That the Rockies are willing to talk about Ubaldo Jimenez at all is raising eyebrows in rival front offices, who wonder if Colorado's we'll-listen stance is a reflection of Jimenez's diminished first-half performance, or diminished fastball, or something related to Jimenez's health or happiness.
From the Rockies' perspective, Jimenez is a 27-year-old top-of-the-rotation guy currently on a team-friendly contract -- a pitcher who will eventually become very expensive for Colorado, which has already made the decision to build around Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The Rockies say Jimenez is a good guy -- an off-the-charts great guy, in fact -- who has bounced back from his first-half struggles, and that the trade inquiries are merely a reflection of the paucity of starting pitching on the current market, and that they have an obligation to look at what might be some great offers.
The Rockies are telling interested teams that the price will be high, and that if Colorado deals him, the extraction of prospects needed in return will be painful. One evaluator's current odds of Jimenez being traded: 25 percent. "It has to be something that makes sense for the Rockies [right now]," said the evaluator.
The Rockies are targeting players who could help in the big leagues right now, or in the very near future. The Tigers have interest, but might not have the right prospects to satisfy Colorado; a third team would probably be required for a deal. The Yankees have the players who would be required for a deal -- including Ivan Nova -- but it's not clear what their level of interest is, and whether their interest will change, given the recent struggles of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
Jimenez has a very unique contract, along the lines of those signed by Fausto Carmona and Joakim Soria. He's set to make $4.2 million next year, and then the team holds options on him for 2013, at $5.75 million, and for 2014, at $8 million.
If he's traded, the option for 2014 goes away, but whether he's with the Rockies or any other team, there is virtually no financial risk involved with his deal; if his performance falls apart, his team could simply dump or deal him with little loss.
But that small-risk contract is also part of why the Rockies are placing a high value on Jimenez in their conversations with other teams. Some of the interested teams -- which include clubs that are not currently contending -- firmly believe that if Colorado doesn't strike a deal between now and the trade deadline, they are virtually certain to trade him in the winter, when the starting pitching market will again be scarce and when more teams might get involved.
At his best, in the first half of 2010, Jimenez was as dominant as any pitcher we've seen in the last decade. At his worst, he's an experienced starter who doesn't cost that much in salary. So the Rockies are getting calls, and rival evaluators are trying to determine, for themselves, why Colorado is considering this move right now, before names are exchanged in trade proposals.
On Saturday, the Rockies lost a lead and blew their cool, writes Patrick Saunders.
• The way the Mets look at Carlos Beltran's remaining salary is this: The team has already committed to spend the dollars, so why not eat the money and get a better prospect in return? Still, Andrew Baggarly writes that the Giants are not close to making a deal on Beltran. With the Mets demonstrating a willingness to eat the money, the field of landing spots opens dramatically, with Cleveland and Pittsburgh intriguing possibilities. "They've got the prospects to get a deal done," said a rival evaluator. "If the Indians were to get him, their lineup would be pretty tough."
Over the next couple of weeks, we'll see if the Mets say yes, writes Joel Sherman.
• The Red Sox will probably give Josh Reddick and their other outfielders seven to 10 days before deciding to move on an outfielder. Josh Willingham is among the best of the current available veterans, but for Boston, he would probably have to play right field, which is not a good fit. Ryan Ludwick could play right field, as could Jeff Francoeur, although there is a perception among interested teams that the Royals are inclined to keep Francoeur.
• The Rays continue to weigh interest in B.J. Upton, and maybe -- speculation alert -- he would be a good fit for the Giants, who don't seem to have access to the full range of the outfield market. San Francisco doesn't typically make deals with the Padres, who have Ludwick, or with the Athletics, who have Willingham, and they might not want to pay the necessary price for Beltran. Upton would fit the Giants' park with his defense, and he would be under control for San Francisco through next year.
And on paper, the Rays would seem to have an excellent partner to trade Upton (and a pitcher) to if the Cardinals seriously follow through in conversations about Colby Rasmus -- and keep in mind that a lot of the talk seems to be driven from the St. Louis clubhouse.
• The Twins, who drew within six games of first place Saturday, are telling teams that they are intent on trying to win the division and that for now, they have no interest in dumping players like Michael Cuddyer. On Saturday, Cuddyer got the big hit, and Joe Nathan got the save. Matt Capps is OK with the bullpen flip-flop.
• Rival executives say this is absolutely the right time for the Padres to take advantage of Mike Adams' trade value, given his extensive injury history and his age; he turns 33 at the end of this month. The Rangers are thought to be a favorite to land at least one of the San Diego relievers; the Phillies are also in play.
• The Legend of Sam Fuld grows: He went to high school with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Although he doesn't really remember Zuckerberg.
