Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

Catching up: Ivan Nova, Joe Girardi Jose Reyes, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon

 Greetings, everyone! Hope you had a good week. I did. Aspen is really nice, even though the  price-gouging is so ridiculous that I could envision even Michael Bloomberg saying, "Hey, Aspen, take it easy out there!"

I saw a marmot (at the Maroon Bells, last Thursday) and a Wolf (at the airport, yesterday), and I really didn't watch much baseball at all. Just some late-night highlights. Of course, I couldn't resist checking in on Twitter a few times each day to see what was going on. 

And Good Lord, plenty went on, didn't it? So let's briefly catch up, Spadafore-style, but first, your updated playoff standings:

AL: Tampa Bay (1) vs. Texas (3), Minnesota (2) vs. Yankees (4)

NL: San Diego (1) vs. Philadelphia (4), Atlanta (2) vs. Cincinnati (3)

Thoughts: Tampa Bay gets the edge over the Yankees because of the Rays' 6-5 advantage in the season series. The two clubs play each other seven more times in the remaining 32 games, so that edge is obviously up for grabs. The Red Sox, seven games back in the loss column behind both teams after losing two of three to the Rays, would seem to be pretty done, now. 

Atlanta gets homefield over Cincinnati because of the Braves' 3-2 edge in the season series, which has completed.

Five weeks left of games means there's plenty of time for rebounds and comebacks, but as we look at today's snapshot, we face at least the possibility of a September in which the tension comes not from fights for playoff spots, but only fights for playoff seeds.

And now...

News: Ivan Nova wrapped up a Yankees road trip with a terrific start, keeping his role in the team's starting rotation. 

Views: As I occasionally let my mind wander to baseball this past week, I remembered that I considered it ridiculous that Brian Cashman tried to get Cliff Lee in a trade. It seemed, to me, like overkill at the time, given how well the team's starting rotation had been performing in early July.

Then I thought this: What if 1) the Yankees had traded Jesus Montero and others for Lee; 2) Montero had been hitting for Seattle (or the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate) like he had been hitting for Scranton recently; and 3) Lee had been pitching for the Yankees as he has been pitching recently for Texas?

The yakosphere (pardon me, I've been off, but I believe Neil Best came up with that term) would have Cashman's bags packed, would it not?

As things stand, in any case, the Yankees' rotation looks alarmingly thin, with Javier Vazquez relegated to long relief/meditation, A.J. Burnett on serious alert and tonight's starter Dustin Moseley, well, being Dustin Moseley.

So projecting ahead to the playoffs, and taking an optimistic stance on Andy Pettitte, what would be the team's starting rotation? Right now, you'd have to go with a front three of Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Pettitte? Fourth? I think Nova has to get serious consideration. I don't think either Burnett or Vazquez get much benefit of the doubt on the experience front, not the way they have pitched.

But, to borrow from above, plenty can happen in five weeks. We'll see if either Burnett or Vazquez can acquire any sort of consistency. Remember, a year ago at this time, Burnett was still in the dumps before ending the regular season with four good starts (and following that up with three good postseason starts and two terrible ones).

News: With Lou Piniella's quicker-than-expected retirement, Joe Girardi addresses the Cubs' reported interest in him as their next manager.

Views: I guess Girardi could use the Cubs' interest in him as leverage in his negotiations with the Yankees, but I'm not sure how necessary that will even be. The Yankees - from the Steinbrenners down to Brian Cashman - absolutely adore Girardi. Given that Piniella and Joe Torre both have contracts ending, Girardi could wind up being the highest-paid manager in baseball even without the Cubs leverage. Perhaps second-highest, if Tony La Russa returns to St. Louis.

Yes, Girardi grew up loving the Cubs and played for them, but he manages the team with the highest payroll, in a market that can't get enough baseball - and again, for bosses with whom he gets along famously. That bears repeating because the reason Girardi was available to replace Torre after 2007 is that Girardi did not get along at all with his bosses in his first opportunity as a manager, with the Marlins.

News: Jose Reyes' roller-coaster year hits another valley with the recurrence of his oblique injury.

Views: Well, there's no point in putting him on the disabled list at this point, not with rosters expanding to 40 on Wednesday. In all, I'd call this a decent rebound season for Reyes. The overall numbers aren't very good, but he essentially took five weeks to warm up _ after missing virtually all of spring training, remember _ and since May 15, he has an .823 OPS (.346 OBP, .477 SLG) in 80 games.

