Week Ahead: Final days before Deadline
The big Johnny Cueto trade finished a crazy weekend of rumors, races and Hall of Fame remembrances in Major League Baseball, but Monday gets the frenzy going again.
Yes, the Week Ahead marks the final five days prior to Friday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, and if you were out of cell range or off the grid on Saturday and Sunday, well, you missed a lot, and much of it figures to affect the season at we inch ever closer to October.
On Saturday, Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter. On Sunday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame welcomed its new quartet of inductees -- Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio -- while the team with the best record in the American League, the defending AL champion Royals, welcomed their new ace, Cueto.
Hamels, the Phillies' veteran left-handed ace, twirled his no-no against the Cubs in Wrigley Field, serving notice that he's not only righted himself after a recent slump but that he remains a huge, headlining draw for contending clubs looking to land a stud starter before the Deadline.
Hamels is scheduled to pitch for the Phillies on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park against the Braves, but not a lot of baseball people think that will happen. Sources have told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki that the Rangers, Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees and Giants are among the teams linked to the owner of both a World Series ring (2008) and a no-hitter, and that Texas and Los Angeles might be the front-runners.
"I mean, it's not what I envisioned," Hamels said when asked if he was thinking during Saturday's bit of history that it was his last outing as a member of the team that drafted him in 2002.
"It's not what I thought. It's not in my thought process. I think all I've been thinking about the past couple days was just to kind of correct my pitching, just being able to be out there and enjoy the moment."
Cueto might have been thinking about the same thing with his former team, the Reds, until he was dealt to Kansas City on Sunday in a blockbuster that brought back a trio of lefty pitching prospects -- Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed -- to Cincinnati. The timing couldn't be better for Royals general manager Dayton Moore and his support staff, given that lefty Jason Vargas just came back from an injury only to be lost for the season with a torn elbow ligament, and in the sense that the Royals were having issues with starting pitching all season.
Now look at them. Cueto is 29, at the top of his game (7-6, 2.62 ERA, 120 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings and a WHIP of 0.93 entering Monday) and should get the ball for his Royals debut on Thursday night against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
"He's a guy who gives us tremendous depth in our rotation," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "If you get Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura to the way they were a year ago, you got them and Eddie Volquez and Cueto ... you can stop a losing streak right away with any of those guys. It's a better team for now and into the postseason if we make it.
"If we didn't do this deal, I still would have felt good about this team. But this makes us better."
That's the idea for this time of year, and especially this week. Teams will be clamoring to improve their rosters ahead of the stretch run, with parity and the added Wild Card entries making it even more competitive to land a deal.
Take a look at the National League West, for example. The up-and-down Giants are back on the upswing, having won five in a row and nine of their last 10 to pull within a game of the first-place Dodgers. What will they do? And what will the Dodgers do? Los Angeles might be able to land Hamels, but Detroit ace David Price is also said to be available, and the Giants could use an extra arm. If the Tigers decide to hang on to Price, other arms in the offing could include Mat Latos, Yovani Gallardo, Tyson Ross, Jeff Samardzija and James Shields. And would the Dodgers really trade Yasiel Puig? That will be another topic to keep a close eye on for the next five days.
And what about the AL West? The Angels are riding another otherworldly season from Mike Trout (who hit his 30th and 31st homers on Sunday) and have taken over the lead in the division, but the Astros are hanging in there, only a game back, and they just landed Scott Kazmir from the A's for the stretch. The Angels are looking for a bat, and Jay Bruce, Justin Upton, Ben Zobrist and Yoenis Cespedes might be available for the right price.
The drama should get even more intriguing on Tuesday, when the Angels head to Houston for a three-game series that ranks as the best in baseball over the next seven days. The division lead could hang in the balance, and we should see Kazmir pitching in his hometown against a familiar rival.
Elsewhere, the Mets could be looking for more offense, even after adding Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe in their weekend deal with the Braves. And although the Yankees are rolling in the AL East, it's hard to believe that they're not looking to augment their roster for the crucial days of September and, they hope, beyond.