DENVER — Since the June 3 memo went out, after the owners meetings, saying that MLB would crack down on pitchers using illegal sticky substances, there has been a before-and-after picture offensively. For example, batting average was .236 league-wide before the crackdown, .246 since; OPS was .707 before and .736 since.
When asked if it was easier to hit since the crackdown, Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy replied, “Yes and just leave it at that.”
No surprise, among those who have at least 100 plate appearances since enforcement was upgraded, the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani has the best OPS at 1.277, thanks largely to 18 homers in 34 games. But the next best belongs to the Rangers’ Joey Gallo at 1.276. The slugger not only has 15 homers, but more walks (32) than strikeouts (31) in that time. Gallo’s 72 walks for the season are 12 more than anyone else has. That’s a reflection of his hitting eye, but also that he is pitched around as part of a weak Rangers lineup.
The athletic Gallo is among the best position players mentioned regularly as available in this trade market as the last-place Rangers try to rebuild. Gallo can be a free agent after next season. Padres general manager A.J. Preller was with Texas when Gallo was drafted, and opposing executives expect San Diego to be interested. The Yankees also have consistently had eyes for Gallo.
“In my head and in my heart, I believe I will be a Ranger,” Gallo said about the coming trade deadline. “But at the end of the day, I know it is a business and if the team feels it is fit better elsewhere, I will understand it.”
The third-best OPS since the memo went out also belongs to an All-Star, albeit one who was named but then had to be replaced: Kyle Schwarber. He strained his hamstring earlier this month, but before that, Schwarber had a 1.146 OPS in the non-sticky period with 16 homers in 27 games.
Schwarber, after being non-tendered by the Cubs after last season, signed a one-year, $10 million pact with the Nationals. There is an $11.5 million mutual option for next season, but Schwarber is almost certain to parlay his bounce-back into an attempt to find a strong multi-year deal in free agency. He will turn 29 next March. Like Gallo, Schwarber is a player the Yankees have long been interested in, and they could look toward him to try to gain lefty balance in their lineup.
“I believe if you care about your teammates and invest in winning, then good things will happen,” Schwarber said about gambling on a one-year deal with the Nationals. “I told Washington I was going to invest in winning. As for [a next contract], I just don’t want to look that far ahead.”
By the way, to highlight how bad the lineup that Gallo hits in is, the two worst OPS in the non-sticky phase (minimum 100 plate appearances) belong to his Rangers teammates, Nick Solak (.523) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (.533). But what should worry the Yankees is not that a former farmhand (Solak) leads this list, it is that third belongs to their current shortstop, Gleyber Torres, at .537.
Schwarber was removed from the Cubs’ core after last season and now that team is likely to be in selling mode between now and the July 30 non-waiver trade deadline. Other members of the champions, such as Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo — all of whom will be free agents after the season — will draw interest.
Perhaps the Cubs player who will garner the biggest return was not part of the 2016 title team — Craig Kimbrel. The closer entered the break with 20 saves, an 0.57 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 31 ²/₃ innings. Just about every contender could use a late-inning boost.
But how the Cubs handle this will say something about their path. Kimbrel has a $16 million club option for 2022, so if the Cubs were trying to contend as early as next season, they could always hold him and still have until the 2022 deadline to move him. Or do they see the value of removing what remains of his contract while gaining prospects more?
“I’ve been traded before,” Kimbrel said. “I was traded on Opening Day once [2015, from the Braves to the Padres]. If it happens, I have dealt with it before.”
Sawx go bust to boom
Before last season began, the Red Sox traded their biggest star, Mookie Betts, and David Price to the Dodgers, partly because of rebuilding, partly as a salary dump to clear up future payroll.
The Red Sox finished last in the AL East. The Dodgers won the World Series. At that moment, Boston seemed far from being a high-level contender. J.D. Martinez could have opted out of the final two years at $38.75 million of his deal and the Red Sox certainly would not have minded that. Nathan Eovaldi had two years at $34 million left and if any competitor had made a suitable offer, Boston almost certainly would have moved the righty.
That was then. On Monday — at All-Star media availability in a large plaza outside Coors Field — Eovaldi and Martinez were separated by Boston closer Matt Barnes, who was just rewarded with a two-year, $16 million extension. Across from them were Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. That was an AL-high five All-Starsfor the AL East-leading Red Sox.
“I really do think everyone felt in spring that we were going to be a good team,” Eovaldi said. “Last year [shortened amid the pandemic] was different. We felt we had a good team and looked around and had added [Adam] Ottavino and [Hirokazu] Sawamura and good veterans like Enrique [Hernandez] and Marwin [Gonzalez].”
Eovaldi also mentioned as vital the return of manager Alex Cora after a one-year suspension for his involvement with the Astros’ illegal sign stealing in 2017.
Boston opens the second half tied for the AL’s second-best record, 1 ¹/₂ up on the Rays, but eight up on the Blue Jays and Yankees. The Red Sox-Yankees game is the lone one scheduled in the majors on Thursday and is part of a four-game series. Boston already is 6-0 against the Yankees this season. So the Red Sox — a last-place club in 2020 — have a chance this weekend to further the embarrassment of their biggest rivals and, perhaps, turn the Yankees into sellers at the July 30 trade deadline.
Execs expect lefty Duffy to be dealt … if healthy
One player that executives view as likely to be traded in the next few weeks is Royals lefty Danny Duffy — as long as he is healthy. Duffy missed more than a month from May into June with a forearm strain. He has returned to make four short starts and one relief appearance.
There are two hurdles, beyond health, the could affect moving Duffy: He is still owed roughly $7 million of the $15.5 million he is due in the final season of his five-year, $65 million pact. He also exceeded 10 years of service time this season and gained 10-and-5 rights, which allows him to block any deal.
Duffy, who has a 2.53 ERA on the season, is from California and is said to favor a trade (if it comes) to the West Coast.
Unlike Duffy, acquiring Cole Hamels would take just money. The lefty only made one start last year due to shoulder problems after the Braves signed him to a one-year, $18 million pact (prorated for the shortened season). Hamels has not pitched this year, but he will hold a showcase Friday at the Rangers’ Double-A facility for interested clubs. The Yankees will be among those with a scout in attendance. But the Yankees tend to send a scout to all showcases for — if nothing else — due diligence and to gather information.
In his last full season, 2019, the 37-year-old Hamels had a 3.81 ERA for the Cubs in 27 starts.
Hamels is 37 and in his last full season, 2019, he had a 3.81 ERA for the Cubs in 27 starts.