The Mets have an $11-million option on Reyes for next year, against a $500,000 buyout, and it seems likely they'll try to extend Reyes, in order to avoid his free agency following next season. That's a mistake, IMO; they should shop Reyes this winter to gauge his market value and probably retain him, since Reyes' injury-prone 2009 and 2010 will make clubs reluctant to risk heavily on Reyes, and then see how '11 goes before committing beyond next season.

But looking at it from the opposite angle, I wonder if this latest setback will make Reyes more open to an extension. Given his bad health history of the past two years (and, of course, going back to 2003 and 2004), would he take the safer route, rather than betting on himself?

Back in 2006, Reyes drew criticism for committing to what was perceived as a team-friendly, four-year, $23.25-million contract. At the time, coming from a poor upbringing, he had never made big money. Will he operate differently now?

I'd guess that Reyes will be preparing for free agency a year from now, but it'll be an interesting storyline to follow this winter.

News: Manny Ramirez will join the White Sox today, as a waiver claim from the Dodgers.

Views: Logical thoughts says this is a too-little, too-late move for the White Sox, and logic is probably right. But when it comes to Manny, even at age 38, I'm reluctant to yield the floor entirely to logic.

The White Sox probably wouldn't even be within spitting distance of the Twins if not for a preposterous disparity in the two clubs' interleague schedules. So the 4 1/2-game gap doesn't accurately reflect the talent gap. But it is what it is, and more than anything, the White Sox needed a middle-of-the-order bat. They now have at least the possibility of that.

If Manny shows no sign of rebirth, then the White Sox will have cost themselves roughly $4.3 million. But Manny will cost himself even more, as he'll enter this winter's free-agent market as an aging afterthought. He left a horrible impression in his final Dodgers appearance Sunday, getting ejected after just one pitch (as a pinch-hitter) in the game that seemingly convinced the Dodgers it was time to pack it in.

News: Johnny Damon turned down the chance to rejoin the Red Sox, invoking his no-trade protection to stay in Detroit. 

Views: The cynic in me at first wondered whether Damon tried to extract a bonus payment from Boston in return for returning there. But to be frank, had that been the case, the Red Sox surely would have leaked it to their media favorites.

Having spoken at length with Damon over the past few years - which doesn't quite put me in exclusive company, as Damon is quite media-friendly - he really was bothered by the way Red Sox Nation treated him in a Yankees uniform. So much so that, when it was evident that he wouldn't be a Yankee after 2009, he feared that he would join another rival team - like the Mets, for instance - that would set the Yankees fans against him. I think that emotion was sincere enough that it factored into his decision.

That didn't happen, of course, and friends say that Damon hasn't loved his time in Detroit. Yet by staying, by putting up a decent season (albeit much worse than last year) and by winning the favor of Detroit's ownership and management, Damon at least has one strong suitor in play as he hits the market once again this winter.

News: Stephen Strasburg needs Tommy John surgery.

Views: I swear, I didn't read or watch much this past week, but I'm sure this set into motion plenty of debates over innings limits and pitch limits. I still say they're worthwhile. They certainly don't guarantee good health, as we see with Strasburg. Pitching is an unnatural act. But the principles behind conservative usage don't take a hit with the Strasburg news, IMO.

News: Leaks about teams' financial information stirred it up good.

Views: This is a blow for the owners in the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement, which should begin in 2012. How can Bud Selig or any of his lieutenants now profess with a straight face that clubs are strapped for cash?

Other lingering thoughts:

--I really think the Mets wouldn't generate such fan anger - and, simultaneously, such fan apathy, in terms of empty seats at Citi Field - if their ticket prices weren't so high. Fans are not going to be as tolerant of a rebuilding club at contender's prices.

--Jason Bay is going to have his worst, full major-league season. 

--Brett Gardner's WAR is 3.9, and Carl Crawford's is 3.5. That should answer that question.

--I have no problem with the Selig statue going up in Milwaukee. For whatever you think of Selig's work as commissioner, he brought the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee and made them the Brewers.

--Live chat Thursday at 11. Tell all of your friends.

--And book giveaway contest later today, and then I'll be at the Stadium for A's-Yankees.









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