The Day That Separates the Contenders from the Pretenders

Today at 4 p.m. Eastern Time marks the Non-waiver Trade deadline for Major League Baseball.

This magic day is when teams that feel like they are missing one or two pieces to make a run deep into the playoffs make deals with teams that are nowhere near playoff level and want to shed expensive contracts and look towards the following season.

Often times a player is traded as a “50-game rental” since their contact expires at the end of the season and they will become a free agent. Other players are traded with several years left on their contract.

A third type of trade involves a player getting moved to a new team with the old team still paying a portion of the salary of the player that is no longer on their roster. I have never really understood that type of trade since I think that if a player is traded the new team should be responsible for all of the related salary.

But for the contenders the trades are deemed worthy as the hope is the player will lead them to a World Series Championship. Sometimes the late season trades work and sometimes they don’t.

For the players on the trade bubble the days and weeks leading up to today can be very stressful as they wonder where they will end up finishing the season. The pending trades of players also affects how they are used leading up to any potential trade.

With the trade deadline looming many players on the trade rumor mill were taken out of the lineup for games on trade deadline eve. After all no one wants to risk a freak injury negating a trade at the 11th hour.

After pitching on Opening Day as the ace of the staff, Bud Norris of the Houston Astros was awaiting his fate at the trade deadline. Photo R. Anderson
After pitching on Opening Day as the ace of the staff, Bud Norris of the Houston Astros was awaiting his fate at the trade deadline.
Photo R. Anderson

For the Astros this meant that Bud Norris was taken out of the rotation for his scheduled start against the Baltimore Orioles last night. It is very likely by the time you are reading this Norris will have a new team name on the front of his jersey.

While many teams from the Atlanta Braves to the Pittsburgh Pirates have been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Norris but no one seems to know for sure who the winning team will be.

The only thing certain is that much as they have the past three years the Astros want to get rid of their highest paid players and trade them for minor league prospects and this year that honor of highest paid player to get rid of falls on Norris.

I actually hope that Norris gets traded to a contender since watching him pitch a strong game only to have the bullpen blow it in the late innings is getting very painful to watch.

While I do not consider Norris the ace of a staff I think he would make a good middle of the rotation pitcher for a team with a strong rotation.

And Norris could also potentially join the list of former Astros who were traded and became World Series Champions. Lance Berkman accomplished that with the St. Louis Cardinals and Hunter Pence got his ring with the San Francisco Giants. So it definitely seems like if a player wants to win their best bet is to be traded.

Carlos Lee was traded from the Houston Astros to the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline last year as part of an annual housecleaning and payroll dump that has become commonplace at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson
Carlos Lee was traded from the Houston Astros to the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline last year as part of an annual housecleaning and payroll dump that has become commonplace at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

While the final destination for Norris remains up in the air at the time of this writing the Astros have already been active in the trade market. In fact, earlier in the week Astros closer Jose Veras was traded to the Detroit Tigers for some Class-A level talent that may or may not ever see a Major League game.

Of course one could certainly argue that as bad as the Astros have been this season they really didn’t need a closer anyway since the number of games that they were in a save situation was certainly a small number.

So the closer was sent away and an already porous bullpen was asked to try to pull together and not blow so many leads.

That is the risk teams take in the trade the present and hope for a brighter future philosophy.

The Pirates have used that model for over two decades before finally posting winning records. To put that in perspective there were people who were born and graduated community college without ever seeing the pirates have a winning record.

While the Astros have not had quite as many years of futility so far there is very little to give one much confidence of that changing any time soon. So the process of acting as a feeder club to the contenders while rolling the dice on unproven talent will continue for the foreseeable future.

And with far more pretenders than contenders each year the non-waiver trade game will continue year after year until a time when the playing field is more level between the haves and the have nots.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to check the wire to see what washed up prospects the Astros are targeting next.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

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Two Sides of Sportsmanship on Display This Week

Earlier this week the baseball world was rocked by the news that former National League MVP Ryan Braun basically lied repeatedly regarding his use of performance enhancing drugs. Braun was suspended for the rest of the year and people started wondering whether he could ever regain the respect of the Milwaukee Brewers fans when he does return next season.

Normally this type of admission would carry through for the entire week in the media as the sports world anxiously awaits news of the next stars to fall. But a funny thing happened Wednesday night to help restore one’s faith in the fact that not all of the baseball players are selfish millionaires cheating the system for their own gain.