• The Pirates are the feel-good story of the first half, writes Larry Stone. We'll have more on them tomorrow.
A. A dominant slider. Sabathia threw 27 sliders Saturday, and Blue Jays hitters swung at 18, missing 10, the second most misses among his starts this season. Toronto hitters were 1-for-11 in at-bats ending with Sabathia's slider, including six strikeouts. Sabathia got the Blue Jays to swing at 10 of the 16 sliders he threw out of the strike zone, resulting in four of the strikeouts.
B. Sabathia was successful keeping the ball down, especially with the slider. Toronto hitters were 0-for-11 in at-bats ending with pitches down, including 0-for-8 with all six strikeouts against the slider.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Sabathia is the second pitcher in Yankees history with five or more straight starts of seven-plus innings pitched and one or fewer runs allowed. Steve Kline had six such straight starts in 1972.
In 10 starts following a Yankees loss this season, Sabathia is 8-2 with a 3.24 ERA. He's now 23-9 with a 3.40 ERA following a Yankees loss in his career with the team.
Sabathia lowered his ERA to 2.64 following his start Saturday. No Yankees pitcher (minimum 25 starts) has produced a sub-3.00 ERA in a season since David Cone (2.82) and Andy Pettitte (2.88) did it in 1997.
• Joe Girardi suggested that the Jays are stealing signs in an untoward manner.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The empty seats in the Trop won't affect the Rays' push to make the playoffs.
2. These next 16 days could be Ed Wade's finest hour, writes Richard Justice.
Dings and dents
3. The Mariners' losing streak is at eight games, and counting.
4. Oakland split a doubleheader.
A. He held righties in check. Mariners right-handed hitters were just 1-for-13 against Wilson on Saturday, including all six of Wilson's strikeouts. The one hit ties the fewest Wilson has allowed to righties in a start over the last two seasons.
B. He had success when behind in the count. Wilson threw first-pitch strikes to only 13 of the 28 hitters he faced, but reached just four 2-0 counts and no 3-0 counts. In at-bats ending with Wilson behind in the count (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1), Mariners hitters were just 1-for-7, with six of the at-bats ending on fastballs.
For the second straight season, the Rangers are the first team to win at least 10 straight games. According to Elias, they're the first team since the Indians in 2001 and '02 to be the first to post 10-game win streaks in consecutive seasons.
6. Cole Hamels lost to the Mets, again, Jim Salisbury writes. From ESPN Stats and Info: Cole Hamels has dominated the NL East in his career -- if you exclude the Mets. Hamels is just 3-10 lifetime against the Mets, and his ERA against the Mets is nearly a run and a half higher than his ERA against the rest of the division.
7. Albert Pujols homered again in the Cardinals' win over Cincinnati. From ESPN Stats and Info: Pujols hit his 428th career home run Saturday, passing Mike Piazza for 41st on the all-time list. It was his 20th home run this season; he has now hit 20-plus in each of his first 11 seasons. Pujols is the third player to hit 20-plus homers in each of his first 11 seasons. Eddie Mathews did it in 14 straight to start his career and Frank Robinson did it in 12 straight.
By the way: Pujols is doing exactly what he needed to do in the aftermath of his wrist injury, hitting with power.
8. The Dodgers were hit back to reality by the Diamondbacks, writes Dylan Hernandez.
9. The Angels split a doubleheader, and lost ground in the standings.
10. The Padres broke out in a big way.
12. John Lackey wound up getting the win on Saturday despite a rocky start. The rest of the Red Sox position players deserve some kind of award for not reacting to Lackey's body language, which is the worst I've ever seen in a starting pitcher. Marco Scutaro made mistakes twice in the first inning, and as the Tampa Bay rally moved along, Lackey's gestures to bad moments got worse and worse; twice he threw his hands up in the air in frustration. Can you imagine how a pitcher would respond if an outfielder threw his hands up in disgust while watching a home run ball soar over his head, after Lackey hung a breaking ball?
And in a separate incident, Lackey barked at Terry Francona when the manager took him out of the game, arguing with the decision.
Really, it's something that Lackey should strive to change, and if he doesn't, the Red Sox position players should all make a pact to physically react to every mistake Lackey makes on the mound.
13. The Tigers dropped another game, and another series.
16. The Indians' late rally wasn't enough.
19. Sign-stealing wouldn't have helped the Jays on Saturday, writes Richard Griffin.
20. The Astros brought a temporary end to their losing streak.
• You watch the Dodgers play -- and they play hard, albeit with varying degrees of efficiency -- and it's like a baseball version of the musicians who played as the Titanic sank. They are doing their duty, which is all they can do, as the club continues to fall apart, from the top (the owner) to the bottom (a farm system that is rotting, according to rival officials).
And today will be better than yesterday.