- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Here's an idea whose time needs to come:
Move back the trading deadline.
Move it back to Aug. 31. We'd even settle for Aug. 15. But after watching August's waiver insanity unfold, we're not sure what this convoluted waiver system accomplishes.
"You've got teams out there blocking 15 to 25 guys from moving [in August] with a stroke of the keyboard," said Astros GM Ed Wade. "There's got to be a better way."
No kidding. And a lot of people in baseball agree. So why, you ask, hasn't anything changed? Because, naturally, there are also a lot who don't agree. We surveyed a dozen general managers on this topic this week, and found just about a 50-50 split on the subject:
• Four voted to move the deadline back to Aug. 31.
• Two voted to push it to Aug. 15.
• Five wanted to leave everything the same.
• One said he was open-minded.
So there. How's that for a divided electorate?
What's the thinking on leaving it at July 31? The most common thought was that teams need deadlines to force them into action, so it actually helps to have two different in-season deadlines -- the July 31 date and the Aug. 31 deadline for getting waiver deals done in time to add players to postseason rosters.
But the Orioles' Andy MacPhail and the Diamondbacks' Jerry Dipoto had a different take -- one, to be honest, we hadn't heard a whole lot before.
Both of those clubs were sellers at the deadline. And what sellers need most, MacPhail said, is leverage. So if you push back the date, it "reduces buyers and value coming back to those clubs."
Dipoto backed that thinking all the way -- and also liked the idea of giving new players two months, instead of one, "to become a part of the environment."
But the GMs on the other side of this issue see a very different picture -- one in which a bunch of teams arrive at July 31 not quite sure if they're in or out of the race. So they often wind up making decisions that don't benefit their teams, their players or their fans.
"I think you have to have some kind of deadline, but if you had to make a choice between July 31 or Aug. 31, I think Aug. 31 makes more sense," Wade said. "Right now, if you decide you're in it and you're not going to trade this guy, and then you hit a bad streak in August, it can be too late. You've got a guy who gets claimed, so you can't make a deal. And then he could be so expensive that you can't offer him arbitration and you can't get compensation. So the ramifications just get exacerbated.
"I also don't like the fact you're telling your ticket-holders to buy full-season tickets, but by Aug. 1, the final third of the season, you may not be the same club they just watched for the first four months. So you're telling them, 'Have hope for a situation we may not believe in ourselves.' It's a tough message to send."
Colorado's Dan O'Dowd seconded those motions. But he also raised the financial components. For buyers, he said, a waiver-deadline deal "allows more clubs to afford some contracts that right now they have no chance to afford" because on Aug. 31 contracts are half the size, for the rest of the year, as they are on July 31.
And if clubs have to play up to five months with the roster they take out of spring training, he said, that "puts a greater emphasis on your offseason decision-making process, along with the quality of your scouting and development departments."
O'Dowd also proposed that this deadline change "should coincide with the expansion of a second wild-card team into each league, which would really make the end of August a free-fall of wheeling and dealing, and a very exciting time within our game."
Here at Rumblings, we're in favor of that second-wild-card brainstorm, too. But we'll get into that some other time.
So when can we expect this deadline to move? Uh, maybe never.
We've heard that GMs who attended last month's owners meetings were polled on this subject by MLB. Not surprisingly, the full group was just as split as our smaller sample.
So don't look for anything to change soon just because we're proposing it. In fact, if we're proposing it, that's the best reason to think it will never happen.
• Cliff dwelling: One baseball man who goes back years with Cliff Lee has zero doubt that no matter how upbeat the Rangers may say they are about re-signing Lee, he will be a Yankee this winter once the free-agent fine print is written.
And why is that, you ask? Not because Lee has always wanted to live on the Upper East Side or because he's a big fan of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's because the Yankees are, obviously, the best bet to outbid the rest of civilization.
"Cliff," our source said, "would go to Siberia if they offered him the biggest contract."
• The Bryce is right: Amid all the grumbling last month after Bryce Harper signed a five-year major league contract at age 17, there was a wrinkle to that deal almost no one seemed to notice:
The contract doesn't technically begin until next year.
Once details of that contract circulated, it turned out Harper's deal runs from 2011 to 2015. So even if Harper gets hurt or his progress stalls for other reasons, the Nationals won't have to worry about their latest phenom running out of options until he's 22. That's another reason the Nationals were in no rush to see his name show up in any Gulf Coast League box scores this summer.
Also on this front, the Nationals have told Harper that his days of applying voluminous war-paint eye black are over. And so are his lay-the-bat-down, play-with-the-dirt, pre-at-bat histrionics -- because if that kept up, said one Nationals honcho, "he was either going to get himself killed, or get his teammates killed, or both."