Of course most rationale people know that there are still many good players taking the field but sometimes it is good to be reminded of such things.

That reminder came in the form of the reaction to a gruesome injury at the New York Mets ballpark that had been the sight of the All Star Game earlier in the month.

The Atlants Braves were dealt a blow Wednesday night when pitcher Tim Hudson broke his ankle. The response after that occurred showed there are still good players left in the game during a week where much of the news centered on suspensions for cheaters. Photo R. Anderson
The Atlanta Braves were dealt a blow Wednesday night when pitcher Tim Hudson broke his ankle. The response after that occurred showed there are still good players left in the game during a week where much of the news centered on suspensions for cheaters.
Photo R. Anderson

While covering first base on a routine play that he had probably done hundreds of times in his career Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson put a little too much of his foot on first base leaving New York Mets left fielder Eric Young Jr little room to avoid contact with Hudson’s outstretched foot.

Young hit Hudson’s foot at full speed causing it to bend at an angle that feet just aren’t meant to bend. Watching the replay of the contact I knew right away that something bad had happened. While it was not necessarily a career ending injury, it was definitely a season ending injury based on what I saw on the replay.

This assessment of the severity of the injury was not based on extensive study in medical school, although I did take a few seminars in sports medicine, but was based on years of covering games where I had seen countless athletes get hurt.

That firsthand knowledge has allowed me to guess with pretty accurate results the type of injuries and even the sound that is made when the injury occurs. One never forgets the sound broken bones and torn tendons make once you have heard them. They are the type of sounds that are truly haunting.

So, right now you are wondering when I will get to the part about the good news and the sportsmanship element of Wednesday night instead of all of the gory details of what did in fact turn out to be a broken ankle that will require season ending surgery.

The element of sportsmanship comes in the reaction of Young after he realized that Hudson was on the ground in pain.

Young, who was ruled out on the play, went right to Hudson’s side and started consoling him. Even after the team trainers and paramedics arrived, a visibly shaken Young stayed by the side of the fallen Hudson.

Young, a professed Christian, could even be seen rubbing the cross on his chain and saying a prayer for Hudson while the medical staff attended to him.

Once Hudson was placed on the golf chart to make the trip around the warning track that no athlete wants to make Young came up to Hudson and shook his hand and said a few words to him before turning to head into the Mets dugout. On the way to the dugout Young could be seen wiping tears from his eyes.

Now, there was nothing dirty about the play and all of the people saying that Young should have done something to avoid contact with Hudson are deeply diluted. Had Young tried to change course it is quite possible that he would have been the one with an ankle injury instead of Hudson. It was just a freak accident that while rare does happen from time to time.

So instead of blaming Young for the injury people should focus more on his reaction. After realizing that a fellow competitor was down Young went to his side. That shows the close knit fraternity of baseball that regardless what team name is on the front of the jersey the good players still help each other out.

There is certainly a time to be competitive with one another but as Young showed there is also a time to be compassionate towards one another.

So while I feel bad that it took an injury of this nature to bring it out, and I certainly join others in wishing Tim Hudson a speedy recovery from his injury, it was nice to see the compassion shown by Eric Young Jr. to help restore my faith in the belief that not all of the players on the diamond are self-centered cheaters like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez have shown themselves to be.

I still want to believe, like the younger version of me did, that ballplayers are by and large good people who can be admired for playing the game the right way but it seems the older I get the harder it is to tell which players are worthy of admiration and which ones should be pitied.

Eric Young Jr. showed he is a player to be admired and hopefully more players took notice and will respond in kind if they are ever placed in the same position.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a trip to the beach to prepare for.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Braun First Player to Face New Era of MLB Punishment

The other day it was announced that Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers agreed to a suspension that will last until the start of spring training next year.

By most accounts the suspension will be for 65 games since it is unlikely that the Brewers will make the postseason this year. Since he is suspended without pay it will cost him around $3.5 million in salary.

The suspension comes as a result of Braun being linked to the use of banned performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs and other suspension for several other players implicated in the probe of a South Florida clinic are expected to follow.

Braun was first facing a suspension of 50 games in 2011 when he failed a random drug test. He was able to get the suspension overturned on a technicality by blaming the way the sample was handled after it left his body so to speak and before it reached the testing center.

