Welcome back to The Rotation! Here's a look at five topics shaping the week ahead in Major League Baseball.
1. Don't count on a discount Sale
Chris Sale has been a cut above the rest in the American League Cy Young chase this season, but now we're left to wonder if his five-game suspension for insubordination related to his reported displeasure at wearing a throwback uniform is going to slash his price in the trade market.
Now that the puns are (mostly) out of the way, let's get real: Sale's reaction to the uniforms the White Sox were expected to wear on Saturday has no bearing on his trade value. The guy who was so vocal about a teenager's right to be a daily presence in the Sox clubhouse might have acted like a teenager himself, but a left-handed ace having a superb season and under affordable contractual control through 2019 is no less valuable in this weak-sauce starting market today than he was before he went all Edward Scissorhands on those unsuspecting 1976 unis.
And Sale, for the record, does not have the contractually afforded power to veto trades to teams who still have throwback uniform nights on their season schedule.
One of the latest rumblings, courtesy of FanRag's Jon Heyman, is that the Sox are asking for five top prospects for Sale. That's a big ask, but, if you're a World Series or bust squad with a deep system -- and we're looking at you Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox and Astros (Cubs fans probably shouldn't even bother dreaming on this one, what with the crosstown concerns) -- that might be a reasonable price to pay, given the conditions.
So the calls will keep coming to general manager Rick Hahn, who missed an opportunity to show a sense of humor by attending his Sunday press briefing announcing Sale's five-game suspension in a disco shirt and bell-bottom pants to keep with the '76 theme. Hahn's efforts to field a contender on the South Side in '15 and '16 have been well-meaning but ultimately unfulfilling, and there is, indeed, an argument to be made for blowing up the top end of the rotation (Sale and/or Jose Quintana) at a time of max value to repair a system thin on pending improvements on a club that maintains a high budget but not an exorbitant one.
Trouble is, there's always an argument for keeping cost-controlled top-end talent, and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is one of the most reluctant rebuilders in the game.
The big X-factor, then, is whether Sale has angered his bosses so much with his off-the-field role as the Sox's resident conscientious objector -- first to rules governing kids and now to demands related to cloth -- that they feel compelled to cut bait the way he cut fabric.
It's the most fascinating storyline in the lead-up to the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.
In December, the Yankees gave Cincinnati what many considered to be a light package of four players (Rookie Davis, Caleb Cotham, Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda) for a full year of control of Aroldis Chapman, who eventually incurred a 30-game suspension under baseball's new domestic violence policy.
As of this writing, the Yankees and Cubs were reportedly working out a deal centered around Gleyber Torres, the No. 1 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com, in the Cubs' system and the No. 24 prospect in all of baseball. And he is reportedly one of multiple pieces involved.
It seems Chapman is still highly sought after, but if the Cubs do nail this one down as expected, they're going to face some backlash. Indeed, the backlash had already begun on social media Sunday night:
Hearing and reading from so many women I like, respect and trust that @Cubs adding Chapman would make them like the team less. And I agree.- Dan Bernstein (@dan_bernstein) July 25, 2016
Beyond that, one of the Cubs' many strengths (and to the stat-centric crowd, I'm not suggesting it's a primary strength, but a strength all the same) is their clubhouse harmony, an environment free of ego and pretense (which is why guys don't complain when Joe Maddon goes all mad scientist with his lineups). Chapman isn't exactly roundly lauded as a terrific teammate, but, again, it probably won't matter if he's blowing 105-mph gas by people.
The bottom line -- though it might be an upsetting one for those with a well-calibrated moral compass -- is that in the thick of a playoff race, Chapman's value as a closer exceeds his reputation as something south of choir boy.
As for the Yankees, it's an unfamiliar sight to see them selling, especially at a time when they've been playing better ball. But their playoff hopes (8 percent, per FanGraphs) are pretty dim, and moving another expiring asset in Carlos Beltran, who actually made some dazzling defensive plays in right field against the Giants on Friday night (as if to show scouts he's still quite usable out there) remains a must.
3. Small wonders
Small samples can lead to big decisions at the Deadline, because executives -- who, last we checked, are all human beings -- get antsy this time of year. That's what makes some second-half trends so noticeable. With a week to go before the end of the non-waiver trading period, there's not a lot of power atop the power rankings.
