1. The Home Run Derby
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t watched the Home Run Derby since…..I am not sure. My best guess was the Mark McGwire–Sammy Sosa derby at Fenway many moons ago. The All-Star Game and its festivities typically don’t interest me as much now as they used to. Maybe I will pay attention next year, since the series is now tied (and the two leagues have scored exactly the same number of runs). That may add some juice to the game.
As for the Derby this year, I watched it because of all of the star power that decided to enter. Having Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge participate was a coup for MLB, as sometimes players do bow out. Adding in a rookie sensation like Cody Bellinger to the mix also added to the intrigue.
Overall, after the first round drams of Judge vs. Justin Bour, the competition was a bit anti-climatic. Judge was able to keep up his energy while everyone else faded in the second and third round. Perhaps a future enhancement should be less time on the clock. The format overall is fine, but you may get juicier finals if you cut down on the clock. Perhaps they should implement a shorter clock early and have a final that goes three minutes? I don’t know – overall, I enjoyed watching it and may want to watch it again in future years.
2. The Cubs Get Aggressive
The Cubs cashed in another top prospect this week, shipping off Eloy Jiminez in a deal for Jose Quintana. After his performance today, it looks like it already is an overwhelming success.
Quintana, as you know, wasn’t pitching up to the standard he had set over the past several years. He was one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball before having trouble early in 2017. It seems that he has started to gain some momentum, and a switch to the National League may just put him over the top again.
The White Sox again gained some good prospects. In exchange for Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, they have acquired Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, and Dylan Cease (plus more!). If the goal is to acquire as many prospect assets as possible, the White Sox have pulled that much off. They have acquired two top five prospects plus a pair of Top 100 guys. They may still get more value for David Robertson and Todd Frazier.
That is the future, however. In the present, it is hard to find much fault with what the Cubs did. Their rotation is aging in some spots, and they likely will lose Jake Arrieta this winter to free agency. Quintana offers some stability both for this year and the years ahead. Trading away some prospect depth (even top prospect depth) to help your present team is often the right way to go, depending on where the team is. The Cubs are still in their window for titles.
3. The Braves are flying
A few years ago, the industry was talking about how the Braves wanted to make their team good for when they moved into their new home in 2017. It appeared they may be a year or two behind their goal after they began the season 22-29.
Don’t look now, but the Braves are showing signs of life. They are currently playing .500 ball (45-45) and have positioned themselves right on the edge of wild-card contention, though that may still seem like a bit of a long shot.
Matt Kemp has put together a solid season, while Matt Adams has done so well that the Braves decided to put Freddie Freeman at third base. I don’t think this is a great long-term solution, but for now, it gives their lineup some much-needed length. Getting some production out of Nick Markakis (.356 OBP) and Brandon Phillips (.780 OPS) has also been a big help for their surge. Obviously, they would love more out of Dansby Swanson, but for as long as the team is playing well, they can live with Swanson’s growing pains.
The pitching is still a work in progress, as evidenced by the 4.65 staff ERA. It also happens to be where the Braves are the strongest within their minor league system. Mike Foltynewicz (25) has put together a solid season (3.84 ERA in 98.1 innings), while Sean Newcombe has started to get his feet wet at the MLB level. In 6 starts, he has posted a 4.26 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. Those are hardly electrifying numbers, but a starting point for their #5 prospect.
The Braves don’t typically stay down for long. At least not in the past couple of decades. They have rebuilt their system, sprinkled in some useful veterans (R.A. Dickey is giving them the quality innings Bartolo Colon failed to do), and are starting to incorporate their rich farm system into the MLB squad. There is potential here for them to rise to the top of the National League East within the next few seasons. While the Phillies’ rebuild has started off sluggish, the Braves have been full speed ahead. It may not be long before the National League will start feeling its full wrath.
The question becomes whether or not the Braves want to make an actual run at the Wild Card with some smaller moves, or if they should strengthen their youth even more by looking at deals for Adams, Phillips, Dickey, etc. Personally, I think they are best standing pat unless something comes at them that is just too good to pass up. I don’t think this is a team that is truly ready to make a big run at a playoff berth (their run differential is still well in the negatives, after all), but I also don’t know if there is big value to be had for their veterans. It doesn’t hurt to ask around, but staying the course is sometimes the right strategy, no matter how boring it may sound.