A few stern denials and a rooftop proclamation of his innocence and the former National League MVP was welcomed back with open arms and the man responsible for delivering the sample to the testing facility was considered public enemy number one in Milwaukee and even received death threats.

The fans embraced Braun again following his successful appeal of the suspension and none other than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers staked a year’s salary on the fact that Braun was innocent of the charges against him.

Now it appears that Braun was guilty in 2011 and 2013 and the world waits to see if Aaron Rogers will give up a year’s salary to the fan on twitter that he made the wager with.

While the fate of Ryan Braun has been settled, at least for the remainder of this season, the jury is still out on what the rest of the implicated players will face. There are even rumblings that perhaps Alex Rodriguez who has been found guilty of steroid use time and time again will actually face a lifetime ban of some sort as a result of this latest breaking of the rules.

The recent round of suspensions, while much more wide in its scope, is also interesting in that many of the players being implicated do not have the “steroid” physique of some of the previous tainted players Like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. In each of the previous cases it was fairly easy to look at the player and assume that they were on something since they were so much larger than the rest of the team and their offensive numbers were through the roof.

In the more recent cases the implicated players do not look that much different than the rest of the team making it less obvious that they were using banned substances. This could be the result of players using less of a substance or could also be the chemist merely staying one step ahead of detection and getting production gains without massive muscle gain.

When the Brewers and Astros were both members of the National League Central Division I had many opportunities to see Ryan Braun play. In all of those games never once did I think he was a steroid user.

With Braun having so many games each year against the Astros and the Pirates, with neither one really knocking the cover off of the ball, it was easy to think that Braun’s numbers were simply based on talent and the fact that a quarter of his opponents had losing records.

Of course now with his apology and veiled admission of guilt it has become obvious that Braun’s numbers, while still aided by a weak schedule, were also helped by PEDs.

Players are always looking for an edge that makes them better than their opponents. Most players stay within the rules and merely work harder at their craft to be the best they can be.

Unfortunately there is a small set of players that abuse the system and can also make clean players look dirty by association since the current assumptions seem to be that any player having more success than the rest must be using something illegal to gain that mush of an advantage.

Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is on pace to hit over 60 home runs this season. And despite never showing up on any lists of steroid users there is a small set of people convinced that the pop in his bat has to be the result of some sort of PED. Davis denies the allegations of PED use and I tend to believe him.

Of course there were those who believed Ryan Braun as well so I guess one never really knows which players are dirty or clean but I don’t get the PED abuser feel from Davis and think that there are times when a player is simply in the zone and hits more home runs than anyone else. And from his days in the Rangers farm system Davis was always projected to be a power hitter so the recent production is not that odd when that is taken into account.

So baseball will look to make a statement with the latest suspensions and hope to restore some credibility back to the game while the chemists of the world will continue to work on making undetectable drugs that boost performance for their clients.

It is a cat and mouse game and the stakes are too high for both sides to stop now. Sometimes the Commissioner’s office wins in detecting the abuse, and sometimes the players win in keeping the abuse a secret. The only constant loser in all of this is the fans who lose a little trust in the sanctity of the game with use passing admission of guilt.

Of course there are those who say that there were always performance enhancers of one kind or another in the game. And if you think about it Gatorade, Energy drinks and caffeine can be considered performance enhancers as well when used to excess.

So there will probably never be a way to totally clean up the game but I applaud Major League Baseball for trying and showing that no player is above the law not even a former League MVP.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time for me to enhance my performance with some more Dr. Pepper.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Pudge Takes His Place Among Texas Ranger Greats

This past Saturday in Arlington, Texas, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez became the 16th person to be inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony occurred prior to the Rangers and the Orioles taking the field. And while the game itself clearly belonged to the Orioles, the pregame ceremony was about honoring Pudge for his time as a Ranger.

During a 21-year career that started in 1991 when he was only 19-years-old, Pudge was voted to the All-Star game 14 times. He was named the 1999 American League MVP and earned seven Silver Slugger Awards with six of those coming during his 13-year tenure with the Rangers.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the 16th person inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday before the Rangers versus Orioles game. Photo R. Anderson
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez became the 16th person inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday before the Rangers versus Orioles game.
Photo R. Anderson

While the bulk of Pudge’s career was spent in a Rangers’ uniform he played for the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals before retiring at the start of the 2012 season.

