Baseball's most irreplaceable players

Dustin Pedroia is a dirt dog and among the most valuable players to contending squads this (or any other) year. Getty Images

Dustin Pedroia will miss a lot of time with a broken foot, meaning that the Boston Red Sox will have to compete without their heart-and-soul guy. He's a great player, but he also is an emotional leader on whom others lean. I was chatting with old friend Peter Gammons on Saturday morning, and he ran through names of Red Sox players from the past with whom Pedroia's impact is comparable.

It's a very, very short list, and few players in the majors in 2010 are as important to the contending teams for which they play as Pedroia is to the Red Sox. Here's how I'd rank the top 15, with Pedroia in there somewhere:

1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals. Of course.

2. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres. Of course.

3. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies. Colorado is 14-1 in the games he has started and 25-34 in its other games.

4. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. He is the foundation of the Tigers' lineup and has posted your basic .330 batting average/20 homers/63 RBIs performance so far.

5. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins. He is not hitting with the power he showed in 2009, but he is the Twins' leader and has posted a .383 on-base percentage.

6. Jose Reyes, New York Mets. When he started hitting, they started winning.

7. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves. Some guys in the Braves' lineup have zigged and zagged because of injuries, but Prado has been their best player since June 2009.

8. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays. When he goes into any kind of offensive funk, so do the Rays.

9. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies. He has shown over and over that he is capable of hoisting that team on his broad shoulders for a month at a time.

10. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers. Manny Ramirez gets the attention, but Ethier is the anchor of the lineup, especially in a year in which Matt Kemp has struggled.

11. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds. The bottom line is that if he ever got hurt or stopped producing, the Reds probably would fall out of contention.

12. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals. Stephen Strasburg will be the Nats' biggest box-office draw for years to come, but Zimmerman is their barometer right now.

13. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers. When he started clubbing the ball, the Rangers separated themselves from the rest of the AL West.

14. Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins. Without him, they wouldn't even be in the conversation in the NL East.

By the way: There are no New York Yankees on this list largely because of the depth of their roster. Robinson Cano is a strong MVP candidate, but the rotation is so strong and the supporting cast is good enough that they continue winning in Cano's absence. On the other hand, if Jimenez went down for any reason, the Rockies probably would be finished.

Pedroia's injury truly hurts the Red Sox, writes Dan Shaughnessy. Pedroia had a hunch he was going to get bad news, writes Scott Lauber. In the aftermath of that news, the Red Sox lost Clay Buchholz to a knee injury, although it does not appear to be serious.

Giant need for relief (literally)

The San Francisco Giants would like to add some bullpen help for the innings before Brian Wilson comes into the game, writes Henry Schulman. Two things on that: No. 1, the relief market is said by general managers to be very, very thin. No. 2, I polled about a dozen GMs and asked five questions about deal-making, including, Who is the toughest GM to make a deal with? The runaway winner was the Giants' Brian Sabean. To put it simply, other GMs say they have a very difficult time getting him on the phone to discuss possible deals. That story will be published within the next week, and I'll write more about Wilson in Monday's column.

Carlos Zambrano fallout

It's pretty evident that the days of Carlos Zambrano's pre-eminence in the Cubs organization are over. For years, they overlooked his explosions because he was a really good pitcher, and in the past year, they've tried to work with him and keep him happy partly because of his $91.5 million contract. But now the Cubs are fed up and they're not going to take it anymore, because of an overriding perception within the organization that Zambrano simply has not cared about living up to his end of the contract. Plus, he's not a special pitcher and has not been for a long time. In his past 46 starts, including the 2008 postseason, he is 14-14 with a 4.84 ERA. In other words, it has been a long, long time since Zambrano has been the pitcher the Cubs thought he would be.

Tom Gorzelanny is replacing Zambrano in the Cubs' rotation. The Cubs are really not happy that right after Zambrano's explosion, he went to dinner with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

The Cubs' issues go way beyond Zambrano, writes Phil Rogers.

In the dugout, Zambrano referred to the team with a profanity, and Derrek Lee -- one of best leaders in the sport -- told him to shut up, writes Gordon Wittenmyer. Zambrano has to go, writes Rick Morrissey.

Edwin Jackson's no-no

If you had told D-backs manager A.J. Hinch on Friday that by the end of the day, his starting pitcher would throw 149 pitches, "I would have bet my life savings against that," Hinch said Saturday.

