Because the National League has been so relentlessly mediocre and rife with parity, a unique opportunity is presented to teams who had low-to-non-existent expectations coming into the season.
Teams fitting into this category include the Mets, Padres, Reds and Nationals.
There's a certain freedom from said lack of belief and the above-mentioned teams are in such a circumstance that they can function on both sides of the equation of trying to win and looking toward a not-so-distant future.
The Mets have been a laughingstock since their consecutive playoff misses in 2007 and 2008 and the rampant and ridiculous injuries that besieged them in 2009. Their lackluster off-season in which they were perceived to have left numerous holes unfilled only added to the air of imminent collapse.
The Padres have a new GM in Jed Hoyer who looks to be assessing his club before entertaining the bolder moves of holding Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell up for auction.
The Reds had some believing that they could contend and they've played well; the Nationals are surprisingly competitive and have the secret weapon of Stephen Strasburg arriving in the not-too-distant future.
So what to do?
There's been talk that the Mets may be in on Roy Oswalt; that the Padres may consider being buyers rather than sellers at the trade deadline; that the Reds and Nationals surprising starts could keep them in the mix for aggressiveness to try and win.
Because they have the argument to go in both directions----trying to win now or holding their fire----these teams can let the markets come to them and determine what they are and what they could be.
How long should these teams wait before making preemptive strikes? Should they resist the temptation?
If I were the Mets, I would shun Oswalt entirely. I don't think it's the right move; the starting pitching has been good enough that Oswalt probably isn't going to be that much of an improvement over what they're shuttling out there now. Considering the price----Fernando Martinez; Jenrry Mejia, et, al.----it's not worth it for an oft-injured pitcher making a lot of money ($15 million in 2010; $16 million in 2011; plus a $16 million option in 2012, with a $2 million buyout----he'd presumably ask that the option be picked up to waive his no-trade clause). Add in that The Stone Cold Killer, Cliff Lee, is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, and I'd advise the Mets to hold their fire on Oswalt or any overly expensive trade possibility even with Oliver Perez's rotation spot open.
The Padres are in a fantastic position with their hot start and somewhat ambivalent fan base. Because they're well-stocked in the bullpen; have a young and impressive starting rotation; and the lineup is good enough that they'll score to buttress that pitching; and have Adrian Gonzalez locked up through 2011, they're under no mandate to trade him. Hoyer is holding all the cards.
The Reds have played well and while I don't think they have the offense to put a scare into the Cardinals, their pitching could have them straddling the line of Wild Card contender. GM Walt Jocketty has never been shy about going after it and some of the fading teams of the American League will be ready to deal (keep an eye on the Indians with Grady Sizemore), one power bat could make the difference for the Reds.
The Nationals are playing over their heads----their starting pitching is short and manager Jim Riggleman is battering the bullpen----but once Strasburg arrives, this could be another confluence of circumstances for Riggleman much like 1998 with the Cubs. You have a better chance of seeing Osama Bin Laden lunching at George W. Bush's ranch than to see Riggleman allowed to abuse Strasburg as he did Kerry Wood*, but the Nationals aren't a joke anymore.
*I'm not one who adheres to the dogmatism of the pitch count, but take a look at what was done to Kerry Wood and you'll understand that there needs to be some reining in on the out-of-control desperation that a playoff run occasionally begets----1998 Wood Gamelogs. There's flexibility within reason; and there's abuse. What Riggleman did to Wood was abuse.
In short, the weakness of the National League presents an opening for teams like the four mentioned to do what's right for the franchise long-term and in the present. With that, they don't have to explain away whichever direction they choose to travel and this gives them an advantage that other teams----teams with high expectations and giant holes----don't have to be concerned with.
Speaking of which...
- More ammo to fire at Ruben Amaro Jr.:
On the other side of the spectrum, what if you're the Phillies and have multiple needs, but have tried to walk the tightrope of winning now while maintaining the farm system?
The Phillies are in first place in the National League East and will be hovering around that position and in the playoff hunt all year long. Contrary to the arrogance that is slowly eroding into general panic and abuse prevalent with the Philadelphia fan base, another National League pennant is not fait accompli.
In fact, with that bullpen, they've got a giant problem. Ryan Madson's idiocy in breaking his toe kicking a chair and Brad Lidge's elbow barking again----ESPN Story----the Phillies have to wonder who's going to close.
Danys Baez has done the job before, but hasn't been particularly good this year. Who then? Chad Durbin? Jose Contreras? J.C. Romero? Some conglomeration of that uninspired group?
And what if Lidge is out for an extended period or for the whole year? Do they wait for Madson to come back and try to keep their heads above water? Madson's not going to be back until at least the All Star break and he's not that great a closer to begin with.
Can they make a trade? Presumably yes, but this leads to another dead end.
Because Amaro's proffered reason for trading Cliff Lee was to replenish the farm system, would he be willing to gut whatever they have left in the system to try and win again this year? Wouldn't that sabotage the very premise of trading Lee to start with?
The Phillies have made a series of moves to lock up their veteran players and maintained the facade of retooling on the fly without the fallback that accompanies such a strategy. Will Amaro subvert his ego-driven attempt to be all things to all people and admit the mistake by dealing whatever's left in the Phillies system to placate the dubious veterans and increasingly petrified fan base?
Had they kept Lee, this wouldn't have been a problem. Roy Halladay and Lee essentially would've guaranteed a playoff spot with or without a reliable bullpen; instead Amaro chose a route that is costing his team dearly and he has no escape hatch without abandoning his grand "plan" that didn't appear to be a plan at all.
The only thing he can do now is hope that the weak National League lets the Phillies survive with what they have; but his shaky and ill-thought-out scheme has the potential to blow up in his face----and he has no one to blame but himself.
- Viewer Mail 5.15.2010:
Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mariners:
Well, if nothin' else the M's have succeeded at one thing:
Forcing us to actually pay some attention to them.
Which, I must say, is an incredibly new experience... for me.
You bring up an interesting point. The Mariners have two of the best and most entertaining pitchers in baseball----Felix Hernandez and Lee----and they're so.....boring.
People are paying attention to them because of this off-field garbage and that's the only reason; if the Griffey "napgate" affair hadn't happened, the Mariners would be off the radar entirely; and the stat zombies would be searching for the next object of their lust since Jack Zduriencik's results haven't lived up to the hype.
Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE managers on the hot seat:
So...who's the next manager to get the ax? Trembley?
The Orioles have played better lately and Dave Trembley has shown the J.P. Ricciardi/roach-like knack for survival. If he goes, it would probably be during another prolonged losing streak.
No. Not Trembley.
My money is on Ken Macha with the Brewers. They had unrealistic expectations; are feast are famine offensively; the players don't like Macha all that much; and they have a manager-in-waiting sitting next to him in Willie Randolph. Add in that the National League is going to be so wide-open for whichever team gets hot late in the season, and it's senseless to stagger along and hope things self-correct for a fungible manager in the last year of his deal.
The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Royals:
Great call on a Royal mess! Gibb would have "managed" to keep that job. Yost is just waiting for his replacement. So I agree with you there. And what's up with that Manuel on Manuel Hate Crime?
Throwing Jerry's Mets under the bus was actually a brilliant move on Charlie's part; A pure Classic move by an old pro practiced in the art of double speak. Having said that...He's still a chump for doing it! That should have been between Colorado and Philthy. The Battle of I-95 continues...
I truly believe teams are missing out on John Gibbons, but I also thought that Trey Hillman was going to be a big winner. Grain of salt.
Charlie Manuel and Jerry Manuel are longtime friends and Charlie regretted his reactionary statements regarding the spying allegations. Charlie doggedly protects his players, coaches and everyone under his auspices; I can't blame him for that.
My question is why do the Phillies pay such close attention to the Mets? If the Mets are so far beneath their notice, who cares what they're doing?
Don't you wanna see how clever I am? Don't you?!?