While Saturday night was all about honoring his years with the Rangers, I tend to remember Pudge more as a member of the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins squad as well as a member of the Astros in 2009.

It was during his brief time with the Astros that Pudge broke the record for most games caught. Fittingly enough Rodriguez surpassed Carlton Fisk’s record of 2,226 games caught during a game against the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington allowing the Rangers’ fans to take part in Pudge’s record setting evening.

Shortly after breaking the record the Astros traded Pudge to the Rangers for the remainder of the 2009 season. The 2010 and 2011 seasons were spent with the Washington Nationals and Pudge ended his career with a major league record of 2,427 games behind the plate. It is doubtful that his record will ever be broken.

I have little doubt that Pudge could have kept playing. The fact that a team did not add him to their roster in 2012 is definitely a travesty in my mind. But baseball is a business and even the best players do not get a farewell tour. Of course the season long tributes that Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera received are certainly the exception more than the rule.

While Pudge was known for having a rocket launcher of an arm and an ability to pick runners off at ease, he was also no slouch at the plate as a hitter.

Pudge was known as much for his play at the plate as behind it and leads the Rangers in many offensive and defensive categories. Photo R. Anderson
Pudge was known as much for his play at the plate as behind it and leads the Rangers in many offensive and defensive categories.
Photo R. Anderson

In 1,507 career games with the Rangers, Rodriguez hit .304 with 217 home runs with 842 RBIs.

He is second in club history in hits (1,747), doubles (352) and multi-hit games (490). Rodriquez also leads several categories across all of baseball for a catcher.

I was fortunate enough to see Pudge play on several occasions late in his career. I was definitely one of the people who thought that the Astros should have kept him around a little longer to help mold their pitching staff.

When none other than Hall of Famer, and Texas legend, Nolan Ryan calls Pudge the best catcher ever, one would think that people would listen. And Nolan would know a little bit about catchers and Pudge in particular.

During Pudge’s second game as a Major League ballplayer in 1991 he caught Nolan Ryan. Now 22 years later, Pudge works as a special assistant to Ryan to assist the Rangers in several areas, including international scouting, player instruction on the major and minor league levels and talent evaluation. He also represents the team in community and marketing endeavors.

Pudge spent part of the 2009 season with the Houston Astros but was traded back to the Rangers prior to his Bobblehead giveaway game. Photo R. Anderson
Pudge spent part of the 2009 season with the Houston Astros but was traded back to the Rangers prior to his Bobblehead giveaway game.
Photo R. Anderson

I last saw Pudge play in 2009 after he was traded back to the Rangers.

Ironically enough while Pudge was suiting up for the Rangers in a game against Tampa Bay, about four hours to the south the Astros were celebrating Pudge bobblehead day. I guess once you order the bobbleheads you still need to hand them out even if the player has moved on.

I went to some Spring Training games for the Washington Nationals in 2010 and 2011 but sadly Pudge did not play in any of those games.

Three years from now Pudge will become eligible for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and his career numbers should make him a shoo-in for induction on his first year of eligibility.

From everything I can tell Pudge played the game the way it should be played. Hopefully that will earn him a trip to Cooperstown to take his rightful place among the other Hall of Famers.

There is little doubt that when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame he will go in as a Ranger and that should certainly make his former battery mate and current boss, Nolan Ryan, very happy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball games to watch.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

We Knew They’d Be Bad, But This Bad?

With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game behind us, and about two and a half months of season ahead of us, this is the time that most prognosticators roll out their list of surprises and predictions for the rest of the season.

This allows them to pat themselves on the back on the things they got right, and remind us how fluid the game is and make new predictions for the ones that they got wrong.

Over the past few days I have read many such articles of predictions gone well and predictions that didn’t quite pan out at the midpoint of the season. While I made predictions at the start of the season I do not believe in a mid course correction. Instead we will see how they hold up at the end of the year.

As part of this yearly ritual of assessing the season at the halfway point the subject of which teams will be trading away players and which teams will be getting players also comes up.

