David Price could be too much to resist in this market. Price said during the All-Star break that if it comes to that, he’d like to sit down with the front office in the hope that they’d find an approved landing place. Price said he already has a short list in his mind, even though he doesn’t have a no-trade clause.
2. No more Beane-counting(Credit: AP / Ben Margot)
It’s go time in Oakland, where general manager Billy Beane -- sitting on the majors’ best record -- still traded everyone’s top-rated shortstop prospect, Addison Russell, as the headliner in a package to the Cubs for the 1-2 pitching punch of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. There’s no clear winner in this deal. Not yet, anyway. If the A’s go on to win the World Series -- one Vegas book has them as the 6-1 favorite -- then Beane’s bold move will have paid off. He’ll also have another year of Samardzija, who is not a free agent until after 2015. If not, Beane could be looking longingly to the South Side’s rebuilding project.
3. Houston, we have a problem. Or two.(Credit: AP / U-T San Diego, Hayne Palmour IV)
The Astros’ stockpiling of No. 1 picks hit a snag last week when the team reportedly pulled its original $6.5-million signing bonus to high school lefthander Brady Aiken (pictured) because of concerns about an elbow ligament. Houston tried to renegotiate the bonus with Aiken, whom Astros GM Jeff Luhnow called “the most advanced high school pitcher I’ve ever seen in my entire career.” But talks broke off with Aiken and the team’s fifth-round pick, righthander Jacob Nix, and now the Players Association is considering legal action on behalf of the two players.
4. Will the Rockies sell high on Tulowitzki?(Credit: AP)
When a beloved franchise player in his prime starts eyeing the door, as Troy Tulowitzki is doing in Colorado, it’s complicated. Now factor in that he’s under contract until 2020, with roughly $100 million on his deal. Oh, and Tulowitzki also happens to be the leading MVP candidate, with baseball’s best OPS at 1.041, a few ticks better than Mike Trout (1.008). Tulowitzki said he wants to play for a winning franchise, but he’s agreed to table trade discussions until the offseason. With so much at stake for both the player and the franchise, look for Tulo to have a monster second half.
5. Flush or float at Citi?(Credit: Alejandra Villa)
On the local front, the Mets are as intriguing as any team in the league -- at least for the first week of the second half. Was their 8-2 homestand before the break a sign of things to come or just another tease? Sandy Alderson has been saying for weeks that the Mets are better than their record, but few believed him, even as he pointed to a run differential (plus-19) ranked 10th in the majors at the break. The nine teams ahead of the Mets are all in the playoff hunt, including five division leaders. The subplot here is what Alderson chooses to do with Bartolo Colon and Daniel Murphy before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
6. Going young on Yawkey Way(Credit: AP / Kathy Willens)
We know Boston is a college town, but what the Red Sox have decided to do in turning over their roster is akin to running a grad school. It started last year with shortstop-turned-third baseman Xander Bogaerts, then continued with Jackie Bradley Jr. taking over centerfield once Jacoby Ellsbury bolted to the Yankees. A lingering back injury to Shane Victorino cleared room for Brock Holt and later Mookie Betts (who was sent down Saturday when Victorino was activated), with a fifth rookie, catcher Christian Vazquez, coming up after A.J. Pierzynski was released. Can the youngsters get the Sox back into the AL East race and prevent a sell-off before the deadline?
7. On collision course with reform?(Credit: AP / Reinhold Matay)
Joe Torre, MLB’s vice president of baseball operations, said during the All-Star break that Rule 7.13 -- otherwise known as the “collision rule” -- will remain in place for 2015 despite its experimental status for this debut season. Torre realizes the rule has come under fire for its varied interpretations about blocking the plate, but he believes the cost is worth it because serious injuries have been prevented. Let’s see if umpires/managers/players get a better handle on it moving forward.
8. Maybe Jay Z was right(Credit: AP)
We scoffed at Robinson Cano for taking the $240 million from the Mariners, figuring that he sold out rather than continuing to chase another championship in the Bronx. But that 10-year deal could wind up paying dividends in Season 1; Seattle held the second wild card at the break. The Yankees seem to miss Cano more than he does the Bronx, and wouldn’t it be wild if he’s playing in October and his former team is not? It’s definitely possible.
9. Shift in attitude?(Credit: Newsday / Daniel Rader)
With so many teams going to the exaggerated infield shift these days, how long will it take for hitters to find a way to beat it on a regular basis? At this point, it mostly seems like an accident when a player manages to poke a ground ball through the vacated opposite side. But as hitters continue to be frustrated by these atypical alignments -- thanks to advanced video/computer scouting methods -- look for a more concerted effort to combat the strategy.
10. Are we done hearing about Tommy John?(Credit: Mike Stobe)
The surgery, that is, and with the stunning rate of elbow injuries during the past year, chances are Masahiro Tanaka won’t be the last to be diagnosed with a tear of an elbow ligament this season. Tanaka is going the rehab route for now, with the hope that he’ll be back in six weeks. But who’s next? And what effect might that have on the playoff races down the stretch? It’s a tough question to ask, but with the vulnerability of pitching staffs, also impossible to ignore.