"I was very focused on the history. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Hinch's decision really came down to a conversation with Jackson and Arizona pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. after the seventh inning. Jackson's pitch count was at 117, and Hinch asked Jackson and Stottlemyre to go out of the dugout so that the three of them could talk about the situation out of sight of the cameras.

Jackson argued to stay in the game, to continue on. "[Beep] it, I'm going out there until I give up a hit or the game is in jeopardy," Jackson said. And Hinch stressed as they talked that this wasn't only about a no-hitter but also about trying to win the game. And so Hinch had his mind made up that the instant Jackson allowed a hit, he'd pull him immediately. Yet, he wanted to give him the opportunity to finish the no-hitter.

"Once I sent him out for the eighth inning, I was pretty much committed to riding out" the no-hit bid, Hinch said.

The D-backs' manager also believes that there is a lot about Jackson that makes him a candidate to throw a lot of pitches: He has a really clean arm and a clean delivery, and he's very athletic.

"Last year, when I first got this job, I was zeroed in on this 100 to 105 pitch count, almost to a fault," Hinch said. This year, Hinch has tried to adjust that, looking to get pitchers to aim for 115-pitch outings, because that number will get them an extra inning of work.

But Hinch is also aware of the inherent pressures that weigh on a manager as he assesses pitch counts and the possible risk of leaving pitchers in the game too long. "What gets instilled in the managers is how difficult it is to replace pitching," Hinch said. "With expansion, with the dilution of pitching, it might be a cliff dive to the next wave of pitching available to you."

Because of that, managers routinely are conservative in protecting their pitchers. As Friday's game progressed, however, standard operating procedure went out the window. As that game moved into the last innings, Hinch and Stottlemyre talked about how the Diamondbacks have an off day coming up, how they could bump back Jackson's next start to give him some extra rest in the aftermath of his monumental effort.

"It was a little gut-wrenching," said Hinch, who is well aware of the vortex he stepped into with his decision.

"If I hadn't sent him out for the eighth inning, I'd be the villain, the most hated man in baseball. If he comes up [hurt] in the next month, I'm going to get crushed."

The Diamondbacks decided to push back Jackson's next start to give him some extra rest.

The Prince Fielder situation

The Milwaukee Brewers are no longer in contract talks with Prince Fielder, GM Doug Melvin says. Here's the bottom line: The Brewers can either trade Fielder and get much less back in return than what most fans would expect, or they can simply play out the string and hope to re-sign Fielder after the 2011 season. And it's hard to imagine any team placing a higher value on Fielder than the Brewers. We'll see.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Mariners traded for Russell Branyan, giving up a promising young outfielder, Geoff Baker writes. Do not underrate the team's local TV ratings as a motivator for this deal; it is important for the Mariners to stay relevant and competitive, even if they don't necessarily contend.

2. Matt LaPorta will take over at first base for the Indians.

3. Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz are filling in for Bobby Jenks as he deals with a family matter, writes Mark Gonzales.

4. Oakland swapped a utility man to Boston, Susan Slusser writes.

5. Frank McCourt added a lawyer to his team.

6. The Brewers put off their rotation decision.

7. Ron Gardenhire would love to add someone like Cliff Lee, but he knows the team's conservative history, too.

8. The Marlins are going through the motions before they officially hire Bobby Valentine. Meanwhile, first-base/outfield coach Dave Collins resigned.

9. Brian Moehler will learn Sunday whether he's being dropped out of the Houston rotation.

Dings and dents

1. Neil Walker has a mild concussion.

2. Angel Pagan probably won't play Sunday, writes Dan Martin.

3. Jason Motte left Saturday's game with a leg cramp, writes Derrick Goold; Ryan Ludwick's status is less clear.

4. Jason Heyward acknowledges that he is hurt.

Saturday's games

1. A home-plate umpire tells John Lowe that he thinks he missed a call at the end of the Tigers' loss to the Braves. It's just very frustrating, Johnny Damon says.

2. You can't stop the White Sox, you can only hope to contain them: That's 11 straight wins for Ozzie Guillen's crew, who also won the BP Cup. Guillen says funny things, but he's no joke, writes David Haugh.

3. The Phillies were overpowered, writes Matt Gelb.

4. The Royals were powerless.

5. The Pirates have lost 16 consecutive road games, the longest such streak in a quarter century, Chuck Finder writes.

6. The Orioles rallied again and racked up their first series victory since mid-May.

7. The Nats wasted a big lead.

8. A.J. Burnett was terrible again, this time with Francisco Cervelli catching.

9. Johan Santana's rough week ended with another loss, writes Mark Viera. He is struggling without his velocity and focus.

10. Doug Fister returned to the Seattle rotation.

11. Trevor Cahill was outstanding again.

How Cahill dominated the Pirates, from Puneet Nanda of ESPN Stats & Information: He induced a season-high 15 swinging strikes, the third straight start in which he's set or matched his season high (39 over those three starts). Of 30 off-speed pitches thrown, hitters missed on 11 of 13 swings (84.6 percent), the highest single-start percentage in baseball this season with a minimum of 20 off-speed pitches thrown. He threw 104 of his 113 pitches on the inside and outside corners; hitters went a combined 1-for-21.

12. Madison Bumgarner hung in there, in defeat, Henry Schulman writes. This is not going to be a one-shot deal for the lefty, Tim Kawakami writes.

13. The D-backs issued a bunch of walks in a loss.

14. The Rockies took a body blow early and never recovered, writes Patrick Saunders.

15. James Loney was The Man for the Dodgers.

16. Hideki Matsui got a huge hit for the Angels.

17. Seven Padres shared a "Bull Durham" moment, writes Tim Reynolds.

18. The Rangers got back on track.

19. The Brewers' winning streak ended.

20. Carl Pavano was The Man for the Twins.

21. The losing continues for the Indians.

22. The Reds assured themselves of an Ohio Cup championship -- and also held on to first place in the NL Central.

23. Shaun Marcum had a great day, Bob Elliott writes.

How Marcum won, from Mr. Nanda of ESPN Stats & Information: He threw 48 percent off-speed pitches, his highest rate in 11 starts. He got the Phillies to chase 55 percent of off-speed offerings outside the strike zone and recorded five of his six K's on changeups. He induced 10 ground balls and only seven fly balls, his best ratio of the season. Phillies batted only 1-for-11 on pitches down in the zone or below it. He finished hitters off: Philadelphia was only 1-for-13 (.077) on two-strike counts, although the one hit was Ryan Howard's homer. They also went 1-for-14 (.071) on counts when Marcum was ahead.

24. Mike Stanton's eagerness proved costly.

25. Kenshin Kawakami picked up his first win of the season.

26. David Price had a big outing on the day after the Rays were no-hit. Price is emerging as a leading candidate to start in the All-Star Game, writes Marc Topkin.

How Price won, from Mr. Nanda: He matched his career high with 11 strikeouts. All 11 came on fastballs, 10 of them swinging. Overall, Price threw his fastball 77 percent of the time, averaging 94.7 mph (about 1.2 mph faster than his season average). He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of 31 batters (74.2 percent), following a 23-of-27 performance in his previous start. Those have been the best two starts of his career in this category. Price got Arizona hitters to miss with 29.6 percent of their total swings, second-highest in a start in his career. He kept the ball outside, throwing 30 pitches out of the strike zone away. D-backs swung at 10 of those, and six of their K's came on the outer third or off the plate.

The most patient hitter of Saturday was Gregor Blanco, who saw 29 pitches in four plate appearances, for 7.3 per appearance. Brandon Inge was No. 2 at 6.8 per appearance.

Other stuff

• A bat scientist has really helped Corey Hart, writes Don Walker. You can bet that his client list will grow in a big way after this article about the RockBat gets passed around baseball.

Alex Rodriguez had glowing praise for a member of the Dodgers' staff -- Larry Bowa, Dylan Hernandez writes.

• John Harper writes that Joe Torre crossed a line when it came to Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees-Torre divorce is directly related to Torre's book, writes George King.

Raul Ibanez is trying to turn it around, writes Bob Ford.

• Joe Torre has gotten a blunt reminder this weekend that he is no longer the manager of a team with championship aspirations, writes Bill Plaschke -- and a word that Torre had said in May still resonates.

Brandon Phillips has had a great month, Tom Ramstetter writes.

• The Orioles' performance is comparable to some of the worst in major league history.

• The Rockies showed some signs of breaking out of their offensive slump.

• The Rangers suddenly have everybody in a rage, writes Randy Galloway.

Roy Halladay was expansive in a news conference, which Jeff Blair details here.

• Monte Irvin had his number retired, which is pretty cool.

And today will be better than yesterday.