Lance Berkman was traded to the Yankees in the first phase of the Astros epic rebuilding process. He has been on winning teams ever since. The Astros have yet to post a winning record since the trade. Photo R. Anderson
Lance Berkman was traded to the Yankees right at the trading deadline four years ago in the first phase of the Astros epic rebuilding process. He has been on winning teams ever since. The Astros have yet to post a winning record since the trade.
Photo R. Anderson

July 31, is considered the main trade deadline and a flurry of activity usually occurs with teams far from contending dumping players and payroll to teams that still have a chance at playoff glory but may be missing a piece or two in that winning formula.

For the past few years the question of how many games over 100 will the Astros lose and how many players will they trade en route to that inevitably gets discussed in the local Houston media and with a third straight year of futility in progress the national media has been weighing in on the matter as well.

So everyone agrees that the Houston Astros and their lowest in baseball by a long shot payroll are not going to the playoffs in any way, shape, or form. In fact, by most estimates, it will be several years before the Astros can even think about such lofty goals.

But the baseball season is a long season and the Astros want to put fans in their ballpark since fans equal money and money keeps the lights on. But fans have been staying away in large numbers this season since most people enjoy spending their hard earned money on entertainment where the outcome is not assumed ahead of time. And with very few exceptions it is assumed that when the Astros take the field it will result in a loss.

I will give the Astros credit though over the past month their losses have become more creative and usually involve at least one instance where an error of tee ball magnitude occurs.

The Astros should embrace these errors and perhaps by making such huge errors the other ballplayers will have to leave the game from laughing so hard and pulling some rib cartilage.

I know there have been games that I have watched at home that have left me sore from a combination of cringing and laughing at the ineptitude on display.

So with it understood that the Astros are bad, really bad, the only question is who is in their same league of badness?

For that we can look to Miami where the Marlins are giving the Astros a run for their money in the battle for who can win less. And I think this battle for the worst record in baseball should be embraced by both teams and a World Series of Futility should be created for them.

But Ryan you say isn’t it wrong to root for a team to be so bad that they are dead last? To that I say no, because the team was set up as way to replenish the farm system. And everyone knows the best way to replenish the farm system is through the hit and miss way of drafting prospects who may or may not ever make it to the Major Leagues.

Personally if I were running a team I would want a roster comprised of proven players with a few prospects sprinkled in but I am not running a team and no one asked my opinion.

So the Astros are looking at things from a strictly pasta throwing kind of way. When cooking pasta one can hurl it at the wall and if it sticks then the pasta is cooked. If the pasta falls to the floor than it is not cooked.

Jimmy Paredes is one pasta, err player, that just has not stuck no matter how many times the Astros throw him at the wall. Photo R. Anderson
Jimmy Paredes is one pasta, err player, that just has not stuck no matter how many times the Astros throw him at the wall.
Photo R. Anderson

So think of the Astros as a big pot of pasta. Every so often upper management will take one of the players from their Triple-A club and throw them out on the field and hope that they stick, or at least slide slowly enough down the wall that they can buy some time until the pasta in Double-A gets cooked.

To date, most of the players brought up have not stuck to the wall. This can be caused by them not being seasoned enough in the Minor Leagues or it could be that they just aren’t Major League quality regardless of how long they stay in the pot.

So the Astros need more pasta, err players, in order to field a competitive team. So a battle for last place gives them something to shoot for. And in a season that was declared lost at the start I think the majority of the fans may enjoy seeing a little competition with the Marlins for that coveted first pick.

Plus, if the Astros do end up with the first overall pick next year it would be the third year in a row that they did that. And that boys and girls is called a winning streak which is certainly in short supply when it comes to the Astros.

While waiting for the Astros to be competitive again fans at Minute Maid Park can enjoy plenty of elbow room and of course an obstructed view of downtown. Photo R. Anderson
While waiting for the Astros to be competitive again fans at Minute Maid Park can enjoy plenty of elbow room and of course an obstructed view of downtown.
Photo R. Anderson

So embrace the rebuilding and the futility that comes from it. Watch some players make the kind of errors that just should not be seen at the Major League level and attend a game or two if you are in town. Just don’t expect to see a consistent winner for a few more years.

Of course hopefully by then those annoying billboards in center field will be gone restoring the view of downtown. Because when the action on the field is too unbearable to watch it is certainly nice to be able to watch a nice sunset or watch the cars go by.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get ready to watch some baseball and hope that I don’t end up hurting myself.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson