Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Trading Places"

The biggest story in baseball for at least the next week I’d say is the trades made before the deadline of 4PM last Friday. The Pittsburgh Pirates butchered their line up in an attempt to show that they are set to start over in the next few years. This from a team that hasn’t had a winning season in more than the past decade and a half, and if you ask me, is going to go at least a score of years before they can win 82 games in a year. As a fan of the former Tampa Bay Devil Rays, I guess I can’t help but push the story of how bad Pittsburgh teams of late have been, their tale offers some sort of excuse as to the Devil Rays own horrid beginnings, a team who themselves had not won more than seventy games in a year until they took “Devil” out of their name and powered their way into the World Series last year. But enough has obviously been written about Tampa’s Cinderella Season in 2008, I should get back to the trading deadline.

One guy who has really gotten around in the past two weeks began his routes with the above mentioned infamous Pirates playing along with his brother as both a respected hitter and a strong first baseman. Adam LaRoche has to have some mixed feelings over his recent road trip from Pennsylvania into Massachusetts and then down south to Georgia. The interesting thing with this story, in my opinion, is just that LaRoche has different reasons to be at any of these three teams. In Pittsburgh, as a part of a losing line-up, he at least got to play along with his brother Andy, and they’ve helped the team compile the most Baseball Tonight “Web Gems” this season so far. As for Boston, I think any player would enjoy playing for the team that I’d still pick as the best in the AL East and the likeliest to win that division. Even though I’m probably in the minority in thinking Boston will finish ahead of the Yankees at the end of the year, they are the leading team for the AL Wild Card, and LaRoche would have to be psyched to have a chance at October baseball, wouldn’t he? But the funny thing is that he was with Boston for about a week before he got traded to Atlanta. The Braves, in a way, for LaRoche have to be homecoming of sorts, since he played his first three major league seasons in Atlanta, but this has to be a step down from the Red Sox.

Moving on from Pittsburgh, the inevitable segue has to be made to the Indians, who’ve also mined the cores of their line-up this year. Cliff Lee, last year’s AL Cy Young winner has been sent to the Phillies, which makes it back to back years that Cleveland has not only had that particular award winner, but has dealt him to the National League. Now Cleveland has been taking a lot of heat for this trade in particular, which few say seemed like an even swap, but I’m willing to give that some time. What is amazing though, is Lee’s debut in Philadelphia, where he pitched a complete game and got the 5-1 win. In my opinion, people saying that the Phillies have all but clinched the NL Pennant are definitely early in their predictions, but this is a major addition for the defending MLB champs. Philadelphia might be almost assured their division title with Lee in their rotation, but the Dodgers have to be considered a potential roadblock in the post season as well as whoever wins the NL Central, since the tight battle there will probably force some really strong baseball in the last sixty games (and even the Giants, my personal pick for NL Wild Card, and the team I’d most like to see the NL Pennant).

Following the movement of Lee, Cleveland gave up Victor Martínez to the Boston Red Sox in other trade that I see as more even sided. Justin Masterson, a respected right-handed relief pitcher who has made some starts in place of “Dice-K” Matsuzaka. Masterson’s impact in Cleveland is yet to be seen, but what I really think is interesting is that the Red Sox are so involved in these trading moves. Both the Red Sox and the Yankees of this year (and to be frank, of most years) have been listed consistently as the two best teams of the American League. Yet, my team, the pesky Tampa Bay Rays, are the team to be almost uninvolved in the trading game. I mean, the Red Sox picked up Victor, a catcher/first baseman, while having a catcher already who is the team captain (Jason Varitek) and three different players who play first base either primarily or secondarily. They then traded newly acquired Adam LaRoche, a move that made sense because of his status as a first baseman, for Casey Kotchman, a move that made no sense, since he is also a player of the same position.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I support my home team for not dealing players willy nilly. Although Martínez is most definitely happy to be in Boston, with a team leaps and bounds above the basement dwelling Indians, he had hoped to be a franchise player, and to finish his career in the place it started. This is not a common mindset among baseball players these days, and even though it is refreshing to see it, it is also understandable that players have to see the game as a business, since it is their job. Regardless of this, however, the fans’ standpoint has to be to hold onto the players that they like to watch play. (In Tampa, the name that comes to mind is Edwin Jackson.) Many people have criticized the Rays for not making more moves on the trade market, but I for one am glad that they didn’t, since it would be difficult to see anyone go. Looking at sports as some sort of warless nationalism, it makes easy sense why fans would be attached to players to such an extent.

An idea I may get back to in a week or two connects around this idea that my team is good the way it is. I’ve heard critiques of lack of an “established closer,” but see J. P. Howell as a relief pitcher who is establishing himself in that role. Even Mariano Rivera didn’t begin pitching games in the ninth inning, and it just seems like the Rays’ way to grow a player for a position than go out and get one (perhaps a side effect of the not unlimited pay roll of the club, but also an ingrained part of the team’s cultural history). I really think that most baseball commentators are not as up on the game as they should be. Perhaps I am just an angry fan in this thought, but I think I can throw some evidence together to support my process.

As for now, I can’t much throw together grammatically correct sentences anymore, so I guess this’ll be the end of this one. Against the suggestions of Radiohead, this time I’m going to stop whispering before I start shouting.

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