The Cubs sure seem to be in good shape, but how about these other developments among some of the prominent clubs?
Nationals: Dropped five of last seven, and the 'pen imploded Sunday, perhaps amplifying the effort to land relief help.
Indians: Swept in Baltimore over the weekend. Bullpen issues have been particularly prominent of late and Roberto Perez, who replaced the injured Yan Gomes, has struggled in his return from injury.
Dodgers: Perhaps you heard some news about Clayton Kershaw last week?
Giants: Have dropped seven of eight since the break. The back-end of the rotation and injury issues have really caught up to them, and they have a tough schedule coming up.
Rangers: Took the weekend set from the Royals, but are just 6-13 in July, and the Astros are hot.
Small samples all, and storylines can shift considerably in a week in this game. But this is the time of year when small samples can lead to reaction -- and perhaps overreaction.
4. Breg him up
We mentioned the Astros are hot. A common rationale is that the best time to call up a prominent prospect is when the team at large is clicking, so the kid can slide in seamlessly and not feel the weight of a team-wide slump on his shoulders.
So it is with Alex Bregman coming to Houston on Monday. The Astros have won 10 of their last 15 to shave their AL West deficit from 8 1/2 to 2 1/2, and now Bregman's superb bat speed, discipline and instincts will be added to their midseason surge. He was one of the stars of the Futures Game, where he finished a homer shy of the cycle, and he was hitting .333 with a 1.015 OPS in 18 games at Triple-A Fresno after posting a .297/.415/.559 slash in 62 games at Double-A Corpus Christi.
The only question now is where he'll play.
Bregman was drafted as a shortstop, and that had been his position until he arrived to Fresno. In recent weeks, he's spent some time at third base and left field as an acclimation to his big-league role, because the Astros aren't going to move Carlos Correa off of short (even though Bregman, in the long run especially, is possibly the better defensive option there). Bregman has drawn comparisons to Dustin Pedroia for his size and skillset, which means he has serious star potential. But in situation alone, he might be comparable to 2012 Manny Machado, in that he's joining a club in a playoff push and moving off his natural position to do so.
A.J. Hinch said Bregman will start Monday against the Yankees, though he didn't confirm whether that start will come at third base, where Luis Valbuena is batting .238 this month, or in left, where Colby Rasmus is an alarming 2-for-39 with 17 strikeouts in July.
5. A change of pace?
Last week, when Commissioner Rob Manfred said he was open to the idea of limiting reliever usage, he had to know managers would not exactly embrace the notion. The game has become increasingly bullpen-oriented, and so resistance toward any idea that compromises a manager's options -- or even creativity -- is unavoidable and understandable.
Equally understandable, though, is the Commish's effort to pick up baseball's pace. Any change associated with that effort that fundamentally alters the way the game is played and managed ought to be given serious, serious thought before it is put in place. And, odds are, this idea, noble in its intent but uncomfortable in its application, won't advance past the idea stage.
But look, let's say MLB did limit relief usage. What's the best way to go about it?
A limit on the total number of relievers that can be used in a given game? An inning? That seems needlessly invasive and potentially dangerous, given the possibility that guys would be put in positions in which their arms are stretched beyond its regular rigors. And ultimately, it would limit the job pool, making it a non-starter with the player's union.
So how about this: make relievers face more than one batter. That's it. We've covered this idea in this space before, because there's nothing more infuriating than pitching changes on back-to-back plate appearances. If a guy comes in and gets the last out of the inning, fine, you can replace him. Otherwise, make him gut it out for a minimum of two batters. Two! At the risk of offending the LOOGYs and ROOGYs, we're not asking for much here.
For what it's worth, there have been 644 instances this season in which a pitcher has faced a single batter. Believe it or not, that actually puts us on pace for the fewest such instances since 2008 (1,075), but the number is sure to skyrocket in September, when rosters expand. Last year's total of 1,398 was not only an all-time high but -- are you ready for this? -- a 34.4 percent increase from just a decade earlier.
That's a lot of time-sucking pitching changes, and just think where the number might go if the upward trend continues. Again, don't implement change that's going to dramatically change the way the game is played, but do consider the value of this small but arguably necessary alteration.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.