• Return of the Prince?: Clubs that have spoken with the Brewers expect them to rev up their attempts to trade Prince Fielder this winter. But they're realistic about how tough that might be, in an offseason overflowing with free-agent first basemen and the potential trade availability of Adrian Gonzalez.
An exec of one of those clubs said the Brewers were "shocked" there wasn't more interest in Fielder before the trading deadline. But the Brewers were asking for two young "front-end" starting pitchers in return, and got no bites. And while they've since downplayed how interested they were in dealing him, the same exec said "they definitely would have [moved him] if they got the right package."
• Having fund yet?: As controversy erupts all around the Marlins and how they used their revenue-sharing money, it raised an issue we've wondered about for years:
Why didn't baseball ever establish a new-ballpark fund to help teams finance the construction of new parks over the past 15 years, the way the NFL did?
Had the Marlins been drawing money from a ballpark fund instead of a revenue-sharing pool and had they used those dollars to help themselves qualify for ballpark financing, wouldn't baseball have saved them from the political nightmare they now find themselves in?
We posed that question to Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations. And while he acknowledged that there was a lot of talk about that sort of fund in labor talks back in the '90s, the timing wasn't right back then. And now -- with 20 new ballparks already constructed since 1992 -- it's a little late.
"If the health of the overall industry had put us in position to do what the NFL did it would have been a great thing," Manfred said. "Unfortunately, our wave of stadium growth took place at a time when the industry was unprofitable, so we never had the cash to do it. Had that wave taken place later, we probably would have."
Baseball does have an industry growth fund and a commissioner's discretionary fund. But outside of some small payments to clubs in the ballpark-planning stages, baseball hasn't used those funds toward stadium construction. All we can say is: Too bad -- and, in the Marlins' case, it's not too late to rethink this.
• Closure?: Billy Wagner has never wavered. He's said all year that this season will be The End for him, and he's never hedged on that stance. But that doesn't mean the Braves have given up on trying to cajole him into returning.
Asked if he'd ever mentioned to Wagner that it makes no sense for a closer with a 1.59 ERA to retire, Braves GM Frank Wren replied: "Oh yeah. I have -- a bunch of times. Just kiddingly. But we'll see what happens toward the end of the year. I respect whatever decision Billy wants to make. But it's easy to keep talking and at least ask."
• Chip shot: Meanwhile, Wren downplayed any speculation that the Braves would have to go out this winter and try to protect themselves at third base if Chipper Jones can't make it back from ACL surgery. After the way Omar Infante has played at second and Martin Prado has handled third since Chipper got hurt, the Braves no longer feel much urgency to add another multiposition type player, a la, say, Ty Wigginton.
"We've just got to assume Chipper's part of our club [next year]," Wren said. "One good thing about the way we're put together is, we've got a lot of versatility. Prado and Infante play a lot of different positions. So we'll see what happens. But one thing we know is, first base is not an option, because [ballyhooed prospect] Freddie Freeman is coming. So we'll see where we are and hope it all works out."
• National reset: Losing Stephen Strasburg for a year wasn't on the Nationals' 2011 blueprint. But now that the shock has worn off, they're still planning for next year and beyond with the assumption that better days are closer than most people realize.
This winter, the Nationals still plan to be "more aggressive than we've ever been" to upgrade their club, team president Stan Kasten told Rumblings. And they'd still like to bring back Adam Dunn. But if Dunn leaves as a free agent and "we don't have that, we have to replace it," Kasten said.
So in the big picture, Strasburg's injury "has not changed any of our strategies going forward," Kasten said.
But hold on. How can that be, without Strasburg on the mound? For that answer, Kasten quoted the great Red Auerbach, of all people. Auerbach was once asked, three decades ago, why the Celtics had drafted Larry Bird, knowing they wouldn't be allowed to play him for a year. And what was Auerbach's quote?
"He said, 'Because a year goes fast,'" Kasten said. "I never forgot that. A year goes fast. So a year from now, Stephen will be back in our rotation -- and we'll leave the light on."
• Chapmania: Pitch f/x data only goes back to 2008. But Aroldis Chapman's 103.9 mph smokeball to Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy on Wednesday was the hardest regular-season pitch ever recorded by the digital Pitch f/x equipment. The only pitch ever tracked at higher velocity was a 104.8-mph Joel Zumaya scorcher to Jay Payton in Oakland during the 2006 postseason.
Here's one scout's review of Chapman: "Fastest arm I've ever seen. And he threw some sliders they couldn't have hit if they had five people swinging at them."
• Get me makeup: In case you missed this, the Marlins, Cardinals and MLB have been in nearly a month-long wrestling match over one rained-out baseball game that now, as it turns out, might have zero effect on any races for the postseason.
It was all over a rained-out Florida-St. Louis game in Miami on Aug. 8. The Marlins wanted to play it on a mutual off date Sept. 20. The Cardinals balked, because that's their only day off in the final 31 days of the season.
So the players voted to make it up the day after the season, if it mattered. But MLB then stepped in and said: That's not going to work. So after way too much agonizing, it will be played Sept. 20.
What was the problem? Hey, blame it on Mike Tirico. If the game had to be played on Oct. 4, no one was too sure where to play it, because the Dolphins have a "Monday Night Football" game scheduled that night. So it couldn't be in Sun Life Stadium. And if not there, uh, then where?
The Cardinals wanted to play in St. Louis. The Trop in St. Petersburg was an option. But ultimately, MLB overruled everyone, in an attempt to maintain "the integrity of the 162-game schedule."
"Too bad," quipped one NL executive, "they couldn't just play it in [both teams' spring training site in] Jupiter. It would be the first time the Marlins play in front of a full house in Florida all year."
• Bourn to run: With his .331 on-base percentage and 101 strikeouts, Houston's Michael Bourn still has a ways to go to even approach becoming a prototype leadoff man. But sheez, can this man run.
He's been clocked at 3.96 seconds to first base after a full swing. He's slapped 32 infield hits. And he's wriggled out of at least three rundowns -- which is supposed to be impossible.
So there are days this guy makes Carl Crawford look like a Molina brother. Which led us to ask a few assorted Astros: What's it like to watch Michael Bourn run?
From Carlos Lee: "It's got to be fun, having speed like him."
From GM Ed Wade: "When he hits a ground ball to shortstop, it's pretty much going to be a base hit. You can almost bank on that."
From Brett Wallace: "I've never seen anything like that. I've never seen speed like that. Whenever he wants to go, he goes -- and he's safe.
From J.A. Happ: "Anything that's not a bullet hit to an infielder, he's going to make it. And I don't know how many 3-1 plays have ever been made on him. I don't know how he could ever be out. It doesn't seem possible."
"You know," Wallace said with a laugh, "I'd love to see him go to the Olympics. It would be fun to watch him in, like, the 100 meters, man. I think he could do it."
The Rumblings Scouting Bureau
Once again this week, let's check in with America's sharpest scouting minds:
• On Carlos Gonzalez: "Best player in the league, just because he can do so much. He does it all. He gets big hits. He hits for power. He plays above-average defense at any position in the outfield. He's just a special guy."
• On Leo Nunez: "He's lost confidence in his fastball. Instead of closing, he's tricking, and he can't pitch that way. Way too much emphasis on trickery instead of closery. I know that's not a word, but you know what I'm talking about."
• On Chris Johnson: "I can't figure out Chris Johnson. If somebody had asked me last year if I'd have traded for him, I'd have said, 'Sure. For Triple-A. Because that's where he's going to play.' And now all he does is hit balls on the screws."
Tweet of the Week
From relentlessly entertaining Late Show witticist Justin Stangel (@Justin_Stangel):
Stephen Strasburg will probably need Tommy John surgery. On a side note, I never want a surgery named after me.
Quotes of the Week
• From White Sox catcher/quotesmith A.J. Pierzynski, to ESPN Radio's Chuck Wilson, on whether Manny Ramirez could be a disruptive force in what was already a wild and crazy clubhouse:
"He might be a calming influence around here."
• From the Braves' Matt Diaz, to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Dave O'Brien, after his team hit home runs to tie and then win a game in the ninth inning last Sunday, for its 23rd win of the year in its final at-bat:
"If this continues we'll all either have heart attacks or make the playoffs, one or the other."
• From one of Jamie McCourt's attorneys, Dennis Wasser, in his opening argument to the baseball divorce trial of the century -- Frank v Jamie McCourt:
"At its best, it was the blind leading the blind. At its worst, it was the blind misleading the blind."
• From Bronson Arroyo on his new teammate -- that junkballing 104-mph left-hander, Aroldis Chapman:
"We've got the Usain Bolt of baseball."
Late-Nighter of the Week
From Jay Leno:
"The divorce trial began today of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie. It's an ugly divorce. On the bright side, the one thing they won't have to fight over: World Series tickets."
Headliner of the Week
Finally, this just in off the wacky news scroll at theonion.com:
BROKEN-RECORD RECORD ON PACE TO BE BROKEN
P.S. And in other news, don't miss this blockbuster on someone we're extremely close to, from the comedians at realfakesports.com.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Should the August waiver period be eliminated completely, paving the way for just one trading deadline? A dozen general managers weigh in on the topic.