Welcome back to The Rotation! Here's a starting five of topics worth bantering about in Major League Baseball this week.
1. Garcia, wouldn't want to be ya
We now have a face for the craziness that is the 2017 American League Wild Card picture, and it belongs to Jaime Garcia.
Garcia, a pending free agent, was dealt from the Braves to the Twins on July 24. Actually, the trade would have been consummated on July 20, but the Braves nixed that original deal because of concerns over the elbow of prospect Nick Burdi. Going into July 20, the Twins were half a game back both of the Indians in the AL Central and the Yankees in the Wild Card race. Going into July 24, they had fallen to 2 1/2 back in the Central, but were still just a game out in the Wild Card.
By Sunday morning, however, the Twins were seven back in the Central and four back in the Wild Card. The only game they won in the course of their ownership of Garcia was the one he pitched against the Oakland A's on Friday. So, they flipped Garcia to the Yankees, and, when all was said and done, had taken on some salary, but probably improved a little bit on the prospect front, with the two-player package of Zack Littell (who ranked 22nd in the Yankees' system, according to MLBPipeline.com) and Dietrich Enns likely possessing more value than the guy they sent to the Braves (Huascar Ynoa).
Anyway, this wave of transactions is less about Garcia himself than it is about the volatile nature of the standings. The Twins deserve credit for doing right by a team that made some unexpected waves in the first half by landing Garcia, and they also deserve credit for swiftly capitalizing on Garcia's value while they still could.
This is one of those situations that seemingly accentuates the argument for a later non-waiver Trade Deadline, to give teams an even better sense of where and what they are before they do anything too drastic. But those arguments have largely fallen on deaf ears, and deservedly so. Deadlines inherently compel action, and pushing it back to, say, Aug. 15, would slow all July activity and, therefore, make for lighter returns for selling clubs.
But there's no doubt that GMs in the AL Wild Card picture, in particular, were left with some wrenching decisions in this Deadline period, be it the Orioles and their Zach Britton-led bullpen on the sell side or the Mariners and their dual fights with history (the longest October drought in the game) and their own mediocrity (they've spent just three days over .500 this season but have never really been out of the Wild Card race) on the buy side.
Entering the week, there are eight non-division-leading AL teams within 5 1/2 games of a Wild Card spot, but only four of them have winning records and only three have positive run differentials. Self-evaluation is important this time of year, but self-evaluation relative to your surroundings is pretty darn difficult. The Twins just demonstrated how quickly those evaluations can evolve.
Who knows? If the Deadline were a week from now, maybe they'd try to acquire Garcia again.
2. Yo, Adrian!
Adrian Beltre didn't need his 3,000th hit to be Hall of Fame-worthy. But when he reached the milestone on Sunday, he put himself in especially special company. Only Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken Jr. and now Beltre have 3,000 hits, 600 doubles and 400 homers.
The bulk of Beltre's best years have taken place entirely within the confines of MLB's drug-testing policy. That's what makes his second-stage surge so eye-catching:
1998-2009 (age 19-30): .270 AVG, .325 OBP, .453 SLG, 250 HR, 906 RBI, 105 OPS+, 6,877 PA, 1,681 G
2010-2017 (age 31-38): .310 AVG, .360 OBP, .522 SLG, 204 HR, 701 RBI, 134 OPS+, 4,591 PA, 1,088 G
It's not supposed to work that way. And that's before you even delve into his defensive value (Brooks Robinson is the only third baseman in history credited with more defensive runs saved). Beltre already ranks third all-time in Wins Above Replacement (92.4) among third basemen, trailing only Mike Schmidt (106.6) and Eddie Mathews (96.2), and he has finished in the top 10 of the MVP Award voting five times in his 30s.
So while this would have been impossible to envision when he turned 30, Beltre is a pretty clear Cooperstown candidate at a position that is especially tough to crack. When Chipper Jones inevitably gets inducted next year, he'll become just the 14th hot corner Hall of Famer (and that list includes Paul Molitor, who logged more career games at DH). Once Jones is officially up for election, Beltre will be the third baseman on deck. Just don't force him to stand in the circle.
3. Price points
It says a lot that Red Sox owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, team president Sam Kennedy and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski all felt the need to apologize to Dennis Eckersley for David Price's actions on a road trip before the All-Star break. But Price's first public comments about the issue on Saturday were not an apology but a criticism of Eck for not spending enough time in the Boston clubhouse.
"If Eck was around," Price told reporters, "he'd know who we are."
Price went on to say that he was once suspended in the fifth grade for sticking up for his classmates, so nothing has changed on his end. And maybe that's part of the problem here: You could call this situation sophomoric, but even sophomore year is five years of mental maturity beyond fifth grade.
With his left elbow once again landing him on the 10-day DL, Price obviously has bigger issues going on than the Eck beef, which, had it been handled man-to-man in the first place, wouldn't be a source of public discourse now. Unfortunately, Price's pattern of indelicately handled media tiffs go back a ways. It was one thing to call out Dirk Hayhurst on Twitter, but absolutely no good is gained from telling a stand-up Hall of Famer like Eckersley -- the guy who handled wave after wave of reporters after giving up one of the most famous and most damaging home runs in World Series history -- how to be a professional.
Even a half-hearted apology could have killed a story with a week's worth of traction; instead, Price doubled down on his useless cause, once again making himself an unnecessary sideshow in an uneven season for a Red Sox club that, with the Yankees and Rays both having gone the aggressive route at this Trade Deadline, has a legitimate division battle on its hands. Boston has dropped seven of its past 10 going into a three-game Division Series reunion with the Indians this week.
4. Central sizzle
Just a dozen days ago, the AL Central race was sick, as in requiring medical attention. The Royals had a sub-.500 record, the Twins were still in it in spite of themselves and the first-place Indians had just finished a 1-5 road trip against the last-place A's and Giants and were returning to a home park where they had a losing record.
But now, the Central race is sick, as in lit or popping or other phrases I'm probably too old to be using.
Because of the aforementioned fade of the Twins, it's quite likely just a two-team race now. But that's OK, because it involves the two teams responsible for the last three AL pennants. The Indians have won nine of their last 10, and every one of those wins have been necessary because the Royals have won 10 of 11 -- three with a walk-off and the latest with a four-run eighth in Boston on Sunday -- to pull within two of the Tribe.
We wrote in this space last week that it would be interesting to see what the Royals, having already decided not to sell off their pending free agents, would do on the buy side. They responded in a big way with the six-player trade for pitching help from the Padres (Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter) and then swinging a swap for a stick Sunday, adding Melky Cabrera to a lineup that needed outfield and/or DH production, especially against left-handed pitching. They might still add another starter, but so far they've made these moves without giving up some important young pieces in their system.
The Indians, as of this writing, haven't made a trade of their own, but they're likely to land bullpen and/or bench help, and they'll take an opportunistic approach in the August waiver period, too.
No one expected much of the AL Central race going into the season, because the Tribe was supposed to run away with it. Then it was notable only for its inferiority. But now we're onto something here, and big ups to the Royals for doing everything they can to maintain their recent momentum and capitalize on their championship core while they still can.
5. "Ken Phelps! Ken Phelps!"
It's likely to be an active Deadline day in MLB with so much unfinished business ahead, which means too much of what I could write here has the potential to be altered by the time you read it. So let's just enjoy 42 seconds that perfectly illustrate the spirit of this event -- the emotions attached to trades and the lingering consequences of a deal gone wrong.
Of course, I'm talking about Frank Costanza's legendary critique of the Jay Buhner deal.
Happy Deadline Day!
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.